It was a very jolly event at Daunt books in Marylebone, one of the oldest and prettiest Edwardian bookstore in London, for the book launch of Rebecca Fraser’s latest work, « The Mayflower generation, The Winslow family and the fight for the New World » published in Great Britain by Chatto and Windus. After her biography of Charlotte Brontë in 1988 and « A people History of Britain », this new History book, which took twelve years of research, is published next week in America by Charles Spicer at St Martins.
The book starts with Edward Winslow, a 25 year old apprentice printer from the Midlands, who travels to Holland and then on the Mayflower to America in 1620. It tells us about the dramatic eight week voyage on a merchant’s boat used for trips to Bordeaux and overcrowded with migrants, to Provincetown on Cape Cod. What is fascinating about Fraser’s book, is the way she tells us about daily life, the constant fight for survival and feeding, and the relationships and rivalries between the first pilgrims.
Edward Winslow was a very particular man, who immediately struck a friendship with one of the Indian chiefs of Wampanoags, King Massasoit, who will die in 1660 leaving a big void in the Indian settlers relationship. Fifty years later Winslow’s own son, Josiah, will become the first governor of New England colony to be born there. He will also be killing Massasoit’s son, King Philip. The relationship with the Indians, the warm welcome from Samoset, greeting them with « Hello English » and teaching them how to feed themselves, all of this is incredibly well described.
Puritan’s religious life is at the heart of every decision made by the Pilgrims and the establishemnt of the community is drawn by strict laws. Many members of the community die and couples reunite along these laws. All the names given to the community’s children are strange, sometimes based on the Bible, and the complexity of relationships between families is well explained.
As a French reader who knows little about this part of history, I was fascinated by the determination and strength of all these settlers. Through their sense of organisation and ambition for their country, through their need to make money to refund their English sponsors, they
established the first states of the colony and the maps at the beginning of the book give us a good idea of the dates. Plymouth in 1620, Maine in 1622, New Amsterdam in 1624, Providence in 1636: the length of time between them shows us the extreme difficulty of moving around. Another map established in 1675, tells us of the geography of American Indian and English settlements.
Winslow went back to London in 1647 and had to reestablish himself in the country. In December 1654, he volunteered for a great expedition departing from Plymouth to the West Indies. He will die on May 8 th, on the ship near Hispaniola (today the Dominican Republic and Haiti) leaving his wife and children many debts. This was a disaster against the Spanish ships and Edward did not survive the 6 months on the boat. He was buried in Jamaica. The hero had left his troops.
This vivid account by Rebecca Fraser enables us to livre the lives of the first settlers day to day. She has worked through archives and numerous libraries but also travelled twice to Plymouth and Boston to do physical and geographical research. She will be in Massachusetts all of next week lecturing in Plymouth the 7 th at 7 pm at the Pilgrim Hall Museum, in Newport on the 8 th then at Winslow House on the 9 th and in Boston at the NEHGS, the New England Genealogical Historic society on the 10 th. She will be hosted by the Mayflower descendants all around. Rebecca Fraser will then speak at the Union Club in New York on the 15th. But the book is and will be in all bookstores….
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