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William Bradford: A Prominent Politician in New England

One of the most eminent representatives of American literature in the 17th century was the Governor of the Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford (1590–1657). He went down in history as a prominent politician in New England and as the author of many works, including the journal Of Plymouth Plantation. Through this source and Bradford’s approach to doing business as described therein, the reader can make inferences about William Bradford’s personality. Thus, William Bradford is an outstanding personality who achieved success thanks to such qualities as determination, responsibility, ability to cooperate, honesty, and high spirituality.

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As evidenced by Plymouth Plantation’s continued independence from the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony, Bradford was a determined man. The problem was that the Massachusetts Bay Colony consisted of Puritans who wanted to continue Church of England-style worship. In contrast, the Plymouth Colony comprised pilgrims who wished to remain separate from the Church of England. Bradford was able to make the wise decision to keep his colony separate from the other while maintaining its independence. Moreover, many people expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony on religious grounds often found refuge in the Plymouth Colony under the leadership of Bradford.

When Bradford began his term as Governor of Plymouth Colony, his only legacy was disorder, under which he showed his responsibility. Conditions in the new settlement were terrible since “food was insufficiently, and for several years the Pilgrims lived on the brink of starvation” (Bradford 135). Moreover, the plague broke out, killing more than half of the pilgrims during the first winter. Difficulties were also associated with the financing of the expedition and the forced existence of a system that could never work. Under these dire circumstances, Bradford was repeatedly elected Governor, serving fourteen terms unpaid and then receiving only £20 a year for all his work. Bradford realized his mistake and changed course; thus, “men and women began diligently tending the fields, which led to a surplus of food and the restoration of the annual harvest festival” (Bradford 158). However, the Governor did not resign from his post and remained responsible for the colony’s existence and the well-being of its inhabitants until the end of his life.

Equally significant features of Bradford, which made him a great historical figure and contributed to the success of the Plymouth Colony, are flexibility and the ability to cooperate. The formation of agreement on religious, civil, and domestic issues among the settlers was the strategic task of the Governor. Bradford believed that the key task was “to provide for peace with all men what in us lieth, especially with our associates” (139). After a hunger strike, Bradford was able to rally the survivors and make peace with the local Indians. Bradford emphasizes that “the inhabitants of the Plymouth Colony are united by the great idea of being heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven already here on New Earth” (146). He worked hard to maintain friendly relations with the Native Americans and organized fishing, trading, and farming in their community. Thus, Bradford became a great personality due to his ability to cooperate.

Bradford was a legislator, an executive, and a judge in one person, but he defended his integrity and did not abuse his powers. He tried to be peaceful and just with the Indians, and showed Christian mercy to later colonists who abused the system and did not lust for power. In 1630, a patent from England gave him the right to take all the colony’s land for himself. However, Bradford showed his true Christian spirit by immediately dividing the property among the old residents and retaining their rights to self-government. Thus, the hallmark of Bradford’s personality was honesty and generosity.

Considering William Bradford’s personality, it is worth mentioning his spirituality. The settlers perceived the development of new lands as a matter not so much physical as spiritual. Bradford describes the difficulties that the persecuted Puritans had to endure, including storms, hunger strikes, and illnesses. At the same time, Bradford considers these persecutions not as a curse but rather as the grace of God. The cultivation of the New Earth, the struggle with internal contradictions and external circumstances, and the approval of God’s law as the only proper way of life contributed to the formation of Bradford’s bright personality. This image can be called New Adam – a sincerely believing puritan, ready for the transformation of nature around him, co-creation with God.

Therefore, Bradford showed that he sincerely believed in God and acted with the Father in mind in all his affairs. In his journal, the Puritans are repeatedly thankful for the way God cared for the settlers. Bradford wondered how it was that so many Pilgrims lived to such a venerable old age, despite the terrible hardships they went through. He concluded that this was because God wanted to show the world that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Bradford 143). He never allowed the church to dominate his colony for all his righteousness.

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Throughout history, there have been great men, some for the good of humanity, others for the detriment of humankind. All great people have one aspect in common: they somehow changed the course of history. William Bradford, the first Mayflower passenger and the first governor to be elected on what is to become American soil, is a great man. He is the epitome of someone who never aspired to leadership or glory. He wanted to help his fellow man live a better life of religious freedom. Thanks to such qualities as determination, responsibility, ability to cooperate, honesty, and high spirituality, Bradford achieved success and made a significant contribution to the history of humanity.

Work Cited

Bradford, William. “Of Plymouth Plantation.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature edited by Robert S Levine, 2017, pp. 132-167.

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