THE FINDING OF THE “MAYFLOWER” | Rendel Harris, Read & Co. (1920), 58p
"The Discovery of the Mayflower" by Rendel Harris is a captivating account of how the remains of the famous ship that transported the Pilgrims to America were discovered in a quiet corner of England. As a historian and lecturer, Harris weaves a fascinating tale of detection, intrigue, and revelation that keeps readers engaged until the end.
The book’s preface lifts an infamous essay from G.K. Chesterton titled “They Myth of the Mayflower,” where he notes that the Puritan Pilgrims were religiously intolerant and fled to American shores to establish a more rigid commune of intolerance. Within short order, it clashed violently with the Quakers.
In 1920, Harris stumbled upon an old barn in Jordans, Buckinghamshire, which locals claimed contained timbers from the Mayflower. Intrigued, Harris began investigating the claim, using his extensive knowledge of maritime history and the Pilgrims' journey. His research led him to believe that parts of the barn were constructed using wood from the Mayflower.
Harris takes readers through his investigation step by step, sharing his thoughts, doubts, and discoveries. He recounts conversations with local residents, examines ancient documents, and consults experts in various fields to build a convincing case for his theory. Harris maintains a balanced approach throughout the book, presenting supporting evidence and counterarguments, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.
One of the strengths of "The Discovery of the Mayflower" lies in Harris' ability to paint vivid pictures of people, places, and events. Readers can almost imagine themselves standing alongside Harris as he explores the dusty, dimly lit barn, searching for clues hidden within its ancient wooden beams. His descriptions of the ship itself, the harbor of Harwich, and life in the 17th century bring depth and context to the story.
Moreover, Harris delves into the significance of the Mayflower and its passengers, providing insightful background information on the Separatist movement, the challenges faced during their transatlantic voyage, and the impact of their arrival on American soil. These details enrich the narrative, making it clear why finding the remnants of the Mayflower mattered not just to Harris but to people on both sides of the Atlantic.
While the book’s core revolves around Harris' quest to authenticate the origins of the barn's timbers, he also touches on broader themes such as the power of human curiosity, the importance of preserving historical artifacts, and the enduring legacy of the Pilgrims. These elements add complexity to what might otherwise seem like a straightforward detective story.
Some readers might find specific sections of the book dense with detail or technical jargon, particularly when discussing aspects of naval architecture or the finer points of dendrochronology. However, Harris generally balances academic rigor and accessibility, ensuring that even non-experts can follow the arguments and appreciate the breakthrough moments.
“The Discovery of the Mayflower" is a gripping historical mystery that offers more than just a tale of detection. It provides a window into the past, shedding light on the lives of ordinary people who built and sailed the Mayflower and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding its creation and eventual fate. Harris’s writing style makes the book engaging and easy to follow, rendering it suitable for anyone interested in maritime history, the Pilgrims, or a good detective story.