William Bradford, the author of one of the best-known histories of the seventeenth century, was the third child and sole son of a yeoman farmer and a shopkeeper’s daughter. Devoted to reading the Bible from the age of twelve, he joined the Brownists, or Separatists, a group that wished to break from the Church of England. He emigrated with this group to Amsterdam in 1608 and subsequently to Leyden. While in Holland, he became a weaver to maintain himself and learned Dutch and some Latin and Hebrew.
When the Separatists—along with some non-Separatists—sailed for the New World on the Mayflower, Bradford was among them, suffering the enormous physical and mental hardships of the journey. While Bradford and other men explored the coast for a suitable location for settlement, his wife, Dorothy, still on the Mayflower, drowned mysteriously. It is suspected that she committed suicide.
Upon the death of John Carver, Bradford was elected governor of Plymouth when he was thirty-one years old, and he was reelected thirty times; he served many terms unwillingly but, believing so strongly in the venture, was convinced that he could not shirk the duty. In 1627, along with four London merchants and seven other Pilgrims, Bradford assumed the £1,800 debt owed to the original underwriters of the adventure and worked mightily to satisfy the monopolists in London. This debt was finally paid off in 1648.
Although obviously in a...
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