William Bradford

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William Bradford (March 1590 - May 9, 1657) was the governor of the Plymouth colony for 30 years.

Bradford fled England when he was 17 years old and, along with other persecuted Pilgrims, went to Holland. When he was 30, he sailed to America with the other Pilgrims on the Mayflower, and he helped draft the Mayflower Compact. The Pilgrims elected him governor in 1621. He was so popular that he was reelected 30 more times, until his eventual death.

Plymouth Plantation

He wrote the leading book about the Pilgrim settlement, History of the Plymouth Plantation (1650), in which, he said:[1]

Since ye first breaking out of ye lighte of ye gospell in our Honourable Nation of England ... what warrs and opposissions ... Satan hath raised ... against the Saints ... by bloody death and cruell torments ... imprisonments, banishments ... What could now sustaine them but ye spirite of God and His grace? ... Ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our fathers ... came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto ye Lord, and He heard their voyce. ... All great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties ... Out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing ... and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.


Bradford's experience at Plymouth is often cited as the first Thanksgiving[2], but it is also a lesson in economics. Bradford wrote in his History of the Plymouth Plantation about the colonists' experiences using collectivist and individualist forms of farming:[3]

The experience that was had in this comone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times; - that ye taking away of propertie, and bringing in comunitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymet that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For ye yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, without any recompence. The string, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter ye other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and [97] equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c., with ye meaner & yonger sorte, thought it some indignite & disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it.

Besides the purely economic view, letting people live their lives individually also brought more content and harmony among the citizens.

So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length, after much debate of things, the Gov (with ye advise of ye cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corne every man for this owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves; in all other things to goe on in ye generall way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcell of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance), and ranged all boys and youth under some familie. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means ye Gov or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into ye feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; who to have compelled would have been thought great tiranie and oppression.

Primary sources


  1. http://www.amerisearch.net/index.php?date=2004-03-19&view=View
  2. William Bradford and the First Thanksgiving
  3. (1856) The History of Plimoth Plantation, 135-136.