This month I signed a contract with Green Writers Press in Vermont to publish a book that has taken seven years, three trips to Europe, and multiple trips to New England to write. Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures is a historical fiction account of the very real men, women, children, crew, and two dogs that sailed from Plymouth, England to what became Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. It is also the story of the Natives who watched them build Plimoth Plantation and then came calling on the new neighbors to work out a treaty with them.
What you probably know about our annual Thanksgiving celebration is incomplete at best. Parts of the popular story are also inaccurate and misleading.
I pick up the story in the later decades of the 1500s when political and religious upheavals that drove a small group of rural folks to flee for safety and sanctuary in a foreign country. Sound familiar? I include the history of what was unfolding on this continent during this same time period. Though the societies living in North America varied greatly from those of Europe, this continent already sustained hundreds of thousands of communities with diverse religions, economies, and governance.
Their Story – My Personal Story
I grew up knowing we descend from William and Mary Brewster, through my mother’s side of the family. The Brewsters were among the 102 Mayflower passengers. I was many years into adult life before I understood that William was a deacon in his congregation in Holland. When they established a new community along the coast of Cape Cod he functioned as their pastor since their pastor stayed behind in Holland. Having become a pastor myself later in life, I feel a special kinship to this relative I never met. After researching his life in great detail, I realize I have a beloved grandfather who died centuries before I was born. He and I share in common our later-in-life work as leaders in our respective faith traditions.
As I learned more about his wife, Mary-whose-birth-family-is-yet-unknown, she too captured my admiration. Her story inspires me to put whatever challenges I face in perspective. She left three older children behind when she and William and their two younger sons sailed. Before that, she gave up a life of relative luxury in the Scrooby Manor house in England to emigrate as a desperate refugee.
Via marriage our family tree now also includes relatives who carry Native DNA in their blood. These relatives have made me much more aware and ashamed about the how some of my ancestors have abused and mistreated some of theirs. Retelling this story more fully and accurately is one small step I can take to advocate for more respectful cross-cultural relationships. I can’t undo or redo history; none of us can. I can tell the story more fully and accurately. Their amazing story played an integral part in shaping the USA of today.
Once the Mayflower anchored after a treacherous two-month voyage, the real heroes in this story were the Natives. Natives saw them exploring and realized they were dying, sometimes at a rate of two or three day. Half the Europeans died before the first spring thaw from poor diet, extreme weather conditions, inadequate shelter, and hard, physical labor. The Natives had to contend with their own challenges when thousands of them died from diseases introduced by earlier explorers. Though the Natives had good reasons to take advantage of the desperate and weakened strangers encroaching their land, they chose instead to work out a treaty. Both parties honored the treaty for a generation. Later immigrants ignored the treaty with devastating consequences.
For a moment in time the equally desperate English and Natives befriended and assisted one another. We found ways to collaborate once. We can do it again. I believe that, and that is why I’ve invested seven years and multiple research trips to tell this story again as historical fiction. By writing it as historical fiction I was able to give voice to these people and fill in the gaps in the historical record.
A Few Fun Facts
- In Germany in 1517 Martin Luther used the new invention of the movable type printing press to publish and post his objections to what the church of his day was doing. He posted 95 talking points on the church door in Wittenberg, unknowingly launched the Protestant Reformation, and went into hiding for nine months.
- Not quite a century later William Brewster and a partner procured a printing press which they hid in the garret of Brewster’s home in Holland. They published religious books and pamphlets protesting the policies and practices of the Established Church of England. When his printing press was confiscated Brewster went into hiding for most of the year before boarding the Mayflower.Taking that voyage led Brewster to help draft the Mayflower Compact which helped establish the course of a new nation.
- Earlier in his life William was on the staff of Queen Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, Ambassador William Davison. Davison delivered the death warrant for her Majesty to sign that resulted in the execution of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. Brewster was likely an eye witness, or nearby, when the Queen signed the death warrant.
- William and Mary Brewster often hosted William Bradford for meals until he married. Bradford eventually served as Governor of Plimoth Plantation for three decades. When his young wife died, he lived with the Brewsters for a short period of time.
- The Mayflower was damaged in a storm mid-Atlantic. When Captain Jones assessed the damage, he wanted to return to England, afraid the ship wouldn’t make it all the way to the Americas and back to England. The passengers saved the day and the trip with a giant screw they brought with them to use in constructing their new homes.
- The Natives negotiated a treaty with the newcomers in English because a few of them learned the language from prior encounters with English-speaking explorers. One of the Natives was kidnapped by an English captain who intended to sell him into slavery in Europe. Catholic friars purchased his freedom. He made it to England, lived with an international business man, learned English, and was sent home to serve as an interpreter for trade negotiations.
Today there are an estimated thirty-five million descendants of the original 102 Mayflower passengers. Ten million of them live in the States. Perhaps you’re one of them? There is also a Wampanoag Nation, whose members live primarily, but not exclusively, near where the the two cultures first met.
If you’re interested in this chapter of history you may also enjoy this blog about The Mayflower.
Thinking about publishing your own book? Take a look at what Green Writers Press has to offer.
I’ll be posting updates on the book’s progress. Next year – 2020 – is going to be full of activities in four communities: The United States, the Wampanoag Nation, England where it all started, and Holland where the future Pilgrims lived for over a decade. Come along for tips and updates on various activities planned. Meet the people who made history and the people who brought it to life for the quad-centennial commemoration. If you got this blog from a friend, you can get your own FREE subscription at HowWiseThen. I’m currently giving away tips for recognizing and coping with dementia in memory and honor of my older brother who passed away recently after struggling with dementia issues for several years.