Thursday, April 23, 2020

John G. Turner's "They Knew They Were Pilgrims"

John G. Turner is professor of religious studies at George Mason University and the award-winning author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty, and reported the following:
On page 99, I narrate the aftermath of a massacre, in which the Pilgrims treacherously murdered the pnieses Wituwamat and Pecksuot near a small English colony on Massachusetts Bay. In all, the Pilgrims, led by their military captain Miles Standish, killed six Native men. Afterwards, the Pilgrims knew they would face recriminations for their actions, prompting Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow to prepare a defense for publication in England.

Here’s a taste:
Standish and his company sailed their shallop back to Plymouth, where the settlers placed Wituwamat’s head on top of their fort. William Bradford explained that the severed head served ‘for a terror unto others.’ The decapitation and display were conventional English punishments for traitors, vile criminals, and military enemies. Within a culture of violent punishment, what the Pilgrims did was brutal but in many respects unexceptional.
As it turns out, this test works very well for my book. One of my goals is to write an unvarnished history of Plymouth Colony, one that does not lionize the Pilgrims as saints but also does not impugn them as sinners. In this chapter, the Pilgrims find themselves confused by Native politics and relationships that they understand very dimly. Readers should recognize their very human fears. At the same time, they clearly wanted to establish themselves as the foremost military power in the region and were glad that their operation terrorized other Natives.

This episode gives readers a fair taste of what the book is about and the style in which I’ve written They Knew They Were Pilgrims. My expectation is that readers will find many of the narrative episodes in this book compelling. Most readers do not know much about the history of Plymouth Colony after the “First Thanksgiving.” Elsewhere they’ll read about other conflicts between English and Natives, and they’ll also read about contentious debates within Plymouth Colony about both religious and political liberty. I want to help readers approach seventeenth-century history on its own terms, to think through what liberty meant to various groups of English settlers, to reckon with the reality of servitude and slavery, and to imagine themselves alongside parents who grieved an infant’s death or rejoiced at their child’s baptism.
Visit John G. Turner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue