Today in Church History

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April 21, 2019 by directorfsm

William Bradford and Plymouth Plantation

William Bradford and Plymouth Plantation

Bradford and the Pilgrims

William Bradford attended two schools: the school of hard knocks, and the school of Christ. He lost his father at sixteen months old. Shortly after that, he was sent to live first with a grandfather and then with other relatives. He became a devout student of the Bible when just twelve, reading it through. When he was seventeen, he joined a group that wanted to pull out of the Church of England. Betrayed as he attempted to leave England, he was thrown into prison. But when he was twenty, Bradford left England in the company of other Separatists and settled down to hard work as a weaver in the Netherlands. Well-read, he became a leader of the Pilgrims who sailed to Plymouth in 1620.

New World Voyage

William Bradford Coastal Scene


The voyage to the New World was stormy. Intending to sail to Virginia, the Pilgrims blew off course and found themselves in New England. Their instructions from the Virginia company did not anticipate this changed circumstance, and so William Bradford, with other leaders, drew up and signed the Mayflower Compact.

William Bradford

They had named John Carver their governor. But Carver “came out of the field very sick, it being a hot day. He complained greatly of his head and lay down, and within a few hours his senses failed, so as he never spake more till he died, which was within a few days after (April 5, 1621).” On this day, April 21, 1621, the colonists chose William Bradford as Carver’s replacement. He proved to be a gentle but firm ruler and served thirty, one-year terms. This was not by his own choice. He rejoiced on the few occasions when someone else could be convinced to take a term.

Documenting Plymouth

Thanks to Bradford’s high position and his persistent early efforts to educate himself, he was well-equipped to write a history of the plantation. He completed this in 1651, six years before his death. In it, he gives the reasons why the Pilgrims felt it necessary to leave Leyden for the New World. One was the Pilgrim’s concern for their children, who were not only crushed by hard labor but were drawn away from Christ by the temptations of their adopted city, and “drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses.”

The Emigration Inspiration

But the Pilgrims’ paramount reason for transplanting to the New World was:

“a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world–yea, though they should be but even stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”¹


¹ First let me say if you ever get the opportunity to explore New England, specifically greater Boston with its rich history of surrounding the birth of our nation I would encourage you to do so. I would be glad to make recommendations. 

The second point I want to note is that if you go to Plymouth Plantation (again I would encourage this) be prepared for a revisionist history lesson.  They deny all claims that the Pilgrims came to America for anything to do with the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ. In 2007(?) I went toe to toe with the director of communications there after she published a local article that claimed Bradford and the leaders were only there for the money. I showed her Bradfords own diary entries (from the plantations bookstore) disproving her claims and she still argued that it didn’t matter.

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