In 1609, on a voyage to resupply England’s troubled Jamestown colony, the Sea Venture was caught in a hurricane and shipwrecked off the coast of Bermuda. The tale of its marooned survivors eventually inspired William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but for one castaway it was only the beginning.
A Stranger Among Saints traces the life of Stephen Hopkins, who spent ten months stranded with the Sea Venture crew, during which he was charged with attempted mutiny and condemned to die—only to have his sentence commuted just before it was carried out. Hopkins eventually made it to Jamestown, where he spent six years before returning to England and signing on to another colonial venture, this time with a group of religious radicals on the Mayflower.
Hopkins was the only member of the party who had been across the Atlantic before—the only one who’d encountered America’s native people and land. The Pilgrims, plagued by disease and contentious early encounters with indigenous Americans, turned to him for leadership. Hopkins played a vital role in bridging the divide of suspicion between the English immigrants and their native neighbors. Without him, these settlers would likely not have lasted through that brutal first year.
If you thought you knew all about Stephen Hopkins, Mayflower passenger, this book, released in April 2020, will change your mind. As a 10th great-granddaughter of Hopkins, I was eager to read this new account by attorney and Hopkins descendant Jonathan Mack. I was not disappointed.
Though Hopkins is generally credited with being a helpful “stranger” to the colonists (ie: not of the religious group known as the Pilgrims), the importance of his role in sustaining, even saving the colony from disaster has been vastly under-rated. Mack brings to light, using extant records of the period, the absolute vital part Hopkins played in the survival of the Pilgrims, particularly during that first perilous year.
Mack begins at the beginning, which includes Hopkins’ first trip to America eleven years prior to the Mayflower voyage. The struggles and challenges that he and his companions faced on that voyage, complete with shipwreck on a deserted Bermuda for ten months, helped to prime Hopkins for what he would soon encounter in Jamestown. There, he became fascinated with the indigenous people, even learned their language, which would prove indispensable in Plymouth, and developed a lifelong admiration and respect for the “Indians”. His years as indentured servant in Jamestown also instructed him in wilderness survival and the elements of success (or failure) that must be considered when founding a new colony.
With this knowledge base and set of skills, Hopkins became a pivotal voice, once the Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod rather than Virginia. Not only was he a Mayflower Compact signatory, he likely had a hand in its creation, for example. Jonathan Mack shows us the many other specific instances and events when, without the influence of Stephen Hopkins, the survival of the nascent colony would almost certainly have gone awry. In doing so, the full character of Hopkins can be gleaned, because the author doesn’t shy away from exploring his less admirable side. Stephen Hopkins was by no means a “saint”, and I appreciated the examination of his foibles, many of which are in the written record of the period, and others which can be deduced based on related records that do exist.
The book is far from a dry history, however. Hopkins’ life was certainly one of drama and suspense, including nearly being hanged for mutiny and a personal acquaintance with none other than Pocahontas! What I wonder is why, after being shipwrecked on Bermuda, followed by several miserable months in Jamestown and then a perilous journey back to England … why on earth would he even consider another trip to America? Nothing would have gotten me on that ship! But I am glad that he did.
Like any one of us, Stephen Hopkins was an imperfect person, and he made mistakes throughout his life. However, I came away from this book with new admiration for his courage, perseverance, foresight and for his unusually amicable stance on the Indians to which he held fast against all detractors to the end of his life. I recommend the book as a great read for this 401st anniversary year and especially for anyone fortunate enough to be a descendant of this remarkable man.
I thought this book was fabulous. I recently discovered I am a direct descendent of Stephen Hopkins which made me more interested in his role and settling our country. It is truly fabulous to find out the extent of his contributions and astounding that he is not more prominent in our history books. Being limited published about Stephen Hopkins I particularly like how this author studied events which occurred around Hopkins and based on Hopkins his experience and relations with the other parties involved was able to make some educated speculation into what Hopkins involvement may have been. I think it's a must read for all of his descendents for sure and anybody who is interested in this time of history.
First of all, let me state that I grew up in Massachusetts and spent the first 50 years of my life there, and although very familiar with the Mayflower stories, had never heard of Stephen Hopkins. Hopkins was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, which greatly influenced the wording of the Constitution of the United States of America.
Hopkins was unique among the Mayflower passengers in that he had been to the “new world” before, specifically the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, and had some knowledge of and ability to communicate with the local Indians. This would prove to be very useful in the new settlement in Massachusetts.
This was a book club selection and I found it very difficult to get into. I picked it up and put it down several times before deciding to just plow ahead and get the job done. The author is a lawyer and great grandson of Hopkins, and it felt like he was making a court case for his ancestor based of a paucity of evidence. The book is full of “may have been”, “probably was” and “likely that” statements.
Interesting from a historical perspective. Stephen is one of my 10th Great Grandfathers and much of the info (the broad highlights) I discovered when I was researching him for my family tree. This book takes the outlines and places him in more specific situations which is a great help. I have to agree with the author that he is one of the forgotten Mayflower passengers who perhaps has become maligned due to his problems with the laws of Plymouth during the last decade of his life. While this may be true, I also believe that the crafters of the Pilgrims story wanted "us" to believe that it was all of "their" doing with no assistance and then, chose to write him out. Very few individuals can say that they were in Jamestown AND in Plymouth during the early years of the colonies.
I liked the authors attempt to read between the lines of what is recorded in journals from this time but at the same time I didn’t. It felt like he tried too hard sometimes to place Stephen Hopkins at the center of all the turning points of the Plymouth colony. However, I do feel that the reason and main argument for writing the book to bring to light his important role as an under-appreciated contributor to the success of the settlement. Stephen Hopkins daughter is my wives relative which made the read worth it for me to learn more about him.
Great story, not well known, about a key person that came to America both at Jamestown and with the pilgrims in Plymouth. Steven Hopkins had a fascinating life and brought his experience at Jamestown to the Plymouth Colony and helped it succeed.
For people interested in early American History, this is a book you will want to read.
The author has presented a well-researched non-fiction book that reads like a novel. I recommend it.
I suppose there are "spoilers" in this review, but it's history, dang it.
Like a lot of reviewers of this book, I'm directly descended from Stephen Hopkins: he's my 11th great grandfather. But this is a book that should appeal to anyone interested in early American history, especially the Plymouth colony, as Hopkins was on the Mayflower.
Hopkins is frequently identified as the original of Stephano the drunken butler in Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest, and that's most of what I knew about him before I picked up this book. Unfortunately for entertainment value, Jonathan Mack makes a pretty persuasive case that Hopkins was not much like Shakespeare’s character and more a pretty savvy, principled man. Probably, all Shakespeare had was a name, from an account by one of his friends who was also on the ship to Jamestown that wrecked off Bermuda.
Yes, Hopkins did engage in a sort of one-man insurrection while shipwrecked in Bermuda, sort of like Stephano the butler, but Hopkins made quasi-legal arguments that basically had to do with the contractual authority of their leader (long story). Anyway, though sentenced to death, he was almost immediately pardoned, through the intercession of several prominent passengers. Though of modest background, Hopkins was a relatively well-educated man, who was indentured as the clerk to the clergyman who was headed to Jamestown. In the seven years he was at Jamestown (per his indenture), Hopkins learned to speak Algonquian, which is apparently very difficult, befriended John Rolfe and Pocahontas, and observed all the many, many things that went wrong at Jamestown, as well as a few that went right, especially on Bermuda, ironically. When he joined the Mayflower, he brought that wisdom along with him. One wonders if he was interested in returning to America with THAT particular group because it included no useless but snooty aristocrats. They clearly created many of the problems at Jamestown.
Mack makes the argument that part of Hopkins's wisdom was brought to bear in the Mayflower Compact, which he argues Hopkins helped conceive on the basis of his prior experiences on Bermuda and in Jamestown. Because he was the only colonist on the ship who had lived in North America, he would have been sought out for advice by the “Saints,” and since the Saints and "Strangers" (the folks who weren't Puritans) were there in almost equal numbers—something I had not known—it was important they be treated equally, for the survival of the colony. Also, the contract for Hopkins's indenture at Jamestown had been generous, so he was among the wealthier Mayflower passengers, traveling with two servants. Hopkins, in Mack’s view, would have advocated for a location as unlike as possible from Jamestown, leading to the selection of the site by Plymouth Rock, even though the colonists really needed to get off that nasty ship (remind me NOT to travel back to the early 1600s; the accounts of early 17th-century sea travel were all too vivid, and life on shore was not much more pleasant). And most important, because Hopkins could speak one of the Algonquian dialects, he was in Mack’s view, the primary negotiator with the Wampanoag people, thus enabling decades of peace between the Plymouth colony and the Native Americans, eventually broken, Mack argues, very much against the convictions of Hopkins. I was grateful that Mack didn’t do any “First Thanksgiving” nonsense, though he did talk about the ways the Indians helped with the Pilgrims’ food supply. I'm no expert, but the book struck me as well informed regarding Native American nations and culture of the era, about which it provides a decent amount of information, appropriate for a biography of someone deeply committed to friendship with North America's native peoples.
Though Hopkins is not well known and got in trouble for a variety of reasons towards the end of his life, he seems to have been among the foremost citizens of the Plymouth Colony. Miles Standish and William Bradford witnessed his will in his final days in 1644, which apparently was a BFD back then and not something one did for a casual acquaintance.
Mack is not a trained historian but a lawyer, educated at Harvard Law. The book is full of relevant legal analysis but it's clearly written, not dense. The book is well footnoted; in other words, it’s not professional history, but it’s competent, I think.
It was an interesting read, more so than I anticipated, despite the absence of amusing stories about drunken butler behaviors. I definitely realized how little I knew about that part of American history. Actually I don’t know as much as I ought to about most of it.
It was a “might have been might have said “ book about Stephen Hopkins. The Sea Venture survivor and veteran colonist at Jamestown who went back to England and “might have been” a key player on the Mayflower. I got really tired “maybe or might have been” stories. Disappointed in this author.
Excellent narrative of 1600's with insight into Jamestown journey; especially into Stephen Hopkins and much that he, other non-'Saints', and his family contributed to the early years of the Plymouth Colony.... the friendship and understanding of Native Americans.
Probably 2.5 stars. He should have written a historical fiction novel if he wanted to guess and read so much between the lines about Stephen Hawkins or else just stuck the facts of what we actually know.
With a focus on the Mayflower voyage and the establishment of Plymouth, the specifics on Hopkins take a backseat for most of the book, but the endcaps with his origins and death make his role a lot more clear.
There is a fair amount of "could have/might have" with regard to his actual contributions at Plymouth, so the exact role he played is not always clear, nevertheless it was an illuminating read and it added more to what I already knew.