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Document Number: AJ-025
Author: Bradford, William, 1588-1657
Title: Bradford's History 'Of Plimoth Plantation'
Source: Bradford, William. Bradford's History 'Of Plimoth Plantation.' From the Original Manuscript. With a Report of the Proceedings Incident to the Return of the Manuscript to Massachusetts. Printed under the Direction of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers, 1898). Pages i-lxxviii, 1-555.
Pages/Illustrations: 645 / 11
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-025/

Author Note

William Bradford (1588-1657) was born in England, and in 1609 he joined a group of nonconformist Protestants who sought religious freedom in Holland. From there, Bradford helped prepare for the “pilgrime” expedition to create a separatist religious colony in America. "Plimoth Plantation" was established in 1620, and Bradford was chosen as governor after the death of the colony's first leader, John Carver, in 1621. He was reelected twenty times and served as its leader for much of the rest of his life.

Bradford’s 1620 Expedition and Plymouth Colony

Bradford journeyed with several dozen religious nonconformists to America on the Mayflower, along with other passengers, servants, merchants, and a handful of adventurers. Bearing around one-hundred colonists, the ship arrived in Cape Cod Bay on November 11, 1620, near modern Provincetown, an area occupied by the Nauset Indians. Soon after arrival, an advance party raided several caches of Nauset corn and beans, prompting the local tribe to attack them. On December 16, 1620, the colonists, who had been shipbound since leaving Holland, sailed across Massachusetts Bay from Cape Cod and disembarked at Plymouth.

About half the English died of starvation, disease, or exposure in the first four months. The survivors elected Bradford governor in 1621, and despite early conflicts with their Native American neighbors, Bradford established peaceful relations with Massasoit, the chief of the neighboring Wampanoags. During the colony’s early years, factional splits divided the colonists, until in 1627 Bradford and a majority bought out the original stockholders.

The economy of Plymouth, based on shared agriculture, depended on good relations with neighboring tribes. This was usually effected through trade and diplomacy, and the Indians taught the English how to successfully grow local crops such as pumpkins, corn and beans. Relations with other English non-religious colonies, such as those formed under Thomas Weston at Wessagusset and under Thomas Morton at Mount Wollaston, or Merrymount, were problematic. In 1628, Miles Standish and men from Plymouth drove out Morton and his men for providing guns and alcohol to the Indians, and for “frolicking” with them.

In 1630, another English religious settlement was founded in Boston as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and an influx of Puritans began to pour into New England from the mother country. Plymouth achieved solid financial footing, entering into trade with settlers in New Holland at Manhattan and the Hudson Valley, and conducting regular trips back to England to exchange furs for money, goods, and supplies.

Document Note

Of Plimouth Plantation provides a detailed, firsthand account of the Mayflower voyage, the establishment of Plymouth Colony, relations with various Indian communities, exploration of surrounding areas, including Maine, and the daily life of New England’s first settlers. Bradford’s manuscript appears to have been written at various times between 1620 and 1647. It disappeared from Boston during the American Revolution and was discovered in London in 1855. It was first published in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1856. The edition presented here preserves Bradford’s original spelling and punctuation. The standard modern edition is: Morison, Samuel Eliot, ed., Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 (New York: Knopf, 1952).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Other first-hand accounts of Plymouth on the web can be found in: Rhys, Ernest, ed., Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers, at http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/60/107, and background on the Mayflower voyage and Plymouth Colony is available at http://www.plimoth.org, the official web site of Plimoth Plantation.

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