Randy Dotinga in The Christian Science Monitor:
Thanksgiving isn't just an opportunity for kids to discover they can draw turkey outlines with their hands. It's a time for history buffs to ponder the Pilgrims, those complicated characters who left an ever-confounding American legacy. British author Rebecca Fraser brings the Pilgrims to vivid life in her new book The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America. In an interview, Fraser – the daughter of famed historian Lady Antonia Fraser – talks about the immigrant status of the Pilgrims, their civic dreams, and their surprisingly friendly relationships with Native Americans. "However clichéd," she says, "there is a good deal of truth in the Mayflower legend!"
Q: You describe how many of the Pilgrims were treated in Holland with the disrespect that immigrants so often encounter today – forced to live in hovels and take low-level jobs that nobody else wants. Do you connect them to immigrants of our time?
As I was writing this book, the plight of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa began to be very visible in Europe. The parallel for me was that a lot of these people are like the Pilgrims – many had professional qualifications in their own countries. Today’s refugees are surgeons and doctors and lawyers who have nothing to show their status in their home country. One of the most important Pilgrim leaders was an ex-diplomat who descended from a long line of members of Parliament, and many others came from wealthy families. The Pilgrims had to leave England because there was a clampdown by King James I. To practice their religion, they had to live in Holland, which was in favor of all Protestants, and in the town of Leiden, whose town government gave financial support to all reformed foreign churches that sought sanctuary within its walls. But the downside of Leiden was that the Pilgrims had to abandon their homes and work for Dutch cloth manufacturers who exploited them. Spending 12 hours at their looms was normal. And like most refugees, they were living in pretty unpleasant circumstances because they had very little money.