William Bradford belongs to what is considered Colonial literature. This time frame is also referred to occasionally as "foundations and encounters." Bradford was born to a farmer in England in the late 16th Century. He read the Bible as a child and, inspired by the sermons of a Puritan preacher, he joined the Puritan faith and fled England in search of religous freedom in 1620. Bradford was elected governor of the Plymouth colonly shortly after arriving in the New World. Beyond just his biography, Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation" chronicles the difficulties the original English settlers encountered in the New World. He chronicled these obstacles in an effort to inspire the generations that would come after his own, but despite best efforts, the Puritan's goal of creating a morally upstanding country eventually faded as they faced the increasingly difficult work of settling a new land.
William Bradford belongs to the early 17th century period of literature. His most famous book, Of Plymouth Plantation, was written between 1630 and 1651. Bradford was the first governor of the colony, and so well positioned to write an account of its early years.
Bradford wrote in a plain style. His account, often called a journal, is written in the third person. Starting in 1608, it chronicles the time leading up to when the Puritans set sail for the New World, but its focus is on the early years of the new colony in America. It interprets those years through a providential lens: Bradford casts the early settlers' sufferings and redemption/survival as part of the story of God's provision and plan for his faithful people. It is typological, framing the voyage and settlement of the New World in terms of the Old Testament account of God leading the chosen people of Israel into the desert to found a holy nation. For example, as the pilgrims (Bradford uses the term to mean spiritual travelers) arrive in the winter in the New World, Bradford writes as follows, mentioning Pisgah, the mountain from which Moses surveyed the Promised Land:
Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, fall [sic] of wild beasts and wild men—and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. Neither could they, as it were, go up to the top of Pisgah to view from this wilderness a more goodly country to feed their hopes; for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or content in respect of any outward objects.
Bradford presents the pilgrims to a second and perhaps softer generation as suffering saints who were rewarded by God for their struggles by being allowed to survive and thrive in their own Promised Land. This depiction of America as a promised land has entered deeply into the American psyche and influenced writers across the centuries.