In 2006, Nathaniel Philbrick wrote “Mayflower,” a history of the Pilgrims that attempted to wipe centuries of mythic buildup from the dour features of America’s European primogenitors. Now Nick Bunker has written another history of the Pilgrims, which tries to do more or less the same thing. Yet the two books — both admirable — are utterly different, and so to a large extent is their subject matter.
Philbrick, a New Englander, concentrated on the settlement of the colony of New Plymouth, and read its meaning through the prism of King Philip’s War of 1675 – 76, which would set the tone for later relations between settlers and natives. Bunker, an Englishman, had what is perhaps a more alluring idea: to devote himself largely to the prehistory of the men and women who founded the colony. His book roams through archives and repositories in the British Isles. From county record offices and church account books, he teases out traces of William Brewster, William Bradford and the other principals who would later found the colony. His objective is to answer the very good question, Who were these people?