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Plymouth Plantation Essay

Perhaps what we fail to realize is that the Puritan belief of Divine Providence consumed every single aspect of the Puritan lifestyle. From the moment they woke up, until the moment they crawled back into bed, the inhabitants of the first settlements of New England believed that the cause of every occurrence was the Christian God. Every action, and it’s according reaction, was directly designed and destined to happen because God chose it to be so. William Bradford, one of these Puritans, was not only the first governor of the first Puritan settlement, Plymouth, but was also it’s first historian. Our first accounts of the Plymouth inhabitants, in turn, come to us by way of Bradford’s detailed accounts of what happened at Plymouth Plantation. However, one can argue that because of Bradford’s Puritan beliefs, his account may be slightly biased, and not completely precise as to what truly happened at the Plymouth settlement.

Or perhaps Bradford’s account is completely accurate, and it is only a matter of the reader’s perceptive of William Bradford’s account. When taken into account, that the Puritans focused every cause of nature and chance, as God’s will, then Bradford’s account can almost certainly be discarded as a religiously biased novelty tale, slightly based on the truth about what happened at Plymouth, but if viewed at a more intellectual level, then the reader can grasp that although Bradford’s account does reason most of it’s events with Divine Providence, the physical occurrences of the events are completely truthful and factual. From the falling of the “very profane young man…of a lusty, able body”(Bradford, 24) into the sea because of his seemingly haughty nature, to the Mayflower reaching Cape Harbor after suffering a mass loss of sailors and a broken mast (Bradford, 26), the endless appearance of Divine Providence in Bradford’s account is clearly evident proof that the religious installation of Providence consumed every action of how the Puritans approached situations in which they were placed.

Whether it was dealing with the ailing health their settlement underwent the first winter they spent in the New World (Bradford, 23), or their dealings with the indigenous American people they encountered upon their explorations of the lands farther west of Plymouth (Bradford, 30), the Puritans worried little; because whatever was to be was already destined and preplanned by their God, in his plan for their salvation and receiving of his grace. When looking at the account from a modern day, non-religious perspective, it is possible to envision the events as Bradford witnessed them himself. The physical action of a man falling off a boat, and an indian helping the white man grow corn are historical truths in their own rights, and cannot be changed from the truth by any religious perspective.

How and why these actions occurred, however, can be reasoned differently. William Bradford was a brilliant writer, one whom because of his religious background, wrote about events and occasions in a way much different to how we would see them in modern day. This should not however, impact in any way the reliability of the historical context. Religious truths and historical truths have always and will always continue to be clashing titans. Perhaps one day the line that separates the two will disappear, and the real truth will become all that is apparent.

The History of Plymouth Plantation: God
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Written by: Cautionwett

The presence of God is evident in the passage from The History of Plymouth Plantation in every event significant or not. In his diary, William Bradford describes several occurrences in which God played a major role in deciding the outcome. According to Bradford, God can help or hurt according to His will. The first of these displays of God’s will in this passage was of revenge toward a sailor. He was as Bradford described him “a proud and very profane young man… of a lusty, able body.” The sailor would “always be condemning the poor people” of the Mayflower because of their seasickness. The sailor went as far as to say that he hoped to help cast them overboard before they reached the mainland. Bradford believed that God was pleased to smite this young man with a grievous disease and ironically cause him to be the first to die and be thrown overboard. This proves that Bradford’s god is all-powerful and able to seek and gain revenge against those who go against god’s chosen people. In a later reference, God helps “one of his chosen people” survive during a storm.

A young man named of John Howard was coming up from below deck when he was swept overboard. But, because it pleased God, the man grasped a main line and was able to be saved. Bradford believed that because the man was saved he was one of God’s chosen people and, therefore, later went on to become an important member of their society. This incident verifies that Bradford believes that God punishes bad people but keeps his chosen out of harm’s way. In this passage, there are also several allusions to events that take place in past religious writings including the Bible. In one, Bradford speaks of Mount Pisgah, where the Hebrews could see what lay before them. Bradford infers that the pilgrims have it harder because they do not know what lies ahead of them. In another citation he speaks of “wise” Seneca, who said he would rather take 20 years and go by land than in shorter time travel via the ocean.

In some way, Bradford believed that he is similar to other historical religious journeys and he considers that his journey is much like, if not more difficult and significant, than those before him. When they come ashore, Bradford describes the pilgrims falling to their knees and blessing the “ God 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.” Here, Bradford gives God credit for the pilgrims’ survival. The passage does not say that God indirectly gives the sailors the strength and integrity to enable them safely come to the end of the journey, but it states a direct connection with God and the pilgrims ability to survive their trek.

William Bradford concludes this part of the trip with details on how miserable it is in the new land, and how he doesn‘t mind because it is what God intended. “What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace?“ Bradford asks redundantly. Bradford then speaks of how the future generations should and should not speak of the voyage to the new land. He believes that God will deliver them from evil by helping them survive in a place with no city, no food and no drink. Every event that Bradford selected to describe in his journal has a direct link to God’s will. William Bradford believes that things do not just happen, but are part of God’s plan. This belief is clear in the way he discusses certain occurrences, both honorable and ill fated, pleased God. The fact that Bradford expressed these beliefs in a private journal makes it more convincing that he truly believes in what he writes.

Examination of Puritan Philosophy in Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation”

The Puritan people first came to the New World to escape the religious persecution that hounded Non-Anglicans in England. They established the Plymouth Colony in 1620, in what is now Massachusetts. The colony was a reflection of the Puritans’ beliefs. These beliefs, along with the experience of establishing a colony in “the middle of nowhere”, affected the writings of all who were involved with the colony. In this writing, the Puritan philosophy behind William Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation” will be revealed. Some factors that will be considered include: how Puritan beliefs affect William Bradford’s interpretation of events, the representation of Puritan theology in the above mentioned text, and how Puritanism forms the basis for Bradford’s motivation in writing.

In Bradford’s text, there are numerous instances in which his beliefs affect his interpretation of what happens. In Chapter IX (nine) of “Of Plymouth Plantation”, entitled “Of Their Voyage…” , he tells of a sailor “..of a lusty, able body..” who “would always be condemning the poor people in their sickness and cursing them daily….he didn’t let to tell them that he hoped to help cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey’s end”. But, “it pleased God before they came half-seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard”. Bradford believes that the sailor died because God was punishing him. According to Bradford, the sailor’s cursing, and mistreatment of the other passengers displeased God, so God punished him accordingly.

In the same chapter, Bradford tells of another ship passenger named John Howland. At one point in the trip, the Mayflower came upon a violent storm. The winds of the storm were so fierce, and the seas were so high, that all the sailors and passengers had to “hull for divers days together”. During this storm, a young man named John Howland was thrown into the sea, and as Bradford tells us, “it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length”. Howland caught hold of a rope, and “though he was sundry fathoms under water”, he held on until he was hauled up. Bradford reasons that the man was saved because he was blessed by God. He goes on to say that he “became a profitable member in both church and state, implying that John Howland was one of the so called “Puritan Saints”. To the Puritans, Saints were people whom God was to save, so these people received God’s blessings, and therefore were profitable in Puritan society.

In Chapter X (ten) of Bradford’s writing, entitled “Showing How They Sought Out a Place…”, Bradford tells us about an Indian attack on his people. Some explorers went out to explore the area around Cape Cod. As they are resting, the Indians attack. “And withal, their arrows came flying amongst them.” He continues “Their men ran with all their speed to recover their arms, as by the good province of God they did.”

Bradford belief that the Puritans are God’s “chosen” shows in his writing, and affects his narration of the story. After telling us of the attack, he adds, “Thus it pleased God to vanquish their enemies, and give them deliverance; and by his special providence so to dispose that not any one of them were either hurt or hit, though their arrows came close by them, and on every side [of] them; and sundry of their coats, which hung up in the barricado, were shot through and through.”

In nowhere else does Bradford’s Puritan beliefs affect his interpretation of events in his writing as much as in Book II, Chapter XIX of “Of Plymouth Plantation”, entitled “Thomas Morton of Merrymount”. Throughout the chapter, Bradford tells of a Thomas Morton. His disdain for Morton shows throughout the entire section.

As the story of goes, there is a plantation in Massachusetts called Mount Wollaston owned and run by a Captain Wollaston. On this plantation were indentured servants. Captain Wollaston sometimes went to Virginia on trips to sell some of his indentured servants. On one particular trip, Wollaston puts a man named Fitcher to be his Lieutenant, and thus govern the Plantation until he returned.

But, as Bradford puts it, “..this Morton above said, having more craft than honesty (who had been a kind of pettifogger of Furnival’s Inn) in the others’ absence watches an opportunity, and got some strong drink and other junkets and made them a feast; and after they were merry, he began to tell them he would give them good counsel.” Morton goes on, “I advise you to thrust out this Lieutenant Fitcher, and I, having a part in the Plantation, will receive you as my partners and consociates; so may you be free from service, and we will converse, plant, trade, and live together as equals and support and protect one another.” The servants had no problem with Morton’s suggestion, and without question, “thrust Lieutenant Fitcher out o’ doors….”

Bradford continues the story, furthering his assault on Thomas Morton’s character. He continues, “After this, they fell into great licentiousness, and led a dissolute life, pouring out themselves into all profaneness. And Morton became the Lord of Misrule, and maintained a School of Atheism.” Morton and his fellows also resorted to trading with Indians, and as Bradford puts it, “(They) got much…they spent it as vainly in quaffing and drinking, both wine and strong waters in great excess….” They also “set up a maypole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting Indian women for consorts, dancing and frisking together like so many fairies, or furies, rather; and worse practices.” Later, Bradford tells us that Morton “to show his poetry, composed sundry rhymes and verses, some tending to lasciviousness, and others to the distraction and scandal of some persons, which he affixed to this idle, or idol maypole.”

The fact that Bradford sees Morton as the antithesis of all of his Puritan beliefs lead him to partially misappropriate at least some of his representation of Thomas Morton’s character. He represents Morton as dishonest, and crafty. According to Bradford, Morton got all of the servants drunk, then while they were inebriated, preceded to convince them to throw out Lieutenant Fitcher, and take over the plantation. It is highly doubtful that Morton had to drug the servants to convince them to take over the plantation, as the servants probably didn’t want to be sold in Virginia. Bradford also implies Morton is a pagan. He calls Morton “the Lord of Misrule”, and said Morton maintained a “School of Atheism”. He views Morton as worshipping the maypole, as Morton and his fellows danced around it endlessly, and posted poetry to it. To Bradford, the drunken, hedonistic lifestyle that Morton maintained stood against everything the hard-working Puritans believed in.

Some of Morton’s “crimes” that Bradford told about in his story directly affected Bradford, which could’ve resulted in some of his prejudice towards Morton. For one, Morton was taking away some of the Puritan workforce, by housing indentured servants at his plantation. Also, Morton’s relationship with the Indians most definitely bothered Bradford. Morton traded with them, and later sold muskets to them, even showing the “natives” how to use the muskets. Morton was also “guilty” of consorting with Indian women. Throughout the whole section, Bradford’s Puritan Beliefs at least partially altered his representation of actual events.

Representation of Puritan theology is also heavily prevalent in Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation”. Included in Bradford’s writing are numerous Bible quotes, and praises to God for anything going right during the Puritans voyage. In the chapter called “On Their Voyage…”, Bradford tells of the condition of their ship. Due to the number of storms encountered during the voyage, “the ship was shroudly shaken, and her upper works made very leaky; and one of the main beams in the midships was bowed and cracked, which put them in some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voyage.”

After much consideration by the mariners, they decided to continue on with the voyage, rather than turning back to England. As Bradford put it, “So they committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed.” Also in the same section, after they landed “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….” Throughout the whole piece, there is much praise for God, and numerous bible quotes from Bradford.

Many of the reasons for Bradford writing “Of Plymouth Plantation” stems from his Puritan beliefs. For one, he wanted to establish a link between his Mayflower group (the group that traveled over the sea), and all future groups of Puritans. Right at the end of Chapter IX (“On Their Voyage…”), right at the end of the section, Bradford gives us a speech. He begins, “May not ought the children of these fathers rightly say “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity” etc. Let them therefore praise the Lord.”

He wanted to show that what his group did was “great”. They endured the persecution of the Anglicans in England, and then sailed over an ocean to an untamed land, and established a colony. Bradford’s story is one of hardship; the kind of hardship that the Puritans believe shows God is testing them. Bradford wants the future Puritans to never forget the hardships that his group had to endure. Bradford has a “sense” that what his first group of Puritans did was grand, and thus he wants to justify the acts of his group.

Bradford also wants to quell any questions or fears that any investors might have had. Bradford’s Puritan background influences a great deal of “Of Plymouth Plantation”. His beliefs sometimes affect his interpretation of events, as in his telling us of Thomas Morton. His Puritan beliefs also form the basis of the purpose of his writing. Still, Bradford manages to accomplish a great deal in this writing. He does immortalize the struggles of his Puritan camp at Plymouth, and he does a good job of accurately depicting the events during those same struggles.


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