The Wordy Shipmates
By Sarah Vowell
The Wordy Shipmates is an entertaining book that will have readers fascinated by the history of America’s founding and the sheer silliness of history sometimes.
Vowell begins with the sailing of the ship Arabella and a blessing by Reverend John Cotton, which being a rather long and dreary speech common for its time, leaves the reader and these particular sailors and passengers, with much to think about in terms of the task they are embarking upon. While she does not provide much in terms of the history of the very early Puritans, as her work focuses on the words of the men at the time, one is left with an odd but very insightful interpretation of the types of people who were setting out to found a new land.
Her wit punctuates the story in all the right places reminding the reader of the silly and trifling events that have taken place which have made America what it is today. She takes readers on both a mental and physical journey as she road trips to places such as Boston and Connecticut to view for herself what has become of these locations she has only known from books and letters.
She talks about her fascination with these Puritans and their religion. Under her watchful and admiring eye, she once again brings these men to life, even if in some instances only to air their dirty laundry. While she does point out much of the inane arguments that took place at the time, you see the admiration that she holds for these individuals and what they are undertaking.
One caution about the book – if you are looking for a purely historical read, you will not find it here. A short book, only 254 pages, it reads more like a dissertation rather than an in-depth historical look at the time period. Her topic is well focused and she does not divert from what she has set out to research — the letters of the men inhabiting the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
She is insightful, witty, and very respectful toward her subjects. She leaves readers with much to think about and a laugh or two along the way.