Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth Plantation

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William Bradford Character Analysis

William Bradford is the author of Of Plymouth Plantation and an important figure in the history of the Plymouth colony. He served as the governor of the colony for many years, including from 1621 to 1632 and 1645 to 1656. During this time, Bradford was instrumental in negotiating the colonists’ debts with English creditors, managing relationships between Plymouth and neighboring colonies, and soothing tensions between Plymouth and Native American tribes. While Bradford is clearly an important presence in his book, it would be wrong to say that he’s the main character. Indeed, Bradford makes it clear right away that his intention is to write a neutral, third-person history of the Plymouth colony, in which his own biases and experiences are secondary to the “objective” history of the colony. Bradford will occasionally refer to himself in the first person; however, he also refers to himself in the third person as a sign of his stated commitment to objectivity. Bradford is an authoritative, deeply pious leader—but at the same time, it’s important to understand his political, religious, and economic biases and see the subjective nature of his supposedly objective history of Plymouth.

William Bradford Quotes in Of Plymouth Plantation

The Of Plymouth Plantation quotes below are all either spoken by William Bradford or refer to William Bradford. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Christianity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Publisher edition of Of Plymouth Plantation published in 0.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

I must begin at the very root and rise of it; and this I shall endeavor to do in a plain style and with singular regard to the truth, at least as near as my slender judgment can attain to it.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In the famous opening paragraph of Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford outlines the nature of his project: to tell the history of his colony in the simplest, most straightforward language possible. The style to which Bradford alludes here is often called the “plain style,” and for future generations of scholars and historians it’s one of the most quintessential elements of Puritan culture. Just as Puritan society itself was famously simple, spare, and honest, the Puritan writing style favors simple sentence constructions and unadorned language (and because of this, Of Plymouth Plantation is pretty easy for modern audiences to understand, especially compared with a lot of other writing from the 17th century). Bradford writes in this fashion not just to reflect his religious convictions, but so that future generations of readers will be able to understand his writing and learn from it.

But there’s more to the plain style than meets the eye. Bradford claims that he’ll do his best to be honest and straightforward, but historians have suggested that he doesn’t always live up to that aspiration—just as Puritans wasn’t always as scrupulously moral and honest as they professed to be. Bradford may have distorted the truth, or lied outright, about the Pilgrims’ voyage to America, their financial obligations to England, and their relations with the Native Americans. So perhaps the plain style isn’t as “plain” as it appears.

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Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

But still more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country and the many temptations of the city were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradford quickly outlines the history of the Separatist movement before 1620. Many of the English reformers—i.e., Protestants who argued that the new Anglican Church hadn’t gone far enough in breaking with Catholic values and rituals—migrated to Leyden in Holland, where they believed they’d enjoy more religious freedom. However, life in Leyden was challenging, especially since the Pilgrims who lived there had very little experience with city life—most of them were farmers.

The Pilgrims decided to move to America for a number of reasons. One of the most interesting is that which Bradford describes in this passage: the Pilgrims were concerned that in Leyden, they’d be unable to raise children in accordance with their Separatist values. Put another way, the Pilgrims feared that the beliefs for which they’d fought so hard would eventually be drowned out by competing religious traditions in Leyden. The Separatists needed their own community—a place where their children would grow up surrounded by one set of values and one set of religious beliefs. From a modern perspective, this could be interpreted as theocracy (i.e., making sure that children are indoctrinated in a specific set of religious beliefs from the day they’re born)—but for the English Separatists, it was a solemn duty to teach their children proper Christian values as soon as possible.

Book 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

About this time they heard both from Mr. Weston and others, that sundry honorable lords had obtained a large grant from the King, of the more northerly parts of the country arising out of the Virginia Company's patent, but wholly separated from its government, and to be called by another name, viz., New England.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Thomas Weston, King James I
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Six, Bradford discusses the reasons why the Pilgrims in Leyden decided to sail for Plymouth, New England, rather than the areas of North America located further south, in Virginia. According to Bradford, the Pilgrims had decided on a voyage to Virginia, only to change direction after their business agent, Mr. Thomas Weston, suggested a new contract that would send them to the north, where, supposedly, there was lucrative fishing.

Many historians have disputed Bradford’s version of the events. Some, such as James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, have even argued that the Pilgrims initially agreed to sail to Virginia on behalf of the Virginia Company’s charter, only to stage a mutiny and redirect the ship towards Plymouth. Bradford, needless to say, doesn’t discuss such a possibility. The passage is, all in all, one of the most frequently disputed in Of Plymouth Plantation, and a strong reminder that, despite Bradford’s claims to be writing honestly and plainly, he may be putting more of a spin on reality than he claims.

My object is that their children may see with what difficulties their fathers had to wrestle in accomplishing the first beginning; and how God ultimately brought them through, notwithstanding all their weakness and infirmities; also that some use may be made of them later, by others, in similar important projects.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradford offers some explanation for why, in the pages of Of Plymouth Plantation, he devotes so much time to describing the Pilgrims’ finances and business arrangements with the English merchants. Bradford’s explanation is simple: the Pilgrims sacrificed a great deal, and took great pains to arrange a good contract with the Virginia Company—therefore, their sacrifice and hard work should stand as a model for future generations of Pilgrims in New England.

The passage is interesting because it suggests that Bradford intended Of Plymouth Plantation to be read and studied by the people of New England long after his death. This might explain why Bradford often seems to distort the truth to present the Pilgrims in the most favorable light: he had an incentive to idealize the Pilgrims because he wanted the history of the Plymouth colony to inspire people to behave morally and honorably. Other historians have suggested that Bradford prepared a biased account of the Pilgrims’ business deals so that, in the event that creditors tried to sue the Plymouth colony, or if English authorities tried to seize control over the colony on moral grounds, Bradford would have a document testifying to the Pilgrims’ unimpeachably moral behavior.

Book 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

Mr. Weston also came up from London to see them embark, and to have the conditions confirmed; but they refused, and told him that he knew well that they were not according to the first agreement, nor could they endorse them without the consent of the rest in Holland. In fact they had special orders when they came away, from the chief men of the congregation, not to do it. At this he was much offended, and told them in that case they must stand on their own legs; so he returned to London in displeasure. They lacked about 100 pounds to clear their obligations; but he would not disburse a penny, and left them to shift as they could. So they were forced to sell some of their provisions…

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Thomas Weston
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Pilgrims prepared to leave England for America, they had to settle their finances and pay back all short-term loans with English merchants. This created several problems. Furthermore, Thomas Weston tried to alter his contract with the Pilgrims, requiring the Pilgrims to pay back more money upfront, rather than spreading out their payments over a longer period. Just before the Pilgrims were scheduled to leave, Weston appeared in England and tried to pressure some of the Pilgrims to agree to an unfair contract that demanded them to make large payments almost immediately. Bradford clearly suggests that Weston tried to use his position of power over the Pilgrims to pressure them into surrendering more of their money—in other words, Weston used his power to make more money for himself, instead of putting the Pilgrims’ needs (or religious ideals) first.

Book 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

It pleased God, before they came half seas over, to smite the young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first to be thrown overboard. Thus his curses fell upon his own head, which astonished all his mates for they saw it was the just hand of God upon him.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradford’s description of the voyage from England to America is surprisingly—and, some might say, suspiciously—short, considering how much time he spends on other, arguably less important details of Plymouth’s history. He does, however, mention that a sailor, who’d previously embarrassed the Pilgrims and used foul language in front of women and children, died of disease during the long voyage. This is a good example of how Bradford uses moments from the history of the colony (usually tragic ones) as warnings or teaching tools for future generations of Christians: he suggests that God punished the insolent sailor by sending him a deadly disease—and that, in general, God punishes the wicked and rewards the virtuous. (It’s also worth noting that, by glossing over the voyage to America aboard the Mayflower, Bradford obscures the fact that a significant chunk of the voyagers to Plymouth—possibly the majority—weren’t Pilgrims at all. Many were indentured servants who had no particular commitment to Separatist religious values.)

Book 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

They also found two of the Indians’ houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colors. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction when they should meet with any of them.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Ten, Bradford describes the Pilgrims’ earliest encounters with the Native Americans of New England. Before they actually interact with the Native Americans, the Pilgrims steal food from them—although, according to Bradford, the Pilgrims promise to pay back the Native Americans as soon as possible.

The passage is one of the clearest examples of Bradford’s strong bias toward the Pilgrims. Had the Native Americans stolen food from the Pilgrims, it’s fair to presume, Bradford would have presented the incident in the most withering terms, accusing the Native Americans of savagery, godlessness, and theft. When the Pilgrims steal from the Native Americans, however, Bradford emphasizes their fair-mindedness. It’s also very telling that, according to Of Plymouth Plantation, the earliest interaction between Native Americans and Pilgrims was an act of theft, foreshadowing the overall theft of Native American lands that would follow in ensuing years.

The Pilgrims, by and large, have a better record of coexisting with the Native Americans than do other English settlers in North America—and, indeed, Bradford is sometimes willing to credit the Native Americans for their sophistication and cooperation. However, Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims’ relations with the Native Americans is still very often biased, condescending, or factually incorrect.

Thus it pleased God to vanquish their enemies, and give them deliverance; and by His special providence so to dispose that not one of them was hit, though the arrows came close to them, on every side, and some of their coats which were hung up in the barricade were shot through and through. Afterwards they gave God solemn thanks and praise for their deliverance, and gathered up a bundle of the arrows, and later sent them to England by the captain of the ship. They called the place "The First Encounter."

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

The first time Pilgrims interact face-to-face with Native Americans, a fight breaks out—foreshadowing the many more fights and wars that will erupt between New England colonists and Native Americans in the following centuries. It’s tragic, and perhaps surprising, that even the piously Christian Pilgrim colonists did not hesitate to use force against the Native Americans. However, as Bradford paints the scene, the Pilgrims acted defensively, shooting only after the Native Americans fired arrows at them. Bradford goes out of his way, in fact, to emphasize the point that the Pilgrims were the victims—he even makes notes that most of the Pilgrims had left their muskets behind when the Native Americans attacked. While it’s impossible to know for sure what really happened between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims at their “First Encounter,” it’s likely that Bradford exaggerates the Pilgrims’ virtue and plays up the Native Americans’ “savagery.” And as ever, Bradford assumes that God is on the side of the Pilgrims, and punishes the “heathen” Native Americans with defeat.

Book 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

So he went with the rest, and left them; but on returning from work at noon he found them at play in the street, some pitching the bar, some at stool-ball, and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their games, and told them that it was against his conscience that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of the day a matter of devotion, let them remain in their houses; but there should be no gaming and reveling in the streets.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

William Bradford becomes Governor in the second year of the Plymouth Plantation. During the next ten years, he presides over the colony, enforcing Puritan laws and values. In this revealing passage—which almost reads like a parody of Puritanism—Bradford demonstrates the commitment to hard work and frugality that were fixtures of Pilgrim culture. On Christmas Day, Bradford is informed that some of the Pilgrims refuse to work in recognition of the holiday. Bradford later sees a group of youths playing in the streets, at which point he tells them that, if they’re not going to work, they should go inside and pray. Work and prayer are the two acceptable modes of behavior in Plymouth Plantation—play isn’t acceptable.

Puritanism was once jokingly defined as “the terrifying suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.” This passage would almost seem to uphold that definition. Bradford believes that the duty of all good Pilgrims is to work hard and live frugally, worshipping God as much as possible. Therefore, he trains the children in his community for a lifetime of work and worship, in which frivolity has no place.

Book 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

This was the end of those who at one time boasted of their strength—all able, healthy men—and what they would do in comparison with the people here, who had many women and children and weak ones among them and who had said, on their first arrival, when they saw the want here, that they would take a very different course and not to fall into any such condition as these simple people had come to. But a man’s way is not in his own hands.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradford describes the history of a small settlement in Massachusetts. The earliest Massachusetts settlers aren’t as intensely spiritual as the Pilgrims, at least according to Bradford. These settlers arrive in Massachusetts, confident that they’ll be able to survive in the harsh New England environment. But soon enough, they begin to suffer from disease, and fail to foster much in the way of agriculture. As Bradford implies, there is nothing coincidental about this: the settlers in Massachusetts have been punished in part because of their immorality. Because they’re disorganized and undisciplined, they don’t have the wherewithal to survive. Most of all (according to Bradford), the Massachusetts settlers have disrespected God by demonstrating hubris, arrogantly claiming that they can survive in the New World without God’s help. As with the profane sailor who died of disease aboard the Mayflower, Bradford takes the fate of the Massachusetts settlers as a teachable moment for future generations of Puritans, confirming the point (straight out of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes) that human beings don’t have total control over their own lives.

The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, that the taking away of private property and the possession of it in community by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Bradford contrasts the disorganization of the Massachusetts colonists with the careful organization of the Plymouth Plantation. In particular, Bradford notes that the Pilgrims became much more efficient and productive after they divided up their work in a new way: each family was put in charge of its own patch of farmland. As a result, individuals worked much harder than they had before, since they could see the immediate consequences of their hard work. Furthermore, women and children pitched in, further increasing productivity (and helping the Pilgrims pay off their debt to England).

Bradford’s new form of organization could be interpreted as an extension of the Puritan ideology. The Puritans’ interpretation of Protestantism stressed the importance of individual accountability and hard work during one’s mortal life. Therefore, it makes a certain amount of sense that the Puritans would have eventually gravitated toward a system of agriculture whereby each Pilgrim worked their own land. Bradford’s innovations in agricultural organization have been credited with influencing the growth of a uniquely American strain of capitalism, grounded in personal responsibility and property ownership, and reinforced by the Protestant work ethic.

Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

Then the Governor explained to the people that he had done it as a magistrate, and was bound to do it to prevent the mischief and ruin that this conspiracy and plot of theirs might otherwise have brought to the colony.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), John Lyford, John Oldham
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Five, Bradford (referring to himself in the third person as “the Governor”) discusses his decision to monitor two residents of Plymouth Plantation, John Oldham and John Lyford. Both arrived after the first wave of settlers in Plymouth, and both antagonize Bradford by criticizing Puritan values and questioning Bradford’s leadership. Bradford is vague on the matter, but it’s suggested that Lyford and Oldham aren’t really Separatists at all, and move to Plymouth in search of work opportunities more than religious freedom. Bradford sends a spy to open Lyford and Oldham’s letters to their contacts in England; the spy finds that Lyford and Oldham have criticized Bradford’s government, and Bradford himself. Bradford next holds a trial for Lyford and Oldham, in which he accuses the men of plotting to undermine his authority. When questioned about the ethics of opening someone else’s mail, Bradford claims that he had a duty to do so, and adds that the ends (confirming that Lyford was a liar) justify the means (violating Lyford’s privacy).

The passage is a good example of how the Pilgrim state could be called unethical and arguably un-Christian in the way it treated its subjects. At least by modern standards, Bradford compromised his moral values in the interests of preserving his authority (here, infringing on Lyford’s right to privacy). In history classes, Pilgrim society is often celebrated for promoting democratic values and protecting its citizens’ freedom. Nevertheless, Pilgrim society was hardly morally unimpeachable, and many of Bradford’s actions at governor seem dubious.

Book 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

While we ourselves are ready to take every opportunity to further so hopeful an enterprise, it must rest with you to put it on its feet again. And whatever else may be said, let your honesty and conscience remain approved, and lose no jot of your innocence amidst your crosses and afflictions; and surely if you behave yourselves wisely and go on fairly, you will need no other weapon to wound your adversaries; for when your righteousness is revealed as the light, they, who have causelessly sought your overthrow, shall cover their faces with shame.

Related Characters: William Bradford
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Pilgrims receive a letter from a coalition of investors based in England. These investors have contributed money to the Virginia Company, the joint-stock venture that initially sent the Pilgrims to America. Though the Virginia Company itself has failed, the investors who donated money to the Company are eager to recoup their investments. Therefore, they send a letter to the Pilgrims, asking that they continue paying off their debts in a timely manner. The investors further stress that they’ll continue to send the Pilgrims regular supplies, ensuring that the Pilgrims survive, provided that the Pilgrims send them beaver furs and other valuable items in order to pay off their obligations.

The passage is important because it establishes a pattern for the rest of the book: the Pilgrims will continue sending back valuable shipments to their investors, in the interest of paying off their debts. The Pilgrims’ debt is a central part of their society in Plymouth. It’s a constant reminder that they’re not completely free of English society, and furthermore, debt provides the Pilgrims with an impetus to work hard and live frugally—upholding and influencing their religious values. This constant paying off of debt as connected to religious values could even be said to result in what is now a uniquely American brand of Christian capitalism.

Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

Hitherto Mr. Allerton had done them good and faithful service: would that he had so continued.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Isaac Allerton
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Over the course of the book, Isaac Allerton transforms from a seemingly faithful servant of William Bradford and the other Pilgrims to a greedy, self-interested businessman who harms the colony in the act of trying to make himself wealthy (although it’s later revealed that he’s been rather corrupt all along). Allerton is sent to England by Bradford in order to negotiate the Pilgrims’ remaining debts to the English investors. However, Allerton then starts to use this time in England to strengthen his own business ties with English merchants, establishing trading routes for his own goods. Allerton further abuses his position by selling his own beaver furs to English merchants, hurting the market for the Pilgrims’ shipments, and prolonging their debt. Allerton’s career is, in other words, a good example of a central tenet of Puritanism: excessive authority and wealth breed corruption and sin.

How many Dutch and English have lately been killed by Indians, thus furnished; and no remedy is provided—nay, the evil has increased. The blood of their brothers has been sold for profit; and in what danger all these colonies are is too well-known.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Mr. Morton
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Nine, Bradford also discusses a corrupt merchant named Mr. Morton. Morton is rumored to be an adulterer and a murderer; however, Bradford focuses on Morton’s relationship with the Native Americans. Morton is supposedly be the first person to sell muskets and other firearms to Native Americans, thus strengthening the Native Americans in their wars against European settlers, and resulting in the deaths of many Dutch and English colonists. Morton is, from Bradford’s perspective, a totally amoral merchant, someone who doesn’t care who he’s selling to, as long as he continues to make money (and Bradford, of course, assumes the Native American cause to be an “evil” one). The passage also emphasizes how jealously the English settlers guarded their military technology, recognizing that it was a huge advantage—in fact, their single biggest advantage—against the Native American population in New England.

Book 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

Thus out of small beginnings greater things have grown by His hand, Who made all things out of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light enkindled here has shone to many…

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Bradford contrasts the success of the Plymouth Plantation with the economic difficulties of other colonies, such as the town of Charlestown. Charlestown suffers from many problems, including starvation and disease. Bradford, however, thanks God that similar problems haven’t afflicted the Plymouth Plantation. By the mid-1620s, indeed, Plymouth Plantation has become a highly profitable, well-organized colony. Bradford credits God with these successes; however, Bradford’s own intelligence and political savvy were instrumental in Plymouth’s success. It was Bradford who proposed a new, individuated style of farming the land, and Bradford also took many measures to build the colonists’ loyalty and group unity. The Pilgrims were also extraordinarily lucky that they had Squanto and other friendly Native Americans to show them how to plant seeds and grow corn and beans efficiently. But Bradford tends to downplay the Native Americans’ contribution to Plymouth’s success, crediting God instead.

Book 2, Chapter 13 Quotes

Others again, thinking themselves impoverished, or for want of accommodation, broke away on one pretense or another, thinking their own imagined necessity or the example of others sufficient warrant. This I fear will be the ruin of New England.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradford describes the slow decentralization of New England society in the 1630s. Colonists increasingly lived far away from the center of Plymouth Plantation, encouraged by the new level of prosperity in the colony. As a result, Bradford argues, the colonists become more and more disorganized and less united in a common culture and religion. Bradford fears that, in the future, New England’s colonies will collapse because of this same decentralization and disunity.

It’s interesting, from a political scientist’s lens, that Bradford emphasizes the disunity of the colonists around the same time that he and other New England governors began to strengthen their militaries. It could be argued that, by strengthening its army, the Plymouth Plantation solved its own problems of disorganization—since, by definition, a strong military has the effect of organizing the people and uniting them around a common set of interests. As Bradford shows in the following chapters, New England society became increasingly militarized in the 1630s and 1640s, perhaps offsetting some of the problems that he identifies in this passage.

Book 2, Chapter 14 Quotes

I shall leave the matter, and desire the Lord to show him his errors and return him to the way of truth, and give him a settled judgment and constancy therein; for I hope he belongs to the Lord and that He will show him mercy.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Roger Williams
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradford briefly describes the life of Roger Williams, one of the most influential figures in early New England society. Roger Williams was a renowned preacher in his community, but quickly earned the ire of the government because his interpretation of Protestant values took the idea of predestination to its extreme, suggesting that human beings needn’t obey laws or subscribe to any set of values during their lifetimes—their souls were either saved, or they weren’t, and no amount of good deeds could change that. Williams eventually left his community and settled in the colony of Rhode Island. Williams continued to win the respect from some New England colonists due to his impassionate sermons, but he was a highly controversial figure in part because he questioned the rigid structure of New England Christian society. Bradford takes a mixed view of Williams, praising him for his religious passion but stressing that he is mistaken in his interpretation of the Bible.

Book 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

Notice was given a month beforehand, viz.: to Massachusetts, Salem, Piscataqua, and others, requesting them to produce any evidence they could in the case. The place of meeting was Boston. But when the day came, there only appeared some of the magistrates and ministers of Massachusetts and of New Plymouth. As none had come from Piscataqua or other places, Mr. Winthrop and the others said they could do no more than they had done, and the blame must rest with them.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Governor John Winthrop, Hocking
Page Number: 170-171
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Fifteen, Bradford describes the Hocking incident, during which a Piscataqua man named Hocking was killed on Plymouth land, causing a potential conflict between Plymouth and Piscataqua. In an effort to prevent a full-scale war, Bradford, acting on the advice of John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called for a meeting of judges and magistrates from all the New England colonies in Boston. However, only a few magistrates showed up, none of whom were from Piscataqua. While the Hocking incident didn’t result in any kind of war between Plymouth and Piscataqua, Bradford failed to assemble a peaceful coalition of New England authorities. This suggests that New England in the 1630s and 1640s wasn’t a close-knit community, but rather a hodgepodge of loosely connected territories. After a series of conflict with the Native Americans, however, the New England colonies began to work together.

The chief Sachem himself died, and almost all his friends and relatives; but by the marvelous goodness and providence of God not one of the English was so much as ill…

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Sachem
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the chapter, Bradford describes how many Native Americans died of a mysterious plague—a plague that was almost certainly smallpox. Unbeknownst to Bradford, the cause of the smallpox epidemic was European migration to the New World. For centuries, European citizens had developed immunities to various deadly infectious diseases, including smallpox. Therefore, the European colonists in New England spread germs to the Native Americans, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Native Americans, while the English settlers (in this case at least) didn’t suffer a single death. Bradford interprets the survival of the English settlers as a blessing from God—perhaps even a reward for virtuous behavior. And yet, we now know, there was a far more literal—and disturbing—explanation for this phenomenon.

Book 2, Chapter 16 Quotes

He consulted with the Captain how he could get further supplies of gun powder, for he had not enough to carry him home; so he told him he would go to the next settlement and endeavour to procure him some, and did so. But Captain Standish gathered, from intelligence he received that he intended to seize the bark and take the beaver, so he sent him the powder and brought the bark home. Girling never attacked the place again, and went on his way; which ended the business.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Captain Myles Standish, Girling
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter Sixteen, the Pilgrims endure a humiliating defeat. French colonists raid Pilgrim land and steal Pilgrim property, and the Pilgrims are too weak and disorganized to fight back. Captain Myles Standish, one of the few Pilgrims with real military experience, organizes a mission to reclaim the property from France; however, he’s forced to work with a captain named Girling, who’s so incompetent that he fires the ship’s ammunition before they even reach the French, forcing Standish to order Girling to turn back.

In all, the incident demonstrates how fragile the Pilgrim state was at the time. If the mark of a strong state is its ability to defend its citizens’ property, then Plymouth wasn’t strong at all. After a series of conflicts with the Native Americans, however, Plymouth became a powerful military presence that could not only defend its own people’s property but also steal more property from the Native Americans.

Book 2, Chapter 19 Quotes

Some of the more ignorant colonists objected that an Englishman should be put to death for an Indian. So at last the murderers were brought home from the Island, and after being tried, and the evidence produced, they all in the end freely confessed to all the Indian had accused them of and that they had done it in the manner described. So they were condemned by the jury, and executed. Some of the Narragansett Indians and the murdered man's friends, were present when it was done, which gave them and all the country satisfaction. But it was a matter of much sadness to them here, as it was the second execution since they came,—both being for willful murder.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), Arthur Peach, Thomas Jackson, Richard Stinnings
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Bradford describes the executions of three English settlers in Plymouth: Arthur Peach, Thomas Jackson, and Richard Stinnings. The settlers were executed for fighting and killing Narragansett Native Americans. This created an interesting controversy among the Plymouth population. Some argued that the Pilgrims would be wrong to spill English blood over something as trivial as the death of a Native American. Bradford arguably deserves some credit for respecting the lives of Native Americans to a degree that other colonial governors did not: he argued that the Pilgrims should honor the Narragansett tribe’s rights and avenge the death of a Narragansett Native American.

At the same time, however, it’s important to recognize the political, non-idealistic side of Bradford’s decision. Bradford had an incentive at the time to forge a strong alliance with the Narragansett, so in a sense he was forced to execute the three men. Furthermore, the fact that Bradford ordered the execution of some of his own citizens suggests that, at the time, the Plymouth state was becoming more powerful and more aggressive in enforcing its own authority. It’s no coincidence that the three public executions come on the heels of the Pilgrims’ war with the Pequot tribe: it’s as if the conflict with the Pequot set a new precedent for brutality.

Book 2, Chapter 23 Quotes

I cannot but take occasion here to wonder at the marvelous providence of God, that, notwithstanding the many changes these people went through, and the many enemies they had, and the difficulties they met with, so many of them should live to very old age. It was not only their reverend elder—for one swallow makes no summer, as they say—but many more of them, some dying about and before this time, and some still living, who reached sixty or sixty-five years of age, others seventy and over, and some nearly eighty as he was. It must needs be accounted for by more than natural reasons…

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker), William Brewster
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Bradford comments on the health and vigor of the Pilgrims in New England. Pilgrims were quite long-lived by the standards of the 17th-century Western world: some of them lived to be seventy or even eighty years old. Bradford credits the Pilgrims’ longevity to the grace of God—but there are also worldlier, more concrete reasons. The Pilgrims worked hard, ate healthily, and remained mostly free of disease. They also remained a close-knit community, meaning that they tended to their wounded and protected one another from danger. It’s typical of Bradford’s worldview that he credits God with the Pilgrims’ success in the New World. Although God might be the underlying cause of the Pilgrims’ success, the more immediate, proximate causes are their hard work and cultural unity.

The said United Colonies, for themselves and their posterity jointly and severally, hereby enter into a firm and perpetual league of friendship and amity for offence and defense, mutual advice and succor, upon all just occasions, both for preserving and propagating the truth of the Gospel, and for their own mutual safety and welfare.

Related Characters: William Bradford (speaker)
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Bradford describes the formation of the United Colonies’ council. The most immediate purpose of the United Colonies was to form a strong military. At the time, there was a conflict brewing between the Narragansett and other Native American tribes, and the American colonists wanted to be able to protect their land (which they’d essentially stolen from the Native Americans in the first place) and preserve free, peaceful trade. Consequently, Bradford, along with governors from other New England colonies, promised to provide troops, money, supplies, and other resources in the event of any military conflict.

The formation of the United Colonies was a milestone in New England history, because it represented one of the first times that the colonies’ leaders acted together. It’s no coincidence that the impetus for forming the treaty was military in nature: the New England colonies wanted to be able to protect themselves from Native American aggression and, it could certainly be argued, to summon a powerful enough military force to steal additional land from Native American tribes in the future. Native Americans were a central part of early New England history: they helped the colonists learn how to farm and support themselves, but they also provided a convenient foe against which the colonists could define themselves.

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William Bradford Character Timeline in Of Plymouth Plantation

The timeline below shows where the character William Bradford appears in Of Plymouth Plantation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 1
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William Bradford says that he will begin with an account of the events that led to the... (full context)
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Throughout history, Bradford claims, the Devil has tried to fight Christianity through various means. In ancient Rome, for... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 2
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Bradford says he will not dwell on the details of how the English reformers made their... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 3
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Bradford says he won’t dwell on the details of the English reformers’ lives in Holland, since... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4
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...senior congregants begin to plan for a long-term colony in another part of the world. Bradford will now discuss the congregants’ reasons for proposing such a colony. (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 5
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Bradford provides letters that give an overview of the process by which the reformers negotiated a... (full context)
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...eventually decides not to go to America at all. Thus the patent is a symbol, Bradford says, of “the uncertain things of this world.” (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 6
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...planters should be allowed “personal profit” from their work on the land in New England. Bradford, along with three of his peers, also pens a letter to Cushman, stressing that they’d... (full context)
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Bradford acknowledges that he has been especially thorough on the matters of financing the transatlantic voyage.... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 9
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...it’s winter when the Pilgrims arrive. They have nothing to sustain them but God’s mercy, Bradford says. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 1
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William Bradford says that he will compose the second part of his journal in somewhat less detail... (full context)
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...escape and reach Virginia. There are many other reports of the Indians’ savagery and bloodthirstiness, Bradford says. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 2
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The colony experiences a setback when Governor Carver becomes ill and dies. William Bradford is then chosen governor, despite the fact that he’s very ill. Isaac Allerton is appointed... (full context)
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...to the Pilgrims that Corbitant may have attacked Squanto. To defend the Pilgrims’ friend, Governor Bradford sends armed men to punish Corbitant, only to find that Squanto is alive and well—Corbitant... (full context)
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...The Pilgrims send the ship back to England, laden with valuable beaver and otter skins. Bradford also gives the captain a letter for Mr. Weston, in which he defends Carver’s decision... (full context)
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...is a threat of war. The Pilgrims respond by sending a pile of bullets. Governor Bradford organizes his people to take precautions in the event of war, and arranges for a... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 3
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William Bradford receives a third letter from Weston, this one addressed to him. Weston, now aware that... (full context)
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Bradford receives one more letter, this one from Robert Cushman. Cushman greets Bradford warmly, and mentions... (full context)
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...ship earlier in the year have settled in Massachusetts. They experience famine, and write to Bradford, begging to trade with the Pilgrims. Bradford consents, and enlists the Massachusetts settlers to sail... (full context)
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...word that they’re considering warring with the Indians to ensure that they have enough food. Bradford emphatically replies that the colonists shouldn’t war with the Indians. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 4
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It is strange, Bradford notes, that the Massachusetts colony should have fallen into hard times. The colony suffered because... (full context)
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...to send food. Standish agrees to help the settlers, and refuses to accept any payment. Bradford notes that the Massachusetts settlers, starved and diseased, had once claimed to be invincible. But,... (full context)
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...when he finally arrives in Plymouth, he is a shadow of his former self—“so uncertain,” Bradford notes, “are the mutable things of this unstable world.” (full context)
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...they take pity on him and offer him some food and skins. To this day, Bradford says, Weston has never repaid the Pilgrims. Furthermore, no new ship bearing supplies reaches Plymouth. (full context)
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Meanwhile, Governor Bradford mandates that all households plant their own corn. Each family is assigned a parcel of... (full context)
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...to the colonists, but that the ship had to return to England due to leaks. Bradford also receives a letter from the Virginia Company, explaining that the land patent for land... (full context)
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...not just because of luck but because the Pilgrims have become better organized. Since 1623, Bradford says, the Pilgrims haven’t suffered from famine. The colony becomes so successful that settlers come... (full context)
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...is a fire in Plymouth, caused by some sailors who were “roistering.” With God’s mercy, Bradford says, the colonists manage to put out the fire before it does great damage to... (full context)
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Captain Gorges issues a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Weston. Bradford is sorry to hear this news, and tries to persuade Gorges to desist. However, Gorges... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 5
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The year is 1624, and it’s time for the election of Plymouth officers. Bradford orders that more officials be elected, since the colony is growing. Five assistants, instead of... (full context)
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...particularly those who came over after 1620, begin to whisper about defecting to another colony. Bradford makes it known that defectors must still pay their way out of the joint partnership,... (full context)
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Bradford receives a letter, dated January 24, 1623, from Robert Cushman explaining that the Pilgrims would... (full context)
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Bradford also receives a letter from a Virginia Company shareholder, laying out a series of charges... (full context)
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Bradford receives another letter from John Robinson in Leyden. Robinson mourns the deaths of Indians, which... (full context)
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Bradford says he will now describe the state of the colony in 1624. Each household is... (full context)
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Bradford calls for a public trial against Lyford and Oldham, on the grounds that they’ve denounced... (full context)
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Bradford proceeds to read more excerpts from Lyford’s letters, showing that Lyford has been in contact... (full context)
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...trying to “help several poor souls” who the church in Plymouth Plantation wasn’t providing for. Bradford apologizes for devoting so much space to Lyford’s case. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 8
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In the winter, Bradford recalls, a Virginia-bound ship is cast ashore in a storm, near Plymouth. The survivors make... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 9
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Allerton returns to Plymouth in the spring with goods. He informs Bradford that he’s put Mr. Sherley in charge of their affairs. Allerton also provides the Pilgrims... (full context)
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The relationship between Indians and guns is worth describing, Bradford says. A few years earlier, one Captain Wollaston led a settlement in Massachusetts, in which... (full context)
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...the King has forbidden the practice. Morton “haughtily” replies, “the king’s proclamation was no law.” Bradford decides to send Captain Standish and armed men to arrest Morton. They do so, take... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 10
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...been living in Leyden to America, where they arrive in the small town of Salem. Bradford notes what a “wonder” it is that the Christians living in Holland were able to... (full context)
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In March 19, 1629, James Sherley sends Bradford a letter concerning Allerton’s behavior. Allerton curries favor with important English aristocrats; however, he also... (full context)
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...rumored to be a murderer, and his return to America frightens many. Allerton also angers Bradford by bringing far more than the fifty pounds of goods Bradford requested, selling these goods... (full context)
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Sherley sends Bradford a letter, dated March 19th, 1629, in which he explains that Allerton has arranged for... (full context)
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Bradford next relates the story of Ralph Smith, a former minister who traveled to the Massachusetts... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 11
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...the execution of John Billington—the first use of the death penalty in the Plymouth Plantation. Bradford arranges for Billington to be tried for murder, and Billington is found guilty. John Winthrop,... (full context)
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...reports that many in Charlestown look to Plymouth for guidance in their time of crisis. Bradford concludes his chapter by celebrating how Plymouth grew “out of small beginnings” to become a... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 12
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Bradford receives a letter from Winslow explaining that Allerton has taken the White Angel for himself... (full context)
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Bradford offers a few thoughts about Sherley’s letters. First, it seems clear that it was Allerton’s... (full context)
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Bradford will now go over the details of Mr. Allerton’s accounts, which weren’t fully understood until... (full context)
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...In Massachusetts, he flees from his community to live with Indians. Later on, Indians approach Bradford about arresting Gardiner, and Bradford offers them a reward for doing so, on the condition... (full context)
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Gardiner later tries to sue Bradford for allowing the Indians to hurt him during his capture. In early 1632, Gardiner sends... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 13
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...ship in Spain, as he had originally planned—“what became of the money he best knows,” Bradford writes. Although Allerton’s actions have increased the colony’s debts, Plymouth continues to thrive. The Pilgrims... (full context)
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...known as Duxbury demand that they be included in “a distinct body.” To preserve unity, Bradford arranges to give plentiful Duxbury land to handpicked Pilgrims, in the hopes that they’ll inspire... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 14
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...arises, he applies to transfer to Salem, where he becomes even more eccentric and controversial. Bradford simply writes that he pities Williams and prays that God will bring him back to... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 15
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Prince and Bradford try to decide how to handle the Hocking controversy. John Winthrop advises them to hold... (full context)
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...Many more Indians die of the “pox,” including Sachem, a powerful chief. By divine providence, Bradford says, not a single Englishman dies. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 16
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...time, Massachusetts merchants begin trading with the French, providing them with ammunition. To this day, Bradford writes, the French disrespect English trade and English property, largely because of the guns and... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 17
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Since 1634, Bradford writes, the Pequot Indians have been at war with the Narragansett. The Pequot attempt to... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 18
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...the English instead. The Plymouth courts agree to send fifty soldiers to fight the Pequot. Bradford says that he will not describe in any great detail what happened in the ensuing... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 19
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...the Pilgrims for the losses. The Pilgrims send back more furs and other goods; however, Bradford writes, “this did not stay their clamor, as will appear hereafter.” (full context)
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...prosper. However, the colony experiences a setback when an earthquake occurs in early June. Who, Bradford asks rhetorically, can stay God’s hand? In the following years, temperatures are unseasonably cold. Bradford... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 20
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Bradford says that he will discuss 1639 and 1640 together, since they were a calm time... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 21
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In 1641, Mr. Sherley writes to William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth once more, about his financial situation. He urges Bradford to send... (full context)
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...of 1400 pounds as a final payment for the White Angel and all outstanding debts. Bradford writes, “Next year this long and tedious business came to an issue … though not... (full context)
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Bradford next discusses the career of Reverend Charles Chauncey, who had arrived in Plymouth in 1638.... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 23
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In 1643, on April 18th, William Brewster dies after a long illness. Bradford wonders if Brewster’s life was made worse by his “former sufferings,” but concludes that these... (full context)
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Bradford marvels that so many virtuous Pilgrims, not just William Brewster, lived to a remarkably old... (full context)
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Bradford next describes how the Narragansett form an alliance against the English, alongside whom they’d fought... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 26
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...Plymouth settlers number some 130 people, and thirty of the original colonists are still alive. Bradford concludes, “Let the Lord have the Praise, Who is the High Preserver of men.” (full context)