Everything I learned about the Mayflower

… I learned from the TV.

Did I say television? The boob tube? Is that possible? Well, actually, before I learned about the Mayflower on TV, I was taught the story of the Pilgrims in various elementary school Thanksgiving pageants. They were quite inspiring, if not downright fanciful. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, an extremely interesting read that I highly recommend. It tells a story that is much more accurate than the one in the pageants, and thus, much more bleak, if not tragic.

A bit later (2015 to be exact) I watched the PBS-American Experience made-for-TV movie The Pilgrims. The Pilgrims was filmed largely at Plimoth Plantation, which really added to the period-specific experience for me. The film is not highly rated on IMDb, but I found it fascinating. The “most helpful” reviewer didn’t like that William Bradford was played by the elderly Roger Rees:  “Although the words he read (spoke) were interesting.” Fortunately, the reviewer concludes “we did learn some stuff while watching it. 5/10.” Another reviewer (2/10) titled their review “Dark and grim portrayal of the Pilgrim’s Experience.” Gee, what happened to those happy grade-school pageants?

“[Also], the Pilgrims were taken aback by how scantily dressed the Native Americans were.”

I also enjoyed the two-part television mini-series Saints and Strangers, which also has terrific period-production values. But, having been filmed in South Africa, I found the mountains in the background of some scenes a bit disconcerting. When I visited Plimoth Plantation a few years ago, there were no mountains to be seen anywhere. Even so, the film was extremely interesting. The IMDb reviews vary from “This project must become a classic. It reveals that our sentimental notions about Thanksgiving don’t reveal the truth” and ”Outstanding Miniseries: Well Researched and Beautifully Filmed” to “also, the Pilgrims were taken aback by how scantily dressed the Native Americans were. The Native Americans in this production are in full leathers! Another grievous error!” Well, there are grievous errors and not-so-grievous errors. The erroneous costumes of the Native American actors didn’t bother me. Personally, I was happy to see that all the Native roles were played by Native actors.

In any event, both TV shows are highly recommended by me. As is a visit to Plimoth Plantation for anyone interested in the story of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, and the Native Americans who helped them to survive.

About Sam Sturgis

Sam was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University and worked as a Human Factors researcher in automotive safety for 13 years. He entered the field of commercial software development in 1983 and acted as software developer and development manager at Wang Laboratories and The Foxboro Company. Sam joined the NEHGS staff in 2005. Sam's interest in genealogy began shortly after moving to Massachusetts, when he and his family chanced upon the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, during a vacation on Cape Cod. There he discovered that he is a descendent of the Sturgis family that settled on Cape Cod in the 1630's. Sam and his wife Gail live in Medway, Massachusetts. They have two grown children: Katie, a Registered Nurse in Wrentham, and David, a software developer in Somerville.

10 thoughts on “Everything I learned about the Mayflower

  1. SAm is spot on. Philbrick’s epic book “Mayflower” is a must read!
    Chapter 3 Into the Void tells the often overlooked or under-weighted topic of disease and its impact on both the conquered and conquerers. It begs the question ‘Would the Wampanoag’s have been so welcoming to the Pilgrims, as potential allies against their enemies the Narrangansetts, if they had not lost 90% of their tribe to small pox?

  2. All so true, Sam; if we only understood what those people endured it might help us from going stir crazy during the current crisis. Nat Philbrick’s book is a very readable and educational account of the Mayflower, but I’d also like to recommend Jeremy Bangs’ book, Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners, which describes the life of those people in Leiden, the years leading up to their emigration, and discusses just about every aspect of their situation. It’s totally based on primary evidence, and although it doesn’t appeal to the popular audience in the same way as Philbrick’s book, its scholarly nature doesn’t prevent it from being enjoyable to read, and it has a lot of carefully chosen illustrations. After you’ve read Philbrick, if you want to know more — lots more — look for Dr. Bangs’ book.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Jane. I’ve added Strangers and Pilgrims, Travelers and Sojourners to the top of my reading list.

  3. The PBS-American Experience series was especially well-done and should be seen by every American. All of them – Pilgrims, Montana 1889 (?), South Texas settlers, London during the Blitz (not USA but revealing)…those showed how very hard it is for us today to bear up under living conditions of earlier times. Thank you for remembering that series.

    1. It’s definitely worth it, James. I only wish I had made the visit when we first moved to Massachusetts many years ago. Better late than never!

  4. I have copies of both of these, as well as the Desperate Crossing told by The History Channel. The later may not be as historically correct as the other two, but it incredibly believable, especially the terrible storms they endure. My 10th great grandparents and their 13 year old daughter were passengers on that voyage. She was an orphan by early 1621.

    1. I’m also a descendant of the Tilley family and am astounded at the resilience of Elizabeth. She not only survived those early years, but flourished. As I’m sure you knoiw, she and husband John Howland had ten children and Elizabeth lived to age 80. She and Constance Hopkins (also 14 upon arrival and later, mother of 12 children).are my Mayflower heroes!

  5. Great blog Sam! I really found the Nathaniel Philbrick book amazing, there was so much I was not aware of.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.