The best historical books on colonial Plymouth

Noelle A. Granger Author Of The Last Pilgrim
By Noelle A. Granger

Who am I?

Growing up in Plymouth, MA, I was steeped in the history of the Pilgrims, eventually working as a tour guide at Plimoth-Patuxet.  After I retired as professor emerita from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I wrote and published a series of mysteries. That experience and my New England background buoyed my confidence that I could write about a Pilgrim woman, keeping true to the history of the Plimoth Colony. The story of Mary Allerton Cushman’s life was the result. It was long-listed for the Devon and Cornwall International Novel Prize. 

I wrote...

The Last Pilgrim

By Noelle A. Granger,

Book cover of The Last Pilgrim

What is my book about?

Mary Allerton Cushman was the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower. Her unusually long life and her relationships with important men – her father, Isaac Allerton and her husband, Thomas Cushman – gave her a front row seat to the history of the Plymouth Colony from its beginnings as the first permanent settlement in New England to it becoming part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. The Last Pilgrim begins from her father’s point of view but gradually assumes Mary’s voice, as the colony achieves a foothold in New England’s rocky soil. Hers is a story of survival - the daily, back-breaking work to ensure food on the table, the unsettled interactions with local native tribes, the dangers of wild animals, and the endless challenges of injury, disease and death.

The books I picked & why

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Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War

By Nathaniel Philbrick,

Book cover of Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War

Why this book?

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history, Philbrick’s book tells the extraordinary story of the first fifty-five years of the Plimoth Colony, beginning with the arduous and perilous journey of the little wooden ship Mayflower and ending in the bloody King Philip’s War, which nearly wiped out the New England colonists and the native populations as well. Philbrick's writing style is compelling and never boring. This book is full of factual information and makes an old story new.

Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 - 1647

By William Bradford,

Book cover of Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 - 1647

Why this book?

With an introduction by Samuel Eliot Morison, this is the definitive edition of an American classic. In it, the printed text of Bradford’s remarkable history of the colony that he governed for many years is compared with the original manuscript, presenting his text in a contemporary, readable form. This wonderful story of the early years of the colony told in Bradford’s own words and illuminated with his personality is a must-read for anyone interested in colonial Plymouth. 

The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony

By James Deetz, Patricia Scott Deetz,

Book cover of The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony

Why this book?

James Deetz was an American anthropologist and his wife, a cultural historian. Their book was the result of studying Plymouth Colony court transcripts, wills, probate listings, and rare firsthand accounts, and then combining the facts with archeological evidence from various sites in Plymouth. This book shows a reality of the Pilgrims and Pilgrim life very different from the straight-laced, nearly mythical images from the 18th and 19th centuries: an all too human group who wore bright clothing, drank, believed in witches, had premarital sex and adulterous affairs, and committed petty and serious crimes. This book is informative and eye-opening.

Child Life in Colonial Times

By Alice Morse Earle,

Book cover of Child Life in Colonial Times

Why this book?

Children of the 17th and 18th centuries were raised far more strictly than today. In the 17th century, initially without schools, they would likely be uneducated. Encouraged to walk as soon as possible, children would be incorporated into the work of the family at an early age, to ensure the survival of the community. Alice Morse Earl conducted years of research, based on letters, official records, diaries, and other accounts to create and detailed portrait of a child’s world of that time. For me, it answered questions, such as: Did the children work? How were they educated? How did parents teach respect, manners, and religion? How were children disciplined? Were children allowed to play and what toys or games did they have? I found her book to be enormously helpful in creating the life of Mary Allerton as a child in the Plymouth Colony and the home life of the children in the home of Mary and Thomas Cushman.

Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691

By Eugene Aubrey Stratton,

Book cover of Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691

Why this book?

Former Historian General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Stratton writes a complete treatment of the history and genealogy of the Plymouth Colony. While the book contains verbatim transcriptions of important documents and an annotated bibliography, which are manna to the writer of historical fiction, it also has informative chapters on law and order, inheritance, morality and sex, everyday life and manners, freemen and servants, and the diaspora of Pilgrim families to other towns in the colony. Thus, along with other books listed here, the research done by the author helped me to create the real world of the Plymouth Colony and allowed me to reinforce the concept that the Pilgrims were not so different from their millions of descendants four centuries later.

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