Skip to main content

tv   History Bookshelf Nathaniel Philbrick Mayflower  CSPAN  April 16, 2021 12:48pm-1:47pm EDT

12:48 pm
sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on reel america, four films on u.s./cuba relations. an edited version of the 1961 nbc report, cuba, bay of pigs. john f. kennedy's 1961 speech after the failed invasion. a compilation of universal news reels from 1959 to 1961 on the cuban revolution through the bay of pigs invasion and a 1960 broadcast "cuba: the battle of america." exploring the american story. watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3. american history tv on c-span3, every weekend documenting america's story. funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span3 as a public service.
12:49 pm
next on history bookshelf, to mark the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim's arrival in massachusetts, we hear the story of "mayflower" detailing the settlement between the english settlers and the wampanaog indians. my name is peggy baker. i'm the direct he of pilgrim museum and i would like to welcome you all here tonight for what is a grand occasion for all of us who love pilgrims. because we are, in essence, gathered to celebrate the first well-written, comprehensive narrative about plymouth colony in over 50 years. three key words. one, well written. as one would expect from nate philbrick whose distinguished career has focused on america's
12:50 pm
relationship with the sea in a string of notable books. from "a way off shore" to "abraham's eye" to "the heart of the sea" to "the sea of glory." second, comprehensive in covering not justcomprehensive, covering not just the voyage or the first few years or king philip's war, all of which have recently been done, but in covering the entire story, allowing us, the readers, to enjoy the true benefit of history, which is the scope to follow consequences of actions through generations. and narrative, because what nat does best is to tell a story, an adventure story, but in many ways an unexpected adventure story. look at the cover. i of course love it because it's our painting, the mayflower on
12:51 pm
her arrival in plymouth harbor. but what i really love is that even though the book is entitled "the mayflower," this cover doesn't put the mayflower front and center. it doesn't show a ship tossed by waves. that would be the expected adventure story. instead, it focuses on this little group of pilgrims leaving the ship that has brought them through storms and peril, headed off towards shore on the verge of starting new lives. and it's there in the territory of these wide open possibilities that the real adventure story begins. an adult adventure story dealing with mature themes like the nature of leadership, the establishment of respect with a widely varying culture, and then the disintegration of that respect. this of course is why the pilgrims are relevant.
12:52 pm
it's why they matter. it's why this book matters, because the mayflower tells the story of real people facing complex choices in a confusing time. people who had to make difficult decisions without knowing how the story would end. and so i'm very pleased to introduce to you our author, nat philbrick, a man who through his book has once again started the conversation about the choices that were made by those 17th century voyagers, choices that affect us even now, living in a nation and a world that those mayflower pilgrims could not even begin to imagine. nat philbrick. [ applause ]
12:53 pm
>> well, thank you. it is a true pleasure to return to plymouth and particularly pilgrim hall. it's been a very interesting month and a half of going around the country, talking about it the book. but it really does seem like a homecoming to be not only in pilgrim hall but beside the painting. and for me, the thing about the painting is, as it's on the cover, doesn't that look a lot like a whale boat with that guy up front? for me it was a great continuity in books. well, like a lot of americans, i first learned about the pilgrims in elementary school. i think it was third grade. and it was thanksgiving time. and it was time for the pilgrim unit. and the teacher divided us in half. half of us indians, half of us pilgrims. i wanted to be an indian but she made me a pilgrim. and we learned about the story of how in 1620, the mayflower
12:54 pm
sailed across the ocean, came to cape cod and then plymouth harbor, came to the famous rock, were greeted by the native americans, and then a year later, celebrated the first thanksgiving. and that was pretty much all i would learn about the pilgrim pilgrims. about 20 years ago i moved to nantucket island and i became fascinated with the place, having grown up in the maritime center of the world, pittsburgh, pennsylvania, i was a little bit overwhelmed by having all this water around me. and i was also overwhelmed because one of my most favorite books in the world was "moby-dick." this was as if i had stepped into the pages of my favorite novel. and i wanted to learn everything i could about it. and the more i learned about it, the more i began to realize that if i was ever going to write a book about the history of nantucket, i had to put it in the context of new england. if i was going to do that, i had to begin with the pilgrims, that
12:55 pm
story i assumed i already knew. and so i began to look into 17th century new england. and the more i looked into the story, the more almost indignant i became, because, you know, what i learned in third grade didn't do justice to the complexity and the real relevance of what happened in 17th century new england. because the story of the pilgrims does not end with the first thanksgiving. that is just the beginning of an intergenerational story that is truly epic in scope. because yes, there was the first thanksgiving. and then for the next 54 years, there was a remarkable thing in plymouth colony. there was peaceful coexistence between the indians and the english in plymouth. and given the subsequent history of america, that is truly remarkable. but in 1675, 55 years after the sailing of the mayflower, war came to plymouth colony, when
12:56 pm
the satchem who greeted the pilgrims, philip led his people in a war against the sons and grandsons of the pilgrims known today as king philip's war. it's a conflict about which many americans know almost nothing. and for me, it's what makes the story of the pilgrims all the more relevant, because in just 14 months, what had been this remarkably bicultural colony saw a war of total annihilation in which there were military defeats and victories and it looked like the english might be driven to the sea during the first year of the conflict. almost half the towns in new england were burned and abandoned. there were true fears that the english would be driven to the sea. but the war became a war not of military victories and defeats but a war of attrition.
12:57 pm
in the spring of 1676, the english were unable to plant their corn crops. in that summer they began to starve. the resistance collapsed and the english who had the mother country to provide them with provisions and weapons were able to outlast them. and in august of 1676, philip was taken and killed and thus ended king philip's war. but this was no victory for the english because for decades to come, they would be paying for this conflict. the war was by no means over. for the next century there would be indian conflict to indian conflict throughout new england. from the standpoint of plymouth colony, it would be absorbed by massachusetts bay. new england, which had been remarkably independent of her mother country throughout the first half of the 17th century, there would be a royal governor. thus would really end an era in new england because by fighting this war of annihilation with
12:58 pm
the native people that had been stood by their side for so long, the children and grandchildren of the pilgrims had really destroyed their forefathers' way of life. when you take the arc of the story from the mayflower to king philip's war, you begin to see, when i was a teenager, in my cynical teenage years in the '60s and '70s, i began to look at the pigrims as irrelevant to america, as stereotypes, with buckles on their shoes, that were trotted out for thanksgiving. this is not the case. when you put it in the context of what happened during those first 56 years, the story of the pilgrims is vital to showing us what america would become. because american history begins in the popular view, begins with the voyage of the mayflower. but then there really isn't much until 150 years later with the american revolution, the founding fathers.
12:59 pm
well before the founding fathers, there were things happening that would determine in large respect where america would be headed. because, you know, for whatever reason, the pilgrims have become, of the founding myth of america, we're a recent people, we need a beginning. and i think we owe it to ourselves to examine that beginning and see it as best we can, as it was rather than in terms of the legends and myths that have been passed to us from another age. i would like to begin by reading a selection from my book, from the first chapter. the first chapter is entitled "they knew they were pilgrims." and this is a quote from william bradfords of plymouth plantation which is one of the great books in american history literature. bradford was the true rock upon which plymouth colony would be built. without his leadership, the settlement would never have been a success. and the pilgrims never referred
1:00 pm
to themselves as the pilgrims. this comes from a phrase bradford uses in plymouth plantation, of plymouth plantation, and it's as good a term as any to refer to them, i think, given the complexity of what was beneath that label. for 65 days, the mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds. her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles. her leaky decks. there were 102 of them, 104 if you counted the two dogs. i was recently contacted by a reader who is a mastiff owner who said that, you know, they have to bring a towel wherever they take the dog. when she read that opening of mayflower, she felt a vital connection with the pilgrims and plymouth colony. most of their provisions and equipment were beneath them in the hold, the primary storage area of the vessel. the passengers were in the
1:01 pm
between or tween decks, a dank, airless space, not even five feet high, that separated the hold from the upper deck. between decks was more of a crawl space than a place to leave, made even more claustrophobic by the passengers' attempts to provide themselves with some privacy. a series of thin walled cabins had been built creating a crowded warren of rooms that overflowed with people and their possessions, chairs, pillows, rugs, and omnipresent chamber pots. there was even a boat cut into pieces for later assembly doing temporary duty as a bed. there were nearly ten weeks into a voyage that was supposed to be completed during the balmy days of summer but they had started late and it was now november and winter was coming on. they had long since run out of firewood and they were reaching the slimy bottoms of their water casks. of even greater concern, they were down to their last casks of beer. due to the notoriously bad
1:02 pm
quality of the drinking water in 17th century england, beer was considered essential to a healthy diet. sure enough, with the rationing of their beer came the unmistakable signs of scurvy, bleeding gums, foul smelling breath. so far only two had died but if they didn't reach land soon, many more would follow. they had set sail with three pregnant mothers. these were the true heroes of the mayflower. elizabeth hopkins, susannah white, and mary elligan. elizabeth had given birth to a son and susannah and mary were both well along in their pregnancies. it had been a miserable passage. in mid-ocean, a fierce wave had exploded against the old ship's top sides straining a structural timber until it had cracked like a chicken bone. the mayflower's master, christopher jones, had considered turning back to england but jones had to give his passengers their due. they knew next to nothing about
1:03 pm
the sea or the savage coast for which they were bound but their resolve was unshakeable. despite all they had so far suffered, agonizing delays, sea sickness, cold, and the scorn and ridicule of the sailors, they had done everything in their power to help the carpenter repair the fractured beam. they brought a screw jack, a mechanical device used to lift heavy objects, to assist them in constructing houses in the new world. with the help of the screw jack, they lifted the beam into place. once the carpenter had hammered in a post for support, the mayflower was sound enough to continue on. and on they would go. now, who were the people we refer to as the pilgrims? the motivating force behind this voyage came from a group of religious enthusiasts we refer to as puritan separatists who had lived in exile in lyedon, holland for a decade. they believed they must worship
1:04 pm
god as they felt god intended. unfortunately this was illegal in england at the time so they had gone to holland but things did not necessarily turn out the way they wanted in holland. they had been there for ten years. their congregation are grown wonderfully under the guidance of john robinson, their pastor. but the pilgrims were forced to work low end, back-breaking jobs because they were foreigners and their health would suffer. they would work literally dawn 'til dusk, six days a week, often with their children by their side. a treaty with spain was about to go up, and there was fear that war might come to holland. but their biggest concern was that their children were becoming dutch. despite the fact that they had left england, these people were fiercely proud of their english ancestry. and they wanted to reconnect with it but they couldn't go home. what to do? go to the new world. transplant the congregation wholesale to america where they could reconnect with their english ancestry but be free of the meddlesome reach of king
1:05 pm
james and his bishops. sounds like a great concept. unfortunately, like many great concepts, it would prove very difficult to implement. the pilgrims were like many inner directed people. they knew each other wonderfully well but they had trouble relating to those outside of their circle. and they became the objects of people who saw this group of religious radicals who wanted to go 3,000 miles across the ocean to the new world as a way to separate them from their money. and thomas weston would be a merchant from london who would tell them everything they wanted to hear. he had sympathy for their religious convictions and he had the contacts to provide them the money they needed. but weston proved to be a less than he advertised. by 1620, by the spring of 1620, he had not yet come up with a ship. the provisioning of the expedition was in chaos. and more and more people in
1:06 pm
leydon began to worry that maybe this was not the right thing to do at this time. and in fact as more and more people dropped out, they were going to come eventually, but not in this first brunt, this created a problem for the investors. they needed to fill up the ship. so they began to recruit people in london, people who did not necessarily share the pilgrims' point of view. they would become known, referred to as the strangers by the leydoners. this created a division aboard the mayflower almost from the beginning. this was a troublesome thing for these leydoners because their whole world view was based on drawing a line between themselves and the rest of the world. here they are going to share space with these strangers and just before their departure from holland, john robinson would write them a very important letter, the farewell letter, in which he would urge them not to prejudge these strangers, to try to make it work because the future success of the settlement depended on that. and that would have a huge impact on making things eventually work.
1:07 pm
the mayflower would leave terribly late. they were supposed to go early in the season so that they would arrive in the new world with plenty of time to build structures before winter came on. but it was september before the mayflower finally left plymouth, england. it would be a miserable voyage. storm after storm after storm. the mayflower would average in the neighborhood of 1.5 miles an hour as it made its way across the atlantic. it would take more than two months. and they were headed not for new england, but for the hudson river. they could have been our first new yorkers. but they were 200 miles off course, and they had come across what we now refer to as the back side of cape cod. christopher jones heads south for their intended destination but there are no trustworthy charts of new england at this time and they run smack dab into polic rip not far from my home
1:08 pm
in nantucket, still today a frightening piece of water. they also lost the ship. remarkably, the wind does a 180 degrees and starts blowing from the south. jones says, we ain't going to the hudson river, we're going to cape cod. i need to get these people off my ship and get myself back to england. so they head for what we now call provincetown harbor. this creates an uproar in the between decks of the mayflower, because the strangers, who are roughly half the passengers, realize that their patent, their legal paperwork, does not apply to a settlement this far north. they realize that the passengers aboard the mayflower are about to become america's first illegal immigrants. if this is the case, why do we follow them, why should we about it with them? they say, you guys do what you want to do, we're going to do our own thing. this might mean the end of the settlement, if they divide this
1:09 pm
early on. and this is a pivotal moment. what do they do? they do a remarkable thing. they put pen to paper and borrowing many of the words from john robinson's farewell letter, they draft what we now refer to as the mayflower compact. now, given the future course of american history, it's tempting to see the mayflower compact as the u.s. constitution in utero. it's not that. but it's still an extraordinary document, where both sides, what had been called saints and strangers, agree to listen to their duly elected leaders. and this is civil government. and this really is the first step towards the ultimate success of plymouth colony. they arrive finally, after having drafted the mayflower compact, at provincetown harbor. it's signed, and now they have a big question.
1:10 pm
what do we have before us? they know nothing about the coast upon which they have arrived. their biggest concern is what about the native people, what's going to happen? i would like to now read from chapter 3, into the void. which begins with the other side of the story. just a word of explanation, the pilgrims would refer to them as the poconotets. we refer to them today as the wampanoag, a term that seems to have been coined a couple of decades after the arrival of the pilgrims. at the confluence of two rivers in the vicinity of modern rhode island lived the most powerful native leader or satchem in the
1:11 pm
region. he was in the prime of his life with a quiet dignity that was expected of a satchem. he presided over a people who had been devastated by disease. during the three years that the pilgrims had been organizing their voyage to america, the indians of southern new england had been hit by what scientists refer to as a virgin soil epidemic, a contagion against which they had no antibodies. from 1616 to 1619, what may have been bubonic plague spread south, killing in some cases as many as 90% of the region's inhabitants. so many died so quickly, that there was no one left to bury the dead. portions of coastal new england that had once been as densely populated as western europe were suddenly empty of people with only the whitened bones of the dead to indicate that a thriving community had once existed along
1:12 pm
these shores. in addition to disease, what were described as civil dissensions and bloody wars erupted throughout the region as native groups that had been uneasy neighbors in the best of times struggled to create a new order amid the haunted vacancy of new england. the people had been particularly hard hit. before the plague, they had numbered about 12,000, enabling him to muster 3,000 fighting men. after three years of disease, his force had been reduced to a few hundred warriors, making it even worse, from his perspective, was that the plague had not affected the neighboring enemies, the narragansetts, who patrolled the western portions of the bay and numbered 20,000 with 5,000 fighting men. recently he and ten of his warriors had suffered the humiliation of being forced to do obeyance to the
1:13 pm
narragansetts. wasted by disease and now under the thumb of a powerful and proud enemy, they were in a desperate struggle to maintain their existence as a people. but the leader had his allies, the massachusetts to the north shared their antipathy to the narragansetts. numerically they were at a decided disadvantage but this did not prevent him from attempting to use his alliances with other tribes to neutralize the threat to the west. a small bird is called satchem, the englishman roger williams later observed, because of its prince-like courage and command over greater birds that a man shall often see this small bird pursue and vanquish and put to flight far bigger birds than itself. as they would soon discover, he was the consummate small bird. because what he would do is,
1:14 pm
rather than look to the pilgrims who did many things not to necessarily ingratiate themselves with the local population in those first desperate months, he would say, wait a minute, perhaps an alliance with this small group of englishpeople could provide my people with a kind of parity relative to the narragansetts. and he would forge an alliance. there are other factors at work. remember squanto? when i learned about squanto, he was the generous interpreter who took the pilgrims by the hand and taught them out to plant corn. turns out he had an agenda of his own from the very beginning. he was born right here, he was abducted by an english explorer, made his way back to europe and would eventually end up in london where he learned the
1:15 pm
english language. he would return to his native home as the interpreter of yet another english explorer and find pawtuckett empty of people. he began to see this as a possible opportunity. he saw that nasasoat was now vulnerable due to these terrible plague. squanto had ambitions to become the next nasasoat because he recognized if there should be a significant english settlement in this area, he would be in a unique position. he could tell nasasoat what he wanted him to think the english were saying and he could tell the english what he wanted the indians to think they were saying. he had been telling indians in the region that the pilgrims possessed the plague. it was in a barrel and buried underneath one of their houses
1:16 pm
and they could unleash it at will. 17th century weapon of mass destruction. and that he, given his relationship with the pilgrims, was the one who had the power, that the indians in the region should come to him rather than nasasoat. when the level of his ambitions were revealed, nasasoat was indignant, he demanded the head of the interpreter. but bradford had become dependent on him and was reluctant to give him up. this almost brought on the end of the alliance. gradually things settled down because squanto would die suddenly, unexpectedly, perhaps poisoned by nasasoat a year later. once again, relations between the two peoples were back on track. but it was not a benign embrace between two cultures. it was a harrowing, often disturbing give and take between two peoples.
1:17 pm
three years after the arrival of the pilgrims, nasasoat would send word to them that there was a conspiracy against plymouth colony, that the massachusetts were part of a conspiracy and were about to descend on the pilgrims and wipe them out, man, woman, and child, and it was advised that they send a group up to snuff out this plot. bradford decided to send his military officer, miles stand-ish, with half a dozen pilgrims, up to what was known as west augussett. stand-ish was all for this because there was a warrior there he had not liked for a long time. they would arrive, stand-ish and other pilgrims would invite this warrior and some others into a house, close the door, and as they sat down to eat, stand-ish would reach over to the warrior's chest and grab his knife that was suspended by a
1:18 pm
string around his neck and stab him to death with it while pilgrims on the other side of the structure did the same to another indian. by the time they were done, half a dozen indians had been killed and stand-ish and the others returned to plymouth in triumph with the head of that warrior wrapped in a piece of white linen. the head would be placed on the roof of the fort in plymouth where they worshipped every sunday. a few months after this, in the summer of 1623, bradford would celebrate his marriage to alice southworth. his wife had died, like so many others, during that first winter. during that first winter, 55 of 102 would die. and -- but in the summer of 1623, bradford was celebrating his wedding and nasasoat and one of his wives was invited over and it became a celebration of not just a wedding but the power of the alliance. and it was decided that a flag should be raised in nasasoat's honor.
1:19 pm
up would go that blood-soaked piece of linen. this was not the story of the pilgrims that i learned in third grade. in many ways, that next 50 years of peace was something that is very different from that snapshot we get in elementary school. it was on a difficult, often harrowing time of this give and take. but it worked. they worked very hard at trying to get through their differences. the indians and english did not necessarily like each other. they did not necessarily understand each other. but they were both realized that their mutual existence was dependent on the other. but there were pressures building in new england. in the beginning, the native americans had the fur trade to provide them with the means to purchase western goods, iron hoes and guns and things upon which they became dependent. as the beaver and other fur
1:20 pm
bearing animal became scarce, the fur trade dried up and the only thing the indians had which the english valued was their land. meantime, the pilgrims were averaging somewhere between seven and nine children per family. john howland would have 88 grandchildren. the need for land was insatiable. and by the middle of the 17th century, much had changed in new england. and the second generation had a very different attitude from the first. the young englishmen began to covet what lands the native americans still possessed while the young warriors said, what good are these english to us, they've taken our birth right. both sides began to see the other as not something that they needed for survival but as an impediment to their future survival.
1:21 pm
this created a real increasing tension in the colony. yet when war broke out in june of 1675, it was not inevitable. in fact it struck most people in the colony, english and native american, alike, as a surprise. philip, son of nasasoat, and josiah winslow, governor of plymouth colony, did not like each other very much. philip was convinced that josiah had been responsible for the death of his older brother, wamsutta, also known as alexander, about a decade before the outbreak of violence. for his part, josiah had distinguished himself as one of the more unscrupulous purchasers of native american land, using debt to get vast tracts of land. and when violence broke out in june of 1675, both leaders were loath to use a diplomatic
1:22 pm
solution. as a consequence, what was a very isolated outbreak of violence in plymouth colony began to spread rapidly. there were english men, women, and children killed, their bodies mutilated. suddenly the english were wracked with fear and anger and began to look to all the native americans who had once been their friends as potential foes. as the war broke out, there was someone among the english who was uniquely situated. and where bradford is the focus of the first half of the book, benjamin church is the focus of the second half. church lived in little compton, rhode island, at the outbreak of the conflict. he was the only english settler amid several hundred indians and by necessity had gotten to know them well, a very good friend of the female satchem. as this war was building, he realized most of the indians in the region wanted to part of it. in fact some were even willing to fight on the english side. but among the english, as with
1:23 pm
these first atrocities, the hatred, the anger, the racial nature of this became such that all indians became the enemy. and early on in the fighting, several hundred native americans gave themselves up to the authorities in the vicinity of modern day new bedford. they thought, this was somewhat we're supposed to do if we're going to stay out of this. josiah winslow and the other authorities in plymouth colony would crowd them in a ship, sail them to the caribbean where they were sold at slaves at the sugar plantations. if you had told me two decades ago slavery was an issue in the history of plymouth colony, i would have been very surprised, but it's true. it's in this 76-year span, you see so much of what will be issues in america, in this very confined space. and when church heard about the enslavement of the indians he was outraged, he said, look, if we do this it means no indian in his right mind will surrender to
1:24 pm
us. this will only prolong the war. and that's exactly what would happen. native groups throughout new england that wanted no part of the war began to say, philip and the indians may be right, the only alternative we have is to fight, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. half the towns in new england would be burned and abandoned and that first year, it was just a terrifying time for everyone. and this is a war about which most americans know very little. if you look at the losses, it's truly horrendous. there were 70,000 people in new england in 1675. about 20,000 indians, 50,000 english, 5,000 would die in this war. with three-quarters of those losses native american. and the english losses alone, it was twice as bloody as the american civil war, the war that most of us think of as the worst in our history. for the native americans, it was much, much worse.
1:25 pm
and that's not counting the thousand slaves sent to the caribbean and beyond during this time. and as the fear was such that even those indians that were clearly loyal to the english, the praying indians who lived in a series of christian towns around boston, were herded into internment camps in boston harbor and plymouth harbor, clarks island here. and towards the end that have first year, people began to say, this is crazy, perhaps these native americans hold the key to helping us turn the tide in this war. and towards the early part of 1676, church would be given a small company of primarily native americans with a few of his english friends, and in the spring of 1676, they would begin bringing in more captives than
1:26 pm
all the companies of massachusetts and plymouth combined. in church's narrative, which is written many decades after the war with the help of his son, he is the hero of every incident. such are the way of war memoirs. and, you know, but it's also interesting that those puritan historians who would write the history of king philip's war within months of the conclusion of the war corroborate just about most of -- many of what seemed like outlandish things that church claims. and there's a wonderful letter written by william bradford's son, william junior. he's very much his father's son, he's one of the captains involved in the war. and it's in the summer of 1676. and church is out there, he's reckless, he's brazen, he's everything a pilgrim shouldn't be. and in his letter, bradford says, you know, he's clearly --
1:27 pm
benjamin church is driving him a little crazy but he says, this is not the way i conduct myself. and he says, but, you know, without the benjamin forces, we might not all be here. and so you see that church would be a key factor in this war. he was sort of the forrest gump of king philip's war. if there was a major battle, he was there. it would be his group of sekonits who would take philip almost in the shadow of his symbolic home in bristol, rhode island, in august of 1676. this is not a war that stopped the fighting. this was not a war that freed new england of the native threat. it really increased the threat for decades to come. and i think what makes this story ultimately a tragedy, because there was something special in plymouth colony for that first half century. it was not a utopia.
1:28 pm
but two very different peoples found a way to peacefully coexist. and i think in the world today, where, you know, this is a global scene full of competing nations, religious groups, ethnic groups that don't necessarily like each other, don't necessarily understand each other, but if we don't find a way to peacefully exist, the alternatives aren't good for anyone. and i really feel that first generation of wampanoags and pilgrims have many lessons from which we can still learn. in closing, i would like to read a brief passage that speaks not only to the bicultural nature of what went on during that first half century in plymouth colony, you know, where the pilgrims wanted to keep the indians at an arm's length, but inevitably they were deeply influenced by their native neighbors not only in food ways but just in their understanding of the land that was plymouth colony.
1:29 pm
native americans embraced the western goods. in some cases their religion. this is a passage that also speaks to the nature of history. what is history? is the past so remote from us today that those people were so different that -- is there a figurative pane of glass between it and us? ultimately we can study it through a microscope but ultimately it has little meaning to us today. it's hard to do much better than the native american look at not only the past but the present and the future, that was revealed to the pilgrims in the early years of plymouth colony in this passage. because history is not just about us, we humans. it's about the land in which we live, the land that was there in the past, is here now in the present, and will be here in the future. and let me just set the scene. this is early on.
1:30 pm
they've just forged the alliance with nasasoat. bradford determines they need to visit him in his home. he sends out a delegation including edward winslow who would become nasasoat's best friend among the pilgrims and stephen hopkins, a stranger who appears to have been in jamestown prior to boarding the mayflower and had some experience with native americans. squanto is still alive and he goes with them walking the hard packed native trails that criss-cross new england at this time, it's about a 45-mile walk from plymouth it poconoat. there's no horses yet, they're walking these trails. they come across a group of native americans who have been collecting lobsters in plymouth harbor. they begin to talk. as they conversed with their new companions, the english men learned that to walk across the
1:31 pm
land in southern new england was to travel in time. all along this narrow, hard packed trail, were circular foot-deep holes in the ground that had been dug where any remarkable act had occurred. it was each person's responsibility to maintain the holes and to inform fellow travelers what had once happened at that particular place so that many things of great antiquity are fresh in memory. winslow and hopkins began to see that they were traversing a mythic land where a sense of community extended far into the distant past. so that as a man traveled, winslow wrote, his journey would be the less tedious by reason of the many historical discourses that will be related unto him. in closing, my only plea is that we keep the memory holes alive. thank you very much. [ applause ]
1:32 pm
i would be happy to try to answer some of your questions. any questions? yes. and if you could wait 'til the microphone comes over, that would be great. >> i love your story that you just repeated. but i was fascinated with your almost hundred pages of notes and bibliography. and the details that you found, like the indians were expert at burning and creating an open forest. can you talk a little bit about how you go to find all these details to put this story together? >> well, good, thank you for -- it makes my heart feel warm when i hear someone has read the notes, because i labor very mightily on them. yeah, and so thank you.
1:33 pm
for me, writing a book is at least at bare minimum a three-year process. and the first year is learning everything i can about the topic, throwing out the net, developing a bibliography. and then getting a sense of where i think the book is going to go. the next two years are realizing that all those plans were totally wrong. and as i begin to work chapter by chapter, i begin to -- i'm writing and researching simultaneously. and that's really where i end up going down those avenues i had never expected. and in some cases, finding things that for me, it's a continual act of discovery. and it's -- i do -- i write narrative nonnonfiction, so i'm trying to tell a story, but i'm also trying to do due diligence when it comes to the scholarship. that is a true challenge, is
1:34 pm
distilling the scholarship while maintaining a narrative that is as true as we can be to what actually happened. yes. >> in learning about the pilgrims and the process of dispelling the pilgrim myth, what was the most surprising fact that you learned in this whole process? >> you know, this book was a series of surprises. but a couple of things. one thing, you know, i was astonished to learn at the level of suffering that first year in plymouth colony. i've written a book called "in the heart of the sea" which was a survival tale, so i thought i was pretty inured to these terrible kind of things, but i really had renewed respect for what happened. not only on the pilgrims' side but also the native american
1:35 pm
side in that year. i mean, both cultures were -- had been effectively, over the process of those years, broken down and then had to be put back together. and i think that building together process made possible the next 50 years of peace. and so for me, it was -- you know, it really renewed my understanding to see that the pilgrims did not come as empire builders. their ambitions were very humble. they wanted to transplant their congregation from leydon, holland to the new world. they were never successful, completely successful in doing that. pastor robinson would die in leydon before he made it. not everyone would come over. that initial vision was never fully realized. you see bradford very depressed towards the end of his life as plymouth expands, town after town, you think that's a success, right? no, for bradford that was a defeat.
1:36 pm
what he wanted was that congregation recreated. as people like edward winslow and miles standish and john aldon move to duxbury and beyond, bradford saw this as a diminishment of what they should be. so that was a true surprise. and, you know, the other side, the second half of the book, was the impact of king philip's war. i was acquainted with king philip's war but had -- you know, you have to read the -- there's dozens if not hundreds of letters, many of them unpublished, about the war. there's an incredible treasure trove of information, not only narratives such as church's but mary rowlinson's narrative. she would have several meals with philip, knit a cap for his
1:37 pm
son and provide firsthand information about what was going on. and yet it's a very harrowing family saga too. and so with all this, for me it's a process of trying to connect as best we can with the people who lived this. and it's a process by which for me, with each chapter, i was continually surprised and ultimately amazed. yes. >> i had read that nasasoat's philosophy when the english were coming was basically the same as rommel's with fortress europe, basically throw them back to the sea. and then when the disease came in, he was forced to change his plans and strategies and form the alliance. was that true, did you find that to be -- >> that's a little bit of an oversimplification, because there is evidence, for example, john smith, you know, of
1:38 pm
pocahontas fame, explored new england in 1614 and seems to have met with philip and his brother and had a fairly good conversation with him, but also had some flare-ups of violence. one of the other surprises, just to get back to your first question, is that, you know, this was -- we're often taught this story, it's as if the indians had never seen the english before and the english had never seen the indians before. the indians had vast experience with europeans by this point. there had been fishermen arriving for years along the coast of new england, up to maine. there had been these explorers coming. but, you know, this was different. these were not only men but women and children who were moving here. and that's what made it different. yes. >> what first got you into writing? >> what first got me into writing?
1:39 pm
well, you know, writing is something i did as a -- when i was your age, i was scribbling a lot, nothing i've saved. i wrote some really bad poetry, i remember, in middle school. but -- kind of embarrassing to think about it. but what i found was i loved reading. when i would read a book, i would get so excited by what i read, it would make me want to write. and what i began to realize is that the more you write, it's like anything, the better you get at it. and -- but to do that is to do it a lot, over and over again. and so i was, you know, scribbling things in middle school and in high school. in college, i was an english major, and writing papers and things like that. and then worked as a sailing journalist at a sailing magazine for four years. and then after moving to nantucket, became very interested in the history and followed that course ever since. so writing for me is, if i don't
1:40 pm
write something during a day, i really feel as if i've cheated myself in some way. so i try to keep at it. thank you. yes. any more questions? over here. >> as you've traveled around the country now on your book tour, and i know that you've been to new england, to chicago, to san francisco, to dallas, have you noticed any regional differences, either in the way people, you know, look at the book or ultimately the way that they think about the pilgrims? >> yeah. the question, for those who didn't hear it, is, i've been on this book tour that's taken me around the country. what has been the response, are there regional differences in that response? for one thing, literally every place i have gone, there has been a generous portion of the audience who are mayflower
1:41 pm
descendants. it has shown me that, you know, this is a story that has a vital connection with who we are. and one of the -- getting back to the surprises, one of the surprises for me was to learn that to be a descendant of the mayflower passengers is -- i sort of assumed it was kind of an elite club, but no, 10% of the american population, more than 34 million people are descended from the passengers of the mayflower. talk about a living legacy. it's everywhere in this country. and one reader who i spoke to, i think it was milwaukee, was part cherokee indian and part mayflower descendant. and she said she really feels like she is the living embodiment of what this country is about in many ways. and i think that's true. it was very interesting, in texas of all places, i found a
1:42 pm
really strong response to this story. you know, this is -- for me this story anticipates the dynamic that unfolds in an essential way. this is a story that i think does have relevance to all americans no matter where you live. yes. >> i'll preface my remarks by saying i just began your book. you spoke of 55 years of peace, at times uneasy, between the
1:43 pm
indians and the pilgrims, the pequot war, do you see that as an anomaly in that period? >> the question is, the pequot war, is that an anomaly. i see that as the puritans. the puritans were the ones that arrived in boston a decade after the sailing of the mayflower. and quickly took over new england. in one year, plymouth colony goes from being the only english settlement in the region to being a backwater, as what's known as the great migration brought in thousands into the boston area. they quickly spread not only through massachusetts, maine, and new hampshire, but also to connecticut. it was the puritans that were really the motivators behind the pequot war. plymouth colony, their soldiers did not arrive in time to be part of the conflict. that may have been intended. and yet i see that conflict, sort of peek the being a
1:44 pm
conflict that would radically change the balance of power particularly among the native groups of the region and would anticipate in many troubling ways what would happen next because the scale of what happened in the pequot war was very different. hundreds of pequot men, women, and children would die, be massacred at a fort in what's now mystic, connecticut. and this brought a level of violence and brutality that was not a part of native warfare prior to this. this was a real wake-up call to the stakes of any kind of conflict that might spread beyond something that was very local. thank you very much. [ applause ]
1:45 pm
weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight, milton jones recalls his experiences as a u.s. marine during the vietnam war. he talks about his initial reluctance to serve in vietnam and his journey to meet his unit in the caisson. part of vietnam war oral histories conducted by the atlanta history center for the veterans history project. watch tonight, beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern, and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. american history tv on c-span3. exploring the people and events that tell the american story every weekend. 60 years ago this weekend, more than 1,400 cia-trained cuan
1:46 pm
exiles launched a failed effort at the bay of pigs, live, saturday, 9:00 a.m. eastern. we'll look back at the invasion and its consequences with former cia historian nicholas dumavich. and sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on reel america, four films on u.s./cuban relations, an edited version of an nbc report, "cuba: bay of pigs." a compilation of universal newsreels on the cuban revolution through the bay of pigs invasion and a 1960 broadcast, "cuba: the battle of america." exploring the american story. watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3.

7 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on