Of Plymouth Plantation | Study Guide

William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation | Book 2, A.D. 1620–21 | Summary

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Summary

Book 2, A.D. 1620

Bradford first presents the "Deed of Government," written and signed by the Mayflower passengers. This document is usually known to modern scholars as the Mayflower Compact. In accordance with the Compact, the colonists elected John Carver governor and began setting down the basic laws of the colony. In the meantime, a harsh winter caused many of the 100 colonists to die of disease or starvation. Bradford contrasts the Pilgrims' compassionate treatment of one another with the rough and callous behavior of the Mayflower's crew, who were also suffering from illness.

In March, Samoset and Squanto, two Native American men who helped arrange a peace between New Plymouth and the neighboring chief Massasoit, visited the colonists. Both Samoset and Squanto spoke English, Squanto having been to England when he escaped from slavery in Spain. Squanto had been kidnapped by English explorer and trader Thomas Hunt in 1614 and sold into slavery to the Spanish. He made his way back to North America in 1619. Squanto then remained with the colonists long enough to help them learn to farm, fish, and trap in the New World. Bradford closes the chapter with a brief biography of Squanto, supplemented by the writings of English explorer Thomas Dermer.

Book 2, A.D. 1621

In April 1621 the Mayflower returned to England after a longer delay than originally planned. Those who had survived the winter began planting wheat, a European crop, alongside maize, or "Indian corn." Governor John Carver died later that month, and Bradford was elected to replace him. To further their peace with Massasoit, the colonists sent a delegation bearing gifts. The harvest that autumn was small but adequately supplemented with fish and game. In November Robert Cushman and three dozen others arrived unexpectedly on board a small ship, the Fortune, thus putting a strain on food and supplies. The Fortune returned to England with the first consignment of trade goods from the colony. After a threatening message from the Narragansett tribe, the colonists appointed a night watch and started fortifying their settlement.

Analysis

Squanto, or Tisquantum, is by far the most famous of the many Native Americans who welcomed, resisted, or simply endured the arrival of English colonists in New England. His prior experiences, briefly stated in Bradford's entry for 1620, left him uniquely suited for the task of brokering peace between the English and the Wampanoag. Squanto was himself a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, which shared both a language and a border with the Wampanoag. Although history rightly emphasizes Squanto's role in helping the colony survive, Bradford had his misgivings about the relationship. Squanto drew considerable bargaining power from his friendship with the English, and he evidently used this power on occasion to coerce gifts or other concessions from neighboring tribes. Though he does not shortchange Squanto's assistance, Bradford ultimately sees him as a man who "sought his own ends and played his own game."

Less is known about Samoset, the first to introduce the New Plymouth colonists to the Wampanoag. A sagamore, or chief, of the Abenaki tribe in Maine, he was engaged in diplomacy with Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief, at the time the English settlers arrived. He spoke relatively little English but was instrumental in bringing the English into contact with both Squanto and Massasoit. The latter was, to be more specific about his title, the grand sachem of the Wampanoag, meaning he stood at the head of this confederation of tribes. This position made him an important regional ally throughout the next four decades.

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