The popular perception of those who arrived on the shores of North America on the Mayflower is that they were all godly puritans and that the colony of Plymouth was an idyllic community where everyone worked equally hard and religious harmony prevailed.
This image may be idealized, if we are to believe the version of the story presented in TaraShea Nesbit’s new historical novel, Beheld. Set in the year 1630, it shows Plymouth, on the coast of what is today eastern Massachusetts, in its tenth year of existence. The place is turning a minimal profit from agriculture and animal husbandry and is still paying its debts to its English investors.
But there is a rift between the “elites” of the settlement, led by William Bradford, and those who came with them on the Mayflower as their indentured servants. One of them is John Billington, who does not share the puritan principles, and who had just completed the term of his servitude. As a man free from any obligation to others, he expects to receive an acre of land for each member of his family, as is the rule for every man, woman, and child in the colony. However, the puritans, convinced of their superiority over him and other current or former servants, refuse to grant him the acre that should have belonged to recently deceased son.
Meanwhile, a new ship appears on the horizon. It, too, carries settlers from Europe for the colony thta needs new members to grow and expand. But not everyone is sharing in the excitement. When his last plea for redress to Bradford falls on deaf ears, Billington vows to take justice into his own hands before his land is given to one of the new arrivals.
Beheld is told from the perspective of Billington and his wife as well as Bradford and his wife, showing how both sides rationalized their positions in the growing conflict. What it points to, in effect, is that the social distinctions and inequalities in the old world were transplanted into the new one along with the settlers. It contains flashbacks to the puritan community’s earlier life in Holland, and the hardships and sacrifices of the subsequent journey. It is an informative look at the history and an interesting reimagining of the lives – especially of the colony’s women – that we know only from the settlers’ concise accounts.
If you like historical mysteries, you may enjoy Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1, set at the 16th century royal court in Cracow. It’s available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.