Book Review: The Last Pilgrim by Noelle Granger

The Last Pilgrim
Noelle Granger

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always been interested in American history, especially that of the early American settlers, who endured many hardships as they built lives in a new land. I very much enjoyed reading Noelle Granger’s latest book, The Last Pilgrim, a rich historical fiction about Mary Allerton Cushman, the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower.

In 1620, Mary Allerton was four years old when she and her family arrived on the Mayflower in what would soon become Plymouth Colony. She grew up and married Thomas Cushman, a man she’d known since childhood, who became a Ruling Elder of the colony. Together they worked the land and raised eight children. Like all of the settlers, however, they faced many dangers and endured sickness, hardship and loss. Both Thomas and Mary lived long lives, despite these trials. Thomas died in 1691 at age eighty-four and Mary died in 1699 at age eighty-three.

This well-researched story is told mostly in Mary’s voice and some in her father, Isaac Allerton’s. It portrays her as a bright young girl, full of questions and a mind of her own. When her mother dies, Isaac Allerton fears that Mary, his youngest child and a willful girl, will be without proper supervision. He places her in Governor William Bradford’s household where Alice Bradford teaches her the many difficult tasks assigned to women, including caring for children, cooking, gardening, spinning wool, weaving flax, helping with childbirth, learning herbal remedies, and making candles, soap and beer. As a member of the Bradford household, Mary’s inquisitive mind is also tuned in to William Bradford’s colony business, an interest she cultivates and maintains throughout her life, and for which she often receives rebukes from her husband. “It isn’t your place to question me, wife. I’m responsible for our welfare and will see to it,” Thomas tells her.

Granger’s unfiltered history also reveals the complex and ever-changing relationships colonists had with the different Native American tribes, who were often at war with each other and had treaties and alliances with different tribes and colonies. She shows this darker side of American history, a time when settlers stole corn from the natives, pillaged their camps and, during times of war, massacred Indians, including women and children. Other descriptions reveal the colonists’ challenges as they try to establish a community, including the ever-present pressure for payment of debts to the Merchant Adventurers, who financed their voyage, and the simmering conflict with England over independence.

Family life and the Separatists’ religious beliefs are also prominent themes in Granger’s story and she portrays the settlers matter-of-factly in their efforts to worship, propagate and govern. Discipline was important as well as knowing one’s place and while Granger’s Cushmans love their children, they raise them under the strict rules of the times, with frequent thrashings for impertinence. Punishments for transgressions in their community include hangings and other harsh sentences. It’s no wonder these early settlers were tough, which likely made them able to survive.

The Last Pilgrim is full of life and history and is an uncensored look at early American settlers. Granger’s extensive research is evident in its telling and I found it easy to imagine Mary Cushman’s life with all its difficulties as well happy times. I recommend The Last Pilgrim to readers who enjoy historical fiction and want to learn more about early American life.

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39 thoughts on “Book Review: The Last Pilgrim by Noelle Granger

  1. Interesting. My husband read the book about Roger William that was a big deal about 10 years ago, and from what he told me while reading it, the Puritans were indeed a tough bunch, and in some ways pretty brutal. It sounds like this book isn’t sugarcoated and would be a valuable addition from the perspective of the women who did a whole lot of the “settling” of early America.

    1. I agree – the author grew up in Plymouth, and has a lot of knowledge about its history. You would have to be tough to survive this time period. I also enjoyed learning about the role women played during these years. Thank you for reading!

    2. Thanks, Jan, for your thoughtful comment. I did write it to celebrate the lives of the Pilgrim women, who have been pretty much overlooked in our history. Colonies founded without women did not survive!

  2. Sounds like an important book and you signaled that again when you noted: “an uncensored look at early American settlers”
    And who knows what a book like this can lead to! For example – years ago I watched the shirt documentary about how Hamilton came about after Lin-Manuel Miranda Read Chernow’s bio about Hamilton!
    So who knows how research and writing can ripple into the world !

    1. Thanks, Prior, for your comments. Getting this book “out there’ this year has been extremely difficult. No meetings with book clubs, no readings at book stores, etc. I am hoping 2021 will be better, once the vaccine is everywhere. I hope you enjoy my book and learn a lot about Mary and the other women who ensured the success of the Plimoth Colony.

    1. Hi Books and Bakes – thank you for reading and commenting about The Last Pilgrim. I am doing fine – I’ve been so busy I haven’t been on my blog much lately. I hope you are doing well and staying healthy 🧡

    2. HI Books and Bakes – I would love to know what you think of the book if you decided to give it a read. It is not all sunshine and lollipops, which seems to be the way a lot of Pilgrim history is portrayed!

    1. Hi Jill – yes, Noelle did a tremendous amount of research before she wrote The Last Pilgrim and it shows. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you are doing well. I’ve been out of the loop again and hope to settle back into my blog this week. Stay healthy 🧡

      1. Aww, thank you for that wonderful review. I am so glad you enjoyed the read and apparently took in a lot of the history I researched! I tried to be fair in my treatment of the Native Americans by the Pilgrims
        and am very aware of the current feeling by members of the Wampanoag tribe living in the Plymouth area. The name of Plimoth Plantation – the recreation of the first Pilgrim village where I worked – it is being changed to Plimoth- Patuxet in recognition of the fact that this village was built on their land.
        Thanks so much again!

      2. Hi Noelle – I’ve been wanting to read The Last Pilgrim and I finally had the chance. I think you showed all sides to a complex problem and also how some settlers were uncomfortable with the way the Indians were treated. I also remember reading about this in Mayflower and wondering how anyone could have kept all the alliances straight.

    2. Hi Jill, I hope you’ll give my book a read. It is deep in history and I LOVED doing the research and learned so much more than I thought I already knew. I was interested to find that there was a rebellion against the British in Boston 100 years before our Revolution, which I think sowed the seeds of dissent for what happened later. If you do read it, let me know what you think!

    1. Hi Lisa – I also read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick – that’s a narrative nonfiction. But otherwise I just had the general knowledge that we learned in elementary school. I didn’t grow up in New England, but I’ve always been interested in its history. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  3. What a great review. The name William Bradford rang a bell with me, so I checked and realised he originated from a village about 10 miles from where I live. More than that, he met fellow passengers on the Mayflower at a church only a short walk from my house. This is going to have to go on my TBR pile!

    1. That’s great news for me, Graeme. I became rather fond of Governor Bradford and shed a few tears when I wrote the chapter where he shuffles off his mortal coil.

  4. This sounds very interesting and it I do not think my pet peeve of modern attitudes foisted onto historical fiction characters will be found here! I’ll probably look for this one. Thanks

    1. Hi Bette and thanks for stopping by – historical fiction is a great way to imagine what life was like in different times. Hope you get a chance to read this!

  5. How wonderful of you to read and review Noelle’s book. It’s on my Kindle…one of these days! Sooner rather than later. I love the idea that Noelle celebrates the Pilgrim WOMEN who as she says, without them, the colonies would not have survived.

  6. It sounds like an excellent book including all the research that went into it. It’s always important in my view that history is told, unfettered, warts and all. The women were clearly a force to be reckoned with. Thanks Barbara for the review and all success to Noelle.

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