Dr. Nilak Dutta
Introduction to American Literature HSS F399
30 September 2018
(title of the paper)
Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford is an account of the landing of the pilgrims and foundation of the Plymouth Colony, which is regarded as the starting point of American history. William Bradford brings his account of the colony up to 1646, having experienced everything first-hand. But his book is not just a factual and unbiased chronicle of events in the colony year by year. William Bradford was a Puritan and he keeps advertising the Puritan propaganda throughout the book. Bradford interprets the events that occurred as God’s will and struggles to find meaning in both that was good and bad for the pilgrims. He and the other Puritans thought that the land at Plymouth was the ‘Promised Land’ given to them by God.
Bradford talks about a very profane young man on their voyage, a seaman, who cursed the sick people and said he hoped to throw them overboard. The blasphemous young man soon got sick and died in a desperate manner. Bradford thinks that this was God’s way of reminding people of the proper demeanor of a Christian by saying, “they noted it to be the just hand of God upon him” (59).
He also talks about John Howland who got thrown overboard but “it pleased God” that he caught hold of the topsail halyards and his life was saved (59). Later he went on to become a profitable member of the church. Thus Bradford puts emphasis on these two incidents, as he thinks that it is God’s will that the blasphemous seaman died and the pious Christian came so close to death and still survived.
During their journey they also encountered fierce storms and crosswinds which damaged the Mayflower, the ship on which the pilgrims sailed to Plymouth, and made her upper works leaky. Many feared that the ship was not in a condition to complete the voyage, but they “committed themselves to the will of God ” and proceeded to repair the ship (59).
When the pilgrims encountered calamities and misfortunes, Bradford believed it to be God’s discontent. When the pilgrims reached Cape Cod, they proceeded southward and after sometime they fell upon dangerous shoals and roaring beakers and feared for their safety. Bradford says that it was God’s providence that they got out safely before night.
The pilgrims who set out to discover the land on their shallop encountered a fierce storm and their mast broke into three pieces, and their sail fell overboard. But they had the flood with them and “yet by God’s mercy they recovered”(65). He considers the pilgrims as saints, an elite group of people destined for eternal salvation who God protects like a parent protects their child: “yet God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshing (as usually He doth to His children)” (65).
Bradford compares the challenges the pilgrims faced in the New World to the ones Moses faced in the desert (61).
The pilgrims steal corn from the Americans and Bradford thanks the Lord for providing it for them : “Like the men from Eshcol, carried with them of the fruits of the land and showed their brethren; of which, and their return, they were marvelously glad and their hearts encouraged” (62). When some of the pilgrims set out on shallop they found seed to plant next year which Bradford calls “a special providence of God”. He also reflects that had they not come on their first voyage before this, they would not have found all of this as the ground was covered in snow and thanks the Lord saying, “the Lord is never wanting unto his in their greatest needs; let his holy name have all the praise” (63).
The reference from Eschol is from Numbers 13.23-26. Bradford’s Divine Providence analogy seems somewhat faulty here as he uses these verses to justify stealing, because not stealing is a direct commandment of the Bible. He also says that it was God’s Providence that the pilgrims had guns and arms and the Indians did not: “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 on the barricade, were shot through and through. Afterwards they gave God solemn thanks and praise for their deliverance” (64).