William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation: Summary & Analysis

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams
In this lesson, we will learn about the work 'Of Plymouth Plantation' written by William Bradford. We will take a closer look at why the work was written, what it represents and where it is kept today for future generations to enjoy.


Of Plimoth Plantation (in the title's original spelling) was written between 1630 and 1651 by William Bradford, who lived from 1590 to 1657. Bradford was the leader and 5-time governor of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. The work describes the story of the pilgrims from when they lived in the Dutch Republic in 1608 through the Mayflower voyage and up to the year 1647. Bradford also discusses his thoughts on religion and the bible compared with the mission of the pilgrims. It ends with a list of the Mayflower passengers and what happened to them as of 1651.

of plymouth plantation


Some historians would call the work a journal. However, it is truly more his account of past events written in the form of two separate books rather than a day-to-day synopsis.

The first book was written in 1630. It begins: 'And first of the occasion and inducements 'hereunto; the which, that I may truly unfold, I must begin at the very root and rise of the same. The which I shall endeavour to manifest in a plain style, with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things; at least as near as my slender judgment can attain the same.' This book focuses mainly on the journey of the pilgrims from England to North America and discusses the founding of the Plymouth settlement. It gives his opinions on the biblical importance of the pilgrims reaching America and their struggles.

The second book was not completely finished because of Bradford's death. This book began in 1646. It discusses the struggles of the pilgrims in North America in day-to-day living and his concerns about the health and spiritual welfare of the colonists.

The two books are held together in one volume that most modern scholars call a journal. The journal itself is a vellum-bound book measuring 11 1/2' by 7 3/4.' There are 270 pages numbered, sometimes incorrectly, by William Bradford in his own handwriting. The journal is browning and has age spots but is still completely legible.

The work has carried many different names. It was originally written as Of Plimoth Plantation, but now the modern spelling of Plymouth is used. It has also been published as History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford's Journal and The Bradford History.

It is evident from reading the work that Bradford had intended it to be kept and read for future generations despite not having published it himself in his lifetime. At the end of chapter six, he notes, 'I have been the larger in these things, and so shall crave leave in some like passages following, (though in other things I shall labour to be more contract) that their children may see with what difficulties their fathers wrestled in going through these things in their first beginnings, and how God brought them along notwithstanding all their weaknesses and infirmities.' Today, the book is regarded by historians as one of the most important works of the 17th century.

William Bradford

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