Grant Wacker reviews John G. Turner’s They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Conquest for American Liberty. In a day and age when it is popular to demonize aspects of our American heritage by forgetting historiographical prerequisites like context and complexity, Wacker commends this recent study. He notes that Turner takes into account both sides of the story by emphasizing the courage of these first settlers as well as the oppression that surrounded them. He writes:
John G. Turner’s erudite study incorporates elements of both of these scenarios—and adds at least two new ones. First, he highlights the role of irony, ambiguity, complexity, and unintended consequences in the Pilgrim experience. In Turner’s telling, noble aspirations and ignoble behavior continually mix to form shadows where there is light (and light where there is darkness).
Second, Turner features lesser-known actors in the conventional narrative. We learn of male and female sachems who struggled to defend their homes against European encroachment, settlers who condemned other settlers’ rapacity for land and wealth, magistrates who suffered reprisals for their principled stands for something like democracy, and Christian missionaries (both European and Native) who labored at great personal cost and for few rewards.
If anyone is interested in the vital period, Turner’s account appears to be worth checking out.