Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pilgrim Profile: William Bradford - "The Statesman of Plymouth Colony"

"What [William] Brewster was to the religious government
of the colony, William Bradford was to
the civil government."

posts in this series: 
part 1: Myles Standish
part 2: William Brewster
part 3: William Bradford
part 4: Edward Winslow

We continue our series of Pilgrim profiles by discussing William Bradford (1588 - 1657) - "The Statesman of Plymouth Colony."

From Americana magazine:

What [William] Brewster was to the religious government of the colony, William Bradford was to the civil government. He was born in 1588, at Austerfield, Yorkshire, a village of a population of three hundred, mostly belonging to the yeoman class, and one mile from Bawtry, England. He was seriously and religiously inclined from his childhood, and though he had little schooling, by diligent study he became proficient in Dutch, Latin, French and Greek; he even studied Hebrew, so that he could read the Bible in its original form. He early became interested in the religion of Separatists, thereby drawing upon himself the hostility and contempt of his relatives and neighbors; this naturally led him to become a member of the church at Scrooby that met in the Manor House where Brewster resided. At the time of the emigration of the members of that church to Holland he became an ardent supporter of the pilgrimage.

After suffering several months confinement in prison for his attempt to emigrate to Holland, he escaped in the spring of 1608 and joined his companions at Amsterdam, where he apprenticed himself to a French Protestant to learn the trade of silk-weaver.

At the time of the agitation of the Pilgrims' emigration to America, he was one of its firmest supporters. At Governor Carver's death he was elected governor of the colony, and was continued by annual elections except in 1633-1638 inclusive, and in 1644 until his death. His authority was restricted at his own request in 1624, by a council of five, which in 1636 was increased to seven members. In the council he had a double vote. Bradford's friendly relations with the Indians, which he maintained through his understanding of the native character and his combination of firmness and energy with patience and gentleness, was the reason of their friendly sympathy, and which was vital to the continued existence of the colony. During the famine of 1622 he made several excursions amongst the savage procuring corn and beans.

Bradford's "deep religious principles, his utmost fairness
in dealings not only with his fellow Pilgrims but with the
native aborigines, stand forth as sterling qualities in
his life."

Governor Bradford possessed a higher degree of literary culture than was usual among persons similarly circumstanced. He was read on history and philosophy, and much of his leisure time was spent in literary composition. His only production published during his lifetime was "A Diary of Occurrences," covering the first year of the colony, written in conjunction with Edward Winslow (London, 1622). He left several manuscript books in prose and poetry. The most valuable of his writings was a "History of the Plymouth Plantation," being a history of the society from its inception in 1620, and its history in Plymouth down to 1647. This manuscript became lost during the Revolution, but in 1854 was found complete at the Fullham library in England, and was in 1856 published by the Massachusetts Historical Society. The original manuscript is preserved in the State Library of Massachusetts.

Governor Bradford died at Plymouth, May 9, 1657. In an estimate of the character of Governor Bradford, his deep religious principles, his utmost fairness in his dealings not only with his fellow Pilgrims but with the native aborigines, stand forth as sterling qualities in his life. A man not physically strong, he battled with the adversities and hardships of pioneer life with cheerfulness, and with always a helping hand to his brethren in their misfortunes and distress. The student of history is under many obligations to him for his chronological narrative of the facts and events of the Plymouth colony. This with his manuscript works, shows his energetic will power; devoid of any collegiate education, by purely physical and mental force he overcame the lack of education in his early life.

"Beginnings of New England," Americana (American Historical Magazine): Volume 13 (New York: The American Historical Society,  January, 1919 - December, 1919), 221, 222.

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