This book captures and celebrates the grit and struggle of the Pilgrim women who stepped off the Mayflower in the winter of 1620 to an unknown world – one filled with hardship, danger and death. The Plymouth Colony would not have survived without them.
Mary Allerton Cushman was the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower, dying at age 88 in 1699.
Mary’s life is set against the real background of that time. The Last Pilgrim begins from her father’s point of view – she was, after all, only four when she descended into the cramped and dank living space below deck on the Mayflower – but gradually assumes Mary’s voice, as the colony achieves a foothold in the New England’s rocky soil.
What was a woman’s life like in the Plymouth Colony? The Last Pilgrim will tell you.
I received a free Kindle version of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Since 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth, UK to Plymouth, MA, I was interested in reading this account of the life of Mary Allerton Cushman. Mary was only four years old during the arduous journey made by the separatists, who later became known as pilgrims. Their story is well known in Massachusetts and taught from an early age. I was keen to read this account written for an adult audience and was rewarded by a narrative filled with a great deal of well-researched historical detail. Some of the events were relayed in a slightly unemotional manner, there could have been more excitement during the description of John Howland having fallen overboard and his rescue, and also an episode in which one of the cross beams of the Mayflower cracks during a heavy storm. These events, the illness and death below decks must have been terrifying.
The beginning of the book introduces us to Mary in 1699, as an elderly woman, looking back on her life. We then switch to her father, Isaac Allerton, in whose voice most of the early chapters are written, switching to Mary occasionally, as she gets a little older. When Mary reaches the age of 8 she is put out to live with another family, that of the Governor of the Plymouth colony. Mary’s behaviour is unruly and her father has struggled to tame her since the death of his wife on the Mayflower. This event is useful since the narrator is now a party to the majority of conversations held within the Governor’s house and through these we learn of relations with the local natives, the problems relating to debt which follow the settlers and the subsequent trade deals set up by Mary’s father, which have detrimental effects on his relationship with the governor and eventually lead to his leaving the colony.
It was interesting to hear in detail the processes which Mary must learn in order to become a goodwife: soap making, cooking, spinning flax into cloth and how to catch leeches in a bottle from a river, to name but a few. The author clearly spent plenty of time researching every possible aspect of life in the colony and describes it in an engaging manner.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Historical Fiction.
The Mayflower II replica ship, located once more in Plymouth, MA after being fully refurbished in time for the 400 year anniversary in 2020.
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About the author:
Noelle A. Granger grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in a rambling, 125-year-old house with a view of the sea. Summers were spent sailing and swimming. She was also one of the first tour guides at Plimoth Plantation. Granger graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and from Case Western Reserve University with a Ph.D. in anatomy. Following a career of research in developmental biology and teaching human anatomy to medical students and residents, the last 28 years of which were spent at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. The Rhe Brewster Mystery Series was born.
The series features Rhe Brewster, an emergency room nurse, as the protagonist. Rhe lives in the fictional coastal town of Pequod, Maine, (similar to Plymouth) and Granger uses her knowledge of such a small town, her experiences sailing along the Maine coast, and her medical background to enrich each book in the series. In the first book, Death in a Red Canvas Chair, the discovery of a wet, decaying body of a young woman, sitting in a red canvas chair at the far end of a soccer field, leads Rhe on a trail that heads to a high-end brothel and a dodgy mortuary operation.
The second novel in the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Death in a Dacron Sail, was released in 2015, and finds Rhe responding to a discovery by one of the local lobstermen: a finger caught in one of his traps. The third book, Death By Pumpkin, begins with the sighting of the remains of a man’s body in a car smashed by a giant pumpkin at the Pequod Pumpkin Festival. Up next? Death in a Mud Flat.
In addition to the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Granger has had short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, published in Deep South Magazine, Sea Level Magazine, the Bella Online Literary Review, and Coastal Style Magazine, and has been featured in Chapel Hill Magazine, The News & Observer, The Boothbay Register, and other local press. Granger lives with her husband, a cat who blogs, and a hyperactive dog in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She spends a portion of every summer in Maine.