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William Bradford, Governor
BRADFORD, William, colonial governor, born in Austerfield, Yorkshire, England, in March, 1588 ; died in Plymouth, Massachusetts, 9 May, 1657. He inherited a yeoman's freehold, was seriously and religiously inclined from childhood, and joined the Puritan separatist, or Brownist, church established in 1606 by William Brewster at Scrooby Manor, near by in Nottinghamshire, thereby drawing upon himself the hostility and contempt of his relatives and neighbors. The company, being threatened with persecution, resolved to immigrate to Holland. In the autumn of 1607, Bradford and the other principal members of the society made an agreement with a Dutch captain to embark at Boston; but the skipper betrayed them to the magistrates, who committed some of them to prison, and sent the rest to their homes. After several months of confinement, Bradford escaped in the spring of 1608 and joined his companions in Amsterdam, where he apprenticed himself to a silk-weaver, a French Protestant. When he came of age he sold his land in England and engaged in business on his own account, in which he incurred losses. Removing with the rest of the company to Leyden about 1609, he was eager and active in promoting the scheme of immigrating to an English colony. A patent was obtained for a tract of land in Virginia, with the assistance of Sir Edwin Sandys, then treasurer of that colony.
On 5 September, 1620, Bradford embarked at Southampton in the "Mayflower" with the first hundred pilgrims that left for America. Obliged by stress of weather to put in at Plymouth harbor, they signed a compact of government before landing, according to which Carver became governor. On the death of the first governor, 21 April, 1621, Bradford was elected in his place, and was continued in the office each year thereafter by the suffrage of the colonists. His authority was restricted at his request, in 1624, by a council of five, and in 1633 by one of seven members. In the council he had a double vote. One of his first acts on assuming the executive was to send an embassy, in July, 1621, to confirm the league entered into with the Indian sachem Massasoit, the most influential and powerful of the native chiefs. His friendly relations with the Indians, who had known the English only as kidnappers, were essential to the continued existence of the colony and to its future prosperity. He understood the native character, and exhibited the combination of firmness and energy with patience and gentleness that is most successful in dealing with savages. In 1622 Canonicus, sachem of the Narragansetts, to whom the governor returned a skin filled with powder and shot in reply to the snakeskin of arrows sent to him as a challenge, sued for peace. When William Bradford was chosen governor, because of his precarious health, William Allerton was given him as an assistant. In 1622 the emigrants were reduced to famine, owing partly to the communistic system adopted at first, and partly to the arrival of new comers without provisions, and Governor Bradford made several excursions among the Indians, procuring corn and beans. The fur-trading colony established beside Plymouth plantation in Boston harbor provoked by their oppressions a conspiracy among the Indians to exterminate all the English, which was revealed by Massasoit; and, on the advice of that chief, Capt. Standish was sent by the governor to put the ringleaders to death. In 1624 the English adventurers who had supplied the capital for the establishment of the colony, relying on the profits of the fur-trade for their returns, were bought out, and eight of the most enterprising of the emigrants, for a six years' monopoly of trade, assumed all the engagements of the colony. In 1629 a patent was obtained from the New England council--a band of noblemen who in 1620 received from King James absolute property in the country lying between 40° and 48° of north latitude--conferring upon William Bradford, his heirs, associates, and assigns, the title to the tract on which Plymouth plantation was situated.
In 1634 the governor and his assistants were constituted a judicial court, and afterward the supreme tribunal of the colony; in 1639 legislation, in which up to that date all the freemen took part, was vested in a general court, to which all the towns sent representatives; in 1640, at the request of the general court, Governor Bradford conveyed to it his title to the territory of the colony, reserving to himself only his proportion as a settler, previously agreed upon. For one period of two and one of three years he declined re-election as governor, but was returned to the office every other year until his death. Governor Bradford married in Leyden, on 20 November, 1613, Dorothy May, who was drowned in Cape Cod harbor on 7 December, 1620, while exploring in a small boat in search of a place to establish a settlement. On 14 August, 1623, he married Alice Carpenter, widow of Edward Southworth, a lady whom he had known in England, and who came out to be married to him. He left one son by his first, and two sons and a daughter by his second marriage. His house in Plymouth, shown in the engraving, is still standing. Governor Bradford possessed a higher degree of literary culture than was usual among persons similarly circumstanced. He had some acquaintance with Latin and Greek, and a slight knowledge of Hebrew, was well read in history and philosophy, and much of his leisure time was spent in literary composition. "A Diary of Occurrences," covering the first year of the colony from the landing at Cape Cod on 9 November, 1620, til 18 December, 1621, was written by him in conjunction with Edward Winslow (London, 1622). No other production of his pen was published during his lifetime; but he left some manuscript books in verse, which he mentioned in his will. One, entitled "Some Observations of God's Merciful Dealings with Us in this Wilderness," was published in a fragmentary form in the "Collections" of the Massachusetts historical society in 1794, and in the "Proceedings" of the society for 1869-'70 was printed entire. "A Word to Plymouth" was first published in the same volume. "A Word to New England" and "Of Boston in New England" appeared in 1838 in the "Collections" of the society. "Epitaphium Meum" was issued in Morton's" New England's Memorial" (Cambridge, 1669).
A long piece in verse on the religious sects in New England, preserved with the other manuscripts in the cabinet of the historical society of Massachusetts, has never been printed. The "Diary of Occurrences" was reprinted in an abridged form in Purchases "Pilgrims" in 1625. The 8th volume of the "Collections" of the Massachusetts historical society contains a reprint of this abridgment, and the 19th volume the omitted portions and corrections of the errors in Purchase. "A Dialogue, or the Sum of a Conference between some Young Men born in New England, and sundry Ancient Men that came out of Holland and Old England," was printed in 1648. Secretary Morton copied a "Memoir of Elder Brewster" with the above and others of William Bradford's writings in the records of the first church, Plymouth,. In the same place is a fragment of Bradford's "History of the Plymouth Plantation." All these prose writings were reprinted in Alexander Young's "Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth from 1602 to 1636" (Boston, 1841-'6), which contains also the fragments still extant of Bradford's letter-book, comprising letters addressed to him. These letters were rescued in a grocer's shop in Halifax, but only after the earlier and more valuable portion had been destroyed. Bradford wrote two dialogues besides the one mentioned above. One of these, "Concerning the Church and the Government thereof," dated 1652, was discovered in 1826, and published in the "Proceedings" of the historical society for 1869-'70; the other is lost. Copies of several of his letters were printed in the third volume of the 1st series of the society's "Collections," and his letters to John Winthrop in the sixth volume of the fourth series. The most valuable of Bradford's writings was a "History of the Plymouth Plantation," including the history of the society from its inception in 1602 till the time when it departed for America in 1620, and its history in Plymouth down to 1647.
This manuscript folio volume of 270 pages disappeared during the American revolution and was supposed to have been taken by the British soldiers who used the old South church of Boston, where it was deposited, for a riding-school, or to have been carried away by Governor Hutchinson in 1774. In 1855 Samuel G. Drake identified passages from a manuscript "History of Plymouth" in the Fulham library, quoted by Samuel Wilberforce in his "History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America" (1846), with portions of the fragmentary history printed from the records of the first church, Plymouth. The work was found complete in Governor Bradford's handwriting in the Fulham library. On a blank page was the bookplate of the New England library, from the cabinet of which, in the Old South church, the volume had disappeared. A copy was taken, and the work was printed in full in 1856 in the " Collections" of the Massachusetts historical society. Nathaniel Morton, Prince, and Governor Hutchinson, in the preparation of their histories of Massachusetts's colony, had access to this work and to the letters and other writings of Governor Bradford, and drew mainly from those sources in narrating the story of the initial period of the colony. See Belknap's "American Biography"; Mather's "Magnalia"; Thacher's "Plymouth"; "New England Register" for 1850; Davis's edition of Morton's "Memorial"; Shurtleff's "Recollections of the Pilgrims" in Russell's "Guide to Plymouth"; Hunter's "Collections concerning the Early History of the Founders of New Plymouth"; Young's "Chronicles of the Pilgrims"; Fessenden's" Genealogy of the Bradford Family"; Hutchinson's "History of Massachusetts"; Winsor's "Governor Bradford's 'History of Plymouth Plantation,' and its Transmission to our Times"; and Dean's "Who Identified Bradford's Manuscript?"Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM