My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ of 5
Was there a murder on the Mayflower? Maybe. But without doubt, a murder did occur in Plymouth Colony, ten years after its founding. That crime is the vehicle upon which TaraShea Nesbit builds a story that blows America’s long standing myths about the “godly” Pilgrims clear out of the water.
Nesbit’s two protagonists are women, Alice, the wife of Governor William Bradford, and Eleanor, married to indentured servant John Billington. On a daily basis, all must grapple with a myriad of unfamiliar dangers as they try to establish successful lives in a strange new environment. In spite of the pious religious ideals espoused at the meeting house, the identical socio/economic tensions that existed in Europe continue to cause tremendous strain in the new world. Bradford is responsible for allocating land allotments to all colonists, and does so with an uneven hand. With every new wave of incomers, tensions multiply, and when the elites conspicuously fail to assuage them, the first murder of a colonist by a colonists occurs.
The story plays out in alternating chapters, essentially mini-autobiographies, narrated by the educated, refined Alice Bradford and the working class Eleanor Billington. In spite of their status difference, as women, each of them is virtually powerless in this society, as their experiences make clear. Through their words, we watch conflicts take root that grow so innate that they continue to dominate America today.
Nesbit’s research for her novel appears sound and deep, and her prose is evocative. Read this short but compelling book, and watch the the cloying myth of the noble and selfless puritans finally shatter.