Bunker’s book is devoted to the premise that we distort the Pilgrims in our conventional historical accounts, which presents them as embryonic Americans rather than as expatriate British. But in emphasizing their rugged entrepreneurship, Bunker makes the same mistake himself, reading a capitalistic American afterlife into the chaotic experience at Plymouth—and indeed all the way back into the “frontier” of the Pilgrim quadrilateral. The fur trade may have secured the fate of the colony--a story told more authoritatively in Eric Jay Dolin's "Fur, Fortune, and Empire"--but, as Bunker himself allows, the Puritan success with pelts was improvised and inadvertent, and the beaver boom that buoyed Plymouth fortunes lasted only ten years. When it ended, the original Pilgrims and the “Great Migration” greenhorns who had followed them “blundered” into cattle ranching, and found themselves already settled on land — the salt marsh wetlands of coastal Massachusetts—remarkably well-suited to the undertaking. The Pilgrims may have been entrepreneurs—in Scrooby, at Boston—but the success of their colony was not entirely an entrepreneurial one. They got a little help from providence, too.
The unfortunate emphasis in Making Haste on pilgrim entrepreneurship, and its pointed disinterest in Calvinist theology, is telling, and natural enough. Though the United States remains in some sense a Christian nation—churchgoing, evangelical, exceptionalist—the strange theology of our Puritan forebears is far more foreign to us, and far more difficult to reckon with, than their scuffling pre-market mercantilism. American religion was not really invented until the nineteenth century, and the expansive denominations that emerged, largely on the frontier, in that Second Great Awakening represent perhaps as profound and complete a repudiation of the Puritans' early modern Protestantism as that Protestantism had been a rejection of the establishment Catholicism that governed Europe in the centuries before Luther. In the severe Mayflower Calvinism of William Bradford and his Plymouth pilgrims, predestination was an inscrutable covenant, piety a gratuity from fear and trembling, and prayer an expression of desperate agnosticism. In the inviting creed of the new American religions, whose triumphal culture we still inhabit today, salvation was there for the taking. All one had to do was claim it.