William Bradford Institute
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Early Settlement of America

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William Bradford

1590–1657, Governor of Plymouth Colony
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
2001


1590–1657, governor of Plymouth Colony, b. Austerfield, Yorkshire,
England. As a young man he joined the separatist congregation at
Scrooby and in 1609 emigrated with others to Holland, where, at
Leiden, he acquired a wide acquaintance with theological literature.
Bradford came to New England on the Mayflower in 1620 and in 1621,
on the death of John Carver, was chosen leader of the Pilgrims. He
remained governor for most of his life, being reelected 30 times;
during the five years in which he chose not to serve, he was elected
assistant. Bradford, though firm, used his large powers with
discretion, and there were few complaints about his leadership. He
maintained friendly relations with the Native Americans and
struggled hard to establish fishing, trade, and agriculture. He
stressed the obligations of the colonists to their London backers
and was one of the eight colonial undertakers who in 1627 assumed
Plymouth Colonys debt to the merchants adventurers. Given a
monopoly of fishing and trading privileges, they finally discharged
the debt in 1648. Bradford was more tolerant of other religious
beliefs than were the Puritan leaders of Boston (although he was by
no means consistent in this respect), and he was largely responsible
for keeping Plymouth independent of the Massachusetts Bay colony.
His famous History of Plimoth Plantation, not published in full
until 1856, forms the basis for all accounts of the Plymouth Colony.
The editions of W. T. Davis (1908), W. C. Ford (1912), and Samuel
Eliot Morison (1952) are the best.

See also G. F. Willison, Saints and Strangers (1945); biography by
B. Smith (1951).

 

Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Pilgrims and Puritans