In the Prologue, set in Plymouth Colony, New England, in the year 1623, Francis Eaton and the physician Samuel Fuller stand by helplessly at the bedside of Francis’ wife Dorothy, who had tended so many of the other pilgrims/refugees who crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower along with her, and is herself now dying of that same fever. But as she lies there delirious, she keeps insisting that she is not Dorothy at all; that her name is Bessie.
The Mayflower Maid opens some twenty years earlier, at the end of the reign of glorious Queen Elizabeth and the beginning of the reign of James Stewart, her repulsive successor, and is the story of this Bessie, who became known to all as Dorothy.
We witness her childhood as the victim of a bestial stepfather, her life as a maid in a manor house in Lincolnshire, her engagement to a young ‘separatist’ – a dissenter, one who would not accept the official and episcopal Church of England any more than they would accept the Church of Rome – and her subsequent voyage to America.
Here, in what is perhaps the best part of the book (though it is all excellent) we have a graphic blow-by-blow description of the journey of the persecuted Pilgrim Fathers (and mothers, and the poor suffering and dying children!) from their homes in and around Lincolnshire to their final arrival not in warm, hospitable Virginia as planned, but near Cape Cod at the beginning of winter.
I love the period, I love the story. And I shall definitely be buying – and reviewing – the rest of the trilogy (Jamestown Woman and Restoration Lady) in the very near future.