Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this classic, foundational story is realizing that for so many of us, the story we’ve all been taught has been boiled down to a teacup sized account of the “first” Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in 1621. Author Kathryn Brewster Haueisen, herself a descendant of William Brewster, one of the first settlers of Plymouth Colony, gives a detailed yet refreshing backstory that skillfully brings us to those moments of intersection where Indian and Anglo cultures came together four hundred years ago.
Groups of colonists hoping to escape the religious dictates of Queen Elizabeth and her Established Church in the late 1500s sought the freedom to worship as they pleased. Gathering momentum by secretly printing pamphlets to stir sentiments in their favor, many, like William Brewster, go into hiding to escape imprisonment or death. William, his wife Mary, and their children soon find themselves forced to move about in order to avoid detection and persecution from the authorities, all the while longing for a place to hold worship services without fear of reprisals.
In the midst of much danger and intrigue, William and Mary’s Separatist group manages to forge a deal to sail across the Atlantic with dreams for freedom at last. If you’ve ever sailed across an ocean in the fall and winter months, you can only imagine half of what transpired on the voyage: a leaking sister ship, cramped quarters, a curmudgeon captain who scowls at the children running about and whose alliances are doubtful, sickness, births, and deaths all aboard a rocking, rolling vessel crossing a snowy, stormy Atlantic. Ms. Haueisen delivers it all to you so imaginatively that you may find yourself feeling sea sick along the way.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Native cultures have been living, hunting, and planting crops for many years. The people of the Massasoit Pokanoket tribe, however, are suspicious of the incoming Mayflower “floating house” and its settlers—many of their people suffered earlier in the “Great Dying” after unfamiliar people set foot on their shores. They must now, under the guidance of Massasoit Ousa Mequin, decide what to do about this new group traipsing about Patuxet village, cutting down trees, burying their dead, and building shelters. A period of restraint ensues as each side warily observes the presence of the other. Observations turn to visitations, though suspicions remain. With the help of Tisquantum, a Pokanoket tribesman who had been kidnapped and somehow managed to return, the two groups communicate enough to create a treaty.
Ms. Haueisen, with history shared from friends of the Pokanoket Nation and others, has put together an historical treasure both for her family as well as students of humanities who may share a perceptive insight that American history books often do not do justice in presenting both sides of many stories. This story is for anyone who enjoys engaging in the twists and turns of a very complex and comprehensive historical account brought to you by an incredibly accomplished author. Besides the general reading public, I highly recommend her book to historians, to descendants of William and Mary or other Mayflower passengers, and to members of the Pokanoket tribe.