William Bradford

Born in Austerfield, Yorkshire, England in
After death of both parents and grandparents,
he and his sister Alice went to live with his
Was a sickly child
spent time reading the Bible
Became acquainted with the Separatists
churches and at age 18 became a member.
Fled with other Separatists to Amsterdam in
1609: he migrated with the rest of the church to
the town of Leiden, Holland, where they
remained for eleven years.
Married 16-year-old Dorothy May in 1613.
Became a silk weaver in Leiden to make ends
Was also able to recover some of his father’s
Son John born around 1615?
In 1620, he and Dorothy set out on the
Mayflower with a group to settle the new
Left son behind because of harsh circumstances they
would face
While anchored off the coast of Cape Cod,
Dorothy fell overboard and drowned.
Bradford was elected governor of Plymouth in
April 1621 and was re-elected nearly every year
In 1623, he married the widowed Alice
(Carpenter) Southworth
had a marriage feast very reminiscent of the "First"
Had three more children, all of which survived
to adulthood and married.
As head of the government of Plymouth:
oversaw the courts
 the colony's finances
 corresponded with investors and neighbors,
 formulated policy with regards to foreigners,
Indians, and law,
 had a very active role in the running of the entire
Beginning in 1630, he started writing a history
of the Plymouth Colony, which is now
published under the title Of Plymouth
Eyewitness accounts of happenings.
Considered to be a trustworthy narrator.
 Avowed his purpose to write “in a plain style, with
singular regard unto the simple truth in all things.”
OPP was not published in Bradford’s lifetime.
Passed down through family
 Consulted by Cotton Mather and other Puritan historians for
their writings
Lost during Revolutionary War
Reappeared nearly a century later in England
Published for first time by Massachusetts Historical
Society in 1856.
A number of his letters, poems, conferences,
and other writings have survived.
Bradford was sick all winter of 1656-1657
May 8, predicted to his friends and family that
he would die, and he did the next day, 9 May
1657, at the age of 68
The Mayflower Compact
Earliest document of democracy in America
Lays the foundation for direct popular government.
 Drawn up for the general good by mutual agreement of
the majority of the people.
Puritan theology is a key theme in the writings
of Bradford.
Every happening is a consequence of God’s
 He makes frequent allusions to Biblical accounts .
Bradford’s history is both factual and fictive
He wants his readers to see not so much the
way Cape Cod actually looked like but rather
how it appeared to a people who compared
themselves to the Israelites at the end of their
Read in light of the Pilgrim’s view of
themselves as a chosen people, the Mayflower
Compact takes on even deeper significance as it
is a form of covenant making.
Bradford extols the values of community and
points out the pitfalls of personal greed and
There is no individual her in the work; the hero
is God and/or the Pilgrim community.
Bradford is not so much presenting a literal
account of the landscape and the people that
the Pilgrims encountered as he is representing
what that experience was like.
Representation is the key term in understanding
Bradford’s literary method.
 He represents or replays, for his readers what he
feels was important about coming face to face with a
new land.
 He emphasizes the sense of loss and separation that
the community felt when they realized that there
was no turning back.
Bradford wrote with several guiding principles
in mind.
Believed that all events were under Divine Control,
so his description of the voyage is a highly selective
account of the ways in which God watched over his
chosen people.
 Interprets all events and relates them to the will of God.
 cites the fact that only one of the Pilgrims died on the voyage whereas
several of the scoffers died.
Bradford’s use of language and rhetorical
devices is an example of how 17th century
historians represented events so as to highlight
what they felt was significant about them.
Bradford controls his audience’s perception of
the event, denying them any edifying or
restorative prospect.
Bradford turns the landscape into a metaphor
for the desolation confronting a people, who, in
the face of God’s omnipotence, are forced to
recognize human impotence:
“for which ways soever they turned their eye (save
upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or
content in respect of any outward objects.”
Throughout his history of Plymouth, Bradford
employs both Puritan plain style prose and the
heightened rhetoric of the sublime to recreate the
experience, as Bradford wants people to remember it,
of the Pilgrims’ confrontation with the New World.
“The place they had thought on was some of those vast unpeople
countries of America, which are fruitful and fit for habitation, being
devoid of all civil inhabitants, where there are only savage and brutish
men which range up and down, like otherwise than the wild beasts of
the same.”

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