History of Plymouth Plantation Summary
by William Bradford

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History of Plymouth Plantation Summary

In History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford recounts approximately twenty years in the history of Plymouth Plantation.

  • William Bradford, who served as Governor of the Plymouth colony for over thirty years, writes in detail about the colony's first years in America.

  • The First Thanksgiving was very plentiful, but following that day, the colony fell on hard times and was forced to survive on lean provisions.

  • Bradford also writes about Captain Wollaston, the founder of the Merrymount settlement, and Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, Rhode Island.

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As one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact and the governor of Plymouth, Massachusetts, William Bradford had firsthand knowledge of the history of the Plymouth colony. This primary source document provides insight into the events prior to the sailing of the Mayflower, as well as the twenty-five years which followed.

Bradford begins with a description of the religious persecution Pilgrims faced in England, their decision to move to the Netherlands, the economic hardships they endured there, and the decision to sail to America.

He also shares a picture of what it was like when they landed in Plymouth:

Being thus arived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees & blessed ye God of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast & furious ocean, and delivered them from all ye periles & miseries therof, againe to set their feete on ye firme and stable earth, their proper elemente.

Additionally, Bradford clearly outlines the struggles of the Pilgrims in the new land, including harsh weather, disease, and famine. He also provides detailed accounts of how local Native Americans, specifically Squanto, aided the colonists in agricultural ways in order to grow sustainable crops.

But about the 16th of March, a certain Indian came boldly amongst them and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand but marveled at it. At length they understood by discourse with him . . . He became profitable to them in acquainting them with many things concerning the state of the country in the east parts where he lived . . .

Bradford also provides insight into the trading practices of the colonists. Additionally, he explains how the Pilgrims learned to adapt to the land and their new economic, political, and social realities, as more and more colonists came to America.

They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strength, and had all things in good plenty . . .

The historical narrative also sheds light on the growth of the colony, the religious disputes which arose for Pilgrims, their loss of land, and their fight to retain their close, principled community. Bradford completes his recounting of events in 1646, as many of the original founders had died and the colony had changed greatly.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation is generally felt by both U.S. and English historians to be one of the most important volumes of the colonial period in America. The work survived apparently only by the rarest of chances. It was begun in 1630 by Bradford, who was one of the hardy band who came to Plymouth on the Mayflower and who served as governor of that colony for thirty-three years; he completed chapter 10 that same year. Most of the remainder he wrote in pieces through 1646; later, he entered a few items up to 1650.

The manuscript remained in the family, passing first to the governor’s oldest son, Major William Bradford; subsequently to his son, Major John Bradford; and then to his son, Samuel. Meanwhile, it was being borrowed and mined for various other histories of colonial America. While borrowed by Increase Mather, it narrowly escaped being burned when Mather’s house was destroyed in 1676. After numerous uses by other historians, it eventually came to rest in the bishop of London’s library in Fulham Palace, probably...

(The entire section is 1,979 words.)