In Terror to the Wicked, Tobey Pearl, a lawyer and educator, focuses on an important episode in the story of colonist-Native relations ... Pearl has not unearthed any facts that have not been previously reported in many studies of the Plymouth Colony. She adds conjecture to what the sources actually tell us, with speculation about what Peach and his associates may have been feeling, the possible motivations of major characters and the supposed thoughts of the jurors, to mention just a few examples ... One can’t go beyond one or two pages without encountering something that 'may have,' 'possibly' or 'likely' happened ... What sources consider possible, Pearl presents as certainty. For such supposition to be persuasive readers have to be confident in the author’s deep knowledge of the times and culture, but there are too many factual inaccuracies and jumblings of chronology to provide that confidence in this case ... well written and draws upon important new insights into Native culture.
Tobey Pearl clearly shows New England’s Native context, and for that the lawyer and first-time author deserves credit ... Ms. Pearl’s account focuses on a 1638 trial in Plymouth that reveals how New England’s Native neighbors shaped colonists’ decisions and actions ... How the English dealt with the murderers, Ms. Pearl suggests, would determine the fate of their colonies ... Admirably, Ms. Pearl draws on sources that include linguistic evidence from Native scholars, which she uses to eloquently explain that the name by which New Englanders referred to the Nipmuc victim, Penowanyanquis, probably means 'stranger' and may have been how he identified himself after he was attacked, not a name he went by at home ... Yet Terror to the Wicked is a dissonant work. The author seems to have been drawn to the events because they constituted the continent’s 'first fully developed, documented jury trial.' And though she narrates the trial well and integrates an awareness of Native importance, the book’s portrayal of 17th-century history is surprisingly thin ... Similarly, even though Ms. Pearl knows Native New Englanders today, she can’t resist the trope of the doomed and vanishing Indian ... Oddly, throughout the book, Ms. Pearl uses the terms “tribesman” and “tribeswoman,” words rarely seen since early 20th-century anthropology textbooks ... Even small errors in an authoritative book of nonfiction cause the next author who also doesn’t bother to check notes to repeat and compound the errors ... One doesn’t need a Ph.D. to write a truthful history book. But nonacademic authors who write history books should know what historians have uncovered about their subjects.
Lawyer Pearl’s detailed account of the nascent nation’s first murder trial in Plymouth Colony tells not only how it set precedents for future legal procedures, but also how it remains remarkably relevant to today’s struggle to ensure justice for all. Students of colonial American history and of legal history will find this engrossing. Includes a map, photographs, and bibliography.