The Barbarous Years – The Original American Immigrants

Pulitzer Prize winning author Bernard Bailyn writing The Barbarous Years opens a sweeping and authoritative discourse into the  peopling of North American between 1600 and 1675.  From Jamestown, Virginia to Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who were these individuals who braved three plus months voyages on small, crowded and disease infested ships to arrive at the edge of the American wilderness? You will learn not only who they were but why some succeeded while others were destined to fail.


No one needs tout Bailey’s credentials as historian and researcher. He is brilliant. However, what is most remarkable is his ability to keep the subject flowing, fascinating and understandable for the lay reader. Bailyn delivers in brilliant digital display the complexity and challenges of the people responsible for the early settlement of North America.

Think of this:

Why did the Jamestown fail numerous times?

Why did the Catholics establish a foothold in Maryland and the Finns and Swedes in Delaware?

Why did The Massachusetts Bay Colony begin to work from day one.? Was it religious fervor or the composition of the settlers themselves?

What role did the varied Native American tribes play in the success or failure of early settlement.

How did the Pilgrims differ from the Puritans and the aforementioned from the  Quakers and the Dutch?

Were indentured servants a precursor to slavery?

Winthrop, Bradford ,Stuyvesant, Keift, Underhill, King Philips War.

The Barbarous Years that marked the original settling of America is a most accurate title for the book. Adventurers, scoundrels, orphans, preachers, doctors, lawyers, Native Americans, politicians, merchants and perhaps most important, the hundreds of unnamed families with children who came to America during the Great Migration of the 1630s , bringing with them the skills and the ethic to permanently settle on the land.

The ” New World” was British North America during its early settlement but Bailyn clearly identifies the complexity of cultures, trade and geography that would eventually become America. The Barbarous Years is a fabulous foundation for understanding colonial America’s formative years. Also by Bernard Bailyn: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, and Voyages to the West, which won a Pulitzer.

A wonderful different perspective of the  settlement of the Massachusetts Bay Colony comes from reading Anya Seton’s historical novel Winthrop Women. Search



Author Nathaniel Philbrick makes it easy and joyful to love history. I first became a fan when I read  Philbrick’s Mayflower.


In 358  concise pages Philbrick manages to capture the essence of the complete story of the Pilgrims voyage, The Plymouth Colony,  Native Americans, King Philip’s War and of course Massasoit,  Miles Standish and William Bradford.  Philbrick’s  historical narrative  flows with an ease , in great part, because the reader never loses track of the principal players  and their recurring roles as history unfolds.  This single volume  painlessly educates  the reader about Puritan history, the odd collection of mankind called Pilgrims, the Mayflower’s voyage,  King Philips War and the beginning of the two century’s  of deceitful treatment of Native Americans .  The efficiency with which Philbrick tells this story is remarkable.



For all of the aforementioned good reasons I eagerly purchased Philbrick’s THE LAST STAND, Custer, Sitting Bull and The Battle of The Little Bighorn.  Once again the author distills this often told story into 312 pages of narrative that places all of the elements of a  complex story, distorted by time and ideology,  into laser-like focus.  Interwoven in  both books is the vivid picture of  how not much had changed between the white settlers engagement with the Indians of  New England in 1620 and the duplicitous treatment of  America’s Great Plains Indians in the later part of the 19th century.  In both cases the author explodes many myths carried forward over the two centuries.   THE LAST STAND, much to absorb about American culture, Manifest Destiny, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Custer, Reno and what can occur when a presidential administration becomes distracted!

Because the subject matter of the Mayflower and Custer’s Last Stand is so much in the public domain you may think you already have a firm grasp on the narrative.  Think again! Take a second look  at these two landmarks in  American history through the eyes, mind and research of historian  and story-teller Nathaniel Philbrick.

Also by Nathaniel Philbrick In The Heart of The Sea, Sea of Glory; The Epic South Seas Expedition 1838-1842 .  I am currently reading  Philbrick’s latest work , Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution.