The best books to understand the true founding of America

The Books I Picked & Why

Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War

By Nathaniel Philbrick

Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War

Why this book?

Philbrick’s book provides a great overview of America’s New England beginning. The Pilgrims were a small group of 37 English religious separatists who had escaped to Holland after experiencing oppression by the Church of England. They had to mix with 65 other people they called “strangers,” who boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, England on September 5, 1620—too late in the season to prepare for North American winters. After landing, about half of them, including my ancestor, Edward Fuller, died of disease, malnutrition, and exposure (his son, Dr. Mathew Fuller, came 20 years later, carrying on my genetic link). Philbrick documents how the original Mayflower Compact signed by these disparate people before landing, was eventually overtaken by growing religious fanaticism, war with Native Americans, and conflict with other settlements.


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

By James Deetz, Patricia Scott Deetz

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

Why this book?

I love this book because it exposes many myths. To reveal just a few, the Pilgrims were called “Old Comers” or “Old Planters” until the label “Pilgrims” was invented 200 years later. They never landed on a rock wearing those black and white “uniforms” we see in old paintings. The beach was likely sandy and they waded to shore wearing colorful English garb. The first Thanksgiving in late 1621 can be largely credited to about 90 Pokanoket natives, with whom they had made peace. The Indians marched into the settlers’ camp, bringing fresh venison, fish, Indian corn, and more. Much to the dismay of some strict Pilgrims, the celebration took the form of a traditional three-day English harvest festival: drunken dancing, singing, and games—including some new ones the Pokanokets taught them.


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God, War, and Providence: The Epic Struggle of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians Against the Puritans of New England

By James A. Warren

God, War, and Providence: The Epic Struggle of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians Against the Puritans of New England

Why this book?

Reverend Roger Williams learned the local Algonquin language and wrote a book about it to teach Puritan settlers to respect the natives and their culture. The authorities threatened to ship him back to England, but he escaped south to the land of the Narragansetts, where he set up the colony that became Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. There he allowed religious freedom—even the despised Quakers and Catholics. He attempted a complete separation of church and state and preached on respecting native land rights. He sided with the Narragansetts when King Philip’s War broke out in 1675, a long and bloody battle throughout New England, in which two of my ancestors were killed by Indians, while two others enriched themselves. Roger William’s dream was of an America that could have been.


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Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery

By Margaret Ellen Newell

Brethren by Nature: New England Indians, Colonists, and the Origins of American Slavery

Why this book?

This title caught my attention because we usually associate slavery with the American south. But the Puritans brought many indentured laborers from England to help build their settlements and operate their farms and businesses. When these white men worked their way to freedom, the settlers turned to indenturing Native Americans, and enslaving captives of warfare, selling some of them for goods and African slaves from the Caribbean. (I found a reference in this book that my ancestor, Dr. Mathew Fuller, participated in this trade during King Philip’s War.) Newell’s book, full of primary sources, gives excellent background on, and understanding of, the founding of New England’s culture, economy, and legal framework. Those alien ideas didn’t go so well for the original inhabitants as white settlers pushed westward. 


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A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials

By Frances Hill

A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials

Why this book?

I read this book because Salem was founded by another ancestor of mine, Roger Conant. He first settled in Plymouth but could not abide the Pilgrims’ fanatical creed. He was a Puritan but not a religious separatist. Most Puritans had dreams of reforming the Church of England, starting in America. Fortunately, Conant died before the Salem Witch Trials began, for he would have been shocked at these developments. (Unfortunately for him, the town stuck his statue in front of the Witch Museum.) Frances Hill’s book is a blow-by-blow account of how the hysteria of some adolescent girls captured the minds of Massachusetts’ residents, including educated people, causing the death of 20 innocent people. It is also a study of Puritan culture, as it went more and more “off the rails.”


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