Pilgrims & Puritans: 1620-1676 (The Drama Of American History #2), by Christopher Collier & James Lincoln Collier
Despite the relatively small numbers of people who were involved in the Pilgrim (hundreds) and Puritan (tens of thousands) migrations to New England and the lamentable present state of New England social culture, the Pilgrims and Puritans have always had an outsized importance in the political and religious culture that developed within the United States. The ambivalent relationship that these religious separatists and reformers had with the English government and the struggle that they faced to make a living and carve out a settlements and preserve their own identity and culture in the face of rough wilderness and increasingly hostile but divided native peoples proved to be decisive in helping to form an American identity that combined a certain paranoia about government with the high need for a well-armed and prickly society that remain important to this day. The authors are shrewd enough to recognize this even though they are by no means interested in defending the religious beliefs of Puritans and Separatists, which in some ways are not so different from my own, and the main reason I find them interesting personally. This book is aimed at kids, though, so it keeps difficult religious language to a minimum.
This book is a bit less than 100 pages and part of a series of volumes that is aimed at discussing colonial American history for middle grade readers. The book begins with a preface, then discusses the Pilgrims and Puritans as English Calvinists and compares and contrasts them (1). After that the authors discuss the way that the Pilgrims came to a desolate land in Plymouth and considered it an Eden (2), though the authors view that as a mistake. The authors then discuss how John Winthrop led some Puritans out of England to Massachusetts (3) and how they established their Bible Commonwealth there (4). After that the authors discuss the spread of the Bible Commonwealths throughout New England in Connecticut and Rhode Island and New Hampshire (5) and also how the local peoples (called Indians, as this book was written in the late 90’s and so isn’t as woke as it wants to be) went to war to try to stop English colonial expansion (6). Finally, the book ends with a discussion on the failure of the Puritan experiment and the legacy it left to following generations (7) as well as a bibliography and index for those readers who want more.
Is this a book that children will actually appreciate and find useful? It’s difficult to say. There is a lot in this book that makes sense as a way for the authors to explain how it is that a group of very serious religious English found themselves on the shores of New England in the early to mid-1600’s and how it was that this founder culture strongly influenced what happened later in American history even as that own culture weakened through time because of a decreasing religious zeal. This particular book focuses on the period between the landing at Plymouth Rock and the successful outcome of the bloody King Philip’s War that marked a crisis in New England and left the native peoples broken and the surviving English colonists rather shaken, and as such it does not go into much of the larger context both before and after the narrow period discussed. As such, this book is likely to be most read and appreciated by people who are approaching Thanksgiving and looking for material that would help them to better understand 17th century New England, and while this book is not amazing, it is certainly good enough for that.