The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

We all know about the Pilgrims.  They’re those stuffy English folk with the funny hats and buckled shoes that came over on the Mayflower and ate some turkey with the Native Americans back in the day.  If that is still your idea of the Pilgrims, then Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates will certainly surprise you.

Vowell, a contributor for NPR, set out to find out more about those Pilgrims that founded Boston ten years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. Vowell follows  those brave souls that travelled from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially John Winthrop, the eventually leader and governor of the colony.  These Pilgrims, Puritans, or Separatist (whatever you want to call them) were far from the up-tight, single dimension, buckle-wearing Pilgrims that we remember from grade school.  Vowell found these people to be highly literate, highly principled, and surprisingly feisty.  Along with discovering more about these Pilgrims, you’ll learn more about the very principles upon which America was founded, including religious freedom.

Having heard Vowell on NPR and appreciating her humor and tone, I was immediately interested in her books.  The Wordy Shipmates  was a delightful surprise.  The material is at first glance as dull and dry, but the presentation is what will surprise you.  I had remembered that Anne Hutchinson was outlawed from the colony and went to help found Rhode Island, but having Vowell compare her trial to a ping pong match and certain presidential candidate debate is not only relevant but hilarious.  The text is peppered throughout with funny insights and humours asides.  Vowell gives us an honest and funny look at the Pilgrims we thought we knew.

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