Bradford, William (Plymouth Colony governor)

William Bradford

William Bradford (bapt. March 19, 1590 - May 9, 1657) was an English separatist leader who grew up in Yorkshire, and later moved to Leiden, Holland, and helped found the Plymouth Colony in the United States. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact while aboard the Mayflower in 1620. He served as Plymouth Colony Governor five times covering about thirty years between 1621 and 1657. His journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, covered the period from 1620 to 1657 in Plymouth Colony.

Life and Death Edit

Bradford was born to William and Alice Bradford in Austerfield, Yorkshire, being baptized on March 19, 1590 into a wealthy and influential family. His childhood was marked by numerous deaths in the family. He became an orphan at age seven and lived with two uncles. During sickness, he became familiar with the Bible and classical works of literature, a key factor in his intellectual curiosity and his eventual attraction to the Separatist Church. When he was twelve, he was introduced to the Separatist congregation. The weekly meetings attracted the attention of officials and the congregation was arrested in 1607. The group attempted to leave England unlawfully for the Dutch Republic, but he escaped to Leiden in 1608. The Separatists had to work the lowest of jobs and live in poor conditions. When he was 21 in 1611, he bought his own house from family inheritance and earned a reputable standing. In 1619, Bradford sold his house in Leiden and moved to London in March 1620.

By 1617, the Scrooby congregation began to plan the establishment of their own colony in the Americas. As their children were being influenced by Dutch customs and language, the Separatists commenced three years of difficult negotiations in England to seek permission to settle in the northern parts of the Colony of Virginia. It was an emotional departure as many families were split as some Separatists stayed behind in the Netherlands. Bradford left his son behind, possibly because he was too frail to make the voyage. The Mayflower departed Plymouth, England in September 1620 with 102 passengers. They reached land and anchored in mid-November 1620 at Cape Cod hook. The Mayflower Compact was signed that day, Bradford being one of the first to sign. He made three separate ventures on foot into the land. They explored the bay and found a suitable place for settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Bay on December 20, 1620. The settlers began building the first house on Christmas. Their efforts were slowed when a widespread sickness struck the settlers. On January 11, 1621, Bradford was struck with great pain and collapsed. He recovered, but by the end of the winter, half of the settlers had died. They buried the dead in unmarked graves. On March 16, 1621, the settlers had their first meeting with the Native Americans who lived in the region. The elected leadership of Plymouth Colony chose Bradford as the second Governor of the colony after the death of the first in April 1621. One of his first acts on assuming the executive was to send an embassy in July 1621 to confirm negotiations with the Native Americans. His friendly relations with the Indians were essential to the continued existence of the colony and its future prosperity. When a famine threatened the colonists two years later, he obtained assistance from the Indians.

In 1624, the Governor and his assistants constituted a judicial court, and afterwards the supreme tribunal of the colony; in 1629 legislation, in which up to that date all the freemen took part, was vested in the Genral Court, to which all of the towns sent representatives. In 1629, a patent was obtained from the New England Council conferring upon Bradford, his heirs, and others, the title to the land on which Plymouth plantation was situated. In 1640, at the request of the General Court, Governor Bradford conveyed to it the title of the colony, reserving to himself his proportion as a proprietor.

Bradford died on May 9, 1657 and was buried on Burial Hill in Plymouth where a large stone monument exists in memory of his life. The estate inventory was taken on May 22, 1657.

Family Edit

Bradford married first to Dorothy May on December 10, 1613 when she was 16 years old. On December 17, 1620, Dorothy fell from the deck of the Mayflower into the icy waters of Cape Cod Harbor, where the ship was anchored, and drowned.

  • John Bradford (1617 - c. 1676) - m. Martha Bourne

Bradford married second to Alice Carpenter Southworth on August 14, 1623, a widow.

  • William Bradford - m. (1) Alice Richard (2) Sarah Wiswall Griswold (3) Mary Atwood Holmes
  • Mercy Bradford - m. Benjamin Vermayes
  • Joseph Bradford - m. Jael Hobart

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