Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth Plantation


William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Bradford

William Bradford was born into a prosperous family of farmers. As a teenager, he began attending sermons delivered by church reformers, despite the fact that his family believed all reforms to the church to be heretical. Bradford eventually became a Separatist—a Christian who believed in separating from the established Church of England. In the 1610s, Bradford fled to the Dutch Republic to avoid persecution in his own country. It was during this period that Bradford and some of his fellow Separatists began to entertain the idea of settling in America. In 1620, Bradford and his wife set sail aboard the Mayflower, along with a few dozen other Separatists. Bradford rose to become the governor of the Plymouth Colony from 1621 to 1632, and later served as governor from 1645 to 1656. During these years, Bradford was instrumental in instituting a fledgling system of democracy in the colony, and in negotiating with Native American tribes in the surrounding area. His journal of the colony’s history, Of Plymouth Plantation, is still regarded as one of the key primary sources of early American history. He died in 1657, a highly respected colonist.
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Historical Context of Of Plymouth Plantation

The overarching historical event in Of Plymouth Plantation is, of course, the Pilgrims’ colonization of New England in North America. Readers interested in a more authoritative, unbiased account of this period in history might consult Nathaniel Philbrick’s recent book Mayflower (2007), or, for a more partisan account, the early chapters of either Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (1980) or James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995). One aspect of the colonial era that Bradford doesn’t really delve into is the reformation of the English church. Following the reign of Henry VIII, the English church broke with the Roman Catholic church, becoming its own separate institution. Under Queen Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter, England underwent further reforms that limited the role of ceremony and prelate jurisdiction in Christian practice, and pushed England in a more overtly Protestant direction. By the end of the 17th century, however, English Christianity had undergone a schism: some reformers thought that England hadn’t gone far enough in expelling Catholic ritual, while others thought it had gone too far. Many Christians in the former group went on to become full-fledge separatists, and some of these separatists became the American Pilgrims.

Other Books Related to Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth Plantation is regarded as one of the most elegant examples of the Puritan “plain style”—the literary style that stresses simple sentence constructions and a relatively small vocabulary. The plain style is often regarded as a stylistic analogy for the Puritans’ simple, sparse lifestyle. Other good examples include The Narrative of the Captivity and Removes of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682). Notable works of fiction about Puritan/Separatist society include The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Crucible (1953) by Arthur Miller.
Key Facts about Of Plymouth Plantation
  • Full Title: Of Plimouth Plantation (usually modernized to Of Plymouth Plantation”)
  • When Written: Believed to have been written between 1630 and 1651
  • Where Written: Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts
  • When Published: The original manuscript for Of Plymouth Plantation was stored in the Old South Meeting House in Boston. Although early 19th century historians of America quoted from it, it wasn’t published in its entirety until 1856.
  • Literary Period: “Plain style” nonfiction
  • Genre: Nonfiction, journal
  • Setting: Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, early America
  • Antagonist: Catholicism, Episcopalian Christianity, the Narragansett Indians, and various hypocritical businessmen (like Thomas Weston and Isaac Allerton) could all qualify as antagonists in the book
  • Point of View: Third person (Bradford even talks about himself in the third person at times)

Extra Credit for Of Plymouth Plantation

Where’d they dig it up? The story of how Of Plymouth Plantation finally came to be published is worthy of its own book. Following Bradford’s death, the manuscript was passed down from generation to generation of Bradford’s family—however, it was later stolen by a British soldier during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the manuscript was returned to Boston, and stored with other early American documents. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it was published in its entirety.

Other books. William Bradford was a prolific writer. In addition to his history of the Plymouth plantation, he penned a lengthy series of dialogues between old and young Christians, modeling the tenets of (his version of) Christianity. Only fragments of this series survive, however, and they’ve never been published.