Bradford was born in 1590 in a small farming town in England. Orphaned by parents and grandparents, he was raised by his uncle. At age 18, he joined a group of Separatists and fled to Amsterdam. He then moved to Holland but did return to Amsterdam to marry Dorothy. They had a son, John, born approximately in 1615. By 1620, when a segment of the church had decided to set off for America on the Mayflower, Bradford (now 30 years old) sold off his house in Leiden, and he and his wife Dorothy joined; however, they left young son John behind, presumably so he would not have to endure the hardships of colony-building. While the Mayflower was anchored off Provincetown Harbor at the tip of Cape Cod, and while many of the Pilgrim men were out exploring and looking for a place to settle, Dorothy Bradford accidentally fell overboard, and drowned.
Bradford was elected governor in 1621, and was re-elected nearly every year thereafter. In 1623, he married to the widowed Alice (Carpenter) Southworth, and had a marriage feast very reminiscent of the "First" Thanksgiving, with Massasoit and a large number of Indians joining, and bringing turkeys and deer. Bradford was the 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, and so had a very active role in the running of the entire Colony. With his second wife, he had three more children, all of which survived to adulthood and married. Beginning in 1630, he started writing a history of the Plymouth Colony, which is now published under the title Of Plymouth Plantation. A number of his letters, poems, conferences, and other writings have survived. William Bradford was generally sick all winter of 1656-1657; on May 8, Bradford predicted to his friends and family that he would die, and he did the next day, 9 May 1657, at the age of 68.
Bradford’s Puritans were a bit different than the later Puritans. Bradford and the other colonists were considered Separatists: they believed that the reforms of the Anglican church had not gone far enough, that, although the break with Catholicism in 1535 had moved some way toward the Puritan belief in and idea of religious authority grounded solely in Scripture and were a bit different than those we will discuss later.
The concept of community pervades the entire text of Bradford. The colonists had to work together to survive. The relationship between sacred and secular history, poses another thematic tension in the text. Bradford's insistence upon the "special providences" of God (those reserved for the elect in times of crisis) exists to justify all events that take place.
Predestination : The Pilgrims believed that before the foundation of the world, God predestined to make the world, man, and all things. He also predestined, at that time, who would be saved, and who would be damned. Only those God elected would receive God's grace, and would have faith. There was nothing an individual could do during their life that would cause them to be saved (or damned), since God had already decided who was going to be saved before the creation of the world.
To the Pilgrims, there were only two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. The other sacraments (Confession, Penance, Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Confession, Last Rites) of the Church of England and Roman Catholic church were inventions of man, had no scriptural basis, and were therefore superstitions, to the point of being heretical. Icons and religious symbols such as crosses, statues, stain-glass windows, fancy architecture, and other worldly manifestations of religion were rejected as a form of idolatry. It was the rejection of the authority of the church hierarchy, and of the sacraments, that was the primary cause of conflict between the Pilgrims and the Church of England.
The Pilgrims faithfully observed the Sabbath, and did not work on Sunday. Even when the Pilgrims were exploring Cape Cod, to the Mayflower crew's dismay, they stopped everything and stayed in camp on Sunday to keep the Sabbaths. The Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas and Easter. These holidays were invented by man to memorialize Jesus, and are not prescribed by the Bible or celebrated by the early Christian churches, and therefore cannot be considered Holy days. They also did not have forms of entertainment such as plays or works of fiction. Those would have been considered vain and not permitted. Social events included barn raising and other community events.
Conversion Event: Since Puritans believed in Predestination, they analyzed their lives to find a sign of God’s Grace. Traumatic Events or overcoming hardships were often used to prove a conversion event had taken place. A conversion event was needed to validate church membership and status in the village.
While both sexes carried the stain of original sin, for a girl, original sin suggested more. Eve’s corruption, in Puritan eyes, extended to all women.Eve An example is the different ways that men and women were made to express their conversion experiences. For full membership, the Puritan church insisted not only that its congregants lead godly lives and exhibit a clear understanding of the main tenets of their Christian faith, but they also must demonstrate that they had experienced true evidence of the workings of God’s grace in their souls. Only those who gave a convincing account of such a conversion could be admitted to full church membership. Women were not permitted to speak in church after 1636 (although they were allowed to engage in religious discussions outside of it, in various women-only meetings), thus could not narrate their conversions.
Map of Cape Cod area where the Pilgrims ended there grueling journey across the ocean.
Puritan “Plain” Style: This type of writing does not include any narrative style, figurative language or other literary elements. It does not seem “plain” to modern readers because of the complicated vocabulary and inverted word order.
Allusion: a reference to something generally known. Alluded items may include biblical, literary, historical, popular culture, current events
Primary Source: A first-hand account. Secondary Source: A second-hand account Ex: Bradford was a pilgrim and wrote about the events, making Plymouth Plantation a primary source. Ex: I was not a Plymouth Rock therefore, my notes are researched and considered a secondary source.