Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth Plantation


William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation: Book 1, Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

The Pilgrims sail from Plymouth on September 6th, 1620, aboard a ship called the Mayflower. Soon, many of the Pilgrims are seasick. One of the ship’s sailors harasses the Pilgrims and curses around children; however, he eventually dies from a horrible disease, and is “the first to be thrown overboard,” reflecting “the just hand of God upon him.” Later, a young man is thrown off the ship in a storm, but manages to hang on and climb aboard again. Ultimately, only one passenger dies on the voyage to America.
Bradford uses episodes from the voyage as teaching tools for future generations of Christian readers: he implies that un-virtuous people, such as the sailor, will be punished for their sinfulness. Notice that Bradford describes the profane sailor as “the first” to be thrown overboard, implying that others came after him, but then claims that only one person on the Mayflower died—perhaps Bradford means that other sailors died, but only one passenger.
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The Mayflower anchors in a part of America called Cape Cod, near Hudson’s River. Cape Cod was first discovered by a group of English explorers in 1602. The Pilgrims thank God for having reached land, but they know that they have many challenges ahead of them. They’re about to encounter “savages” in America, who are ready to “fill their sides full of arrows.” Furthermore, it’s winter when the Pilgrims arrive. They have nothing to sustain them but God’s mercy, Bradford says.
Notice that Bradford leaves out almost all the information about the actual voyage. Some historians, including James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me, have argued that, contrary to Bradford’s claims, the Mayflower was supposed to sail for Virginia, but changed course after the Pilgrims staged a mutiny, meaning that Bradford lies about this throughout Book One. If this is true, then the chapter’s lack of detail seems to disguise a guilty conscience. Also notice that Bradford characterizes the Native Americans (whom he calls Indians, since it was initially believed that America was a part of India) as wild and savage—an example of an inherent racist bias almost all European colonists held against Native peoples.
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