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.