The Deep Story Of Mayflower Pilgrims

The story of the Mayflower Pilgrims is more complicated – beautiful and frightening — than we were taught in school. We listen and learn.

An image from Jennie A. Brownscombe's 1914 painting, "The First Thanksgiving At Plymouth." (Wikicommons)

An image from Jennie A. Brownscombe’s 1914 painting, “The First Thanksgiving At Plymouth.” (Wikicommons)

The Pilgrims weren’t the first colony in America, but they’ve become the country’s origin story. We learn in school about their flight from tyranny, their religious yearning, their difficulties. Then we boil it down to maybe a moment of prayer and throwing a heck of a Thanksgiving. The true, deep story of the Pilgrims is more harrowing and challenging than we generally acknowledge. Their suffering. Their radicalism. Their resorting to bloodletting to survive. And then, how they took center stage in our history. This hour On Point, a new documentary on the deep, true story of the Pilgrims.

— Tom Ashbrook


Ric Burns, documentary filmmaker and writer. Director of the new film, “The Pilgrims.” Also author of “We Shall Remain,” “Death And The Civil War,” and “New York: A Documentary Film.” (@RicBurnsFilms)

Kathleen Donegan, professor of early American literature and culture at the University of California, Berkeley. Author of “Seasons of Misery.”

Linda Coombs, program director of the Aquinnah Cultural Center. Author and historian from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head.

From The Reading List

WMHT: American Experience: The Pilgrims — “Arguably one of the most fateful and resonant events of the last half millennium, the Pilgrims’ journey west across the Atlantic in the early 17th century is a seminal, if often misunderstood episode of American and world history. ‘The Pilgrims’ will explore the forces, circumstances, personalities and events that converged to exile the English group in Holland and eventually propel their crossing to the New World; a story universally familiar in broad outline, but almost entirely unfamiliar to a general audience in its rich and compelling historical actuality.”

New Yorker: Plymouth Rocked — “In proportion to population, King Philip’s War was one of the deadliest wars in American history. More than half of all English settlements in New England were either destroyed or abandoned. Hundreds of colonists were killed. Thousands of Indians died; those who survived, including Philip’s nine-year-old son, Massasoit’s grandson, were loaded on ships and sold into slavery. Because the conflict was, for both sides, a holy war, it was waged with staggering brutality.”

The Atlantic: Gifts of the Puritans — “Puritan premises and practices gestated and channeled some of the liberal-capitalist premises, practices, and paradoxes that are now embraced and reviled the world over. They shaped much of the American republic and, arguably, sustained it through the New Deal and through the civil-rights, anti-Vietnam War, and Watergate confrontations. Puritan conceits and hypocrisies certainly seeded some of these messes, but Puritan principles and virtues clarified and rescued the republic from the very worst of them, as they had done in the Civil War.”

Watch A Trailer For “The Pilgrims”

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