In May of 1646, three military vessels arrive near Plymouth. The captain has sailed from the West Indies, and he’s brought a crew of “eighty strong fellows, but very unruly.” The crew spends about a month in Plymouth, spreading “sin and money.” During this month, the captain argues with one of his own men, accidentally killing him with the hilt of his sword. The captain is tried but eventually acquitted, since his opponent had a reputation for being argumentative. The captain later dies when he falls from his horse and lands on his sword’s hilt—and some say that this proves “the hand of God.”
The final chapter begins with an anecdote much like others in the book: Bradford describes how an unruly, sinful man eventually gets his just desserts (although, as with earlier examples, Bradford himself doesn’t say that God is responsible, but only repeats what “others” have said).
Later in 1646, Edward Winslow travels to England. His mission is to defend the Massachusetts government from slander, as a group of “discontented persons” in the colony has been criticizing their leader. In the end, Winslow succeeds in defending the government officials from slander; however, he is “detained” due to “great upheavals in the government” and has now been gone for four years.
As this passage would suggest, the book ends without complete closure—it’s likely that Bradford intended to write much more before he succumbed to illness (Bradford died in 1657). But even so, Bradford does end the book soon after one of the pivotal events in New England history—the formation of the United Council—offering some kind of conclusion.
The book ends with a lengthy list of “those who came over first in the Mayflower” in 1620. Of these people—approximately one hundred—about half died of disease after landing in Plymouth, and many others were too elderly to bear children. Nevertheless, in the year 1650 the descendants of the first wave of 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.”
In the final portion of the book, Bradford lists more than one hundred people who traveled to New England on the Mayflower, and then thanks God for taking care of them and blessing the Plymouth Plantation with prosperity. Bradford was, there can be no doubt, a devoutly religious man—yet it can certainly be argued that Bradford sacrificed (or adapted) some of his religious convictions in order to ensure a thriving colony, prosecuting colonists whose views differed from his own and massacring Native Americans. The Pilgrims thrived in New England because their religious faith impelled them to work hard and take responsibility for their actions, but they also thrived because of they way they subjugated the Native Americans and used violence to control their own people.