Authors: William Bradford (1590-1657)



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Authors: William Bradford (1590-1657)
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the landing of the pilgrams on plymouth rock
[6324] Sarony and Major, The Landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock, Dec. 11th, 1620 (1846), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-4311].
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William Bradford Activities
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Born in 1590 in Yorkshire, England, William Bradford was orphaned at a young age and reared by his grandparents and uncles to be a farmer. Bradford broke with his family in early adolescence, affiliating himself with the Separatist Puritans and thereby making a religious commitment that would profoundly influence the course of his life. The Separatists dreamed of creating a purified religious community, free of the hierarchies and worldly rituals that they felt contaminated the Church of England. The sect was known as "Separatist" because, unlike most Puritan congregations, it rejected the Church of England entirely instead of attempting to reform it from within. Bradford and his fellow Separatists paid a high price for their controversial beliefs: religious persecution led them to flee England for safer harbors in Holland and eventually in America.

In 1620, Bradford and part of the congregation to which he belonged set sail for America on the Mayflower, bringing with them a patent granting them land in the territory of Virginia, where they hoped to set up their ideal church. Bad weather pushed them off course, and they landed well north of Virginia on the coast of what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. There they began the difficult work of establishing a community in unfamiliar, and sometimes hostile, territory. Bradford was elected governor in 1621 and occupied that office, with only brief intermissions, until his death in 1657. In 1630 he began writing Of Plymouth Plantation, the history of his "Pilgrims'" religious and civil settlement in the New World.

Bradford's literary reputation depends, as scholar David Levin puts it, "as much on the quality of his historical intelligence as on the virtues of his style." Indeed, Bradford's text has long been celebrated for the "plain style" he endorses in its first paragraph. His simple yet artful prose, characterized by finely tuned sentences based upon the language and cadences of the Geneva Bible, is often regarded as a model of a specifically American style of writing. But, as Levin points out, Bradford's text is no less notable for its historiographic project, a complex balance of religious exhortation and unvarnished reportage. Clearly, Of Plymouth Plantation is meant to serve as an account of God's design in planting the Plymouth colony, interpreting events that might seem random or even commonplace to modern readers as evidence of God's hand at work on earth. Bradford's history extols the purity and strength of the first settlers in order to inspire subsequent generations to greater sanctity, combating what he perceived to be the spiritual decline of the community in the years following the initial settlement. While Bradford's desire to read God's will in the history of Plymouth colors his text—and frequently skews his understanding of non-Puritan people—his tendency toward exhortation is often balanced by an unflinching commitment to historical accuracy. He is surprisingly blunt in relating some of the troubles that plagued the Plymouth community, from rancorous differences between leaders to upsetting cases of sexual deviance among congregants. The result is a complicated, engaging document that has become an integral part of the mythology concerning the foundation of America.

Vocabulary – Of Plymouth Plantation

Profane – adj-irreverent

Haughty – adj. proud: disdainful fo something or someone

Execrations – n – angry words” curses

Reproved – verb – reprimanded

Consultation – noun – meeting to discuss or plan

Sundry – adj – some

Relent – verb – soften

Discourse – noun – conversation

Confederates – noun allies; persons who share a common purpose

Comprised – verb – included



  1. What happens to the profane young man who condemned and cursed the people who were ill?



  1. Describe one ordeal the Pilgrims faced on their journey across the ocean.



  1. How did John Howland survive?



  1. What does the author mean when he says. “..they tacked about and resolved to stand for the southward(the wind and weather being fair) to find some place about Hudson’s River for their habitation”?



  1. The people wanted to avoid settling at Hudson’s River

  2. Everyone agreed to find the place with the best weather.

  3. They turned south to look for a place to live along the water



  1. In the paragraph beginning with “But here I cannot but stay and make a pause and stand half amazed…” give at least three examples of things that upset them about this New World.

From Chapter 11

  1. How many people survived the harsh winter?



  1. What kinds of things did the healthy do for the sick at this time?



  1. Bradford discusses how the seamen treated one another. Give an example of their cruelty to each other during this difficult time. How do the Pilgrims treat the seamen?



  1. How did Samoset learn English?



  1. What role does Squanto play in the lives of the colonists?



  1. What word best describes the “First Thanksgiving”?



ading question only): How did your reading of the text alter what you already knew about the "pilgrims"? For example, what surprises or new insights did you get from the text and how do you account for them?

(Response questions): What images of America and its inhabitants (both European and Native) does Bradford invoke or construct and why?

What does the text convey about Puritan daily life? What does Bradford want his audience to know/see and why?

How does the reality of the New World match Bradford’s vision? How does he account for any discrepancies, and what is at stake in his explanations?


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