What are the predominant themes in "Of Plymouth Plantation"?
Aboard the Mayflower in 1620, William Bradford was responsible for recording the tenets of the “Mayflower Compact.” These principles would serve as the guidelines in the soon-to-be new community of Plymouth, in what would one day become the state of Massachusetts.
The document espoused, in part, the following:
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620
From 1630 until 1647, Bradford recorded the hopes and dreams, successes and failures of the colony. Here are a few of the themes that emerged over the seventeen years of Bradford’s meticulous documentation.
In Book I, Chapter IX, Bradford tells the tale of two men who made the Atlantic crossing on the Mayflower. One, he recalls, was a “very proud and very profane young man… who would always be contemning the poor people in their sickness, and cursing them daily with grievous execrations.”
God was not indifferent to the young man’s abuses. “It pleased God,” Bradford recounts, “to smithe this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and was so himself the first that was thrown overboard...[The people] noted it to be the just hand of God upon him.
God Rewards Endurance of Trials:
Bradford goes through a long discourse of the suffering the first Puritan colonists but is careful to give thanks to God, who smiles on his people for their faith. For example, in Book I, Chapter X, Bradford describes an attack by the Indians, but the men were able to recover their arms and survive the melee. “Afterwards,” he writes, “they gave God solemn thanks and praise for their deliverance.”
Dangers of Prosperity:
In Book XXIII, he addresses concerns about prosperity. In Bradford’s estimation, nothing good could come from the community becoming too materially successful. Money and goods, he believed, would lead people away from God. Within the boundaries of Plymouth, the people policed the morals of one another; if geographically apart, he warned, the community would fray: Should this happen, “the church must also be divided, and those that had lived so long together in Christian and comfortable fellowship must now part and suffer many divisions.”