Of Plymouth Plantation | Study Guide

William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation | Book 1, Chapters 9–10 | Summary

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Summary

Book 1, Chapter 9

On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower set sail once more from Plymouth, England. The voyage was an arduous one, with many of the crew and passengers falling sick. Despite illness and the "many fierce storms" the ship encountered, only one passenger died on the way over. The ship arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, to the great relief of all those on board. Bradford closes by reminding his readers of the many dangers still to be faced by the newly arrived Pilgrims.

Book 1, Chapter 10

With winter on the way, the Pilgrims needed to build shelter quickly. An expedition party landed and followed the tracks left by a small band of Native Americans, which led to a source of fresh water and a small abandoned village. The colonists took food and other items from the village's stores, intending—so they said—to pay the residents back later. In early December, having scouted the coast for some weeks, they happened upon the harbor of New Plymouth, where they decided to establish their settlement. The Mayflower arrived in the harbor on the 16th, and construction began on the 25th.

Analysis

Bradford describes the discovery of the abandoned village as a gesture of divine providence. If God had not left the corn, beans, and other supplies for the colonists to find, he says, then the colony would likely have starved. Without seed to plant in the spring of 1621, the colonists indeed would have had an extremely difficult time surviving another winter. They had brought along their own Old World crops, such as wheat, but these simply did not thrive in coastal New England soil.

The reasons for this remarkable coincidence, however, are less mysterious than Bradford lets on. The village was empty either because of its occupants' seasonal way of life or because of a disaster that visited the Native American population shortly before the Pilgrims' arrival. The village belonged to the Wampanoag, who lived in coastal settlements, like the one the colonists discovered, during the warmer months but retreated inland to the forests during wintertime. The seeds and other supplies found there were thus likely intended for use the following spring by those who had left them behind.

If the village had been abandoned permanently, it was likely as a result of the disease outbreaks that ravaged the Wampanoag in 1617 and 1618. The Mayflower colonists arrived to find Cape Cod and the surrounding region much more sparsely populated than was described in the European accounts of the 1600s and 1610s. Whether or not it visited this particular village, the plague had almost wiped out the Wampanoag in the precise area where the Mayflower colonists then settled.

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