William Bradford

Franklin Library William Bradford books

Of Plymouth Plantation - 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature - 1983


Who was William Bradford?

William Bradford, a central figure in the early history of the Plymouth Colony and a key architect of the Mayflower Compact, was born in March 1590 in Austerfield, Yorkshire, England. His life unfolded against the backdrop of a tumultuous period marked by religious persecution and the quest for religious freedom. Bradford's journey to the New World began with the Pilgrims, a group of English Separatists seeking religious liberty. In 1609, he joined the congregation led by John Robinson, and in 1620, he set sail aboard the Mayflower with other Pilgrims in search of a new home. The ship landed at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, in December of that year. Tragedy struck early, as nearly half of the Pilgrims perished during the harsh winter of 1620-1621. Despite the challenges, Bradford emerged as a resilient and capable leader. In 1621, he was elected governor of Plymouth Colony, a position he held for much of the next three decades, with brief interruptions.

Bradford played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Mayflower Compact, a seminal document that laid the foundation for self-governance in the New World. The compact, signed by the Pilgrims before disembarking, established a civil body politic and outlined the principles of majority rule and the consent of the governed—a precursor to democratic governance in the American colonies. Under Bradford's leadership, Plymouth Colony forged alliances with Native American tribes, most notably the Wampanoag under Chief Massasoit. The peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, embodied in the first Thanksgiving in 1621, is a testament to Bradford's diplomatic skills and commitment to peaceful coexistence.

In addition to his political leadership, Bradford was a prolific writer. His work Of Plymouth Plantation serves as a detailed historical account of the Pilgrims' journey and the early years of Plymouth Colony. This manuscript, written over a span of years, provides invaluable insights into the challenges and triumphs of the Pilgrims.

William Bradford passed away on May 9, 1657, but his legacy endures. His contributions to the establishment of Plymouth Colony and the principles of self-governance have left an indelible mark on American history. Bradford's life reflects the spirit of resilience, determination, and the pursuit of religious freedom that characterized the early settlers of the New World.


Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647

The most important and influential source of information about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, this landmark account was written between 1630 and 1647. It vividly documents the Pilgrims' adventures: their first stop in Holland, the harrowing transatlantic crossing aboard the Mayflower, the first harsh winter in the new colony, and the help from friendly Native Americans that saved their lives.

No one was better equipped to report on the affairs of the Plymouth community than William Bradford. Revered for his patience, wisdom, and courage, Bradford was elected to the office of governor in 1621, and he continued to serve in that position for more than three decades. His memoirs of the colony remained virtually unknown until the nineteenth century. Lost during the American Revolution, they were discovered years later in London and published after a protracted legal battle. The current edition rendered into modern English and with an introduction by Harold Paget, remains among the most readable books from seventeenth-century America.

Of Plymouth Plantation is the detailed first-hand account of the founding of Plymouth Colony and the day to day activities of the lives of its colonists. It covers the years 1608 from when the Puritans fled England to the Netherlands to the early 1650's when Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut held the cities and civilizations of both the colonist and the native American tribes.

Written by William Bradford, the 2nd governor of Plymouth Plantation (settlement), it recounts the harrowing time at sea the passengers of the Mayflower and Speedwell faced on the way to the New World in the late autumn season of 1620. Originally on route to an area around the mouth of the Hudson River, the stormy Atlantic Ocean yielded the Mayflower only as far south as Cape Cod, where the Pilgrims first came to shore at what is now Provincetown. Finding the dunes and windswept landscape unsuitable and without game they sailed the Mayflower southwest to the native American Wampanoag tribe settlement known as Patuxet, where 3,000 native Americans lie dead and unburied, killed by the Great New England plague of 1615 that wiped out 90% of the natives along the coast from Maine down to Rhode Island. Not one Wampanoag was left to survive or even bury their dead along shore at the once bustling Patuxet.

At Plymouth, the Pilgrims came to shore on a skiff and stepped foot onto the land of Massachusetts for the first time. Governor William Bradford's journal goes on to chronicle the hardships, loneliness, death, and political calculations and alliances that had to be made amid the various native Indian tribes of the Wampanoag, Narragansett, Pequot, Massachusetts, Nipmuc, and other native inhabitants of what would eventually become known as New England. Gut wrenching, bold, provocative, it is the true story of the founding of the nation you have never been told.

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