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Examination Of Puritan Philosophy In Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation” Essay, Research Paper
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
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
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
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