Book Review: Puritans, Pilgrims, And Merchants

Puritans, Pilgrims, And Merchants:  Founders Of The Northeastern Colonies, by Kieran Doherty

Admittedly, this book takes a rather expansive look at what might be considered to be the Northeastern United States in that it not only looks at New England but also the Middle Atlantic states and looks at their colonial history not only in the founding but also going all the way to independence.  Admittedly, the focus is on the founders of the various colonies, but it is still pretty interesting to see the author even briefly discuss how the colonies of the Northeast and Middle Atlantic went from their founding up to independence.  For me, at least, one of the most fascinating mysteries of American colonial history is how a colony that began with among the most to offer, namely little Rhode Island, came to be so hated and have such an ambivalent history to the extent that its populist government in the period after the American Revolution made it a nearly textbook example of terrible politics.  This book does not entirely explain such a mystery but it does show the stress that the Puritans of New England faced in consolidating their power in the colonial period and the way that the British and their settler colonists expanded in a complex cultural mixture in Eastern North America.

This book is a bit more than 150 pages long and is divided into eight chapters that focus on different founders of various colonies in what became the United States of America.  After a short introduction the author discusses the founding of Plymouth through a biographical history of William Bradford that explores the life of the Pilgrims before settlement and some of the struggles they faced upon landing (1), including the familiar Thanksgiving story.  After that the author discusses John Winthrop and the founding of Puritan Massachusetts (2).  Peter Stuyvesant, that doughty Dutch soldier and administrator, becomes the figure about whom the author focuses his attention on the founding and development of Dutch New Netherlands, which was taken over by the English and became New York (3).  Roger Williams (4) and Anne Hutchinson (5) both get their own chapters relating to the founding of tiny Rhode Island as the author not only explores the founding of that dissident colony but also the spread of Puritan dissidents in general.  This leads to a discussion of Thomas Hooker (6) and the founding of Connecticut and John Wheelwright and the far more obscure story of the founding of New Hampshire (7).  Finally, the book ends with a look at William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania (8), named after the founder’s admiral father, after which the author includes a timeline of the colonial era, source notes, a bibliography, and an index.

It is clear that this book is meant to capitalize on the fondness that many people have in reading about the colonial period without the need to do a lot of burdensome and complex reading.  The biographical focus is certainly interesting, even if there is a fair amount of repetition here as the author deals with various situations multiple times.  The sidebars in this book are particularly interesting as well, and those who want to read the book would do well to read and appreciate them and what they bring to a view of the colonies from their founding, as some of the sidebars include the Plymouth Compact, the New Haven colony, the Quakers, and other subjects of interest to the student of colonial American history.  Perhaps the most obvious thing that allows this book to be a book instead of an essay are the fact that the author includes a discussion of later colonial history, albeit a generally breezy and superficial one, and also expands the definition of the Northeastern states to include New York and Pennsylvania (and also New Jersey and Delaware, although they are not discussed on their own but as part of other chapters).

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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