Of Plymouth Plantation | Study Guide

William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation | Book 2, A.D. 1633–35 | Summary

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Summary

Book 2, A.D. 1633

This chapter opens with two letters from James Sherley, one of the London investors in the colony. Sherley complains to Bradford of the ways in which Isaac Allerton, the former colonial agent, has cheated them both out of a considerable amount of money and almost ruined Sherley in the process. Remarking on the letters, Bradford holds little hope that Sherley would help him recover any of the missing money.

The major events of the year include the arrival of Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, and the establishment of an ill-fated trading post on the Connecticut River. The trading post, Bradford reports, was poorly received by the Dutch, who had claimed control of that territory. Back at New Plymouth, an outbreak of fever claimed 20 lives, and a "plague of flies" visited the region.

Book 2, A.D. 1634

This year brought "one of the saddest things" to befall the New England colonists: the death of two colonists in a dispute over trade. New Plymouth had been granted rights to keep a trading house at Kennebec, but John Hocking, a colonist from another settlement, planned to circumvent them by establishing his own trading outpost farther upriver. When the colonists at Kennebec tried to stop Hocking, he shot one of them and was in turn shot dead. News of Hocking's death reached England, and a dispute arose among the New England colonies as to who was responsible. Ultimately the survivors of the skirmish were acquitted and the guilt assigned to Hocking. Edward Winslow, a New Plymouth leader, returned to England with a large cargo of trade goods. An outbreak of smallpox drastically reduced the Native American population along the Connecticut River.

Book 2, A.D. 1635

In England, Edward Winslow was at first optimistic about his ability to resolve all the colony's accounts, returning with a clear understanding of who owed what to whom. He also hoped to petition the English government for permission to defend the colony against the Dutch and the French. In the course of making this petition, however, Winslow was arrested and imprisoned on orders of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who viewed him as a heretic. Meanwhile, James Sherley and the colony's other English partners continued to resist efforts to bring the accounts current or to settle debts relating to the White Angel. Back in New England, the French seized the Penobscot trading post, and an attempt to recover it failed completely. The New Plymouth colonists attempted to form a mutual defense pact with the Massachusetts Bay Colony but were bogged down in a border dispute.

Analysis

Roger Williams is a relatively minor figure in New Plymouth history, much better known for what he accomplished after leaving the colony. Born in London about 1603, Williams studied at Cambridge before moving to North America in 1631. A religious nonconformist, Williams believed people should be free to worship as their consciences dictated. He also held unorthodox political ideas for an Englishman of his time, arguing the Native Americans should be paid for lands settled by English colonists. After living briefly in Boston, he lived in Massachusetts Bay Colony, but did not join the church there. Instead he proceeded to New Plymouth, as Bradford describes, and then returned to Massachusetts Bay to take up a pastorship in Salem. His views on the separation of church and state led to his banishment from Massachusetts Bay. However, this time, rather than traveling to another established colony, he founded his own on the shores of Narragansett Bay. Established in 1636, Rhode Island became noted for its tolerance of religious diversity, attracting Quakers, Baptists, and others persecuted for their beliefs.

The "flies" Bradford mentions at the end of 1633 are cicadas, which emerge from the ground every 13 or 17 years depending on the species. The loud songs and large numbers of the swarm made an impression on Bradford, who described them in almost biblical terms. His description here is the first known European account of a periodical cicada swarm. Bradford is probably mistaken about the cicadas "eating the verdure," because adult cicadas emerge from the ground only to mate and deposit their eggs. The grubs, living underground for upward of a decade, do eat plants but feed on the sap of the roots, not the leaves.

As the colonies grew in size, territorial conflicts like those occurring in 1634 and 1635 became inevitable. Each of the colonies had a patchwork of official documents authorizing its residents to build and settle in different parts of New England. However, owing partly to political wrangling in England and partly to Europeans' limited knowledge of New England geography, these territorial grants often overlapped. This situation led to clashes, sometimes fatal, as in the Hocking incident. In other cases, nonviolent resolutions were reached but only after much time and effort were expended drawing and redrawing borders. Even then, the colonists were ultimately at the mercy of the many powerful Englishmen—merchants, politicians, and churchmen—who might petition the King and his counselors to repartition the territory. According to Bradford, this is one reason William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, was so hostile to Winslow and the New Plymouth project in general. Laud and his political allies, Bradford says, wanted to seize the colony and transform it into an outpost of High Church Anglicanism.

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