Of Plymouth Plantation

Of Plymouth Plantation Book 2, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In spring, the Pilgrims prepare for a voyage to Massachusetts Bay, the purpose of which is to trade with the Massachusetts Indians—though Hobbamok warns the Pilgrims that the Massachusetts might form an alliance with the Narragansett Indians against the Pilgrims. Soon after, the Pilgrims get word that Corbitant and Massasoyt are leading an attack against the Pilgrims, with the Narragansett Indians’ help. However, no attack materializes.
Bradford is conspicuously vague about why Massasoyt turns against the Pilgrims, beyond the fact that the Pilgrims try to protect Squanto from Corbitant. This could suggest that Bradford is omitting information about the Pilgrims’ aggressiveness toward the Native Americans; however, it’s unclear.
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The Pilgrims begin to see that Squanto is manipulating the Indians for his own ends, making them believe that the Pilgrims are all-powerful. Soon afterwards, the Indians turn on Squanto, and Squanto begins to spend more time on the Pilgrim settlement.
Here Bradford characterizes Squanto as a somewhat devious person, who’s most committed to advancing his own interests.
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The Pilgrims’ supplies run low, and they wait for another ship to arrive. Toward the end of May, a boat arrives, which has come from a fishing vessel sent by Weston. The boat, containing seven passengers, brings the Pilgrims a letter from Mr. Weston, explaining that he has sent the seven passengers. However, Weston warns the Pilgrims that some of these passengers are selfish and ungodly, and also adds that the remaining English reformers living in Leyden are “cold” and “backward.”
Weston sends more settlers under the assumption that more settlers will mean more food and a more successful (and profitable) settlement. Weston demonstrates his lack of loyalty to the Pilgrims by insulting the their friends and family in Leyden. Weston is free to do this because the Pilgrims don’t exert much power over him (except the power to decide not to send goods back to England).
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The boat brings another letter from Weston to John Carver, explaining that many of the “adventurers” (i.e., investors) have been convinced to invest more money in the Virginia Company settlement, while others have become discouraged and broken off their investments altogether. Weston now asks that Carver convince his Pilgrims to ratify a charter, such that they would have to provide more profits in the short term. Weston makes it clear that he will only send more supplies to Plymouth Plantation when Carver gives word that his colonists have complied.
By this point, the Virginia Company is falling apart; however, by the nature of joint stock companies, the investors themselves still want their money back. Weston is trying to regain his own investment and, it’s suggested, pump some much-needed money into the Virginia Company itself. Here, very explicitly, Weston is using his powerful position to pressure the Pilgrims into paying as much as possible.
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William Bradford receives a third letter from Weston, this one addressed to him. Weston, now aware that Carver is dead, explains to Bradford that he has sold his shares in the Virginia Company, meaning that “I am quit of you.” He advises Bradford to break off the current joint stock agreement, as is his right. Finally, Weston mentions intercepting a letter that his former colleagues tried to send in secret to the colonists. In this letter, dated April 10, 1621, Weston’s former colleagues address Bradford and Brewster. They warn the Pilgrims to prepare for a visit from Weston—they fear that Weston will sail to America, pretending to still have some stake in the Company, and bring back supplies. Weston, commenting upon this letter, insists that the letter is wrong—he would never steal from the Pilgrims.
Weston quickly evolves into an overtly villainous character: clearly, he has no loyalty to Bradford or the Pilgrims’ religious convictions—his only concern is making money. Furthermore, the passage raises the strong possibility that Weston was planning to con the Pilgrims into surrendering some of their own supplies to him, further underscoring Weston’s deviousness and amorality (particularly as Bradford presents him, and particularly in contrast to how virtuous Bradford presents the Pilgrims as being).
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Bradford receives one more letter, this one from Robert Cushman. Cushman greets Bradford warmly, and mentions that Weston intends to sail to America on the next available boat, though Cushman isn’t sure why. He instructs Bradford not to give any supplies to Weston’s men, and to instruct Squanto to spread word that Weston and his men aren’t affiliated with the Pilgrims.
By this point, Weston has worn out his welcome not only with the Pilgrims but with the other Virginia Company investors in England. Here, the Pilgrims do wield power over Weston: they tell the Native Americans not to cooperate with him. Unbeknownst to Cushman, Weston is trying to found his own settlement, meaning that a lack of cooperation with the Native Americans could be the difference between success and starvation.
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A ship arrives, sent by Weston, and the Pilgrims decide to welcome and entertain the ship, even though its men are disorganized. The men offer the Pilgrims some supplies in return for the Pilgrims’ hospitality, but the Pilgrims refuse to accept. Shortly afterwards, a boat arrives at Plymouth, bearing word from colonists in Virginia. The Pilgrims send a boat of their own to Virginia, where they obtain food and other supplies. In the end, the Pilgrims are able to feed themselves for a while, despite Weston’s refusal to send more supplies.
Once again Bradford shows the Pilgrims behaving selflessly, treating Weston’s men with impressive hospitality even though they’re under no obligation to do so.
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The Pilgrims build a fortress to protect themselves from Indian attacks. By the time the fortress is completed, the harvest is near. However, the harvest yields little food—certainly not enough to feed the colony for a year. Later in the year, a ship arrives from Virginia, selling knives. The Pilgrims trade beaver skins for the knives, and then trade knives for corn from the Indians.
Although the Pilgrims aren’t currently embroiled in war with the Native Americans, they prepare for war in the future, designing a large fort—and once again seeing no disconnect between violence and Christianity.
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By the end of the harvest, the settlers who arrived on Weston’s 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 with him, along with Squanto, in search of more corn. The voyage is thwarted, however, by a storm, and the ship only makes it to the Manamoick Bay, where the group obtains corn and beans. During the voyage, Squanto dies of “Indian fever.” Before dying, he begs Bradford to pray for him to meet “the Englishman’s God in heaven.”
As he’s done before, Bradford not-so-subtly suggests that Weston’s men fail because they lack God’s blessing: God is punishing them for their greed and general faithlessness. It’s interesting that Bradford stresses that Squanto dies craving an English God—first, because Bradford hasn’t previously noted Squanto’s religiosity, suggesting that the scene might be an invention; second, because Squanto characterizes God as “English,” a good example of the way many Native Americans perceived the link between English religion and the English nation-state.
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In February of 1623, the Massachusetts Bay settlers send 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.
Bradford continues to emphasize his Pilgrims’ peacefulness and contrast it with the combativeness of neighboring settlements.
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