English: Lesson 20
“Was Bradford’s account a morality tale for future generations?“
William Bradford was an English Puritan Separatist who wrote an account of his and his fellow separatists’ journey from England to the Netherlands, then onto America. The journal is called Of Plymouth Plantation and documents the time from 1620 to 1646. It has been one of the most prominent documents about the Pilgrim’s first arrival in America, the relationship between the Pilgrims and Massasoit, and the first Thanksgiving. But Bradford’s main reason for writing the Plymouth Plantation was to have future generations remember why they came to America, how they struggled, and who delivered them through all the trials of the New World.
The Separatist’s journey started in England where they were under threat from King James I, who sought to put an end to the church reform movements and radical critics of the Church of England. Bradford wrote how the Separatists were holding secret meetings and separate congregations from the Church of England, which they thought was a hopeless church and wished to be cut off from completely. At that time England was against religious freedom and the Separatists were under constant watch and at risk of fines or imprisonment. Once it was apparent that they and their movement were in danger, they decided to escape England and flee to the Dutch Republic where religious freedom was legal and they could make a new start. With terrible struggle the Separatists made it to the Netherlands where they lived for the next twelve years, building up a community and taking part in political and theological debates against the Arminians. In 1620 the Separatists were again in danger. A long-lasting truce between the Netherlands and the Spaniards was up, meaning Spain could now try to conquer the Netherlands. If Spain took over, religious freedom would no longer be allowed and the Separatists would have to flee once again. The Separatists were also concerned about their children becoming more involved in Dutch society; after all, they were growing up there, speaking the language, and getting married to Dutch people. So they decided that they should travel to Virginia and set up a colony. There was only one problem, to go set up a colony you had to be granted permission from the King, who controlled most of America. Not unsurprisingly, the King did not permit them to go. The last thing he wanted was freedom of religion in America. Nonetheless, the Separatists left for America and spent the next few years as squatters in Virginia.
Once in America, the Separatists faced the gruelling task of setting up a colony and surviving the harsh winter. Bradford writes about the hardships they experienced with hunger, scurvy, and a threat from native Indians. In the first year, half of them died, and it looked like none of them were going to survive, yet they continued and fought against all odds to make a life for themselves. But what kept them going? That was an easy answer for Bradford; it was their faith in God that that compelled them to fight and pray to be delivered from their hardships. The Separatists believed they were destined to live there and that God would protect and guide them.
So, is this account a morality tale for future generations? I think it very much is. Bradford wanted people to remember why they had come and left England and the Netherlands. An outsider might ask why would they have endured all that hardship and trouble to leave England, which was thriving and already established. They left to be free from the Church of England and to be free to worship in their way. The Separatists were Calvinists, and Bradford wrote this account as a defence of New Testament simplicity and a defence of God’s providence. The book is also a legacy for future generations to watch out for the overreach of the church and government.