"Mayflower" is the story, not just of a ship and the Pilgrims who sailed on it, but of a Pilgrim people, those who followed them, the Natives with whom they met and interacted and the process they initiated that would mold America for centuries to come.
Author Nathaniel Philbrick tells the story of The Pilgrims and the "Strangers" who traveled with them to the New World, the Pilgrims in search of religious freedom and the "Strangers", the non-Pilgrim passengers of the Mayflower, who came looking for merely a new world in which to live. The life they found was cruel, brutish and short. Most of the immigrants, both the initial and subsequent waves, died in a relatively short time. Their salvation was cooperation with Indians who befriended them, taught them how to cope in their new environment and used them for their own purposes. Far from the noble natives of legend, those who allied with the English, who populated the original Plimouth Plantation that grew into the Massachusetts Bay Colony, looked on their interaction as an alliance intended to give them advantages over competing Indian tribes. Eventually the English-Indian intercourse would create a society not quite English and not quite Indian, but a Middle Ground in which each culture would blend into something unique to that place and time.
Much of "Mayflower" is devoted to an exposition of King Phillip's War, an Colonial-Indian war of 1675-1678 in which the English were drawn into Native warfare by entangling alliances which forced them to aid the tribes whom they had befriended. Although little known today, Philbrick points out that, in terms of percentage of the population killed and property destroyed, it was much more devastating to the European-American states that would inhabit America than any subsequent war.
In focusing on the first fifty years of English settlement in North America, this book points out how our nation started on a course of interaction with native cultures that would persist as we conquered the West and may still be with us today. From Massachusetts Bay forward, Euro and Native Americans would use each other for their own purposes, for good and ill. The story of the Pilgrims and Massachusetts Bay would play out whenever advanced cultures would meet less advanced ones, whether in America, The Philippines, Vietnam and, perhaps, even in Afghanistan.
Although the names and the story line are hard to follow because we are so unfamiliar with them, this is an important book to read and understand because it shows how the tree of American history was bent as a twig and grew along the same angle. Whether you are a student of early New England colonial history or American history in general, "Mayflower" fills an important niche in the American Saga.