For the past two years I’ve been researching what led the passengers of the Mayflower to get on that small, wooden ship and sail away to a place they’d never been. I learned how their story is interwoven with political events of the era such as the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots and King Henry VIII’s dramatic act of rebellion against the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
Much to my chagrin and regret, I learned how quickly relationships between the Pilgrims and their Indigenous neighbors degenerated as one generation passed away and a new generation did not see the advantages of mutual support and collaboration.
I used my mother’s detailed genealogical notes as a starting place to dig into the lives of distant relatives who were part of the Mayflower saga.
On Location Research
I’ve traveled to:
- Germany to study the roots of the Protestant Reformation.
- Scrooby, England where the Brewsters and other Separatist Pilgrim families lived before immigrating to the Netherlands to avoid fines, imprisonment, and possibly execution as heretics for their decision to separate from the Established Church of England.
- Cambridge where my great x 11 grandfather, Elder William Brewster, studied for an unknown period of time at Peterhouse, part of Cambridge University.
- Leiden where there is now, thanks to Jeremy Bangs, the American Pilgrim Museum. I walked the same alleys and streets my ancestors did before their voyage to the New (to them) World.
In previous years I visited Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. There actors playing the parts of the people alive in the 1600’s retell the story of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people.
I Discovered Amazing Things
- Mary Brewster was one of only five adult English women still alive after the first brutal winter in Plymouth. She and William brought their two youngest sons with them and left three older children behind in Holland.
- William Bradford’s wife, Dorothy, fell overboard and drowned. Her husband, destined to be Governor of the settlement for many years, was away with a search party looking for the best place to establish their new settlement. They left a three-year-old child behind in Holland.
- William Brewster had a printing press in his Leiden home and published forbidden documents against the Established Church. Others smuggled these back to England, which ultimately meant Brewster had to go into hiding before boarding the Mayflower.
I could go on. I have gone on for over 100,000 words in a manuscript that I plan to publish later this year or early next year as The Mayflower Chronicles.
Why Another Book About the Mayflower?
I cannot explain why I feel so drawn to tell this story. Or why I have taken on the nearly impossible task of giving voice to women whose stories are barely recorded. For example, we do not even know conclusively who Mary was before she became Mary Brewster. Even though authors such as Sue Allan, Jeremy Bangs, and Caleb Johnson have done extensive research about these events, we only have best guesses about some details and dates.
I want to include a more accurate account of what this event meant for the Indigenous people of the Wampanoag Tribe. We have for too long boiled down history to the good guys and bad guys. The good guys have almost always been those of European heritage. Everyone else was too often considered a problem to be solved by any means – including genocide.
We cannot undo history. But we can take off the blinders that allow us to see one group as good and another group as bad. The humans community is more complex than that. We are capable of doing incredible things like build pyramids and cross oceans to establish new communities. We are also capable of inflicting horrific cruelty on people when they don’t look, dress, or talk like we do. This too often leads us to conclude others are not worthy to be treated with dignity and compassion.
We’re seeing a lot of push back against white dominance these days; especially against older white men. White people, especially older white men, are not the cause of the social conflicts we’re witnessing. People who refuse to hear; who refuse to learn; who refuse to comprehend what life has been like for others, these are the people who are the cause of such conflicts.
We Need One Another
I guess I feel compelled, called, drawn to tell this story because once upon a time long, long ago, in a place far, far away from where I live today, some of my people met some of the people who for thousands of years had been caring for this beautiful land we know as the United States of America. The two cultures were mutually suspicious of each other. They were mutually worried about what the other might do. But they sat down together. They worked out a peace treaty. That treaty was honored for forty years. Perhaps in re-telling this story one more time we might come to understand that we need each other. We all benefit when each one of us has what we need to care for our families and ourselves.
If you want a sneak preview of the first chapter head on over to www.HowWiseThen.com.
About the photos: This us Elizabeth J. Hieber, my mother. The gentleman is my grandfather, George Rutledge Ross, and our family’s link to Elder Pilgrim William Brewster.