Mary Ellen Gilliland’s book George Soule, Mayflower Pilgrim, and His Descendants: An American Story is a little gem. I have copy number 100 in my possession, and it’s a best-kept secret among American histories. Mary Ellen is a famous Summit County, CO, journalist, historian, and writer who has published 18 books, award-winning historical titles among them, and hundreds of articles. Her book The Summit Hiker and Ski Touring Guide has had 10 printings. There isn’t anybody I know of who has come to Summit County, CO, and visited places like Keystone or Dillon or Silverthorne or Breckenridge and other locations who hasn’t seen the book or read it and used it to make their way around the Summit County scene.
Less known among Mary Ellen Gilliland’s works is her 2020 history about her ancestor, George Soule, a passenger on the Mayflower who came to America as an indentured servant, and his descendants. Because of the democratic processes embraced by the Plimouth Colony’s founders, George was a signer of the Mayflower Compact, the first documented set of democratic principles articulated in English on the North American continent. (We say, “in English,” because we also remember that the Iroquois Confederacy, a participatory democracy founded in 1142, also shaped our democratic republic after its constitution, agreed in 1722, was recorded in two lines on a wampum belt. For that fascinating story, see “How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy,” https://www.pbs.org/native-america/blogs/native-voices/how-the-iroquois-great-law-of-peace-shaped-us-democracy/.)
We learn from Mary Ellen’s book how the history of the United States evolved from this original settlement, and some details may be new findings for those who want to study 400 years of history. For example, all Pilgrims were required to bring their weapons with them to church services. If you read Mary Ellen’s book, you are going to find out why. For those who want to talk about the origins of citizen armies and citizen arms ownership and the rights of the early settlers of the country to defend themselves, this is a nugget of history that never gets reflected in the discussion. You might say that the Second Amendment to the Constitution can, in fact, be traced all the way back to the Pilgrim colony settled by the Mayflower survivors.
Another example might be Mary Ellen’s discussion of how Europeans brought diseases to North American tribes against which Native Americans had no immunity. European diseases decimated Native American populations from the period following Columbus’s arrival in 1492 through the 16th and 17th centuries. As the Pilgrims sought to erect their own shelters, some Mayflower settlers copied the wetu shelters they found in an abandoned Wampanoag village whose residents had succumbed to disease. (They knew enough about plagues not to move in.) Another epidemic would sweep through in 1616, followed by smallpox in 1630. There’s a lesson here for those who think a pandemic is something new. Devastating epidemics unfolded on American soil over 400 years ago. That’s worth learning about.
There are many, many marvelous historical snippets in Mary Ellen Gilliland’s book documenting her family’s history spanning 400 years. Learn how Jim Beam bourbon came about, for example, and discover all sorts of fascinating details about daily life at various points in American history.
Enough teasing, dear reader. Here’s how to get this gem of American historical nonfiction that not enough people know about. You can obtain your copy from Zoe Books at this link: https://checkout.square.site/buy/TKTIF4VJYKRTCPOXNDRIAAKL. The book’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/maryellenpilgrimbook, offers more information about the book and its author. As Mary Ellen has penned on the title page of each signed book, “Enjoy this window into our heritage.”
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