Bradford's Account of Plymouth

Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 by William Bradford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

William Bradford was the governor of Plymouth Plantation almost every year from 1621 to 1657 when he died. He relates first hand our legends of Squanto, the first Thanksgiving, the Mayflower compact, etc.

Some much beloved words come from his pen:
The term Pilgrim coined:
"So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting pace near twelve years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits" (50).

Private Property established:
He also undoes the socialist set-up of the group's charter, going to private property instead. "... assigned to every family a parcel of land.... made all hands very industrious" (133).

But there were many surprises in the book for me, too.

1. The Arminian theological controversy broke out in the Netherlands while the Pilgrims sojourned there. A couple of them got involved, trying to refute Jacobus Arminius.

2. Bradford says the Indian women are much more modest than English women (pg. 99). I'm sure this evaluation is prejudiced by his greater familiarity with English culture, and the fear or natural shyness Indian women would have encountering white men. But still, an intriguing comment. Immodesty was a big problem in Elizabethan England.

3. As separatists, the group rejected the Church calendar, including the celebration of Christmas. The governor sent everyone out to work on Christmas, and when some less persuaded of the separatist view stayed home or played in the streets, he took away their tools and told them to stay inside.

4. Squanto seems to have gotten greedy, playing English off Indian groups, and vice versa, or at least that's what Bradford thought: "Squanto sought his own ends and played his own game, by putting the Indians in fear and drawing gifts from them to enrich himself, making them believe he could stir up war against whom he would, and make peace for whom he would..." (109).

5. Much of the book is taken up with the colony's financial troubles. Those funding them back in England expected gold and goods to flow back home and enrich them. When this didn't happen, some backed out and those that stayed were less than helpful in supplying the colony. One agent in particular just ripped the Pilgrims off badly. Clarifying accounts across the ocean was tedious and time-consuming. The Dutch and French both pressed in, claiming lands and trapping rights, etc.

6. The group had to deal with radical sects that came their way in later years from England. Roger Williams passed through. Groups that rejected the church altogether, "sowing the seeds of Familism and Anabaptistry, to the infection of some and danger of others; so that we are not willing to join with them in any league or confederacy at all" (353).

7. They also had to deal with gross sin. Not every one of them was a dyed-in-the-wool pious separatist. Many servants were at a dead end in England due to their poor moral character, and saw a chance to start over, or exploit new ground in America. Sodomy, rape and bestiality, besides adultery came up, and their adjudicating of these according to Scripture was fascinating, some being executed and others not, depending. (354ff).

8. They wanted a minister, but made do with Elder Brewster for several years. Steve Wilkins in his review of the book, in Veritas Press' Omnibus III, says this focus on the state to the detriment of the church set America on the path of looking to the state to fix our problems while giving much less respect to the church, comparatively. This may be overstated, but Wilkins is on to something. To their credit, they gave several a try, but they were either incompetent, poor preachers, too weak-willed for the hard country, or had crazy views (or just incompatible with the particular Pilgrims).

9. The Mather family (Increase, John, Cotton, etc.) lived nearby in the Massachusetts Bay Colony that would become Boston and Salem. There was a fair bit of correspondence back and forth between the governors and the Pilgrims sought theological advice on a few matters, besides working together against Indian threats. Yale College was being formed in the later years of Bradford's writing and governing.

The Pilgrims sought to establish a new world, flee persecution, find greater opportunity to provide for their families, and expand the knowledge and kingdom of Christ to new lands. We should laud their fortitude and faith, and learn all we can from their experience.

Have your high schoolers read this book!

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