New York Times best-selling author Nathaniel Philbrick joins Tim to talk about the story behind those pilgrims and the Mayflower in a way that covers much more than that first Thanksgiving. Nathaniel has authored many best sellers, but the one we’ll focus on in this episode is must-reading for anyone who wants to get the full story of Thanksgiving’s origins in America. The book is called simply, “Mayflower.” This episode marks the 400th anniversary of that world-changing voyage. This episode was originally released on November 23, 2020.
It’s been 400 years since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in the New World. The world was a much different place then than as it is now, in many ways, but for the sake of this episode the place to start is the practice of religion. Keep in mind, this is long before 1776 and the Declaration of Independence.
The Pilgrims lived under a king. King James, to be precise. And that king did not allow for freedom of religion. The Church was the state. The state was the Church. It was the Church of England. And for all intents and purposes, the king was god on earth.
If you did not recognize his church’s absolute authority over your life, you were persecuted, perhaps imprisoned and sometimes even executed, all because you did not believe in that church’s doctrines and teachings.
There were two groups who opposed this. The Puritans wanted to create change from within. And the separatists wanted to flee. They just wanted to leave England for a better place, where they could practice their religion according to their own conscience.
So, they did. In 1608, 12 years before the Mayflower, a group of separatists sailed from England to a town in Holland called Leiden. They went to Holland to worship their God the way they wanted.
And while they did experience religious freedom in Holland, they also found the rules had changed from what they were used to. The Dutch craft guilds did not accept them because they were migrants. They found themselves on the lowest rungs of the caste system. They worked the lowest jobs for the lowest pay.
The separatists also felt that the secular culture of Holland provided too much temptation for their children and worried it would lure them away from their faith.
That’s when the separatists decided to uproot and sail to the New World, where they could live and practice their faith on their own terms.
They returned to London to organize and get funding from a successful merchant.
The separatists then hired a merchant ship called the Mayflower and 40 separatists boarded it in September 1620. The 40 separatists were joined by others. A total of 102 passengers sailed on the Mayflower for the rugged shores of that New World.
In November of that year, they arrived at a place where a huge rock dominated the shore line. A rock they would dub Plymouth Rock, and that is where life in the New World – for them – began.
Nathaniel Philbrick’s book about the Mayflower is about more than one voyage and eventually the Thanksgiving story, though that is our focus today. He followed the separatists – the Pilgrims – through a 50-plus year history in the New World.
Nathaniel Philbrick, author page
Mayflower: Voyage, Community, War, by Nathaniel Philbrick, Amazon
The Mayflower, History.com
The Mayflower Compact, Yale.edu
Pilgrim Hall Museum
See Plymouth (tourism), Plymouth, Massachusetts
About this Episode’s Guest Nathaniel Philbrick
Nathaniel Philbrick was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he attended Linden Elementary School and Taylor Allderdice High School. He earned a BA in English from Brown University and an MA in America Literature from Duke University, where he was a James B. Duke Fellow. He was Brown University’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978,