Mayflower Book Summary - Mayflower Book explained in key points
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Mayflower summary

Nathaniel Philbrick

A Story of Courage, Community, and War

4.5 (19 ratings)
19 mins

What is Mayflower about?

Mayflower (2006) tells the epic story of the 1620 voyage to establish a colony of religious separatists on North American shores, and the astonishing aftermath of their fateful trip. From life-or-death struggle to peaceful coexistence with native peoples to devastating war just a half century later, it tells the unvarnished truth of the people and politics that went on to shape a nation.

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    Troubled Waters

    When the 104 passengers of the Mayflower set sail for North America in the Autumn of 1620, it was their second time voyaging to foreign shores in pursuit of religious freedom. Far from typical colonists, they were families joined together in a shared faith. Offended by what they perceived as the excesses of Christianity since the early church, they were strict interpreters of the Bible. They eschewed church hierarchy and pomp in their religious practice, and rejected all traces of pagan influence, like celebrating Christmas. True separatists, they made a dramatic choice: to leave rather than work for change within the Church of England.

    Their desire to practice this radical form of religious conservatism initially drove them from the rolling farmlands of England to the university town of Leiden, the Netherlands. Leiden was an open and tolerant community that welcomed these pilgrim families to establish a close-knit settlement. But even as their transplanted community thrived, the unexpected happened – their children slowly became Dutch.

    Faced with an identity crisis, they decided on a bold new course of action. If they were to establish a colony in North America, they could preserve their children’s English culture while building a godly community.

    This choice presented many new obstacles. Securing a ship, provisions, and financing for such a voyage was a monumental endeavor. Eventually, they made a deal with a London merchant by the name of Thomas Weston, who’d assembled a group of investors looking to finance a new colony in North America – one that could supply a host of trade goods in return. Smooth-talking but ruthless, he extracted harsh terms for the Pilgrim's passage, furnishing few provisions and hiring an old, unreliable merchant vessel for the trip, the Mayflower. The passengers would include non-Pilgrims, too. Many in the Leiden community, including their pastor, decided against making the voyage under these conditions.

    The negotiations cost valuable time, too. Instead of setting out in balmy summer, it was now stormy Autumn, They’d arrive at their destination – without food – in the dead of winter. The passage itself was horrific. Near-constant gales almost broke the ship apart. Two months at sea exhausted the ship’s stores, and passengers suffered greatly from hunger and disease.

    When Captain Jones first spotted land on November 6, 1620, he knew he needed to get the passengers ashore quickly if they were going to survive. But there was a problem – the gales had blown the ship too far North. Instead of Virginia, where they’d been granted a colony, they were in Cape Cod.

    Realizing their precarious situation, the Captain and passengers drafted what was to become known as the Mayflower Compact. This agreement created the framework for a democratic settlement. As the first action of a community on foreign shores, it set a remarkable precedent for the future.

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    About the Author

    Nathaniel Philbrick is an award-winning and New York Times best-selling author of many history-themed books including In the Heart of the Sea, Bunker Hill, and Away Off Shore.

    Who should read Mayflower?

    • History buffs looking for new insights into a little-known chapter of America’s past
    • Epic saga lovers who crave complex stories of survival, politics, and conflict
    • Anyone curious about the real facts behind all the feel-good myths, and how they went on to shape the future of a nation

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