PBS Documentary "The Pilgrims": A Review

I finally got a chance to watch Ric Burns' "The Pilgrims" that came out on Thanksgiving while I was traveling in England.  My preview screening that I was told I'd be getting never arrived.  Anyway, now that I have seen it, I thought I should share a few thoughts. The documentary is very well done, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in the Pilgrims to watch it.  Its focus is primarily on William Bradford and the history of the Pilgrims as told by the Bradford manuscript "Of Plymouth Plantation."  It follows the development of the Pilgrim church in England, through their time in Holland, and ultimately their first couple decades in America.  Shot in close collaboration with the Plimoth Plantation Museum, there is plenty of great footage of the Mayflower II and the reconstructed Plantation.  There are numerous dramatic readings from the Bradford manuscript, which are well chosen and placed within the narrative.  Numerous interviews throughout with historians (Nathaniel Philbrick, Nick Bunker, Sue Allan, John Demos, etc.) add context, and light background reenactments contribute to the historical context. Candle-lit scenes seem to dominate throughout. It is a very well done documentary that is respectful and accurate to the history of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.  It is a little weak in its coverage of the Pilgrims' time in Leiden, missing entirely the Pilgrims' publishing of pamphlets and books on the Brewster printing press, for example, up to the publication of Perth Assembly and the trouble that nearly got them into.

Of course I would be remiss if I did not call out a few of the extremely minor historical inaccuracies that I noted as I watched.  Again, very minor points that have little bearing on the overall story being portrayed, but worth pointing out nonetheless.

  • Christopher Jones is twice referred to as "Captain Jones" when he should be referred to as "Master Jones."  Captain was a military designation.
  • One of the historians commented that the Pilgrims' rejected the church hierarchy of "bishops, priests and deacons."  The Pilgrims rejected the church hierarchy of the pope, cardinals, bishops, archbishops; but they maintained pastors and deacons (as well as elders and teachers).
  • It was stated that "90% of the adult males" signed the Compact.  I would argue 100% of the adult males signed.  Find me a single example of an adult male who can be reasonably documented to have been over 21 who did not sign the Compact ...
  • It was said the "First Encounter" fight with the Indians on Cape Cod lasted "for hours."  That seems rather dubious; when I read the original account it sure sounds like it lasted only a few minutes.
  • I'm pretty sure I heard someone say the Pilgrims' common house was "21 square feet." I don't think the size of the common house was ever recorded anywhere, but I am quite sure it was bigger than a dollhouse.  Maybe I misheard and they said "21 foot square", I didn't bother to go back and find it to double-check my hearing.

Below is a link to the Amazon order page for the DVD version of "The Pilgrims".  It is well worth the price of admission if you have any interest in the history of the Pilgrims.