History, we know, is not an isolated story. It’s affected by an amalgam of social, economic, political, and religious events even the smallest of which can change the world. Take the Stewart kings of England and their love of fashionable beaver hats. Who would think a couple foppish rakes could change the history of the world?
But indeed they did with the help of a couple of wars that eliminated trading sources and a small group of religious idealists seeking freedom. Making Haste From Babylon by Nick Bunker is so very much more than a history of those Pilgrims. It transports you to the 16th century England that created them.
Bunker’s use of primary resources and his expanded scrutiny of secondary sources make this a truly scholarly work. In turn, his journalistic style makes it so very easy to read. He delivers a meticulous exploration of the lives of the Pilgrims before they ever set sail. The author investigated and explored all the English locations associated with the Pilgrims on foot or on a bike–at least twice! He delved through archives and church records that make your eyes water just thinking of the 400 years of dust he stirred up. Exploration of U.S. locations, Holland, La Rochelle & Ulster exhibit a thoroughness bordering on obsession.
The accession of James I and his intolerance for the Puritan Separatists drove them to escape to Holland. Curiously, the punishment for Separatism was banishment, but it was illegal to leave the country. Robert Cecil, Secretary of State, sensed trouble looming regarding the jurisdiction of the Church over civil matters so it was easier to just let them go. Henrys II & VIII had quite enough of that, thank you very much.
The Separatists settled in Leiden and found themselves tied to an urban economy which gave them no social freedom, no education for their children and fears of civil unrest. They worked endlessly in poor conditions with little to eat and exposure to industrial disease. The return of Holland’s war with Papist Spain threatened even the religious freedom they sought. While they worshiped freely in Holland, they had to go into exile beyond the Atlantic to establish their ideal community of economic liberty, social equality, self governance and just a little bit of England.
It’s not until the last quarter of this book that we see the life of the Pilgrims in New England. Even then, we pass over the trials and tribulations and focus how they persevered to establish a community capable of producing the return on investment that their investors sought. The Pilgrims in their Calvinist zeal invented the model environment that nurtured the new markets which opened up a mere eight years after they arrived and ensured the survival of those who followed them to America. If you want something to pick up where Mr. Bunker leaves off, I highly recommend Nathaniel Philbrick‘s Mayflower. But read this first, it’s a comprehensive work of genius and a delight to read.
Louise Leetch divides her time between Chicago and Wisconsin. Both houses are just crammed with books. She collects her reviews on her GoodReads page.