The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America
St. Martin's Press 2017
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in British StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Native American StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network November 7, 2017 Michael Amico
Rebecca Fraser is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster whose work has been published in Tatler, Vogue, The Times, and The Spectator. President of the Bronte Society for many years, she is the author of a biography of Charlotte Bronte that examines her life in the context of contemporary attitudes about women. Her last book was The Story of Britain, a single-volume history of how England was governed over the past 2000 years. Now, just in time for Thanksgiving, comes her new book, The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America (St. Martin’s Press 2017). It tells the story of the Plymouth colony by focusing on the adventures and trials of Edward Winslow, who sailed over on the Mayflower in 1620, and then his son Josiah, who played a crucial role in the growing wars with the American Indians in the late 1670s.
Over the course of the hour, we talk about how Edward, a largely ignored protagonist of America’s founding story, was foundational to maintaining early relationships with the Indians (including for the exchange of food for the ‘first’ Thanksgiving). Fraser talks about how Edward’s ideal of community, and Plymouth’s more ‘tolerant’ society compared to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to its north, was troubled by the influx of new colonists, the consolidation of colonial governance in the region, patriarchal power grabs, and the re-entrenchment of religious orthodoxies. Both in our discussion and in the book—a dramatic, highly detailed narrative of promise and nightmarish turns—Fraser adds much nuance to the emotional, psychological, and material complexities of the early colonists conflicted lives. We dive into Edward’s interest in and writing of ethnographical accounts, particularly of the Indians, as well as the place of women in the Plymouth story. Fraser reveals the wry perspectives women take on the men in their lives as we come to feel the effects of deaths, fluctuating fortunes, the formations of new churches, and the dangers of giving birth on the structure of life. The particularly adventurous energy, and personality, of Edward Winslow, and his less curious son’s re-assertion of an English identity, are the engines of the story. Their paths afford a new view of both the intercultural relationships and negotiations that kept the nascent country alive, and their eventual dismissal by the next generation. The result is a war with the Indians that would forever change the story.
Michael Amico holds a PhD in American Studies from Yale University. His dissertation, The Forgotten Union of the Two Henrys: The True Story of the Peculiar and Rarest Intimacy of the American Civil War, is about the romance between Henry Clay Trumbull and Henry Ward Camp of the Tenth Connecticut Regiment. He is the author, with Michael Bronski and Ann Pellegrini, of “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People (Beacon, 2013), a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Nonfiction. He can be reached at [email protected].