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History of Plymouth Plantation

by William Bradford

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What theme does the author of the History of Plymouth Plantation want to convey? How does this theme relate to God's providence?  

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According to the Separatists, the group to which William Bradford, the author of Of Plymouth Plantation, belonged, God controlled the universe, and everything that happened in the universe was His providence. 

The theme that Bradford wanted to convey is that the relocation of the Separatists from Englandand then the Netherlands to the American colonieswas an expression of God's providence.  Bradford's sect believed that the Anglicans had not separated the church profoundly enough from Catholicism; they also could not align themselves with some other Protestants even though, just as they were, many were following Calvinist teachings.  They believed that their creation of a "city upon a hill" was what God wanted and that they would serve as a model of how a properly reformed theocracy functioned.

Bradford's many anecdotes about the sacrifices the Separatists made in their harrowing crossing aboard the Mayflower and the first winter in Massachusetts were colored with frequent references to God's providence. John Howland was miraculously saved after falling overboard because it "pleased God." When friendly Native Americans including Squanto assisted the Separatists, he attributed their generosity to God; in fact, Bradford calls Squanto "a special instrument of God."

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One of the major themes of the History of Plymouth Plantation is, in fact, God's divine Providence. Throughout the book, Bradford interprets every event that occurs, both good and bad for the Pilgrims, as God's will, and connected to some divine purpose that was usually impossible for human beings to understand. On the voyage to Plymouth, for example, a very profane young man, who was given to blasphemy and insulting the pious Pilgrims, got very sick and died. Bradford reflects that this was surely God's way of chastening the people, reminding them of proper behavior for a Christian:

Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the just hand of God upon him.

Bradford believed that whatever successes the Plymouth settlement experienced were the result of God's mercy and Providence, which would be extended to them only as long as they maintained their faith in God. Almost every event, good or bad, is prefaced by the phrase "it pleased God." "It pleased God," for example, "to visit them this year with an infectious fever," or to "send home a great quantity of beaver." Everything that happened to and around the Pilgrims portrayed by William Bradford was an example of God's will. So essentially, the main theme of the book is in fact God's providence.

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