Terror to the Wicked: America’s First Trial by Jury That Ended a War and Helped to Form a Nation

Tobey Pearl. Pantheon, $29 (288p) ISBN 978-1-101-87171-3

Pearl, a lawyer by training, debuts with a painstaking yet accessible account of a consequential murder trial in 17th-century New England. In 1638, Penowanyanquis, a Nipmuc tribesman on a trading mission in Plymouth Colony, encountered a group of white indentured servants on a forest trail. The men, who had escaped their masters and planned to travel to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, had seen Penowanyanquis pass by their camp days earlier, and resolved to rob him. The gang’s leader, Arthur Peach, fatally stabbed the unarmed tribesman, but before he died, Penowanyanquis told Roger Williams, governor of Providence settlement, that he’d been attacked by “four English.” Peach and two of his companions were arrested, convicted by an all-white jury, and executed. Pearl argues that the verdict validated the jury system as a source of justice, paving the way for “a government for and of the people”; temporarily alleviated “the rampant fear and misgivings between settlers and indigenous tribes”; and helped bring an end to the Pequot War. Drawing extensively from primary sources, Pearl blends rigorous research with vivid storytelling and provides essential context for understanding the era. History buffs will be riveted. (Mar.)