In History of Plymouth Plantation, who is Bradford and why is he producing / writing history?  How do you characterize Bradford’s interpretation of history? What are its strengths and...

  • In History of Plymouth Plantation, who is Bradford and why is he producing / writing history? 
  • How do you characterize Bradford’s interpretation of history?
  • What are its strengths and weaknesses? 
  • In what ways would Bradford’s history have differed if he were a woman, servant, or Native American? 
  • Would his interpretation be taken seriously in 2014?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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--As a boy of twelve in Yorkshire, England, William Bradford was radically altered by his experience of the sermons of a Puritan minister; consequently, he began to attend the meetings of Nonconformists against the fierce protests of his family and friends. For these Nonconformists were forbidden by law to worship in public in England. But, when Bradford was eighteen, he joined the Congregationalist church that they formed; moreover, he joined this group when they sailed to Holland in fear of British persecution in 1608. Then, in 1620, this group of Nonconformists sailed for American in order to found a community where they would be free to worship.

--As a Puritan, Bradford perceived God's hand in what occurred. For instance, when they land, the Puritans fall to their knees and thank God for a safe journey. Before this, though, the initial ship on which the pilgrims sailed returned to England and the Mayflower was boarded for America. When there were many who became seasick, there was a "proud and very profane" seaman who ridiculed these people, saying that he would be glad to throw them overboard when they died and take their belongings. When he was reprimanded for his cruel words, Bradford writes, the young man swore all the more. Later, however, this same sailor died himself "in a desperate manner" because of God's retribution. Bradford notes,

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

--In the style of a Puritan, Bradford writes in a plain, simple manner which is easily understood and contains simply facts with human interpretation. However, he interprets everything that occurs through his vision of a God Who directs their lives and is retributive. However, his strict Puritan thinking actually does distort the truth at some times. For instance, he is very judgmental toward the Indians' behavior, accusing them of thievery. Then, too, when the Master is unwilling to share the beer, he may not be completely selfish, after all, as Bradford believes. Instead, he may be worried about the quality of the drinking water that his men and he will have on their return voyage.

--Certainly, Bradford is very critical of the behavior of the Natives, although he allows that Massoit is "great," so their perspectives of what occurred would be very different. Women probably would be gentler about some observations.

--With the advancements in science and general knowledge, some of Bradford's observations would be questioned, to be sure. However, the concepts of God as directly involved in people's lives is retained by those religions which have evolved from the Puritans, many who came about after a period in U.S. history called The Great Awakening. Nevertheless, the style of writing is obsolete. Of course, political correctness would alter many of Bradford's interpretations, especially those of the Native Americans.

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