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Landing of the Pilgrims

In the past, popular accounts of American History have had the tendency to cover the era around 1620, its significance as well as its consequences, in a relatively unclear manner.  Soon after, these chronicles would make their way directly to the Revolutionary War of 1770, with perhaps a slight layover in 1692 for the Salem Witch Trials, offering little examination of the true impact the events of this time period would have.  As a result, no chapter in the nation’s history has been more clouded in myth, legend and venerable cliché than the years leading up to and following this most noted point during the 17th century.  Yet, the true stories behind the historic forays into the New World that took place during this time are more haunting and poignant than the ones that have become so popular through the years. 

Below are some of the Metro Library System’s selections investigating, in detail, some of the most significant events from this period in America’s past.


Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

Down the years, tales of the perilous voyage across the Atlantic, the founding of Plymouth Colony and the plenteous bounty of the first Thanksgiving have become engrained in the legend of the Pilgrims’ settlement of New England, enshrining it as one of the most recognized episodes in American history. However, the true saga of this tiny band of Protestant separatists is far more complicated than the “piety” and “sacrifice “described in the all-too-familiar fable. Spanning decades, the story of these separatists and their impact on the New World is an epic at once courageous and heartbreaking in consequence. To fully understand the importance of this chapter of the nation’s past, it is important to look beyond the legend. Against great odds, the immigrants on board the Mayflower made the famous voyage of 1620, arriving in Plymouth Harbor during a period of great crisis for the Native Americans of the region. Disease spread by European fishermen had begun to devastate their populations. And, it was this decimation of Indian villages coupled with the competitive balance between tribes that contributed to the ability of the newcomers to gain a foothold. Led by the pugnacious and diminutive officer Miles Standish, the Pilgrims were initially able to forge a tenuous peace with the natives, particularly the Wampanoags and their charismatic, calculating chief Massasoit. However, within decades, the region would erupt into King Philip’s War, a savagely bloody conflict that devastated the Europeans, nearly extinguished several of the tribes in southern New England and forever altered the face of the fledgling colonies and the country that would grow from them. In Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Nathaniel Philbrick has fashioned a vivid and compelling chronicle of the dawn of American history, a narrative dominated from the start by issues of race, violence, and religion.

Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America by Benjamin Woolley

Roughly fourteen years prior to the arrival of the Mayflower, a motley band of 100 would-be colonists led by the likes of a one-armed ex-pirate, an epileptic aristocrat, a reprobate cleric and a government spy departed London aboard a fleet of three ships with an aim of starting a new life in the New World. With dreams of establishing a significant presence in America, these adventurers braved the perils of crossing the Atlantic. Some sought to escape the persecution they had experienced in Europe. Others searched for wealth beyond imagination. Still, others were simply seeking a new beginning. Making landfall in Virginia in the spring of 1607, this ragtag group set about the business of creating a settlement on a tiny island located in the James River. Against all odds, they raised the colony of Jamestown, a ramshackle outpost that would help to lay the foundations of the British Empire and, eventually, the United States of America. It was a reckless, daring adventure led by outcasts of the Old World who soon found themselves trespassers in the new one. The journey had taken them into a beautiful landscape and a sophisticated culture that they found to be both ravishing and alien. Yearning to possess the beauty and untapped resources of the land, their actions would ultimately threaten to destroy its sanctity. As a result, this unexploited territory would soon be drawn into a new global order, reaching from London to the Orinoco Delta, from the warring kingdoms of Angola to the slave markets of Mexico, from the gates of the Ottoman Empire to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Drawing on new discoveries, neglected resources and manuscript collections scattered across the world, Benjamin Woolley’s Savage Kingdom presents an intimate and tragic look at the true circumstances behind one of the most famous chapters in America’s history.

A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke by James P. P. Horn

In 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh dispatched a group of colonists in an attempt to establish a permanent English settlement on Chesapeake Bay. Led by John White, an illustrator, cartographer and explorer, the group landed on the sandy shores of Roanoke Island just off the coast of North Carolina. With hopes of forging a sustainable outpost in the wilds of the untamed land, this small band began putting down the first tentative roots of English soil. But, after only one month, in the face of dwindling supplies and a hostile native population, White was forced to leave his family and friends behind, returning to England in a desperate attempt to assemble ships for a rescue of the failing colony. Eventually, he was able to succeed in persuading the wealthy Raleigh to assist the imperiled colonists. However, by this time, the threat from the Spanish Armada loomed, delaying any voyage until 1590. By the time White did return to Roanoke, there remained no trace of the 90 men, 17 women, and 11 children, nor was there any sign of a struggle. The only clue was the word "CROATOAN" carved into a post near the village. John White would never see his family again. The events surrounding this failed colonization effort in the New World have long been the subject of archaeological and historical investigations, none of which have yielded much conclusive evidence. Some theories suggest the colonists were abducted or killed by natives. Others hypothesize the group attempted to sail back to England only to be lost at sea. Still, others suspect they met a bloody end at the hands of the Spanish marching up from Florida. Based on newly discovered archival material, A Kingdom Strange is colonial historian James Horn’s gripping investigation of one of the great unsolved mysteries of American History: what happened to the Roanoke colonists and their descendants?

Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation by David A. Price

In 1606, under a mandate from the Virginia Company, approximately 105 British colonists sailed to America, seeking the possibility of unknown wealth along with a trade route to the Pacific Ocean. Ill prepared for such an arduous journey, these explorers instead found hardships such as disease, hunger, hostile natives and the like. Soon devolving into reactionary incompetence and infighting, the expedition teetered on the brink of failure. And, fearful that news of such adversity would spook investors and discourage future colonists, the Virginia Company began to censor accounts found in correspondence coming out of Virginia, essentially leaving the plight of the colonists relatively unknown to the public. Yet, it was the leadership of one man, Captain John Smith, that would avert doom for the first permanent English settlement in the New World. A former mercenary in the Netherlands and Romania, as well as a slave in Turkey, Smith had learned the importance of cross-cultural relations. And, through his diplomacy, the colonists were able to establish Jamestown colony as one of the great survival stories of American history. From the formidable monarch Chief Powhatan, to the resourceful but unpopular leader John Smith, to the spirited Pocahontas, who twice saved Smith’s life, Love and Hate in Jamestown paints intimate portraits of the major figures from this crucial period of United States History. David A. Price presents a balanced view of relations between the settlers and the natives while debunking a number of popular myths about the colony and reminding readers of the horrors and heroism that marked the dawning of a new nation.

Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History by Nick Bunker

In 1620, against a backdrop of deep economic depression, men and women across the United Kingdom and Europe readied themselves for war, pestilence, or divine retribution. Finding themselves upon the precipice of something monumental, European nations were plagued by an atmosphere of great fear and trepidation for what was to come. Amid this climate of uncertainty, a small party of determined separatists was steadfastly conceiving an enterprise of exile. The “Pilgrims”, as they would later be called, prepared to sail across the Atlantic on board the now famous ship known as the Mayflower. Woefully undersupplied and unprepared, they were the least likely of groups to succeed in establishing a viable and permanent presence in the New World. Entrepreneurs as well as evangelicals, political radicals as well as Christian idealists, the members of this expedition embarked on a journey that would carry them from mercantile London and rural England to the Netherlands and ultimately overseas to the hallowed settlement famously christened Plymouth Plantation. Within a decade, despite crisis and catastrophe, they would build a thriving settlement at New Plymouth, based on beaver fur, corn, and cattle. And in doing so, they would lay the foundations for Massachusetts, New England, and a new nation. But, how did this small group of otherwise unremarkable individuals reach the point of abandoning their homeland for an unknown future in a forbidding wilderness on the other side of a vast ocean? Making Haste from Babylon tells their story in unrivaled depth, from their roots in religious conflict and village strife at home to their final creation of a permanent foothold in America. Combining religion, politics, money, science, and the sea, author Nick Bunker weaves a rich and strikingly original narrative of the Mayflower project and the first decade of the Plymouth Colony.

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