The best historical novels of Early Colonial New England

Why am I passionate about this?

Many of my English ancestors came to New England during the so-called Great Migration of the 1630s. I also have Native American ancestors, and as I researched both groups I couldn’t escape the feeling that something important was missing from our contemporary understanding of the period. In the novel that became Will Poole’s Island, I was in a sense driven to recreate the age, or at least to complicate our received mythologies about it. A central theme of the book is the collision of two radically opposed worldviews that had in common a preoccupation with the visionary and the unseen; this is also a theme of the five narratives described below.


I wrote...

Will Poole's Island

By Tim Weed,

Book cover of Will Poole's Island

What is my book about?

New England, 1643. In a walled English village crouched at the edge of a wilderness believed to be stalked by Satan, Will Poole chafes against the constraints of Puritan society, and is visited by strange hallucinations that fill him with unease. Hunting in the forest he encounters an enigmatic Wampanoag elder whose influence will change his life forever.

This riveting portrayal of early Colonial New England shines a speculative but compelling light on the time and place.” — Kirkus Reviews. Will Poole’s Island does several things and does them well. It is a sweet coming-of-age story, a riveting adventure tale, an insightful analysis of a difficult time in American history and an eloquent plea for understanding among all peoples.” — The Recorder.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757

Tim Weed Why did I love this book?

This classic adventure novel, first published in 1826, is still worth reading for the vividness of the wilderness landscape it brings to life; for its well-researched backdrop of the North American theater of the Seven Years War (the so-called French and Indian War); and for its sympathetic, if highly romanticized, portrayal of its Native American and Anglo-American characters. The novel is also important as a cultural artifact. Its influence has been deep and enduring, not only as a piece of literature but as a formative element in the USA’s national mythology and self-image.

By James Fenimore Cooper,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Last of the Mohicans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and…


Book cover of The Old American

Tim Weed Why did I love this book?

This novel, published in 2000 by the University Press of New England, has in my opinion never gained the readership it deserves. It’s a rich, funny, deeply humane captivity tale based on the true story of Nathan Blake, who was taken by Algonkian-speaking people from his home in Keene, New Hampshire, in 1746, and brought up to Canada, where he was held for three years as a slave. The novel weaves a defamiliarized but extremely plausible-feeling tapestry of early colonial America that complicates the stereotypes established by Cooper’s influential novel set in the same period, and Hebert’s main character, Caucus-Meteor—an elderly, multilingual Indian and the last survivor of his band—is by my lights one of the great characters in literature.

By Ernest Hebert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Old American as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1746, Nathan Blake, the first frame house builder in Keene, New Hampshire, was abducted by Algonkians and held in Canada as a slave. Inspired by this dramatic slice of history, novelist Ernest Hebert has written a masterful new novel recreating those years of captivity.

Set in New England and Canada during the French and Indian Wars, The Old American is driven by its complex, vividly imagined title character, Caucus-Meteor. By turns shrewd and embittered, ambitious and despairing, inspired and tormented, he is the self-styled"king" of the remnants of the first native tribes that encountered the English. Displaced and ravaged…


Book cover of Caleb's Crossing

Tim Weed Why did I love this book?

This gripping, beautifully written novel, published in 2011 and set in 1665, tells the story of the friendship and love affair between Caleb, a young Wampanoag from Martha’s Vineyard who became the first Native American to graduate Harvard, and Bethia Mayfield, a young woman who yearns for an education forbidden to her by the island’s small community of Puritan settlers. The novel makes excellent use of the limited primary sources available to an author attempting to recreate 17th century New England, offering a compelling vision of early colonial Martha’s Vineyard and the great clash of two diametrically opposed worldviews that happened to share a preoccupation with the visionary and unseen.

By Geraldine Brooks,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Caleb's Crossing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bestselling tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure from the author of The Secret Chord and of March, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Bethia Mayfield is a restless and curious young woman growing up in Martha's vineyard in the 1660s amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. At age twelve, she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's father is a Calvinist minister who seeks to convert the native Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes a prize in the contest…


Book cover of Hour of the Witch

Tim Weed Why did I love this book?

Published in 2021 and set in 1662, Hour of the Witch provides a refreshingly defamiliarized and unusually intimate perspective on early colonial Boston, a city better known for the momentous historical events that unfolded there more than a century later. Notable for its well-researched and plausible account of seventeenth-century divorce proceedings, this immersive historical novel tells a tense and harrowing story of spousal abuse, domestic power imbalances, and accusations of witchcraft as a method for revenge and reputational assassination. The story is true to the past but also feels quite contemporary, offering a fascinating window into the history of early colonial America deeply informed by the perspective of the here and now.

By Chris Bohjalian,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Hour of the Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • From the acclaimed author of The Flight Attendant: “Historical fiction at its best…. The book is a thriller in structure, and a real page-turner, the ending both unexpected and satisfying” (Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander series, The Washington Post).

A young Puritan woman—faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul—plots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive novel of historical suspense.

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But…


Book cover of Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Tim Weed Why did I love this book?

Ok, this isn’t actually a historical novel, but it was a bestseller when it came out back in 1682 and in some ways it does read like fiction. The story of a Puritan settler and her three children who were captured by Narragansett Indians during King Phillip’s War, Rowlandson’s account, judged by contemporary mores, is both racist and religiously bigoted. Still, it provides a rare first-hand rendering of the Puritan experience of a central truth of 17th century America: the collision of two radically distinct societies and the personal fallout resulting from that collision. As such it’s an invaluable historical document—though one best considered alongside other, less publicized primary accounts, which tell us that many seventeenth-century English captives, especially younger ones, were reluctant to return to the English settlements because of the freedom and ease they found in Indian society.

By Mary Rowlandson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mary (White) Rowlandson was a colonial American woman who was captured during an attack by Native Americans during King Philip's War and held ransom for 11 weeks. After being released, she wrote A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, also known as The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. It is a work in the literary genre of captivity narratives. It is considered to be one of America's first bestsellers, four editions appearing in 1682 when it was first published.


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By Lara Lillibridge,

Book cover of The Truth About Unringing Phones

Lara Lillibridge

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What is my book about?

When Lara was four years old, her father moved from Rochester, New York, to Anchorage, Alaska, a distance of over 4,000 miles. She spent her childhood chasing after him, flying a quarter of the way around the world to tug at the hem of his jacket.

Now that he is in his eighties, she contemplates her obligation to an absentee father. The Truth About Unringing Phones is an exploration of responsibility and culpability told in experimental and fragmented essays.

The Truth About Unringing Phones

By Lara Lillibridge,

What is this book about?

When Lara was four years old, her father moved from Rochester, New York, to Anchorage, Alaska, a distance of over 4,000 miles. She spent her childhood chasing after him, flying a quarter of the way around the world to tug at the hem of his jacket. Now that he is in his eighties, she contemplates her obligation to an absentee father.




The Truth About Unringing Phones: Essays on Yearning is an exploration of responsibility and culpability told in experimental and fragmented essays.


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