The best books about the pilgrims (Plymouth Colony)

3 authors have picked their favorite books about the pilgrims and why they recommend each book.

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The Puritans in the Diocese of Peterborough

By W.J. Sheils,

Book cover of The Puritans in the Diocese of Peterborough

This excellent local history survey enables us to step back to the period immediately before the migration to the Netherlands to see the kind of life the future Pilgrims were leading in their home shires. The East Midlands had long been a home of religious radicalism. Some of the men and women destined to take the historical transatlantic journey grew up listening to Puritan preachers berate the clergy of the established church for not being sufficiently reformed. Under the microscope of Sheils' research, we can see the emergence of ever more extreme separatism and the emergence of groups of impatient, intolerant 'saints' meeting clandestinely and contemplating leaving their homeland in search of the perfect church.


Who am I?

I developed my passion for the Reformation while studying History and Theology at Cambridge. Now, several years and a dozen books on 16th -17th-century history later, my obsession has not waned for what was the most formative period in the development, not only of our religious and political life, but also of our culture. I like to think that, through my books, journal articles, and lectures (and the occasional historical novel) I have made a useful contribution to our understanding of that culture.


I wrote...

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

By Derek Wilson,

Book cover of The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

What is my book about?

The voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 has come to typify those qualities that many believe represent the best of America and the values it holds up to the rest of the world. And yet, if they lived today, the courageous men, women and children who made that journey would not recognize themselves in the romantic retelling of their story in popular books and movies of the last century or so. So what were the motivating forces behind this momentous voyage? Derek Wilson strips away the over-painting from the icon to discover the complex range of religious, political, and commercial concerns that led this group of hopeful but fallible human beings to seek a new life on the other side of the world.

Francis Johnson and the English Separatist Influence

By Scott Culpepper,

Book cover of Francis Johnson and the English Separatist Influence: The Bishop of Brownism's Life, Writings, and Controversies

This is the biography of one of the most disruptive figures in the separatist movement. It brings to life the turbulence of the life of the Netherlands settlers more vividly than generalisations about conditions in Amsterdam, and Leiden can do. Johnson was the most extreme and dogmatic of the English separatists. He led a congregation in London in the 1590s, was exiled, made an abortive attempt to set up his own colony in Nova Scotia, then joined the separatist community in Amsterdam. There he fell out with the established leadership and created a split in the English community. The vivid (perhaps 'lurid' would be a better word) story of a maverick so domineering that he could excommunicate his own father and brother reveal the destructive depths to which religious certainty could descend.


Who am I?

I developed my passion for the Reformation while studying History and Theology at Cambridge. Now, several years and a dozen books on 16th -17th-century history later, my obsession has not waned for what was the most formative period in the development, not only of our religious and political life, but also of our culture. I like to think that, through my books, journal articles, and lectures (and the occasional historical novel) I have made a useful contribution to our understanding of that culture.


I wrote...

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

By Derek Wilson,

Book cover of The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

What is my book about?

The voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 has come to typify those qualities that many believe represent the best of America and the values it holds up to the rest of the world. And yet, if they lived today, the courageous men, women and children who made that journey would not recognize themselves in the romantic retelling of their story in popular books and movies of the last century or so. So what were the motivating forces behind this momentous voyage? Derek Wilson strips away the over-painting from the icon to discover the complex range of religious, political, and commercial concerns that led this group of hopeful but fallible human beings to seek a new life on the other side of the world.

A Land As God Made It

By James Horn,

Book cover of A Land As God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America

This book describes the colonising element which was the background to the final movement of the Pilgrims from Leiden to America. That move would not have taken place without (a) the pioneering attempts of Elizabethan adventurers to settle the North American seaboard, (b) the mercenary (and unscrupulous) determination of businessmen to exploit the land and people of the region, and (c) The desire of English monarchs to enhance their prestige and wealth. Horn tells in graphic detail the story of early troubled attempts to make a settlement at the mouth of the James River. By the time that the Pilgrims were seriously contemplating moving on from Leiden, the leaders of the Virginia Company were becoming desperate to recruit potential colonists. The result was a muddled, stop-go venture driven by mixed motives. As one of the Pilgrims exclaimed, 'If ever we make a plantation it will be because God works a…


Who am I?

I developed my passion for the Reformation while studying History and Theology at Cambridge. Now, several years and a dozen books on 16th -17th-century history later, my obsession has not waned for what was the most formative period in the development, not only of our religious and political life, but also of our culture. I like to think that, through my books, journal articles, and lectures (and the occasional historical novel) I have made a useful contribution to our understanding of that culture.


I wrote...

The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

By Derek Wilson,

Book cover of The Mayflower Pilgrims: Sifting Fact from Fable

What is my book about?

The voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 has come to typify those qualities that many believe represent the best of America and the values it holds up to the rest of the world. And yet, if they lived today, the courageous men, women and children who made that journey would not recognize themselves in the romantic retelling of their story in popular books and movies of the last century or so. So what were the motivating forces behind this momentous voyage? Derek Wilson strips away the over-painting from the icon to discover the complex range of religious, political, and commercial concerns that led this group of hopeful but fallible human beings to seek a new life on the other side of the world.

The Story of America

By Hendrik van Loon,

Book cover of The Story of America: From the Very Beginning Up to the Present

Not often does a history text make me guffaw. Hendrik van Loons writing is an exception. His scholarship is serious, his delivery casual and delightful. In 1922, Van Loon won the first Newberry Prize for his children's book, The History of Mankind.

The Story of America is not a linear history; it is more like an explanation, of putting it all together, around a campfire. Van Loon assumes the reader's familiarity with the events of history, and he makes value judgments and simplifies the complex with no loss of significance. It is more an explanation of history and motivation than a history of events.


Who am I?

In researching the next book in my Kindred Spirit series I intended to tell the story of the “Angel of Hadley,” which occurred in my hometown. As I researched the topic, I fell into more, and more convoluted rabbit holes. For example, the Indian who led King Philip's War was Metacom, son of the great sachem Massasoit who signed the mutual defense treaty with Governor Carver of Plymouth Plantation when they first met in 1621. The rapid descent from 40 years of peace into the proportionally bloodiest war to take place in what is now America, was spellbinding. And my research continues.


I wrote...

All Is Still And Quiet: The 1704 Attack on Deerfield in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay

By Craig Lancto,

Book cover of All Is Still And Quiet: The 1704 Attack on Deerfield in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay

What is my book about?

On February 29, 1704, during Queen Anne's War, about 150 Mohawks from New France (Canada) and their allies joined with 50 French soldiers in launching a pre-dawn attack on the Deerfield settlement at the northwest frontier of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Forty-eight villagers were killed in the raid and 109 captives were taken for ransom or prisoner exchange and forced to march about 300 miles to Quebec.

Using journals, letters, and books by the erstwhile captives and other sources, this account relates actual events, focusing on the family of the Rev. Mr. John Williams, pastor and community leader.

The Mayflower and Her Passengers

By Caleb H. Johnson,

Book cover of The Mayflower and Her Passengers

If you want to know the individual stories of the men, women, and children who traveled on the Mayflower, you won’t find a better short guide than Caleb Johnson. This book is concise and meticulously researched at the same time. Caleb Johnson is a indefatigable researcher whose efforts have brought forth new information about several Pilgrims. In The Mayflower and Her Pilgrims you can read about pious separatists, bastard children, and feisty servants, all in one well-organized and easy-to-digest book.


Who am I?

I write about the often contentious role of religion in U.S. history, from modern evangelicals to nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints to the Pilgrims of the Mayflower. In many history books these religious men and women function either as saints or sinners. Instead of resorting to caricatures, it’s worth taking the time to get to know people of the past in all the marvelous strangeness of their beliefs, practices, and habits. I am a professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


I wrote...

They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

By John G. Turner,

Book cover of They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

What is my book about?

In 1620, separatists from the Church of England set sail across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. Understanding themselves as spiritual pilgrims, they left to preserve their liberty to worship God in accordance with their understanding of the Bible.

There exists, however, an alternative, more dispiriting version of their story. In it, the Pilgrims are religious zealots who persecuted dissenters and decimated Native peoples through warfare and by stealing their land. The Pilgrims' definition of liberty was, in practice, very narrow. Drawing on original research using underutilized sources, John G. Turner moves beyond these familiar narratives in his sweeping and authoritative new history of Plymouth Colony. Instead of depicting the Pilgrims as otherworldly saints or extraordinary sinners, he tells how a variety of English settlers and Native peoples engaged in a contest for the meaning of American liberty.

Saints and Strangers

By George F. Willison,

Book cover of Saints and Strangers

Historian George Willison has published an account of the Pilgrims, who called themselves Saints (or Saincts) and the Strangers, or non-Puritan workmen who filled out their company, in a conversational style that sets the record straight on many of the Pilgrim “facts” we always have accepted. For example, not only is there no evidence that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, no one even suggested the idea until the son of a colonist who arrived several years after the original Pilgrims, mentioned it in passing when he was in his 90s. Willison's narrative has the quality of listening to Grandpa telling stories from his childhood and wonderfully complements primary documents. 


Who am I?

In researching the next book in my Kindred Spirit series I intended to tell the story of the “Angel of Hadley,” which occurred in my hometown. As I researched the topic, I fell into more, and more convoluted rabbit holes. For example, the Indian who led King Philip's War was Metacom, son of the great sachem Massasoit who signed the mutual defense treaty with Governor Carver of Plymouth Plantation when they first met in 1621. The rapid descent from 40 years of peace into the proportionally bloodiest war to take place in what is now America, was spellbinding. And my research continues.


I wrote...

All Is Still And Quiet: The 1704 Attack on Deerfield in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay

By Craig Lancto,

Book cover of All Is Still And Quiet: The 1704 Attack on Deerfield in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay

What is my book about?

On February 29, 1704, during Queen Anne's War, about 150 Mohawks from New France (Canada) and their allies joined with 50 French soldiers in launching a pre-dawn attack on the Deerfield settlement at the northwest frontier of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Forty-eight villagers were killed in the raid and 109 captives were taken for ransom or prisoner exchange and forced to march about 300 miles to Quebec.

Using journals, letters, and books by the erstwhile captives and other sources, this account relates actual events, focusing on the family of the Rev. Mr. John Williams, pastor and community leader.

Mourt's Relation

By Jordan D. Fiore,

Book cover of Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth

Sub-titled “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,” this first-person account of the Pilgrims' early years includes detail not found in Bradford's account. As Winslow's purpose was to attract new immigrants to support Plymouth Plantation, he tends to paint a much rosier picture than the more straightforward Bradford. This book's advantage is that it was written contemporaneously.


Who am I?

In researching the next book in my Kindred Spirit series I intended to tell the story of the “Angel of Hadley,” which occurred in my hometown. As I researched the topic, I fell into more, and more convoluted rabbit holes. For example, the Indian who led King Philip's War was Metacom, son of the great sachem Massasoit who signed the mutual defense treaty with Governor Carver of Plymouth Plantation when they first met in 1621. The rapid descent from 40 years of peace into the proportionally bloodiest war to take place in what is now America, was spellbinding. And my research continues.


I wrote...

All Is Still And Quiet: The 1704 Attack on Deerfield in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay

By Craig Lancto,

Book cover of All Is Still And Quiet: The 1704 Attack on Deerfield in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay

What is my book about?

On February 29, 1704, during Queen Anne's War, about 150 Mohawks from New France (Canada) and their allies joined with 50 French soldiers in launching a pre-dawn attack on the Deerfield settlement at the northwest frontier of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Forty-eight villagers were killed in the raid and 109 captives were taken for ransom or prisoner exchange and forced to march about 300 miles to Quebec.

Using journals, letters, and books by the erstwhile captives and other sources, this account relates actual events, focusing on the family of the Rev. Mr. John Williams, pastor and community leader.

Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners

By Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs,

Book cover of Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the foundations of Plymouth Plantation

Bangs is the dean of Pilgrim history. Strangers and Pilgrims is a hard-to-find book these days, but if you want to go far deeper than most portraits of the Pilgrims do, it’s worth the search. Bangs focuses on the experience of the separatist Pilgrims in the Dutch city of Leiden (many of the Pilgrims went there around 1608, before traveling on the Mayflower in 1620) and shows how those years in the Dutch Republic shaped what followed. This is a richly illustrated, carefully researched, and cogent analysis of English separatists who made new lives for themselves in a strange land not just once, but twice.


Who am I?

I write about the often contentious role of religion in U.S. history, from modern evangelicals to nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints to the Pilgrims of the Mayflower. In many history books these religious men and women function either as saints or sinners. Instead of resorting to caricatures, it’s worth taking the time to get to know people of the past in all the marvelous strangeness of their beliefs, practices, and habits. I am a professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


I wrote...

They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

By John G. Turner,

Book cover of They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

What is my book about?

In 1620, separatists from the Church of England set sail across the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. Understanding themselves as spiritual pilgrims, they left to preserve their liberty to worship God in accordance with their understanding of the Bible.

There exists, however, an alternative, more dispiriting version of their story. In it, the Pilgrims are religious zealots who persecuted dissenters and decimated Native peoples through warfare and by stealing their land. The Pilgrims' definition of liberty was, in practice, very narrow. Drawing on original research using underutilized sources, John G. Turner moves beyond these familiar narratives in his sweeping and authoritative new history of Plymouth Colony. Instead of depicting the Pilgrims as otherworldly saints or extraordinary sinners, he tells how a variety of English settlers and Native peoples engaged in a contest for the meaning of American liberty.

The Times of Their Lives

By James Deetz, Patricia Scott Deetz,

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

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.


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.

Mayflower Bastard

By David Lindsay,

Book cover of Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger Among the Pilgrims

Subtitled A Stranger Among the Pilgrims, this little gem details the unlikely story of Richard More, who arrived on our shores as a child on The Mayflower…then grew up, moved north to Salem Village, and watched one of his best friends die in the infamous witch trials. The author also happens to be More’s descendant, which brings an extra passion to the telling.


Who am I?

I write about magic, witches, and weirdness—and all of it is inspired by the strange and startlingly true stories that hide just below the simmering surface of America’s melting pot. As a former journalist, I learned that everyone has an interesting tale to tell. And as a fiction writer, I’ve learned that all of that truth can be spun into something even more fun and fantastical. Reality, after all, is relative. 


I wrote...

Herrick's End

By T.M. Blanchet,

Book cover of Herrick's End

What is my book about?

Ollie's only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he's frantic to find her. But he doesn't have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives, which reads: "Still looking for your friend? I know where she is." Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he'd ever expect.

A shy Boston kid finds himself sucked into a dangerous, magical world below Boston when he goes in search of a missing friend.

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