There is a lot to talk about here, but to begin, I was struck by your desire to “give voice to the women and Natives,” and I’m wondering what kind of research you did to ensure this happened. I’m also interested in what your research looked like more broadly and beyond this specific subject matter.
Giving voice to the women part was fairly easy. The Protestant denomination in which I was ordained has only been ordaining women clergy for 50 years. I was one of the early female candidates. During my seminary years I read a great many books on the history of women in the church. Though the women on the Mayflower were part of what has become the Congregational denomination, their experiences with the church of their day would not have been much different than all the other women I read about. I also read a great many books written by female theologians. All I needed to do for that part of the research was read up on life in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in terms of housing, food, clothing, daily life, etc. I had access to plenty of books and other resources for that.
Telling the Native version of the story proved problematic. My son-in-law, who is not quite half Native heritage, told me it wasn’t likely Native people would talk to me because white folks have made and broken so many, many promises over the past four centuries. However, I read books, articles, and online material; I hired a research assistant to find people for me to interview. I talked to university history professors, including Dr. David Silverman at George Washington University who wrote a book about the Wampanoag people. I read books by Native authors. I followed a couple of Native folks who teach Native American studies and write about that history on social media. The other challenging fact was that prior to COVID-19 shutting down all the plans for the 400th Mayflower anniversary events, the few Natives available for interviews were swamped with requests for their time.
Through a combination of determination and persistence, I eventually managed to connect and interview five Native people:
Chris Newell, an editor at Akomawt, a cultural editorial service. He reviewed an early draft and was extremely helpful in writing a realistic account of several aspects of the Native community in the area at that time.
Darius Coombs, a senior leadership staff member at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We spent an hour talking one afternoon after I’d already spent several hours at the Plantation listening to the guides and reading all the plaques.
Three generations of the Pokanoket family, all descendants of Massasoit Ousamequin. The senior member of the Family, Bill Guy, is 10 generations down from the Massasoit and the current Sagamore, or head of the modern Pokanoket Nation. His daughter, Tracey Brown, is a sachem or local, regional leader, and Tracey’s son, Donald Brown, is the Tribal historian. They have Pokanoket names, which translated mean Winds of Thunder (Bill), Dancing Star (Tracey) and Strong Turtle (Donald). This trio wrote the forward to the book. We’re confident their ancestor and my ancestor, William Brewster sat together along with many others in the spring of 1621 to work out the details of the treaty between the Native population and the English settlers.
To summarize: Though I can hardly speak for all women, I have no hesitation writing about what a white woman’s perspective might have been 400 years ago. I do hesitate to presume what the Native perspective would have been. However, I have access to an audience most Native people probably do not. I hope in risking telling portions of the story from the Native perspective I am adding a few more bricks in a road that connects our two cultures. I wrote in the letter to the readers that if I have offended anyone, it was not intentional.
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