“If a tree falls but no one is there to see it, does it really fall?” This quote explains the very logic of history. Throughout the course of history, many significant occurrences have shaped our society to what it is today: free. William Bradford not only lived through a symbolic historical cornerstone of America, but wrote about it too.
William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth colony elected, was accountable for the young colonys success through great hardships. The Pilgrims were signified as complete abdicates from the Church of England. The success of the Plymouth was based on covenantalism – the belief that men could form compacts or covenants in the sight of God as a basis for government without the consent of a higher authority. According to Bradfords expose, the Pilgrims:
shook off this yoke of antichristian bondage, and as theLord’s free people joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate, in the fellowship of the gospel, to walk in all His ways made known, or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavors, whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them. And that it cost them something this ensuing history 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 flea-bitings in comparison of these, which now came upon them. For some were taken and clapped up in prison, others had their houses beset and watched night and day, and hardly escaped their hands; and the most were fain to flee 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 God’s grace and Spirit.
Yet seeing themselves thus molested, and that there was no hope of their continuance there, by a joint consent they resolved to go into the Low Countries, where they heard was freedom of religion for all men; they resolved to get over into Holland as they could. (W. Brad Home Page).
Once in Holland, the Pilgrims discovered that religious persecution was being diffused. They picked up once again on another brave journey in search for a land that was seemingly impossible to find: a land of religious freedom. They came to America on another perilous journey. Their perseverance and faith in God led them through.
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, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.
William Bradford wrote Of Plymouth Plantation, recording the history of the Plymouth Colony, and the calamities that led up to their leaving England for Holland, and later to New England. He also recorded some of the important letters he wrote and received in a letter-book, which still partially exists. William Bradfords letter-book was despoiled during the Revolutionary War, and was later discovered in Nova Scotia in the 1790s, ironically, being used as wrapping paper in a smelly fish market. What was left of the book was saved and later on used as a source of first hand information of the Pilgrims and daily life. Also in his books he interprets the Mayflower Compact, an important document which was a rough base of their ultimate goal- freedom. Although initially the purpose of the Mayflower Compact was to “control renegades aboard the Mayflower who were threatening to go their own way when the ship reached land,” the Mayflower Compact succeeded in keeping the Pilgrims united as one.
The Mayflower Compact endorsed the right of everyone, who signed a share in the making and administering of laws and the right of the majority to rule. It was the beginning of a constitution of pure democracy.
Although William Bradford died in 1657, having been governor of the Plymouth Colony for almost the entire period since 1621, the success of the Pilgrims and his writings will live on in American history for years to come.
Cotton Mather in his Magnalia Christi Americana wrote that William Bradford:
was a Person for Study as well as Action; and hence, notwithstanding the Difficulties through which he passed in his Youth, he attained unto a notable Skill in Languages; the Dutch Tongue was become almost as Vernacular to him as the English; the French Tongue he could also manage; the Latin and the Greek he had Mastered; but the Hebrew he most of all studied, Because, he said, he would see with his own Eyes the Ancient Oracles of God in their Native Beauty.