William Bradford

David T. Read

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
William Bradford

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Students of William Bradford (b. 1590–d. 1657) approach his career from two main standpoints that are closely related but that lead in rather different directions in terms of the existing scholarship. First, there is Bradford the historical personage, the governor of Plymouth Colony for two separate periods of a dozen years (1621–1633 and 1645–1657) and for several shorter terms in between, thus an important figure in the early British colonization of North America as well as in the myth of national founding that developed after the American War of Independence. Second, there is Bradford the writer, the author of the most important and best-known document to emerge from New England during the first phase of settlement, Of Plymouth Plantation. This manuscript was largely out of view for approximately 200 years—in private hands after Bradford’s death and through the 18th century, presumed lost during the American War of Independence, finally located in the bishop of London’s library in 1855, first printed in 1856, and only returned to the United States in 1897—so in many respects Bradford’s history of Plymouth belongs to the modern age. The text is divided between a fairly short First Book that is organized into chapters and offers an eloquent and coherent narrative of the early history of the Pilgrims up to the arrival on Cape Cod and a lengthy Second Book, divided into annals that chronicle Plymouth Colony’s activities from 1621 through 1646. Obviously, Bradford’s manuscript is the essential primary source for the history of the Pilgrims’ colonial enterprise, but its merits and nuances as a book have been recognized at least since its rediscovery in the 19th century, and excerpts from it have a place in the first part of every comprehensive anthology of American literature. The researcher’s line of inquiry will depend on whether the main interest is in Bradford’s contribution to literary and intellectual history or to history more broadly understood, though there remain many possible points of intersection. The aim here is to provide both the core group of materials related to Bradford and a range of resources for exploring the context of important passages, themes, and events in Of Plymouth Plantation.

Article.  6331 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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