Making Haste from Babylon by Nick Bunker
“Nick Bunker has done the seemingly impossible: he has shed new light on the oldest of stories, the epic of the Pilgrims’ experience in the Old and New Worlds. With graceful writing and diligent scholarship, he has given us an engaging and original book.”—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
At the end of 1618, a blazing green star soared across the night sky over the northern hemisphere. From the Philippines to the Arctic, the comet became a sensation and a symbol, a warning of doom or a promise of salvation. Two years later, as the Pilgrims prepared to sail across the Atlantic on board the Mayflower, the atmosphere remained charged with fear and expectation. Men and women readied themselves for war, pestilence, or divine retribution. Against this background, and amid deep economic depression, the Pilgrims conceived their enterprise of exile.
Within a decade, despite crisis and catastrophe, they built a thriving settlement at New Plymouth, based on beaver fur, corn, and cattle. In doing so, they laid the foundations for Massachusetts, New England, and a new nation. Using a wealth of new evidence from landscape, archaeology, and hundreds of overlooked or neglected documents, Nick Bunker gives a vivid and strikingly original account of the Mayflower project and the first decade of the Plymouth Colony. From mercantile London and the rural England of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I to the mountains and rivers of Maine, he weaves a rich narrative that combines religion, politics, money, science, and the sea.
The Pilgrims were entrepreneurs as well as evangelicals, political radicals as well as Christian idealists. Making Haste from Babylon tells their story in unrivaled depth, from their roots in religious conflict and village strife at home to their final creation of a permanent foothold in America.
Visit the Making Haste from Babylon website to view scans and full transcripts of the Grimsby Depositions, describing the events of May 12, 1608, when a group of radical Puritans, or Separatists, escaped from the coast of England, and sailed to the Netherlands in search of religious and political asylum.
A graduate of King’s College, Cambridge, with a master’s degree from Columbia University, Nick Bunker has had a diverse career in finance and journalism. A former investment banker and reporter for the Financial Times, he now lives with his wife, Susan, in Lincolnshire, England.
Meet Nick Bunker on his book tour.
From our Q&A with the author:
Q: What made you, as an Englishman, want to tell the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims?
A: Before they were American, they were English, and a revolutionary war had to be fought before the two nations separated for good. Long after the Mayflower, the history of England and America remained deeply intertwined. You can’t understand one without delving into the other as well.
In my case there’s also a family reason for my fascination with the American past. I’m called Bunker. In England we’re very few and far between. For centuries the Bunkers lived lives of total obscurity, as farmhands and farriers and the like in the countryside northwest of London. Except for one Bunker, a yeoman farmer called George, born in about 1600 in a village in deepest Bedfordshire.
His local parish clergyman made a name for himself as an outspoken Puritan. It seems that George Bunker listened to his sermons and became a Puritan himself. In 1632, he sailed to Massachusetts, most likely on the Lyon, a ship which also supplied the Plymouth Colony. He settled at Charlestown, where he gave his name to Bunker Hill, but George was a free-thinking man who upset the authorities by supporting the religious radical Anne Hutchinson. So they took away his gun, and banned him from holding public office. Even so, he did well. George Bunker became one of the earliest benefactors of Harvard College. His descendants were still living at Charlestown in 1775, when Bunker Hill became a battlefield, while their cousins, another lot of Bunkers, were whaling captains on Nantucket.
You won’t find George Bunker in Making Haste from Babylon, but his story wasn’t so very different from those of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. It raises the same kind of questions. Exactly why did they embark on this bold, hazardous project called New England? What did they find when they arrived? How and why did they succeed, so that families like the Bunkers, who’d been unknowns in England, came to be entrepreneurs in America, the kind of people you read about in Moby Dick?
I find these questions fascinating, but very few Britons have shown any interest in answering them. That’s why I decided to write the book. I felt that it was time the story was told from an English perspective, and I guessed that historians had overlooked a mass of relevant material here in the United Kingdom.
Q: You have an unusual background. You’re not an academic specialist in early colonial history. You were a newspaper reporter, and then an investment banker before you turned to writing history. Have your past careers given you a unique perspective on the Pilgrims?
A: Not unique, but certainly wide-angled, which is valuable in itself. If we’re trying to understand the foundation of New England, we have to break down the barriers which universities create, boundaries been the history of economics, religion, politics, and the natural world. We need to recognise that a marine biologist or a farmer in rural Maine can have as much to offer by way of insight as a specialist in Puritan theology. We also have to be scrupulous about accuracy. Most of my career as a journalist was spent at the Financial Times, where accuracy always came first.