Of Plymouth Plantation | Study Guide

William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation | Book 2, A.D. 1624–25 | Summary

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Summary

Book 2, A.D. 1624

Despite their agreement with the New Plymouth government, private settlers in the area began to make trouble, inciting some of the colonists to leave the settlement and strike out on their own. A letter from James Sherley, one of the colony's investors, tells of quarreling among the others back in London. Despite this dissension, in early 1624 the investors sent over a fishing ship, with men and materials for boat building and salt making.

Another letter lists various rumors heard in England about the colony's struggles with crime, poverty, and irreligion. These Bradford debunks one by one. Finally, letters from John Robinson—the Pilgrims' pastor back in Leyden—exhort the colonists to treat the Native Americans humanely and to await patiently the arrival of the rest of the congregation.

The colony, by now, had cultivated a successful agricultural routine, with the famine years behind them. Other ventures, however, fared less well. Boat building proceeded briskly until the master builder died. Salt making failed utterly and wasted a lot of money in the process. Two other new arrivals, John Lyford and John Oldham, were initially welcomed, but they quickly set to work to overthrow the church and government at New Plymouth. Their plot was foiled when Bradford intercepted their letters home. Confronted with the evidence, the two men were sentenced to exile from the colony: Oldham immediately, Lyford after six months. In the interim, Lyford pretended to repent but was soon found sending seditious letters to England again.

Book 2, A.D. 1625

Bradford now gives the story of Oldham and Lyford in greater detail. Oldham returned to the colony in the spring of 1625, defying his sentence of exile. Locked up and banished once more, he then sailed for Virginia, where he mended his ways before his death. Lyford, it was discovered, had come to Plymouth after an extramarital affair ruined his reputation in Ireland. After being exiled from New Plymouth, he too went to Virginia, where he died not long after. Meanwhile, several English investors backed out of the Plymouth project, citing heavy losses at sea. In hopes of salvaging the agreement, Captain Myles Standish was sent to London, but a plague outbreak there hindered both negotiations and trade.

Analysis

By the mid-1620s, Bradford's writings contain an increasing number of references to other colonial histories already in print. The most important of these, and the one Bradford likely has in mind, is Mourt's Relation, Edward Winslow's account of New Plymouth during its first year. His text is somewhat more literary and less utilitarian in style than Bradford's, and it contains many naturalistic and geographic details Bradford overlooks. It also includes insights into the intertribal politics of the local Native American groups, fleshing out Bradford's more simplified map of tribal allegiances and influences. Notably, Winslow also saw fit to include (as does Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation) the entire text of the Mayflower Compact, the original governing agreement of Plymouth Colony. Winslow's work was originally published in 1622 as A Journal or Relation of the Proceedings of the Plantation Settled at Plymouth in New England. It takes its shorter name from its publisher, George Morton.

From 1622–23 Winslow compiled a sequel of sorts to Mourt's Relation, entitled Good News from New England. Published in 1624, and like the Relation, it is essentially a chronological journal of happenings in the colony. The preface to Good News is notable in its own right as a reflection of the Pilgrims' preoccupation with their colony's reputation back in England. Bradford, Winslow, and the others were well aware that slanderous rumors about New Plymouth were being spread not only in the upper echelons of English society but also in the popular press. Their writings can therefore be considered part of a public relations campaign aimed at dispelling misinformation that could jeopardize the colony's funding or even its existence. Winslow specifically addresses the arrival and failure of the Weston colonists (1622–23), who, he predicts, will complain about New England "because she would not foster them in their desired idle courses." In other words, he is hoping to pre-empt the "sour grapes" attitude of colonists whose failures were caused by their own unruly behavior.

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