Saturday, June 15, 2013


During my teaching career of over thirty years, I adapted to different textbooks, but the literary selections stayed consistently the same until the twenty-first century. Then, bam! the old reliable disappeared and new texts appeared – some of this was a good thing, some not so much.

In the last years I primarily taught American Literature and to say the “canon” shifted is understatement, but, eh, not going write about that early on this Saturday morning.

The American literature course began, of course, with the early days of American history, and the textbook offered limited fare: William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation, John Smith's Jamestown experience, and William Byrd's History of the Dividing Line. Even though I found merit in each of those, my students yawned and complained and whined that this stuff was “awful” and that if the course continued in this way they might have to “revolt.”

As they might quip, but let me beat them to it: Whatever.

Then, with the “new” textbook material, emerged an excerpt from the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, a minister's wife living in Lancaster, Massachusetts, who, along with three of her children [one died six days after], was held hostage during the short but devastating King Philip's War of 1675. Until this appeared in the recently adapted anthology, I had never heard of it.

This revealing story of naked Indians “thunking settlers in the 'noggin,” starvation, faith, and death finally piqued the interest of my students.

Massachusetts Survivor?

In my humble opinion their imaginations should have allowed them to see that with William Bradford, but if it took Mary Rowlandson and the bloody attack on her town – so be it.

What I wished I'd had as a companion piece to stimulate the interest of my students in the origin of their country was Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War.

Published in 2006, Philbrick's research, anecdotes, maps, and prose laid the foundation on how those first men and women made a go of it in a land where others had failed. Not only does he tell of the harrowing trip aboard the most recognizable ship name in history, but he takes the story beyond the first Thanksgiving and into the difficult years after that memorable first year.

In those fifty-five years that followed, as much as the settlers and natives lived peacefully, the seeds of greed, race, religion, and violence had been planted, and it would be the grand-children of those “new” Americans who would meet the inevitable fate of the repercussions of the loss of trust when those seeds produce ugly fruit.

Philbrick concludes Mayflower with an in-depth look at the events, deceptions, and mis-communications that led to one of the bloodiest conflicts in American history – King Philip's War.

A compelling read, Philbrick continues to be the go to writer for the layman interested in history.

If you are an American literature teacher out there reading this blog, add this book to your suggested reading list. Just sayin'.


1 comment:

  1. No, I'm not an "official American Lit. teacher, but I am a homeschoolin' momma who is interested in this telling.

    I'll share it on FB with some others who wear the same hat. ;-)

    My 9-year old son is a history nut, but from what you said, maybe it's too graphic for him. I reckon I'll have to check it out first.