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William Bradford

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The front page of the Bradford journal
William Bradford’s most well-known work by far is Of Plymouth Plantation. It was a detailed history in manuscript form about the founding of the Plymouth colony and the lives of the colonists from 1621 to 1646.[46] It is a common misconception that the manuscript was actually Bradford’s journal. Rather, it was a retrospective account of his recollections and observations, written in the form of two books. The first book was written in 1630; the second was never finished, but “between 1646 and 1650, he brought the account of the colony’s struggles and achievements through the year 1646.”[47] As Walter P. Wenska states, “Bradford writes most of his history out of his nostalgia, long after the decline of Pilgrim fervor and commitment had become apparent.

Both the early annals which express his confidence in the Pilgrim mission and the later annals, some of which reveal his dismay and disappointment, were written at about the same time.”[46] In Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford drew deep parallels between everyday life and the events of the Bible. As Philip Gould writes, “Bradford hoped to demonstrate the workings of divine providence for the edification of future generations.”[47] Despite the fact that the manuscript was not published until 1656, the year before his death, it was well received by his near contemporaries. In 1888 Charles F. Richardson referred to Bradford as a “forerunner of literature” and “a story-teller of considerable power;”

Moses Coit Tyler called him “the father of American history.”[48] Many American authors have cited the manuscript in their works; for example, Cotton Mather referenced it in Magnalia Christi Americana and Thomas Prince referred to it in A Chronological History of New-England in the Form of Annals. Even today it is considered a valuable piece of American literature, included in anthologies and studied in literature and history classes. It has been called “‘an American classic’ and ‘the pre-eminent work of art’ in seventeenth-century New England.”[48] The Of Plymouth Plantation manuscript disappeared by 1780,[49] “presumably stolen by a British soldier during the British occupation of Boston” and reappeared in Fulham, England.[47] As Philip Gould states, “In 1855, scholars intrigued by references to Bradford in two books on the history of the Episcopal Church in America (both located in England) located the manuscript in the bishop of London’s library at Lambeth Palace.”[47] A long debate ensued as to the rightful home for the manuscript.

According to Mark L. Sargent, “his poems are often lamentations, sharp indictments of the infidelity and self-interest of the new generation. On occasion, the poems recycle dark images from the history.”[51] Although his poetry is still available today to the interested reader it is not nearly as famous as Of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford’s Dialogues are a collection of fictional conversations between the old and new generations. In the Dialogues, conversations ensue between “younge men” and “Ancient men,” the former being the young colonists of Plymouth, the latter being “the protagonists from Of Plymouth Plantation” (Sargent 413).[52] As Mark L. Sargent states: “By bringing the young from Plymouth Plantation and the ancients from Of Plymouth Plantation into ‘dialogue,’…Bradford wisely dramatizes the act of historical recovery as a negotiation between the two generations, between his young readers and his text.”[52] Today, only a small portion of the Dialogues remain; however, a modified copy made by Nathaniel Morton exists.

Multiple attempts by United States Senator George Frisbie Hoar and others to have it returned proved futile at first. According to Francis B. Dedmond, “after a stay of well over a century at Fulham and years of effort to [e]ffect its release, the manuscript was returned to Massachusetts” on May 26, 1897.[50] Bradford’s journal, even though it did not become Of Plymouth Plantation, was also published. It was contributed to another work entitled Mourt’s Relation which was written in part by Edward Winslow, and published in England by one of Bradford’s contemporaries.

Published in 1622, it was intended to inform Europeans about the conditions surrounding the American colonists at the Plymouth Colony. As governor of the Plymouth Colony, his work was considered a valuable contribution and was thus included in the book. Despite the fact that the book included a large amount of Bradford’s work it is not typically referenced as one of his significant works due to the fact that it was published under someone else’s name. In addition to his better-known work, Bradford also dabbled in poetry.



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