STARRED REVIEW
April 2020

Beheld

By TaraShea Nesbit

Most Americans learn about the pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation in elementary school. But few know that besides the men and women seeking religious freedom, more than half of the Mayflower passengers were investors, indentured servants and crew members who were hired to stay the first year in the New World. Even fewer know about the murder of one colonist by another that occurred in the settlement’s early years. This crime and the social, political and religious anxieties that surround it are at the heart of TaraShea Nesbit’s new novel, Beheld.

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Most Americans learn about the pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation in elementary school. But few know that besides the men and women seeking religious freedom, more than half of the Mayflower passengers were investors, indentured servants and crew members who were hired to stay the first year in the New World. Even fewer know about the murder of one colonist by another that occurred in the settlement’s early years. This crime and the social, political and religious anxieties that surround it are at the heart of TaraShea Nesbit’s new novel, Beheld.

In 1630, 10 years after the Mayflower landed, the inhabitants of the Plymouth colony eagerly await the arrival of a new ship bringing fresh supplies and more colony members—members who will help grow the community and pay off debt to their initial investors. But not everyone is optimistic. Alice Bradford, wife of the colony’s governor, longs to meet her stepson but worries he won’t accept her as his father’s second wife. Former servants John and Eleanor Billington, resentful of perceived mistreatment at the hands of Governor Bradford and military adviser Myles Standish, are keen to share their grievances with the newcomers. When the Bradfords spot religious agitator Thomas Morton among the passengers, it seems like the new ship is bringing nothing but potential problems to their struggling shores.

Nesbit tells this story of conflict and contradiction in alternating chapters from both the empowered and the powerless. The voices of the women are especially strong, particularly Elizabeth, whose friendships and reminiscences of the colony’s earlier days offer insight about the women of the plantation. 

There were many crimes that occurred in Plymouth Plantation, and the killing that took place in 1630 was obviously not the first murder. Wampanoags had been killed since the Europeans’ arrival, and Myles Standish himself was involved in the death of Neponset warrior Wituwamat, an incident that even many of Standish’s white peers found troubling. But the murder of one settler by another was the first death that made the community question whether the colony was truly following a righteous path. 

Land ownership, religious observation and differing accounts of events all play their part in this clever, insightful novel that digs deeply into our country’s conflicted origins. 

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Beheld

Beheld

By TaraShea Nesbit
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781635573220

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