William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

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William Bradford


BAPTIZED: 19 March 1589/90, Austerfield, York, England, son of William and Alice
(Hanson) Bradford

DIED: 9 May 1657, Plymouth

MARRIED:

Dorothy May, 10 December 1613, Amsterdam, Holland, probably daughter of Henry
May
Alice (Carpenter) Southworth, 14 August 1623, Plymouth, daughter of Alexander
Carpenter, widow of Edward Southworth.

CHILDREN by DOROTHY: NAME BIRTH DEATH MARRIAGE

Johnc1618, Leyden, Hollandbef. 21 Sept. 1676, Norwich, CTMartha Bourne,
bef 1650

CHILDREN by ALICE: NAME BIRTH DEATH MARRIAGE

William17 June 1624, Plymouth20 February 1703/4, Plymouth1: Alice
Richards, aft. 23 April 1650
2: name unknown
3: Mary (Wood) Holmes, c1676
Mercy bef 22 May 1627, Plymouth bef 9 May 1657 Benjamin Vermayes, 21 December
1648, Plymouth
Joseph c1630, Plymouth 10 July 1715, Plymouth Jael Hobart, 25 May 1664,
Hingham

ANCESTRAL SUMMARY:

(6) Robert? Bradfourth, b. c1435, taxed 1522, d. prob. 1523.
(5) Peter Bradfourth, of Bentley, Arksey, York, England; b. c1460, d. 1542/3;
married at least twice, names unknown.
(4) Robert Bradfourth, of Wellingley, Tickhill, York, England; b. c1487; d. 1552
or 1553; m1. (---)(---); m2. Elizabeth (---)
(3) William Bradford, bur. Austerfield, York, England 10 January 1595/6; m. bef.
1552, (---)(----); m2. Margaret Fox, 19 October 1567, Harworth, Nottingham,
England.
(2) William Bradford, b. c1560, bur. 15 July 1591, m. Alice Hanson on 21 July
1584, Austerfield, York, England. Alice Hanson, bp. 8 December 1562, m2. Robert
Briggs, 23 February 1593. She the daughter of John Hanson and Margaret Gressam.
(1) William Bradford, Mayflower passenger.
Will of William Bradford

BIOGRAPHICAL SUMMARY:

The early years of Bradford's life are described by Cotton Mather in his book
Magnalia Christi Americana first published in 1702:

Among those Devout People was our William Bradford, who was Born Anno 1588. in an obscure Village call'd Austerfield, where the People were as unacquainted with the Bible, as the Jews do seem to have been with part of it in the Days of Josiah; a most Ignorant and Licentious People, and like unto their Priest. Here, and in some other Places, he had a Comfortable Inheritance left him of his Honest Parents, who died while he was yet a Child, and cast him on the
Education, first of his Grand Parents, and then of his Uncles, who devoted him,
like his Ancestors, unto the Affairs of Husbandry. Soon and long Sickness kept
him, as he would afterwards thankfully say, from the Vanities of Youth, and made
him the fitter for what he was afterwards to undergo. When he was about a Dozen
Years Old, the Reading of the Scriptures began to cause great Impressions upon
him; and those Impressions were much assisted and improved, when he came to
enjoy Mr. Richard Clifton's Illuminating Ministry, not far from his Abode; he
was then also further befriended, by being brought into the Company and
Fellowship of such as were then called Professors; though the Young Man that
brought him into it, did after become a Prophane and Wicked Apostate. Nor could the Wrath of his Uncles, nor the Scoff of his Neighbours now turn'd upon him, as one of the Puritans, divert him from his Pious Inclinations.
. . . Having with a great Company of Christians Hired a Ship to Transport them
for Holland, the Master perfidiously betrayed them into the Hands of those
Persecutors; who Rifled and Ransack'd their Goods, and clapp'd their Persons
into Prison at Boston, where they lay for a Month together. But Mr. Bradford
being a Young Man of about Eighteen, was dismissed sooner than the rest, so that
within a while he had Opportunity with some others to get over to Zealand,
through Perils both by Land and Sea not inconsiderable; where he was not long
Ashore ere a Viper seized on his Hand, that is, an Officer, who carried him Unto
the Magistrates, unto whom an envious Passenger had accused him as having fled
out of England. When the Magistrates understood the True Cause of his coming
thither, they were well satisfied with him; and so he repaired joyfully unto his
Brethren at Amsterdam, where the Difficulties to which he afterwards stooped in
Learning and Serving of a Frenchman at the Working of Silks, were abundantly
Compensated by the Delight wherewith he sat under the Shadow of our Lord in his purely dispensed Ordinances. At the end of Two Years, he did, being of Age to do it, convert his Estate in England into Money; but Setting up for himself, he
found some of his Designs by the Providence of God frowned upon, which he judged a Correction bestowed by God upon him for certain Decays of Internal Piety, whereinto he had fallen; the Consumption of his Estate he thought came to
prevent a Consumption in his Virtue. But after he had resided in Holland about
half a Score Years, he was one of those who bore a part in that Hazardous and
Generous Enterprize of removing into New England, with part of the English
Church at Leyden, where at their first Landing, his dearest Consort accidentally
falling Overboard, was drowned in the Harbour; and the rest of his Days were
spent in the Services, and the Temptations, of that American Wilderness.
William Bradford came on the Mayflower with his wife Dorothy (May), leaving son John behind in Holland. Dorothy fell off the Mayflower and drowned on 7
December 1620, when it was anchored in Provincetown Harbor.
This was an accidental drowning. The story of the suicide, affair with Captain
Chrostopher Jones, etc. comes from a fictional "soap opera" story published in a
national women's magazine in 1869--a story published as truth by the author,
based on "family stories", but which the author later admitted was an invention
of her own imagination. For further information on this, see Mayflower
Descendant 29:97-102 , and especially 31:105.

After the death of John Carver in April 1621, Bradford was elected governor of
the Plymouth Colony, and continued in that capacity nearly all his life. In 1623
he married Alice (Carpenter) Southworth, widow of Edward Southworth. A
description of the marriage is found in a letter written by a visitor to
Plymouth Colony, Emmanuel Altham, in 1623:

Upon the occasion of the Governor's marriage, since I came, Massasoit was sent
for to the wedding, where came with him his wife, the queen, although he hath
five wives. With him came four other kings and about six score men with their
bows and arrows--where, when they came to our town, we saluted them with the
shooting off of many muskets and training our men. And so all the bows and
arrows was brought into the Governor's house, and he brought the Governor three or four bucks and a turkey. And so we had very good pastime in seeing them dance, which is in such manner, with such a noise that you would wonder. . . . And now to say somewhat of the great cheer we had at the Governor's marriage. We had about twelve pasty venisons, besides others, pieces of roasted venison and other such good cheer in such quantity that I could wish you some of our share. For here we have the best grapes that ever you say--and the biggest, and divers sorts of plums and nuts which our business will not suffer us to look
for.

William Bradford died in 1657, having been governor of the Plymouth Colony for
almost the entire period since 1621. Cotton Mather in his Magnalia Christi
Americana wrote that William Bradford:

. . . was a Person for Study as well as Action; and hence, notwithstanding the
Difficulties through which he passed in his Youth, he attained unto a notable
Skill in Languages; the Dutch Tongue was become almost as Vernacular to him as
the English; the French Tongue he could also manage; the Latin and the Greek he
had Mastered; but the Hebrew he most of all studied, Because, he said, he would
see with his own Eyes the Ancient Oracles of God in their Native Beauty. He was
also well skill'd in History, in Antiquity, and in Philosophy; and for Theology
he became so versed in it, that he was an Irrefragable Disputant against the
Errors, especially those of Anabaptism, which with Trouble he saw rising in his
Colony; wherefore he wrote some Significant things for the Confutation of those
Errors. But the Crown of all was his Holy, Prayerful, Watchful and Fruitful Walk
with God, wherein he was very Exemplary. At length he fell into an
Indisposition of Body, which rendred him unhealthy for a whole Winter; and as
the Spring advanced, his Health yet more declined; yet he felt himself not what
he counted Sick, till one Day; in the Night after which, the God of Heaven so
fill'd his Mind with Ineffable Consolations, that he seemed little short of
Paul, rapt up unto the Unutterable Entertainments of Paradise. The next Morning
he told his Friends, That the good Spirit of God had given him a Pledge of his
Happiness in another World, and the First-fruits of his Eternal Glory: And on
the Day following he died, May 9, 1657 in the 68th Year of his Age. Lamented by all the Colonies of New England, as a Common Blessing and Father to them all. William Bradford wrote Of Plymouth Plantation, chronicling the history of the
Plymouth Colony, and the events that led up to their leaving England for
Holland, and later to New England. William Bradford also wrote part of Mourt's
Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and he recorded some of the
important letters he wrote and received in a letterbook which still partially
exists. Nathaniel Morton's 1669 book, New England's Memorial also records a
poem written by William Bradford on his deathbed. There are also two elegy
poems written in 1657 after Bradford's death--the first elegy poem is anonymous,
and the second elegy poem was written by Josias Winslow.


SOURCES:
Robert S. Wakefield, Mayflower Families in Progress: William Bradford for Four
Generations (Plymouth: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1994).
William Bradford and Edward Winslow. A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plymouth . . . (John Bellamie:
London, 1622).
William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Samuel Morison (New York: Random
House, 1952).
"Ancestry of the Bradfords of Austerfield," New England Historical and
Genealogical Register, 83:456-461, 84:5-11 .
Emmanuel Althem. Three Visitors to Early Plymouth, Sydney V. James ed.,
(Plymouth: Plimoth Plantation, 1963).
Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (Boston, 1698).
Samuel Morison and Charles Banks, "Did William Bradford Leave Leyden Before the
Pilgrims?", Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society
61(1927):34-39,55-68.


 

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