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History of Plymouth Plantation

by William Bradford

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What important points is William Bradford trying to make in Chapter Nine of History of Plymouth Plantation?

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William Bradford was governor of Plymouth Colony; he wrote Of Plymouth Plantation (which he started in 1630) to document the Puritan settlement in New England. In this writing, he discusses the travels and the trials that the Pilgrims faced in making a new home in a foreign (and unsettled) land. It is still a critical historical text for modern scholars to understand the vast struggles that early Americans had to face to have freedom to act and think according to their beliefs (including their religious beliefs).

Chapter 9 discusses the sea voyage that the Puritans take en route to America. Soon after they depart, many individuals face seasickness. One of the seamen is particularly cruel to the Puritan passengers who have motion sickness:

There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the seamen, of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would alway be contemning the poor people in their sickness and cursing them daily with grievous execrations.

Bradford explains that this man died soon after; he is (ironically) the first man to die and be thrown overboard, though he often loudly wished that the others would die.

Bradford then discusses the storms that the people face on the journey. Some of those storms damage the ship and leave the people worried that the ship may not be strong enough to complete the journey across the ocean. Those on board the ship meet to discuss whether or not they should turn back (since the ship was not holding up well in the weather).

And truly there was great distraction and difference of opinion amongst the mariners themselves; fain would they do what could be done for their wages' sake (being now near half the seas over) and on the other hand they were loath to hazard their lives too desperately.

Though the sailors want to earn their money (since they had already traveled so far), they also want to make a wise decision to preserve everyone's lives. They decide to make some repairs to the ship and to continue on. Bradford and the other Puritans "committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed."

Bradford continually reminds the readers of God's part in helping the Puritans on their journey.

Next, Bradford speaks of a particularly high wind that causes John Howland to fall overboard. Again, he emphasizes God's merciful will in allowing this man survive. He explains how he "caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length . . . till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hook and other means got into the ship again."

Despite the many struggles that the people face, only one of the Puritans dies on the journey (a servant). Bradford constantly focuses on the grace and mercy that God showed the Puritan people.

Finally, the ship arrives in Cape Cod. The Puritans decide to head south but soon run into some "roaring breakers" and end up returning to the Cape. When the Puritans arrive on land, they "f[all] upon their knees and bless the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean."

Instead of focusing on their difficulties, they continually strive to be thankful for their blessings. Still, Bradford reminds readers that the Puritans' struggles are not yet over:

Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which went before), they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less town to repair to, to seek for succour.

He explains how the Native Americans attacked the men with arrows when they first arrived; he also shows how hard the winter weather was. The people must quickly build shelter and establish a means of gaining food for themselves.

Again, instead of losing hope, Bradford reminds readers of God's grace:

What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?

He maintains a consistently hopeful attitude while he describes the struggles that the travelers faced.

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Bradford's overall point is that it was God's will for the Separatists, passengers, and crew to make it safely to land, and that they must continue to trust in God to provide them with everything they need to survive.

Bradford emphasizes that there were no Europeans there to help them and nothing in the way of civilization.  He recalls that the winter promised to be brutal, and that the environment was unknown to them and seemed full of threats, both from the "barbarians" and animals.  The ship's captain was fiercely protective of what he and the crew needed to make the journey back to England in the spring, and that left the Separatists and passengers in a vulnerable position. They would have to fend for themselves and quickly find a suitable place for shelter.



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This chapter describes the Pilgrims' arrival at Cape Cod. They are struck by what they perceive as a desolate wildnerness, utterly hostile and without comforts. Bradford emphasizes the travails they endured in sailing to this new land, and in Chapter Nine he wants the reader to understand that things didn't get any better. They are isolated and utterly on their own:

If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a maine bar and goulfe to separate them from the civill parts of the world.

This chapter also includes remarks about the people they encountered, who Bradford views as basically hostile:

...these savage barbarians, when they mette with them...were readier to fill their sides full with arrows than otherwise...

Indians were viewed, then, as a hostile force of nature, ready to destroy the Pilgrims at any moment. The point of this chapter, as with A History of Plymouth Plantation as a whole, was to emphasize the struggles, hardships, and privations suffered by the Pilgrims in an attempt to show that the Pilgrims had been chosen for success by divine Providence. Faced with these hardships, Bradford ends the chapter by asking rhetorically, "what could now sustain them but the spirite of God and his grace!"


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What's the central idea of Chapter Nine in William Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation?

In Chapter 9, Bradford details the Pilgrims' crossing of the Atlantic en route to the New World. The central idea of this chapter is that God is protecting the Pilgrims at every step. For example, a "sea-men, of a lustie, able body" taunts the sea-sick passengers until God chose to "smite this yong man with a greeveous disease." In other words, God punishes this man who taunts the Pilgrims by afflicting him with a mortal disease. On the other hand, when a young man named John Howland, who later becomes an important member of the Pilgrim church, is tossed over board, God saves him, as Howland is able to grasp a top-sail halyard. When the Pilgrims, through the grace of God, arrive in Cape Cod, they give thanks to God for having protected them. Once they arrive in the wilderness of the New World, populated by people Bradford refers to as "savage barbarians," only God's grace continues to safeguard them.

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What's the central idea of Chapter Nine in William Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation?

Chapter Nine describes the stormy, dangerous, and difficult passage that Bradford and the Pilgrims endured before arriving in Massachusetts Bay. The main theme of the chapter, and really the book as a whole, is that they survived because of their faith in God, and because it was God's will that they do so. As Bradford writes at the end of the chapter, quoting from Psalms: 

When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them.

But the chapter also includes a darker vision of the Calvinist notion of justice. During the voyage, one young man "cursed" the Pilgrims for their sickness and weakness. He would often, according to Bradford, "swear and curse most bitterly," even saying that he would probably throw half of them overboard before they made landfall. But as it turned out, this "proud and profane" young man himself was among the first to die from disease. It was him that was thrown overboard, a fact that Bradford and the Pilgrims interpreted as the "just hand of God."

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