William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (1620-1647).


[
William Bradford was the governor of the Plymouth Colony, and a devout adherent to the group known as Separatists (or Brownists), who believed that the Church of England had become so corrupt that the true believers needed to remove themselves from those churches. Hence, Bradford was committed to a particularly intense version of Puritanism.]

 

[Reasons for leaving England]

Chapter 1.
It is well knowne unto the godly and judicious, how ever since the first breaking out of the lighte of the gospell, in our Honourable Nation of England (which was the first of nations, whom the Lord adorned therewith, after that grosse darknes of popery which had covered, and overspread the christian worldf) what wars, and oppositions ever since Satan hath raised, maintained, and continued against the Saints, from time to time, in one sorte, or other. Some times by bloody death and cruell torments, other whiles Imprisonmerits, banishments, and other hard usages. As being loath his kingdom should goe downe, the truth prevaile; and the churches of God reverte to their ancient purity; and recover their primitive order, libertie, and beauty. But when he could prevaile by these means, against the many truths of the gospell, but that they began to take rooting in many places; being watered with the blood of the martyrs, and blessed from heaven with a gracious increase; He then begane to take him to his ancient stratagems, used of old against the first christians. That when by the bloody, and barbarous persecutions of the Heathen Emperours, he could not stop, and subverte the course of the Gospell; but that it speedily overspread, with a wonderful celerity, the then best known parts, of the world; He then begane to sow errors, heresies, and wonderful dissentions amongst the professors themselves (working upon their pride, and ambition; with other corrupt passions, incident to all mortall men; yea to the saints themselves in some measure'.): By which woeful effects followed; as not only bitter contentions, and heartburnings, schisms, with other horrible confusions. But Satan tooke occasion and advantage thereby to foist in a number of vile ceremonies, with many unprofitable Cannons, and decrees which have since been as snares, to many poore and peaceable souls, even to this day. . . .

The like methode Satan hath seemed to hold in these later times, since the truth begane to springe and spread after the great defection made by Antichrist that man of sin.

For to let pass the infinite examples in sundry nations, and severall places of the world, and instance in our owne. When as that old Serpente could not prevaile by those fiery flames and other his cruell Tragedies which he (by his instruments) put in use, every where in the days of queene Mary, and before. He then begane an other kind of war, and went more closely to worke, not only to [oppose], but even to ruinate and destroy the kingdom of christ, by more secrete and subtle means, by kindling , the flames of contention and sowing, the seeds of discorde, and bitter enmity amongst the professors (and seeming reformed) themselves. For when he could not prevaile (by the former means) against the principall doctrines of faith; he bente his force against the holy disipline, and outward regimente of the kingdom of christ, by which those holy doctrines should be conserved, and true piety maintained amongst the saints, and people of God.

Mr. Foxe recordeth, how that besides those worthy martyrs and confessors which were burned in queene Marys days and otherwise tormented, many (both students, and others) fled out of the land, to the number 800. . . .

The one side laboured to have the right worship of God, and discipline of christ, established in the church, according to the simplicity of the Gospell; without the mixture of men's inventions. And to have and to be ruled by the laws of Gods word; dispensed in those offices, and by those officers of pastors, Teachers, and Elders, &c., according to the Scriptures. The other party, (though under many colours, and pretences) endeavored to have the Episcopal dignity (after the popish manner) with their large power, and jurisdiction, still retained; with all those courts, cannons, and ceremonies, together with all such livings, revenues, and subordinate officers, with other such means, as formerly upheld their antichristian greatness. And enabled them with lordly, and tyrannous power to persecute the poore servants of God. This contention was so great, as neither the. honour of, God,, the common persecution, nor the mediation of Mr. Calvin, and other worthies of. the Lord, in those places, could prevaile with those thus Episcopally minded, but they proceeded by all means to disturbe the peace of this poor persecuted church. Even so far as to charge (very unjustly, and ungodly; yet prelate-like) some of their chief opposers, with rebellion, and high treason against the Emperour, and other such crimes. And this contention dyed not with queene Mary; nor was left beyonde the seas, but at her death these people returning into England under gracious queene Elizabeth, many of them being preferred to bishoprics, and other promotions, according to their aims and desires. That inveterate hatred against the holy discipline of christ in his church hath continued to this day. . . .

So many therefore (of these professors) I as saw the evill of these things (in these parts) and whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeale for his truth; they shooke of this yoke of Antichristian bondage. And as the Lords free people I joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate, in the fellowship of the Gospell, to wale in all his ways, made known, to be made known unto them (according to their best endea[v]ours) whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them. And that it cost them something this ensewing historie will declare. . . .

But after these things; they could not long continue in any peaceable condition; but were hunted and persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as fleabitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken and clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett and watcht night and day, and hardly escaped their hands; and the most were faine to fly and leave their houses and habitations, and the means of their livelihood. Yet these and many other sharper things which afterward befell them, were no other than they looked for, and therefore were the better prepared to bear them by the assistance of Gods grace and spirite; yet seeing themselves thus molested, [7] and that there was no hope of their continuance there, by a joint consent they resolved to goe into the Low-Countrys, where they heard was freedome of Religion for all men; as also how sundry from London, and other parts of the land had been exiled and persecuted for the same cause, and were gone thither; and lived at Amsterdam, and in other places of the land.' So after they had continued together aboute a year, and kept their meetings every Sabbath, in one place, or other, exercising the worship of God amongst themselves, notwithstanding all the diligence and malice of their adversaries, they seeing they could no longer continue in that condition, they resolved to get over into Holland as they could. Which was in the year 1607 and 1608 . . .

[Arrival at Plymouth - 1620]
Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, againe to set their feete on the firme and stable earth, their proper element. And no marvell if they were thus joyefull, seeing wise Seneca was so affected with sailing a few miles on the coast of his owne Italy; as he affirmed, that he had rather remaine twenty years on his way by land, then pass by sea to anyplace in a short time; so tedious and dreadfull was the same unto him.

But hear I cannot but stay and make a. pause, and stand half amazed at this poore peoples presente condition; and so I thinke will the reader too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which wente before), they had now no friends to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succor. It is recorded in scripture as a mercy to the apostle and his shipwrecked company, that the barbarians showed them no small kindness in refreshing, them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them (as after will appeare) were readier to fill their sides full of arrows than other wise. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subjecte to cruell and feirce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. Nether could they, as it were, goe up to the tope of Pisgah, to view from this wilderness a more goodly country to feed their hopes; for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or content in respecte of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew. If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar and gulf to seperate them from all the civill parts of the world. If it be said they had a ship to succor them, it is true; but what heard they daily from the m[aste]r and company? but tha twith speede they should looke out a place with their shallop, where they would be at some near distance; for the season was such as he would not stirr from thence till a safe harbor was discovered by them where they would be, and he might goe without danger; and that victells consumed apace, but he must and would keepe sufficient for themselves and their returne. Yea, it was muttered by some, that if they got not a place in time, they would turne them and their goods ashore and leave them. Let it also be considered what weake hopes of supply and succor they left behinde them, that might bear up their minds in this sad condition and trialls they were under; and they could not but be very small. It is true, indeed, the affections and love of their brethren at Leyden was cordiall and entire towards them, but they had little power to help them, or themselves; and how the case stoode betweene them and the merchants at their coming away, hath allready been declared. What could now sustaine them but the spirite of God and his grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our fathers were English men which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willdernes, but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, etc. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure for ever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the deserte [and] willdernes out of the way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, and thirstie, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindnes, and his wonderfull works before the sons of men. . . .

[Social organization of property and economics at Plymouth - 1623]
All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Gov[erno]r (with the advise of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his owne particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to goe on in the generall way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance), and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted than other ways would have been by any means the Gov[erno]r or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now wente willingly., into the field, and tooke their little-ones with them to set corne, which before would allege weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.'

The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince they [the] vanitie of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For the young men that were most able and fit for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to worke for other men's wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and cloaths, than he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victuals, cloaths, etc., with the meaner and younger sorte, thought it some indignite and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to doe service for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brooke it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of the mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none objecte this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fitter for them.

[Conflicts with other colonists regarding revels & Indians. 1628]
About some 3 or 4 years before this time, there came over one Captaine Wollaston, (a man of pretie parts,) and with him 3 or 4 more of some eminency, who brought with them a great many servants, with provisions and other impl[elments for to begine a plantation; and pitched themselves in a place within the Massachusets, which they called, after their captain's name, Mount-Wollaston. Amongst whom was one Mr. Morton, who, it should seem, had some small adventure (of his owne or other men's) amongst them; but had little respecte amongst them, and was slighted by the meanest servants. Having continued there some time, and not finding things to answer their expectations, nor profite to arise as they looked for, Captaine Wollaston takes a great part of the servants, and transports them to Virginia, where he puts them off at good rates, selling their time to other men; and writes back to one Mr. Rasdall, one of his chief partners, and accounted their merchant, to bring another parte of them to Virginia likewise, intending to put them off there as he had done the rest. And he, with the consente of the said Rasdall, appointed one Fitcher to be his Lieutenant, and govern the remaines of the plantation, till he or Rasdall returned to take further order there about. But this Morton abovesaid having more craft than honesty, . . . in the others absence, watches an opportunity, (and commons being but hard amongst them), and got some strong drink and other junkets, and made them a feast; and after they were merry, he begane to tell them, he would give them good counsell. You see (saith he) that many of your fellows are carried to Virginia; and if you stay till this Rasdall returne, you will also be carried away and sold for slaves with the rest. Therefore I would advise you to thrust out this Lieutenant Fitcher; and I, having a parte in the plantation, will receive you as my partners and consociates; so may you be free from service, and we will converse, trade, plante, and live together as equalls, and supporte and protecte one another, or to like effecte. This counsell. was easily received; so they tooke opportunity, and thrust Lieutenan Fitcher out a doors, and would suffer him to come no more amongst them, but forced him to seeke bread to eat, and other relief from his neighbors, till he could get passages for England. After this they fell to great licenciousnes, and led a dissolute life, powering out themselves into all profanenes. And Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a school of Atheism. And after they had got some goods into their hands, and got much by trading with the Indians, they spent it as vainly, in quaffing and drinking both wine and strong waters in great excess, and, as some reported, £10 worth in a morning. They also set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing aboute it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse practises. As if they had anew revived and celebrated the feasts of the Roman Goddess Flora, or the beastly practises of the madd Bacchinalians . Morton likewise (to show his poetry) composed sundry rimes and verses, some tending to lasciviousnes, and others to the detraction and scandall of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idoll May-pole. They changed also the name of their place, and instead of calling it Mount Wollaston, they call Merrymount, as if this joylity would have lasted ever. But this continued not long, for after Morton was sent for England, (as follows to be declared,) shortly after came over that worthy gentleman, Mr. John Indecott, who brought over a patent under the broad seal, for the government of the Massachusets, who visiting those parts caused that Maypole to be cut downe, and rebuked them for their profannes, and admonished them to looke there should be better walking; . . .

Now to maintaine this riotous prodigality and profuse excess, Morton, thinking himself lawless, and hearing what gaine the French and fisher-men made by trading of pieces, powder, and shot to the Indians, he, as the head of this consortship, begane the practise of the same in these parts; and first he taught them how to use them, to charge, and discharge, and what proportion of powder to give the piece, according to the size or bigness of the same; and what shot to use for fowl, and what for deer. And having thus instructed them, he imployed some of them to hunte and fowl for him, so as they became far more active in that imploymente than any of the English, by reason of there swiftnes of foote, and nimblenes of body, being also quicksighted, and by continuall exercise well knowing the haunts of all sorts of game. So as when they saw the execution that a piece would doe, and the benefite that might come by the same, they became madd, as it were, after them, and would not stick to give any price they could attaine too for them; accounting their bowes and arrowes but baubles in comparison of them.

And here I may take occasion to bewail the mischief that this wicked man began in these parts, and which since base covetousness prevailing in men that should know better, hath now at length got the upper hand, and made this thing commone, notwithstanding any laws to the contrary; so as the Indians are full of pieces all over, both fowling pieces, muskets, pistols, etc. They have also their moulds to make shot, of all sorts, as muskett bulletts, pistoll bullets, swan and goose shot, and of smaller sorts; . . . Yea, it is well knowne that they will have powder and shot, when the English want it, nor cannot get it; and that in a time of war or danger, as experience hath manifested, that when lead hath been scarce, and men for their owne defence would gladly have given a groat a [pound], which is dear enough, yet hath it been bought up and sent to other places, and sold to such as trade it with the Indians, at 12 pence the [pound]; and it is like they give 3 or 4 s[shilling] the pound, for they will have it at any rate. And these things have been done in the same times, when some of their neighbors and friends are daily killed by the Indians, or are in danger thereof, and live but at the Indians mercy. Yea, some (as they have acquainted them with all other things) have told them how gunpowder is made, and all the materialls in it, and that they are to be had in their owne land; and I am confident, could they attaine to make salt-peter, they would teach them to make powder. O the horribleness of this villainy! how many both Dutch and English have been lately slain by those Indians, thus furnished; and no remedy provided, nay, the evill more increased, and the blood of their brethren sold for gaine, as is to be feared; and in what danger all these colonies are in is too well known. Oh! that princes and parliaments would take some timely order to prevente this mischief, and at length to suppress it, by some exemplary punishment upon some of these gain thirsty murderers, (for they deserve no better title,) before their collonies in these parts be over thrown by these barbarous savages, thus armed with their owne weapons, by these evill instruments, and traitors to their neighbors and country.

But I have forgot myself, and have been too long in this digression; but now to return. This Morton having thus taught them the use of pieces, he sold them all he could spare; and he and his consorts determined to send for many out of England, and had by some of the ships sente for above a score. The which being knowne, and his neighbors meeting the Indians in the woods armed with guns in this sorte, it was a terror unto them, who lived [strugglingly], and were of no strength in any place. And other places (though more remote) saw this mischief would quickly spread over all, if not prevented. Besides, they saw they should keep no servants, for Morton would entertaine any, how vile soever, and all the scum of the country, or any discontents, would flock to him from all places, if this nest was not broken; and they should stand in more fear of their lives and goods (in short time) from this wicked and debasted crew than from the salvages themselves.

So sundry of the chief of the stragling plantations, meeting together, agreed by mutuall consente to solicit those of Plymouth (who were then of more strength than them all) to join with them, to prevente the further growth of this mischief, and suppress Morton and his consorts before they grew to further head and strength. Those that joined in this action (and after contributed to the charge of sending him for England) were from Pascataway, Namkeake, Winismett, Weesagascusett, Natasco, and other places where any English were seated.' Those of Plymouth being thus sought too by their messengers and letters, and weighing both their reasons, and the commone danger, were willing to afford them their help; though themselves had least cause of fear or hurt. So, to be short, they first resolved jointly to write to him, and in a friendly and neighborly way to admonish him to forbear those courses, and sent a messenger with their letters to bring his answer. But he was so high as he scorned all advise, and asked who had to doe with him; he had and would trade pieces with the Indians in dispite of all, with many other scurillous terms full of disdain. They sente to him a second time, and bade him be better advised, and more temperate in his terms, for the country could not beare the injury he did; it was against their comone safety, and against the king's proclamation. He answered in high terms as before, and that the kings proclamation was no law; demanding what penalty was upon it. It was answered, more than he could bear, his majesty's displeasure. But insolently he persisted, and said the king was dead and his displeasure with him, and many the like things; and threatened withall that if any came to molest him, let them looke to themselves, for he would prepare for them. Upon which they saw there was no way but to take him by force; and having so far proceeded, now to give over would make him far more haughty and insolent. So they mutually resolved to proceed, and obtained of the Gov[erno]r of Plymouth to send Captaine Standish, and some other aide with him, to take Morton by force. The which accordingly was done; but they found him to stand stiffly in his defence, having made fast his doors, armed his consorts, set diverse dishes of powder and bullets ready on the table; and if they had not been over armed with drink, more hurt might have been done. They summoned him. to yield, but he kept his house, and they could get nothing but scoffs and scorns from him; but at length, fearing they would doe some violence to the house, he and some of his crew came out, but not to yield, but to shoot; but they were so steeled with drinke as their pieces were to heavy for them; himself with a carbine (over charged and allmost half filled with powder and shot, as was after found) had thought to have shot Captaine Standish; but he stepped to him, and put by his piece, and took him. Neither was there any hurt done to any of either side, save that one was so drunk that he ran his owne nose upon the point of a sword that one held before him as he entered the house; but he lost but a little of his hot blood. Morton they brought away to Plymouth, where he was kept, till a ship went from the Ile of Shoals for England, with which he was sente to the Counsell of New-England; and letters written to give them information of his course and carriage; and also one was sent at their commone charge to informe their Ho[no]rs more perticulerly, and to prosecute against him. But he foold of the messenger,' after he was gone from hence, and ~ough he wente for England, yet nothing was done to him, not much as rebuked, for ought was heard; but returned the next year.

["some kind of wickedness did grow" - 1642]
Marvelous it may be to see and consider how some kind of wickedness did grow and breake forth here, in a land where the same was so much witnessed against, and so narrowly looked unto, and severely punished when it was knowne; as in no place more, or so much, that I have known or heard of; insomuch as they have been somewhat censured, even by moderate and good men, for their severity in punishments. And yet all this could not suppress the breaking out of sundry notorious sins, (as this year, besides other, gives us too many sad precedents and instances,) especially drunkenness and uncleaness; not only incontinencie between persons unmarried, for which many both men and women have been punished sharply enough, but some married persons also. But that which is worse, even sodomy and buggery, (things fearful to name) have broke forth in this land, oftener than once. I say it may justly be marveled at, and cause us to fear and tremble at the consideration of our corrupte natures, which are so hardly bridled, subdued, and mortified; nay, cannot by any other means but the powerful worke and grace of Gods spirit. But (besides this) one reason may be, that the Devil may carry a greater spite against the churches of Christ and the gospell here, by how much the more they indea[v]our to preserve holiness and purity amongst them, and strictly punisheth the contrary when it ariseth either in church or commonwealth; that he might cast a blemish and staine upon them in the eyes of [the] world, who use to be rash in judgment. I would rather thinke thus, than that Satan hath more power in these heathen lands, as some have thought, than in more Christian nations, especially over Gods servants in them.

2. An other reason may be, that it may be in this case as it is with waters when their streams are stopped or dammed up, when they get passage they flow with more violence, and make more noise and disturbance, then when they are suffered to run quietly in their owne chanels. So wickedness being here more stopped by strict laws, and the same more nearly looked unto, so as it cannot run in a common road of liberty as it would, and is inclined, it searches every where, and at last breaks out where it gets vent.

3. A third reason may be, here (as I am verily persuaded) is not more evils in this kind, nor nothing near so many by proportion, as in other places; but they are here more discovered and seen, and made publick by due search, inquisition, and due punishment; for the churches looke narrowly to their members, and the magistrates over all, more strictly than in other places. Besides, here the People are but few in comparison of other places, which are full and populous, and lie hid, as it were, in a wood or thicket, and many horrible evils by that means are never seen nor known; whereas here, they are, as it were, brought into the light, and set in the plaine field, or rather on a hill, made conspicuous to the view of all.


Source: William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, 2 vols. (Boston, 1912), 1:3-26, 155-58, 299-303; 2:45-57, 308-10. *Some spelling has been modernized.

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