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Summary Article: Bradford, William, 1590–1657, governor of Plymouth Colony
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1590–1657, governor of Plymouth Colony, b. Austerfield, Yorkshire, England. As a young man he joined the separatist congregation at Scrooby and in 1609 emigrated with others to Holland, where, at Leiden, he acquired a wide acquaintance with theological literature. Bradford came to New England on the Mayflower in 1620 and in 1621, on the death of John Carver, was chosen leader of the Pilgrims. He remained governor for most of his life, being reelected 30 times; during the five years in which he chose not to serve, he was elected assistant. Bradford, though firm, used his large powers with discretion, and there were few complaints about his leadership. He maintained friendly relations with the Native Americans and struggled hard to establish fishing, trade, and agriculture. He stressed the obligations of the colonists to their London backers and was one of the eight colonial “undertakers” who in 1627 assumed Plymouth Colony's debt to the merchants adventurers. Given a monopoly of fishing and trading privileges, they finally discharged the debt in 1648. Bradford was more tolerant of other religious beliefs than were the Puritan leaders of Boston (although he was by no means consistent in this respect), and he was largely responsible for keeping Plymouth independent of the Massachusetts Bay colony. His famous History of Plimoth Plantation, not published in full until 1856, forms the basis for all accounts of the Plymouth Colony. The editions of W. T. Davis (1908), W. C. Ford (1912), and Samuel Eliot Morison (1952) are the best.

  • See also Willison, G. F., Saints and Strangers (1945);.
  • biography by B. Smith (1951).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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