Bradford, William

views updated May 18 2018

Bradford, William

"The Pilgrims' Landing and First Winter," an excerpt from Of Plymouth Plantation

Reprinted in Eyewitness to America

Published in 1997

Edited by David Colbert

"But that which was most sad, and lamentable, was, that in two or three months the half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts;"

In 1607, a year after the Virginia Company of London party embarked for Jamestown, the Virginia Company of Plymouth prepared for an expedition to Maine, which was the place that Bartholomew Gosnold (d.1607) had so glowingly praised. Gosnold's party had seen the region only in the summertime, however, and the Plymouth group were planning to stay permanently. They were completely unprepared for the long and bitterly cold Maine winter. Although most of the settlers managed to survive the harsh climate, one of the leaders died and another was called back to England. Finally the settlers dispersed and the English did not return to the area for another thirteen years.

The next attempt at colonization in New England came about as a result of the Puritan movement. Puritanism (a group that stressed strictness in matters of religion or conduct), in turn, was an outgrowth of Protestantism. The Protestant movement began in England in 1531, when King Henry VIII (1491–1547) decided to annul (make legally invalid or void) his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536). (Protestantism was initiated in 1517 by German theologianMartin Luther [1483–1546], who accused Roman Catholic Church leaders of corruption and misuse of power.) A staunch Roman Catholic, Henry wanted to marry again because Catherine had not borne him a son and he was determined to father a male heir to the throne. Yet Henry encountered strong resistance from the pope, who had the final authority to nullify marriages. Since Catherine was a Spanish princess and the Catholic Church depended upon Spain to fight Protestantism in Europe, the pope could not afford to alienate the Spanish by granting the annulment. Henry therefore broke with the Catholic Church and declared himself head of the Church of England, which he founded.

Henry's quarrel with Roman Catholicism was political, not religious. Although he closed monasteries (houses for monks, or men who took religious vows) and seized Catholic lands, he did not want to change the basic values of the church. Therefore he maintained most of the rituals, especially the elaborate ceremonies and fancy vestments (robes) worn by bishops and priests. Henry's daughter, Elizabeth I (1533–1603), also loved the grand processions and dramatic services, so she continued her father's policies. Her successor, James I (1566–1625), was similarly unwilling to make any changes. By this time many English Protestants were rebelling against the heavy emphasis on Catholicism in the Church of England. They wanted a simpler church, one that placed less emphasis on displays of wealth.

During the reign of James I many ministers and congregations refused to organize their worship services according to the requirements of the Church of England. Some critics, who became known as Puritans, felt that purification of the national church would solve the problems. At the same time a few dissenters (those who did not conform to the Church of England) were contending that the church was too corrupt to be saved and they wanted total separation. Since the king was head of both the church and the government, separation was considered a crime against the state. Nevertheless a congregation in Scrooby, England, declared themselves to be Nonconformists, or separatists. When the Scrooby leaders were persecuted in 1607 the congregation resolved to leave England and go to Leyden in the Netherlands (Holland), the most tolerant of the European states.

Life was pleasant in Leyden, and the Nonconformists were free to practice their religion. Nevertheless they were uneasy because their children were becoming more Dutch than English. Economic opportunities were also limited, and there were rumors that war would soon break out between Spain and the Netherlands. Many members of the group wanted to relocate in another country where they could speak the English language and bring up their children in a familiar Christian environment. They were determined not to return to England or move to New Netherland, the Dutch colony in America (see "Impressions of New Jersey and New York"). Calling themselves Pilgrims, they decided to settle instead at the northernmost end of the land granted to the Virginia Company.

In 1619 the Pilgrims secured financing through Thomas Weston and Associates, an investment company, and the following year they left the Netherlands for America. Stopping first in England, they found that only one of their ships, the Mayflower, was seaworthy. The party consisted of one hundred and two men, women, and children, but they were not all Pilgrims. Several men called "merchant adventurers" represented the Weston company and did not share the Nonconformists' religious beliefs. Although no minister had joined the party, one of the members of the Leyden group, William Bradford (1590–1657), became a leader of the venture. On September 5, 1620, they set sail on the Mayflower for their destination in the New World.

Along the way the Mayflower encountered stormy weather, and the Pilgrims never arrived in Virginia territory. Instead they anchored the ship in Cape Cod harbor (off the coast of present-day Massachusetts), which was far north of their original destination. Since they were not on the land that had been legally granted to them, Bradford and forty other free adult males (those with voting rights) drafted and signed a new contract, the Mayflower Compact, in November 1620. The contract, which was based on Nonconformist church covenants, would allow the Pilgrims to establish a government with binding laws. However, they soon had to address the problem that they were only forty percent of the people aboard the ship. The rest, including men such as Miles Standish (1584–1656), were outsiders whom the Pilgrims called "strangers." The Mayflower Compact was intended to prevent conflict, provide for a government, and form a new religious society. It is considered the first democracy established by Europeans in North America.

The Mayflower Compact

In the Name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and Advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domino 1620.

Source: William Bradford. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–1647. Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. New York: Knopf, 1966, pp. 75–6.

While the Mayflower was anchored in Cape Cod harbor, Standish led an expedition inland. Leaving the ship in a small boat in November, they set out for the Hudson River, but bad weather forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod. Calling it Plymouth Harbor, they anchored near a rock that is now known as Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims began settling their new colony on December 25, 1620, and elected John Carver (1576–1621) as their first governor. Although they faced a harsh winter in the Northeast, several factors worked in their favor. Unlike many ships that brought settlers to North America, the Mayflower remained at Plymouth and furnished housing until shelters had been built. The colonists' first dwellings were small, one-room houses made of boards (not logs). The careful selection of a settlement site also gave them an advantage; rather than facing a "howling wilderness" they were able to nestle into a hillside that had once been inhabited by Native Americans. Fresh water was nearby, and they had access to corn Native Americans had put away for the winter.

Yet nearly half of the party died that first winter—the fate also of the earliest colonists at Jamestown (see "The Founding of Jamestown"). Although the Pilgrims and local Native Americans were aware of one another, they did not make contact during that difficult winter. The dying settlers maintained their distance, even though the Native Americans could have helped them. In turn, the Wampanoags, who had mixed experiences with Europeans, warily watched the newcomers. In the spring the surviving colonists were helped by Squanto (?–1622), a member of the neighboring Patuxet tribe; in his youth, he had been kidnapped and taken to England. During his captivity he had learned to speak English, so he was able to communicate with the settlers. Squanto helped the Pilgrims plant corn and other crops, and the next fall there was a plentiful harvest. The colonists invited the Native Americans to a celebration feast, which has become known as the first Thanksgiving in America (thanksgivings were common in England).

When Carver died in April 1621, Bradford was chosen to take his place as governor. He would be reelected thirty times between 1621 and 1656. During this period he repeatedly tried to leave the post, but he was such an effective leader that colonists always asked him to remain in office. Bradford was also the principal historian of the Plymouth Colony, and he began writing Of Plymouth Plantation in 1630. In the two-volume work he gave a detailed account of the migration of the Pilgrims to Plymouth and the subsequent hardships they faced in the New World. "The Pilgrims' Landing and First Winter," in which Bradford tells the story of the Pilgrims' first few months in their new colony, is an excerpt from Of Plymouth Plantation, Book I.

Things to Remember While Reading "The Pilgrims' Landing and First Winter":

  • Bradford's narrative begins when the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod. They unloaded a boat (Bradford called it a ship) that had been stored, probably in pieces, on the Mayflower. They started putting it together ("mending" it) while Standish and others explored the mainland. When the ship was ready the Pilgrims set out for the Hudson River. After several mishaps amid a violent storm at sea, they returned to Cape Cod, where they finally started building their settlement in December.
  • When winter set in over half of the Pilgrims died of disease and exhaustion. In the fourth paragraph Bradford described how "six or seven sound [healthy] persons" took care of the others, at the "hazard of their own health."
  • Bradford wrote that during the winter Native Americans secretly watched the Pilgrims ("came skulking about them") and stole some of their tools. On March 16 one of the Native Americans, Samasett (also Samoset), entered the settlement. To the Pilgrims' surprise, he spoke English and he told them about Squanto, another Native American who also knew English and had even lived in England. Soon more Native Americans came to visit. Eventually the stolen tools were returned.
  • Friendly visits and exchanges of gifts led to the signing of a treaty between the Pilgrims and the great Chief Massasoit. Bradford outlined the terms of the agreement, under which the two groups swore to protect one another and always to be at peace. He reported that, at the time he was writing his history, the peace had lasted for twenty-four years. Bradford concluded his account with a description of the plentiful harvest the Pilgrims gathered the following autumn.

"The Pilgrims' Landing and First Winter"

Being thus arrived at Cape-Cod . . . they having brought a large ship with them out of England, stowed in quarters in the ship, they now got her out, and set their carpenters to work to trim her up, but being much bruised and shattered in the ship with foul weather, they saw she would be long in mending. Whereupon a few of themtendered themselves, to go by land and discover those nearest places, while the ship was in mending. . . . It was conceived there might be some danger in the attempt, yet seeing themresolute they were permitted to go, being 16 of them well armed under the conduct of Captain Standish. . . . After some hours sailing, it began to snow and rain, and about the middle of


Tendered: Offered


Resolute: Bold, steady


Rudder: A flat piece of wood or metal attached to the stern (rear) of a ship so that the ship can be turned


Bade: Told


Herewith: By this means


Lusty: Full of strength


Sore: Severely

the afternoon, the wind increased, and the sea became very rough; and they broke theirrudder, and it was as much as two men could do to steer her with a couple of oars. But their pilotbade them be of good cheer for he saw the harbor, but the storm increasing, and night drawing on, they bore what sail they could to get in, while they could see; butherewith they broke their mast in three pieces and their sail fell overboard, in a very high sea. . . .

But alusty seaman which steered, bade those which rowed if they were men, about with her, or else they were all cast away; which they did with speed, so he bid them be of good cheer, and row justly for there was a fair sound before them, and he doubted not, but they should find one place or other, where they might ride in safety. And though it was very dark, and rainedsore; yet in the end they got under thelee of a small island and remained there all that night in safety. . . .

But though this had been a day and night of much trouble, and danger unto them; yet God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshing (as usually he does to his children) for the next day was a fair sunshining day, and they found themselves to be on an island secure from the Indians; where they might dry their stuff, fix their pieces, and rest themselves, and gave God thanks for his mercies, in theirmanifold deliverances. And this being the last day of the week, they prepared there to keep theSabbath; on Monday theysounded the harbor, and found it fit for shipping; and marched into the land, and found many cornfields, and little running brooks, a place (as they supposed) fit forsituation, at least it was the best they could find, and the season, and their present necessity made them glad to accept of it. So they returned to their ship again with this news to the rest of their people, which did much comfort their hearts. . . .

Afterwards [they] took better view of the place, and resolved where to pitch their dwelling; and the 25th day [December 25, 1620] began to erect the first house, for common use to receive them, and their goods. . . .


Lee: Side protected from the wind

Manifold deliverances

Manifold deliverances: Various rescues


Sabbath: Sunday, observed among Christians as a day of rest and worship


Sounded: Measured the depth of


Situation: Living

But that which was most sad, andlamentable, was, that in two or three months the half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with thescurvy and other diseases, which this long voyage and theirinacommodate condition had brought upon them; so as there died some times two or three of a day, in the forsaid time; that of one hundred and odd persons scarce fifty remained: and of these in the time of most distress there was but six or seven sound persons; who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed their meat, made their beads, washed theirloathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them. In a word did all the homely, and necessary offices for them, which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named and all this willingly and cheerfully, without anygrudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends andbrethren. A rare example and worthy to be remembered, two of these seven were Mr. William Brewster, their Reverend Elder, and Miles Standish, their Captain and military commander, (unto whom myself, and many others were muchbeholden in our low, and sick condition). . . .

All this while the Indians cameskulking about them, and would sometimes show themselvesaloof, but when any approached near them, they would run away; and once they stole away their tools when they had been at work and were gone to diner. But about the 16th of March a certain Indian came boldly amongst them, and spoke to them in broken English which they could well understand, but marveled at it; at length they understood bydiscourse with him, that he was not of these parts, but belonged to the eastern parts where some English ships came to fish, with whom he was acquainted, and could namesundry of them by their names, amongst whom he had got his language. He became profitable to them in acquainting them with many things concerning the state of the country in the east parts where he lived . . . of the people here, of their names, number and strength, of their situation and distance from this place, and who was chief amongst them. His name was Samasett; he told them also of another Indian whose name was Squanto, a native of this place, who had been in England and could speak better English then himself. Being after some time of entertainment, and gifts dismissed, a while after he came again, and five more with him, and they brought again all the tools that were stolen away before, and made way for the coming of their greatSachem, called Massasoyt. Who about four or five days after came with the chief of his friends, and other attendance with the aforesaid


Lamentable: Grievous


Scurvy: Disease marked by spongy gums loosening teeth, and bleeding into the skin


Inaccomodate: Uncomfortable


Loathsome: Disgusting


Grudging: Reluctance; resentment


Brethren: Referring to the members of a society, profession, or sect


Beholden: Indebted


Skulking: Moving about secretly


Aloof: Having no interest


Discourse: Conversation


Sundry: Numerous


Sachem: Native American chief

Squanto. With whom after friendly entertainment, and some gifts given him, they made a peace with him (which has now continued this 24 years) in these terms:

  1. That neither he nor any of his, should injure or do hurt, to any of their people.
  2. That if any of his, did any hurt to any of theirs; he should send the offender, that they might punish him.
  3. That if any thing were taken away from any of theirs, he should cause it to be restored; and they should do the like to his.
  4. If any did unjustly war against him, they would aide him; if any did war against them, he should aide them.
  5. He should send to his neighborsconfederates to certify them of this [treaty], that they might not wrong them [the Pilgrims], but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.
  6. That when [Massasoyt's] men came to [the Pilgrims,] they should leave their bows and arrows behind them. . . .

They [the Pilgrims] began now to gather in the small harvest they had; and to fit up their houses and dwellings, against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength; and had all things in good plenty, for as some were thus employed in affairs abroad; others were exercised in fishing, about cod, and bass, other fish of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion; all the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first, (but afterward decreased by degrees), and besides water fowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besidesvenison etc. Besides they had about apeck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion, which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were notfained, but true reports.


Confederates: Ally; supporter


Venison: The flesh of deer used for food


Peck: Half a bushel or two gallons


Fained: False

What happened next . . .

After solving the initial problems of food and shelter, the Plymouth settlers realized they did not know how to run businesses such as fur trading, which was thriving in other colonies. The colony ultimately proved to be a disappointment to its investors because Pilgrim leaders paid attention to immediate needs rather than long-term plans. For instance, despite extreme food shortages, they invited other Nonconformists to move to Plymouth from Leyden.

As the colony grew, the Pilgrims benefitted from their alliance with Massasoit (1580–1661), the Wampanoag leader who had helped them through the first winter. The result was peaceful trading relationships and an increased food supply in Plymouth. Nevertheless this harmony was disturbed when the colonists found themselves in the middle of battles between the Narragansetts and the Mohegans. Tensions continued to mount, and in the Pequot War (1637) the New England colonies formed an alliance with the Narragansetts to attack a Pequot fort at Mystic, Connecticut. Four hundred Pequots were killed while they were sleeping.

The First Thanksgiving, 1621

The Plymouth thanksgiving was described in a letter Edward Winslow, one of the colony's leaders, sent back to England:

Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling [hunting birds], that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. The four in one day killed as much fowl as, with little help beside, served the Company [Plymouth inhabitants] almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms [weapons], many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation [Plymouth] and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captain and others.

Source: William Bradford. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–1647. Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. New York: New Modern Library, p. 90n.

Native Americans were not the only unpredictable element at Plymouth. The colonists also had to contend with the merchant adventurers, many of whom committed crimes. In 1627 Bradford and seven other Pilgrims bought out the merchant adventurers and divided their property evenly among the colonists. As a result, the outcast merchants became part of Pilgrim society and were labeled "Old Comers." Although the Pilgrims had come to America to practice religious freedom, they did not extend the same rights to others. Therefore Plymouth, unlike other colonies in New England, did not become a haven for those who were fleeing persecution.

Plymouth did not have a formal government. In 1630 Bradford tried to forge relations with the more prosperous Massachusetts Bay Colony, but he met resistance from Massachusetts residents. Plymouth finally adopted a formal constitution in 1636. The population grew steadily, reaching seven thousand by the time Plymouth finally became part of Massachusetts in 1691, thirty-four years after Bradford's death.

Did you know . . .

  • Although historians have labeled the Plymouth Colony a democracy, there is little proof to support this claim. The people who signed the Mayflower Compact may have exercised power as a group, but they transferred all authority to the governor. When Bradford became governor in 1621, he served as principal judge and treasurer until 1637. He oversaw trade and agriculture, managed profits, and appointed allotments of land to settlers. Since he held executive (responsibility for enforcing laws) and legislative (responsibility for making laws) authority, only he could decide when freemen (former indentured servants who had earned their freedom) were allowed to take part in government. Bradford could also make decisions without the advice of others.
  • The Plymouth settlers sent out their first ship loaded with goods—clapboards (boards with one edge thicker than the other used to cover the outer walls of houses) and beaver and otter skins—that were intended to provide a profit to their financial backers in England. The ship was seized by the French, however, and the colony soon became a disappointment to investors.
  • Massasoit honored his treaty with the Plymouth colonists for forty years. During this time, the two groups exchanged many friendly visits. When the Wampanoag chief became ill, for instance, Plymouth leaders traveled to his home at Pokanoket to help cure their ally. On several occasions Massasoit or his fellow Wampanoags probably saved the colonists from slaughter by warning them of possible attacks by warring tribes.

For more information

Colbert, David. Eyewitness to America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997, pp. 22–24.

Dubowski, Cathy East. The Story of Squanto: First Friend of the Pilgrims. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishers, 1997.

"The First Thanksgiving Proclamation (1676)" in Documents Relevant to theUnited States Before 1700. Available September 30, 1999.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Rebel Pilgrim: A Biography of Governor WilliamBradford. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969.

"Massasoit." Biographical Dictionary of Indians of the Americas, Volume I. Newport Beach, Calif.: American Indian Publishers, 1991.

Middleton, Richard. Colonial America: A History, 1585–1776. Second edition. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, pp. 75–80.

Bradford, William

views updated May 18 2018

Bradford, William


Austerfield, Yorkshire, England

May 9, 1657

Plymouth Colony

Governor and historian

"And here is to be noted a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that here they got seed to plant them corn the next year, or else they might have starved. . . . "

William Bradford.

William Bradford was the leader of a religious group called the Pilgrims, who embarked on the famous voyage to the New World (the European term for North America and South America) on board the ship Mayflower. In 1620, after landing on the northeast coast of present-day Massachusetts, the Pilgrims established Plymouth Colony. When the first elected governor, John Carver, died, Bradford took his place. As governor, Bradford grappled with a terrible famine (an extreme scarcity of food) and forged relations with local Native Americans. Bradford's time in office is considered an example of effective early American politics. Although he practiced absolute authority, he was not a tyrant (a ruler who exercises absolute power brutally). In addition to being the governor of Plymouth, Bradford was also an important religious leader and its principal historian. He wrote Of Plymouth Plantation (1630), which remains a valuable source of information about life in colonial America.

Leaves England with Nonconformists

William Bradford was born in 1590 at Austerfield, Yorkshire, in England. His father was William Bradford, a wealthy landowner. His mother, Alice, was the daughter of John Hanson, a village shopkeeper. He was their third child and only son. When his father died on July 15, 1591, Bradford inherited an ample fortune. After his mother died a few years later, he was left in the care of his grandfather and uncles.

Bradford's uncles taught him how to farm, and he probably planned to take over his father's estate one day. When he was twelve years old, however, he became deeply involved in religion. Against the wishes of his family he joined a religious group that called themselves the Nonconformists—later known as Puritans—because they refused to conform to the laws of the Church of England (the official religion of England, also known as the Anglican Church). Their meetings, which were conducted by the Reverend Richard Clyfton, took place in the house of a local postmaster, William Brewster, in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire. At that time England was at the height of the Protestant Reformation, a religious revolution within the Roman Catholic Church that began sweeping across Western Europe in the previous century. (The Protestant Reformation was started by German theologian Martin Luther, who accused Catholic leaders of corruption and misuse of power.) By the early 1600s the spirit of reform had also influenced Protestant groups who were intent on self-purification (freeing themselves as individuals from sin). The Nonconformists believed the Church of England had become far too corrupt to benefit from reforms. They also feared that the king, Charles I, was sympathetic to Catholics. Because of these beliefs, the Nonconformists decided to separate from the Church of England. Since this was considered an act of treason, the Nonconformists were forced to leave England or be punished by imprisonment or even death. In 1608 Bradford joined their migration to Amsterdam, Holland. A year later the Nonconformists settled in Leiden, the Netherlands, where they were allowed to practice their religion freely. By 1611 Bradford was old enough to convert his inheritance into cash. Afterwards, he bought a loom (a frame or machine used to weave cloth) and went into the textile (fabric or cloth) trade. In 1613 Bradford married Dorothy Day and settled in Leiden.

Sails on Mayflower

The Nonconformists remained in Leiden for only a short time. Many younger members, including Bradford, found that making a living was very difficult, and they searched for an area where they could practice their religion and also keep their English traditions and language, even if it meant living under English rule. They petitioned the Virginia Company (a private organization that promoted colonization of the Virginia territory) of London, England, and were granted a patent (an official document giving a right or privilege) for land in the Virginia territory. On September 5, 1620, the group, which Bradford called "Pilgrims," set sail on the Mayflower for the New World.

Along the way the Mayflower encountered stormy weather, and the Pilgrims never arrived in Virginia. Instead they anchored the ship in Cape Cod harbor (off the coast of present-day Massachusetts), a spot that was far north of their original destination. Since that land had not been legally granted to them, Bradford and the Pilgrims drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact in November 1620, a document that claimed ownership of the area. Because the Pilgrims accounted for only forty percent of the people aboard the ship, the agreement also set out to guarantee security against dissension (discord or quarreling) with the rest of the passengers. These settlers, men such as Miles Standish, were outsiders whom the Pilgrims called "strangers." The agreement also provided for a government as well as a new religious society. Although the Mayflower Compact is considered the first democracy established by Europeans in North America there is little proof to support this claim.

Plymouth Colony founded

While the Mayflower was anchored in Cape Cod harbor in November 1620, Bradford joined an expedition led by Standish. Leaving the Mayflower in a small boat, they entered the harbor, which they called Plymouth harbor, and landed near a rock that is now known as Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims settled their new colony in December and elected Carver as their first governor. After Carver died in April 1621, Bradford was immediately chosen to take his place. He would be reelected thirty times between 1621 and 1656. During this period, Bradford repeatedly tried to quit the governorship, but he was such an effective and beloved leader that colonists always wanted him to remain in office. Tragically, Bradford's wife drowned in Cape Cod harbor on December 7, 1620. Three years later he was remarried, to a woman named Alice Carpenter Southworth.

Forges relations with Native Americans

Conditions in Plymouth were harsh, and Bradford did all he could as governor to save the colony from disaster. The Pilgrims were devastated by sickness—over half of the population perished—and only a few men were left to do the farming for the colony. Their first winter, in 1620–21, was especially bleak. In the spring the local Wampanoag tribe, led by Chief Massasoit (see entry), taught the Pilgrims how to plant crops such as barley, peas, and corn. Massasoit asked Squanto, another prominent Wampanoag who spoke the English language, to head the effort to help the colonists. (As a teenager Squanto was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain, then eventually made his way to England, where he spent a few years.) Squanto is remembered today as the person who saved the Pilgrims from starvation, and he is closely associated with

Bradford writes history of Plymouth

As the principal historian of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford began writing Of Plymouth Plantation in 1630. He gave a detailed account of the Pilgrims' journey to Plymouth and the subsequent hardships they faced in the New World. It is said that Bradford wrote the history because Massachusetts Bay colonist John Winthrop (see entry) began writing a similar document in 1630 about the Puritan migration. Bradford described the early optimism and faith of the Pilgrims and their eventual corruption by adverse forces. In Book I he compared the Pilgrims to the Israelites of the Old Testament (the first part of the Bible), who traveled out of captivity to the Promised Land. Yet the Pilgrims' battle against evil did not end when they reached the New World. In the opening part of his work, Bradford mentions the "wars and oppositions" that "Satan hath raised, maintained and continued against the saints" in the Plymouth Colony.

In 1646 Bradford started Book II, which is even less optimistic than Book I. By now the Pilgrims had experienced famine and the treachery of "merchant adventurers," businessmen who took advantage of the colonists. They also had conflicts with Native Americans. The Pequot War of 1637 became a major turning point: New England colonists formed an alliance with the Narragansett tribe and attacked a Pequot fort, killing four hundred Pequots in their sleep. Over time, Bradford came to realize that evil comes from people themselves and not simply through the magical power of Satan. He wrote that the Pilgrims had arrived in the New World "knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond and covenant of the Lord." He later added, "But (alas) that subtle serpent hath slyly wound in himself under fair pretenses of necessity and the like, to untwist these sacred bonds and ties." Over time Plymouth became less focused on religion and eventually merged with the more prosperous Massachusetts Bay Colony.

the first Thanksgiving. After a bountiful harvest in the fall, the Pilgrims and Wampanoags celebrated the "first Thanksgiving." Another problem for the Pilgrims was that they had no resources for businesses such as fur trading, which was thriving in other colonies, because they knew little about commerce. Pilgrim leaders paid attention to immediate needs rather than long-term plans. Yet they were not completely unskilled in politics and business, having gained experience in self-government through their handling of church affairs. Bradford regarded Plymouth as the site of the New World church for Nonconformists who remained in Europe. Therefore, despite extreme food shortages, he invited more Nonconformists to move to Plymouth from Leiden.

As the colony grew, Bradford recognized the need to befriend more local Native Americans. Although Bradford and the Pilgrims had formed an alliance with Massasoit, who was highly regarded by area tribes, the Pilgrims were threatened by the Narragansett tribe. Further conflict came when Massasoit warned that a group of natives was planning to attack the colonists. On the advice of Massasoit, the troublemakers were rounded up and killed. Bradford never wanted a confrontation with Native Americans, since by keeping good relations with them he was able to alleviate the famine. He eventually achieved peaceful trading relationships with the natives and increased the food supply in Plymouth. Nevertheless this harmony was disturbed when the colonists found themselves in the middle of battles between the Narragansetts and the Mohegans. Tensions continued to mount, and in the Pequot War (1637) the New England colonies united with the Narragansetts to attack a Pequot fort at Mystic, Connecticut. As a result, four hundred Pequots were killed in their sleep.

William Bradford: The First Thanksgiving

During their first winter in the Plymouth Colony (1620–21), the Pilgrims were devastated by sickness—over half of the population perished—and only a few men were left to do the farming for the colony. In the spring the local Wampanoag tribe, led by Chief Massasoit, taught the Pilgrims how to plant crops such as barley, peas, and corn. After a bountiful harvest in the fall, the Pilgrims and Wampanoags celebrated the "first Thanksgiving." This event is portrayed in William Bradford: The First Thanksgiving (1992), a thirty-minute animated film originally broadcast on the Family Entertainment television network. The film is available on videocassette.

Deals with "merchant adventurers"

The Native Americans were not the only group that caused problems for the upright Pilgrims at Plymouth. They also had to contend with the "strangers," or those who were not Pilgrims. Many of these men came over on the Mayflower as servants, and others were already in North America. Known also as "merchant adventurers," they represented businessmen in London. Men such as Standish, John Alden, and Richard Warren were useful to Bradford. However, many "merchant adventurers," who had names like "Oldham the mad trader" and "Lyford the lewd parson," were criminals and tried to cheat the colonists. Bradford dealt with these men the best he could, usually forgiving their crimes.

In 1627, Bradford made a business deal that benefitted the entire colony. His plan called for the Pilgrims to buy out the merchant adventurers and divide their property evenly among the colonists. As a result, the outcast merchants became part of the Pilgrim society and Bradford labeled them "Old Comers." In order to buy them out, Bradford joined seven Pilgrims and four merchants from London in taking on the debt. These twelve men, known as the "Undertakers," began engaging in fishing and trading businesses in order to raise money. However, they had little success with these ventures. In 1631 they still owed money after some of the "Undertakers" resigned. Bradford, Standish, and Alden all had to sell land to pay off the rest of the debt.

Given absolute authority

During his first few years in office, Bradford frequently practiced absolute authority (governing free from restraint). Although historians have labeled the Plymouth Colony a democracy, there is little proof to support this claim. The people who signed the Mayflower Compact may have exercised power as a group, but they gave all authority to the governor. When Bradford became governor in 1621, he served as principal judge and treasurer until 1637. He oversaw trade and agriculture, managed profits, and assigned plots of land to settlers. Since he held executive and legislative authority, only he could decide when freemen (former indentured servants who had earned their freedom) were allowed to take part in government. Bradford was also allowed to make decisions without the advice of other government authorities and businessmen.

Throughout his career, Bradford never showed any desire for power and gain. In 1630, the "Warwick Patent" was granted to him from the Council for New England. This document made Bradford, and whoever else he chose, proprietors (owners) of Plymouth. He immediately shared his rights with the "Old Comers." In 1636 Bradford joined a committee that drafted laws defining the duties of the governor, his assistant, and the general court. They also defined seven capital offenses (crimes that require the death penalty). In 1639 the grand jury of Plymouth protested the power possessed by the "Old Comers." It was finally decided by the court that Bradford should give up the "Warwick Patent" to freemen. This is the only known challenge of Bradford's authority as governor.

Writes history

In addition to being governor of Plymouth, Bradford was also considered its principal historian. He began writing Of Plymouth Plantation, Book I, in 1630 (the work was published in 1856). In this segment he portrays the Pilgrims as being optimistic about their prospects in the New World, which they considered the "Promised Land." Bradford started Book II in 1646 after many years of hardship in Plymouth. The optimism of Book I is dampened by the realization that corrupt men, not an invisible evil force like Satan, were responsible for the downfall of the colony. Bradford maintained his faith in the goodness of God, however, and continued as governor of Plymouth until the end of his life. He tried to forge relations with the wealthy and powerful Massachusetts Bay Colony, but met resistance from Massachusetts Bay residents. He also welcomed the "Great Migration" of 20,000 Puritans (1628–42) to New England. Bradford died on May 9, 1657, in Plymouth Colony. His efforts at colonial union were fulfilled in 1692 when the Plymouth Colony finally merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

For further reference

Elliott, Emory, and others, eds. American Literature: A Prentice Hall Anthology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1991, pp. 66–67.

Hays, Wilma Pitchford. Rebel Pilgrim: A Biography of Governor William Bradford. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969.

Johnson, Allen, and others, eds. Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, pp. 559–63.

Stephen, Leslie, and Sidney Lee, eds. The Dictionary of National Biography. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1917, pp. 1069–73.

"William Bradford" in The Puritans: American Literature Colonial Period (1608-1700). Available July 13, 1999.

William Bradford: The First Thanksgiving. Family Entertainment Network, 1992. Videocassette recording.

William Bradford

views updated Jun 27 2018

William Bradford

William Bradford (1590-1657), one of the Pilgrim Fathers, was the leader of the Plymouth Colony in America. His extraordinary history, "Of Plymouth Plantation, " was not published until 1856.

On March 19, 1590, William Bradford was baptized at Austerfield, Yorkshire, England. His father, a yeoman farmer, died when William was only a year old. The boy was trained by relatives to be a farmer. He was still young when he joined a group of Separatists (Protestant radicals who separated from the established Church of England) in nearby Scrooby. For most of the rest of his life, the best source is his Of Plymouth Plantation.

Becoming a Pilgrim

In 1607 Bradford and about 120 others were attacked as nonconformists to the Church of England. They withdrew to Holland, under the religious leadership of John Robinson and William Brewster, living for a year at Amsterdam and then in Leiden, where they stayed nearly 12 years. They were very poor; Bradford worked in the textile industry. In these hard years he seems to have managed to get something of an education because he lived with the Brewsters near a university. Bradford was attracted to the ideal of a close-knit community such as the Scrooby group had established. At the age of 23 he married 16-year-old Dorothy May, who belonged to a group of Separatists that had come earlier from England.

The threat of religious wars, the difficulty of earning a decent living, the loss from the community of children who assimilated Dutch ways, the zeal for missionary activity— these forces led the Scrooby group to consider becoming "Pilgrims" by leaving Holland for America. After many delays they chose New England as their goal, and with financial support from London merchants and from Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who claimed rights to the American area they sought, the Pilgrims readied to leave for America.

Signing the Mayflower Compact

But the terms arranged for the colonists by their deacon were treacherous; the backers and the settlers were to share ownership in the land the colonists improved and the dwellings they constructed. Many of the Pilgrims' coreligionists backed out of the enterprise, and a group of "strangers" was recruited to replace them. When one of their two ships, the Speedwell, proved unseaworthy, the expedition was delayed further. Finally, in September 1620 the Mayflower departed alone, its 102 passengers almost equally divided between "saints" and "strangers." The men on board signed a compact that established government by consent of the governed, the "Mayflower Compact." John Carver (with Brewster, the oldest of the saints) was elected governor.

On landing at Cape Cod in November, a group led by Myles Standish went ashore to explore; they chose Plymouth harbor for their settlement. Meanwhile Dorothy Bradford had drowned. (In 1623 Bradford married a widow from Leiden, with whom he had three children.)

The settlers soon began to construct dwellings. The winter was harsh; one of many who died of the illness that swept the colony was Governor Carver. Bradford became governor, and under him the colonists learned to survive. Squanto, a Native American who had lived in England, taught the settlers to grow corn; and they came to know Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe. A vivid report on these early adventures written by Bradford and Edward Winslow was sent to England and published as Mourt's Relation (1622); with it went clapboard and other materials gathered by the settlers to begin paying off their debts. (Unfortunately the cargo was pirated by a French privateer—a typical piece of Pilgrim bad luck.)

Bradford was responsible for the financial burdens as well as the governing of the colony until his death, though for some five years he did not officially serve as governor. These years saw the debt continue to grow (with great effort it was paid off in 1648).

Developing Plymouth Colony

The population of the colony gradually increased, and by 1623 there were 32 houses and 180 residents. Yet during Bradford's lifetime the colony, which began for religious reasons mainly, never had a satisfactory minister. John Robinson, a great pastor in Holland who had been expected to guide the saints, never reached America. One clergyman who did come, John Lyford, was an especially sharp thorn in Bradford's side. Eventually he was exiled, with the result that the London backers regarded the colonists as contentious and incapable of self-rule.

Gradually as Plymouth Colony came to encompass a number of separate settlements, Bradford's particular idea of community was lost. After 1630 the colony was overshadowed by its neighbor, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But in fact Plymouth never amounted to much as a political power. By 1644 the entire colony's population was still a mere 300. Plymouth did make other northern colonizing efforts attractive; it supplied important material aid to the Bay Colony, and it may have helped establish its Congregational church polity as the "New England way." Bradford was admired by Governor John Winthrop of Boston, with whom he frequently met to discuss common problems.

Bradford the Man

Bradford's private life was distinguished by self-culture. He taught himself Greek and came to know classical poetry and philosophy as well as contemporary religious writers. He worked on his great history, Of Plymouth Plantation, from 1630 until 1646, adding little afterward. Most of the events were described in retrospect. He wrote as a believer in God's providence, but the book usually has an objective tone. Though far from being an egotist, Bradford emerges as the attractive hero of his story. The last pages reflect his recognition that the colony was not a success, and the book has been called a tragic history. Though he stopped writing his history altogether in 1650, he remained vigorous and active until his death in 1657.

Further Reading

A convenient modern edition of Bradford's history was prepared by Samuel Eliot Morison, ed., Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 (1952). Another edition was published in 1962, edited and with an introduction by Harvey Wish. The best biography is Bradford Smith, Bradford of Plymouth (1951). G. F. Willison, Saints and Strangers (1945), an account of the Pilgrims, contains much material on Bradford. Background works include Harvey Wish, Society and Thought in Early America (1950); Ruth A. Mclntyre, Debts Hopeful and Desperate: Financing the Plymouth Colony (1963); and George D. Langdon, Jr., Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691 (1966). □

Bradford III, William (1719-1791)

views updated Jun 08 2018

William Bradford III (1719-1791)


Newspaper publisher

Relatives. William Bradford III was born on 19 January 1719 in Hanover Square, New York City. His grandfather, William Bradford I, had established a press in Pennsylvania, the second in America. Because of an argument with the ruling Quaker hierarchy (a rift that would plague the Bradford family for generations), he moved his print shop to New York in 1693 and founded that colonys first newspaper. In 1733 William Bradford III was apprenticed to his wealthy uncle Andrew Sowle Bradford, founder of the American Weekly Mercury in Philadelphia. Having no children of his own, Andrew looked upon William as a son and heir, providing him with fine clothes and a good education. At the age of twenty William became his uncles partner, but when he refused to an arranged marriage with a cousin, his uncle wrote him out of the will.

Interlude in England. Bradford traveled to England in 1741 in order to distance himself from the family squabble and to establish his own business connections. Through the patronage of his great-aunt Tace Sowle Rayton he was able to return to Philadelphia the next year and establish in December his own newspaper. At first he called it the Weekly Advertiser, or Philadelphia Journal but after the third issue renamed it the Pennsylvania Journal; and Weekly Advertiser. He married Rachel Budd that year, and in 1754 he opened the London Coffee-House for Merchants and Traders. As a place to conduct business transactions and exchange gossip, the coffeehouse quickly became a commercial as well as social center of town.

Middling Sort. Unlike many other newspaper publishers, Bradford had an affiliation with the middling sort and demonstrated an early interest in the rights of colonists. During the French and Indian War, his Pennsylvania Journal took a strong stance on military preparedness, and to the chagrin of Quaker leaders he helped organize militia forces in Philadelphia. In October 1757 Bradford started the American Magazine and Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies. The magazine was popular and had one thousand subscribers, including George Washington. It focused on the current state of American affairs and noted the accomplishments of colonial painters, writers, and scientists. Unfortunately it ceased publication after only one year because the editor, William Smith, departed for England following a four-month jail sentence for libel. (Smith and his father-in-law, Judge William Moore, had criticized the Pennsylvania assembly in the local press.)

Coming Crisis. The mounting tension with England caused Bradford to become even more firmly entrenched in his views on colonial rights. He was an early member of the Sons of Liberty and advocate of the creation of a continental congress. During the Stamp Act controversy Bradford, like many other printers, took great offense at the Crowns attempt to censor the press. As a result he made one of the more noticeable newspaper protests of the day. On 31 October 1765, the day before the act went into effect, the front page of the Pennsylvania Journal had black borders to make it look like a tombstone. A skull and crossbones with grave diggers tools appeared at the top while beneath the nameplate was the announcement: EXPIRING: In Hopes of a Resurrection to Life again. Bradford also signed the nonimportation resolutions circulating at that time.

War Service. Politics did not occupy Bradford to the point that he ignored his press. During this period he published more than twenty volumes on politics, religion, and literature as well as his newspaper. He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to revive the American Magazines in 1769. With the outbreak of war he joined the American army and served during the winter campaign of 17761777. Severely wounded at the Battle of Princeton, he received a promotion to colonel. Meanwhile his paper had published the first of Thomas Paines Crisis papers on 19 December 1776. During the British occupation of Philadelphia the Pennsylvania Journal suspended operations. Once enemy troops evacuated the city in June 1778, however, Bradford reopened his print shop and coffeehouse. His health had been greatly damaged by his wartime service, and he resigned his commission in 1780. His eldest son, Thomas, increasingly took on the responsibility of running the paper and continued to publish the Journal for two years after Bradford died on 25 September 1791. Isaiah Thomas wrote in The History of Printing in America (1810) that in his most solitary hours Bradford reflected with pleasure, that he had done all in his power to secure for his country a name among independent nations; and he frequently said to his children, though I bequeath you no estate, I leave you in the enjoyment of liberty. Because of his devotion to the revolutionary movement, Bradford is known as the Patriot Printer of76.


Henry Darrach, Bradford Family, 16601906 (Philadelphia, 1906);

Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America. With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, 2 volumes (Worcester, Mass.: Isaiah Thomas, 1810);

John William Wallace, An Address Delivered at the Celebration by the New York Historical Society, May 20, 1863, of the Two Hundredth Birth Day of Mr. William Bradford, Who Introduced the Art of Printing into the Middle Colonies of British America (Albany, N.Y.: J. Munsell, 1863).

Bradford, William

views updated May 14 2018

William Bradford

William Bradford was an Englishman who settled Plymouth Colony with the Pilgrims in 1620. The Pilgrims traveled to the New World to find a place where they could practice religion and community life without interference from the Church of England. As governor of the colony for most of his adult life, Bradford helped it survive hardships to become a permanent settlement.

Early life

Bradford was born in Austerfield, Yorkshire, England, in March 1590. His father, a farmer named William, died when Bradford was one. His mother, Alice, died six years later in 1597. Relatives cared for Bradford after that.

Bradford began attending a Puritan church when he was twelve. Puritans were Christians who wanted to reform the Church of England, which Puritans felt had too many fancy rituals. Around age sixteen, Bradford joined a church of Separatists in Scrooby, England, led by John Robinson (1575–1625) and William Brewster (c. 1566–1644). Separatists were Puritans who wanted to separate from the Church of England.

The Church of England considered Puritanism a threat to its power, so Puritans were often harassed in England. In 1608, the Scrooby congregation moved to Holland to practice religion freely. For twelve years, first in Amsterdam and then in Leyden, the Scrooby congregation experimented with living as an English community in a foreign land. Bradford worked in the textile industry during this time and married Dorothy May. He had a son with Dorothy and three children with Alice Carpenter Southworth, whom he married in 1623 after Dorothy's death years earlier.

The Pilgrims

The Scrooby congregation eventually decided to leave Holland. Living in Dutch country made it hard for the community to retain its English character and customs. The congregation did not wish, however, to return to persecution in England.

In London, the Scrooby congregation found investors from the Virginia Company who wanted to send settlers to the New World for harvesting its resources for a profit. In 1620, Bradford and about one hundred others sailed on the Mayflower with plans to settle in the area that would become Virginia . In November they arrived around present-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts , and by December they landed at Plymouth Bay and settled for the winter.

At Plymouth Bay, the Pilgrims were outside the area where the Virginia Company had power to establish colonies. (See Colonization .) This forced the Pilgrims to create their own government, which they did under a legal agreement called the Mayflower Compact.

Settling into colonial life

Half of the colonists at Plymouth died during the winter of 1620, including Governor John Carver (c. 1576–1621). The colonists elected Bradford to be their new governor. Bradford organized the colonists to build a community, find food, and negotiate with Native Americans as necessary. He also had responsibility for overseeing justice and managing the colony's business affairs.

Bradford and the colonists met a Native American named Squanto, who had spent some time in England and spoke English. Squanto (1600?–1623) taught the colonists how to plant corn and preserve fish. Bradford negotiated with the chief of the local Wampanoag tribe for a peace treaty that lasted four decades.

Over the years under Bradford's guidance, Plymouth Colony survived early hardships and became a permanent settlement. The investors did not find it as profitable as other New World colonies. Still Plymouth Colony managed to pay off its initial debt by 1648.

Later years

In his later years, Bradford taught himself how to read the Bible in Hebrew, and he studied Greek, classical poetry, and philosophy.

From 1630 until 1650, Bradford wrote a book about the Pilgrims, called Of Plymouth Plantation. The book reflects Bradford's transition from viewing Native Americans as savages to respecting them. Toward the end of his life, Bradford thought that the colonists should purchase native lands that they wished to use, an idea that other colonists rejected.

Bradford died in Plymouth Colony in May 1657.

William Bradford

views updated Jun 11 2018

William Bradford

The American printer William Bradford (1663-1752) is often referred to as "the pioneer printer of the Middle colonies." He was involved in frequent controversies over freedom of the press.

William Bradford was born on May 20, 1663, in Leicestershire, England. His parents apprenticed him to Andrew Sowle, the foremost Quaker printer in London. The ambitious young man learned the trade, adopted Sowle's religion, and in 1685 married his master's daughter, Elizabeth. Bradford sailed to Pennsylvania in 1685. He carried a letter of recommendation from George Fox, the founder of the Quakers.

Bradford wasted little time in setting up shop. By the end of the year the first printing in the Middle colonies had appeared. It was an almanac, the Kalendarium Pennsilvaniense, by Samuel Atkins. In it Bradford asked forgiveness for some errors caused by haste and the disorders of travel. But he hoped his readers would be cheered that "after great Charge and Trouble" he had brought "that great Art and Mystery of Printing to this part of America."

The almanac got an unexpected reception. Printing in the New World was often a precarious business. Governor William Penn may have been uneasy about the establishment of a press in his colony; in any case, he took offense at one slight reference to him in the almanac. Atkins was swiftly reprimanded, and Bradford was ordered to print nothing without license from the Pennsylvania Council. In 1687 Bradford was told that nothing could be printed about the Quakers without their formal approval. In 1689 trouble arose between a new governor and the populace. The governor officially reprimanded Bradford for issuing Penn's original charter for the colony, in spite of the printer's plea that it was his business to print whatever was brought him by any party. For a time Bradford resigned his business and went to England, returning in 1690 to what he thought were better prospects. He was involved with William Rittenhouse in opening the first paper mill in British America. But trouble came again a few years later when Bradford took the minority side in a conflict among Quakers. His property was seized and he was arrested, though he escaped conviction.

In April 1693 the New York Council invited Bradford to become their public printer. His first New York production, called New-England's Spirit of Persecution Transmitted to Pennsilvania, discussed his own case. His New York business was wide and varied, including the printing of books, tracts, paper money, and the laws of the colony.

Bradford has numerous "firsts" to his credit in the history of American printing. From 1725 to 1744 he published the New York Gazette, the colony's first newspaper. After 1733 it had a rival, the Weekly Journal, published by Bradford's former apprentice and partner, John Peter Zenger. Bradford, as public printer, supported the government. Zenger was sponsored by a faction opposed to the government. When attempts were made to suppress Zenger, Bradford took a new side, against the government, in the famous freedom-of-press controversy.

Bradford's business, which included bookselling, grew lucrative. After 1723 he also did printing for New Jersey. He retired at the age of 80 and died on May 23, 1752. His son Andrew and his grandson William were also important early American printers and journalists.

Further Reading

A brief and interesting portrait of Bradford is in John T. Winterich, Early American Books and Printing (1935). The standard book on printing in the Colonies, Laurence C. Wroth, The Colonial Printer (1931; 2d ed. 1938), considers Bradford at length. For the background of freedom of the press, the most important book is Leonard W. Levy, Legacy of Suppression: Freedom of Speech and Press in Early American History (1960). □

William Bradford

views updated May 29 2018

William Bradford

The American journalist William Bradford (1722-1791) published an influential newspaper. Opponent of British policies, he followed words with heroic deeds during the Revolution and was known as "the patriot printer of 1776."

Born in New York City, William Bradford was the grandson of the William Bradford who introduced printing in the Middle colonies and gave New York its first newspaper. His uncle, Andrew Bradford, was responsible for Philadelphia's first newspaper. The tradition would be continued by William's own son, Thomas. The Bradfords must be recognized as one of the most influential families of printers in America for nearly 150 years. Young William learned the craft from his uncle, then visited London to improve his skills and prospects. In 1742 he returned to Philadelphia with printing equipment and stock for a bookstore. His career established, he married Rachel Budd from a prosperous New Jersey family.

Bradford carried on a profitable printing and bookselling business and issued two of the best colonial periodicals, the Pennsylvania Journal (begun in 1742), a weekly, and the American Magazine (1757), a monthly. The Journal rivaled Benjamin Franklin's Gazette. Bradford's paper, better printed and as well edited, circulated throughout the Colonies, including the West Indies.

A man of wide contacts in a prospering city, Bradford was successful in a number of ventures. In 1762 he and a partner formed the Philadelphia Insurance Company, designed to insure shipping and merchandise. The background for his other operations was the London Coffee-House for Merchants and Traders, which he opened in 1754, where men of influence met to transact business and exchange opinions. In time Bradford was able to consolidate most of his ventures in adjoining buildings. He was a powerful figure in a colony of critical importance. And he was in touch with his peers elsewhere.

Bradford's position in Philadelphia society and his interest in Pennsylvania's prosperity made him a key figure in the development of colonial opposition to Great Britain. During the French and Indian War he gained some military experience. One of the most vehement antagonists of the Stamp Act of 1765, he became a leader in the Sons of Liberty. At the same time he opposed some Americans who seemed too irresponsible, particularly William Goddard of the Maryland Journal. Bradford followed his own newspaper attacks on British policies with increasing emphasis on the importance of a continental congress. In 1774 his paper carried the famous picture of a dissected snake with the motto, "Unite or Die." He was the printer for the First Congress, and along with editors in other cities he also became a postmaster.

Bradford joined the Revolution, first with money and aid in communication, then as a soldier. Badly wounded at Princeton, after 1778 he gave himself to administrative work in the revolutionary cause. His service ruined both his health and his business. He died on Sept. 25, 1791.

Bradford was an example of the prosperous colonial figures with their own economic interests and intercolonial contacts, whose spirits grew steadily toward revolution, and who frequently gave the cause a rather moderate character.

Further Reading

The fullest source on Bradford is John W. Wallace, An Old Philadelphian: Colonel William Bradford (1884). Besides an extensive, though uncritical, biography, it includes sketches by associates and gleanings from his press. For background on newspapers and the Revolution, as well as information on Bradford, a helpful book is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain (1957). Also useful is Carl and Jessica Bridenbaugh, Rebels and Gentlemen: Philadelphia in the Age of Franklin (1942). □

Bradford, William

views updated Jun 27 2018


Pilgrim father and governor of Plymouth Colony, Mass.; b. Austerfield, Yorkshire, England, 1590; d. Plymouth, 1657. Although he was only 16 years old when the Puritans organized their church at Scrooby, his piety and knowledge soon made him one of the leaders of the congregation. With the rest of the Scrooby congregation he went to Holland (160920), where he developed a deep knowledge of theology. He arrived in Plymouth (1620) on the Mayflower ; and, following the death of the first governor, was elected his successor (April 1621), remaining governor for 30 of the next 36 years. Although Calvinist in theology, he was in practice quite liberal for the period. He took part in legislation against the Quakers, but declared "it is too great arrogance for any man or church to think that he or they have so sounded the word of God to the bottom." His famous History of Plymouth Plantation, not intended for publication but probably only for the use of his family, was begun in 1630 and completed probably in 1650. It was printed in full for the first time in 1856, although the manuscript was available to historians before that time.

Bibliography: v. h. paltsits, Dictionary of American Biography (New York 192836) 2:564566. p. g. e. miller and t. h. johnson, eds., The Puritans, 2 v. (New York 1938). b. smith, Bradford of Plymouth (Philadelphia 1951).

[e. delaney]

Bradford, William

views updated May 23 2018


William Bradford was born September 14, 1755, in Philadelphia. He graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor of arts degree in 1772 and a master of arts degree in 1775.

Before beginning his legal career Bradford served in the Revolutionary War from 1776 to 1779, fought in numerous battles, including Valley Forge, and emerged with the rank of colonel in the Continental army. After his tour of duty, he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar and established a legal practice in Yorktown, Pennsylvania.

Bradford served as Pennsylvania attorney general for an eleven-year period, from 1780 to 1791. He entered the judiciary in the latter year and presided as judge of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for three years.

In 1794 Bradford was selected by President george washington to serve as U.S. Attorney General for one year, the second man to hold this post. He died August 23, 1795, and was buried in Burlington, New Jersey.

Bradford, William

views updated Jun 08 2018


William Bradford, born November 4, 1729, in Plympton, Massachusetts, was a student of both law and medicine. After practicing medicine in

Warren, Rhode Island, Bradford was admitted to the bar in 1767 and established his legal practice in Bristol, Rhode Island.

From 1764 to 1765 Bradford was a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and served as speaker. He continued his career in that state, serving on the Rhode Island Committee of Correspondence in 1773, and acting as deputy governor of Rhode Island from 1775 to 1778.

Bradford was elected senator from Rhode Island in 1793, serving in the U.S. Senate until 1797, and acting as president pro tem in that same year.

He died July 6, 1808, in Bristol.

About this article

William Bradford

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic