Of Plymouth Plantation | Study Guide

William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation | Book 2, A.D. 1639–42 | Summary



Book 2, A.D. 1639–40

In these years, New Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay made a joint effort to redraw their boundaries to prevent further territorial disputes. Much of this chapter describes the minutiae of boundary drawing, complete with a copy of the final agreement between the two colonies. Meanwhile, efforts to wind up the colony's accounts with their English creditors reached an impasse when the colonists refused to send anyone to England to oversee the process. Their reluctance was based in large part on the ill treatment Edward Winslow had received when he was in England. Cattle prices fell sharply, making it that much harder for the colonists to manage their debts.

Book 2, A.D. 1641

At last, James Sherley (one of the colony's agents in England) proposed the accounts be settled with the help of some intermediaries living in New England. The chapter consists mainly of the text of this final agreement, which values the colonists' outstanding debts at £2,400 and establishes a new payment schedule. The other main development this year was the departure of the Reverend Charles Chauncey as the colony's minister. His opinions differed sharply from those of the congregation on some basic points, such as the proper way of performing baptisms. The differences became irreconcilable, and after three years at Plymouth Colony, Chauncey found another position at a church in nearby Scituate, Massachusetts.

Book 2, A.D. 1642

This year's chapter is very short and consists almost entirely of James Sherley's reply to the agreement proposed in 1641. Sherley's letter, sent in June 1642, expresses approval of the settlement and further specifies the terms on which the debt should be repaid. Andrews, one of the two other English investors, went along with the same terms stipulated by Sherley. Beauchamp, the third investor, was less cooperative, and separate arrangements had to be made with him.


It was important for Plymouth Colony to settle accounts with its English partners, not least to protect its reputation as a safe place for trade and future investment. Nevertheless, it's not surprising that none of the colonists wanted to return to England in person, given the way Edward Winslow had been treated in 1635. Bradford explicitly mentions the possibility of another run-in with Archbishop Laud and questions the wisdom of sending a representative, "as things then were over there." This remark suggests a significant gap in Bradford's knowledge of the current state of religious politics in England.

In 1640 "things" were changing rapidly for the English Church. Archbishop Laud, who had instigated the harassment and imprisonment of Winslow, was now past the height of his power. He had never been liked by the public, who saw him as an oppressive extremist who wanted to take the Church back to the Middle Ages. As opposition to Laud's policies mounted among the gentry and nobility as well, the archbishop quickly transformed from predator to prey. He was imprisoned at the end of the year, tried for treason and other crimes in 1644, and executed in 1645.

Ultimately, Sherley, not Bradford, was able to read the situation in England correctly. This is not surprising, because Sherley was in London and Bradford thousands of miles away. Sherley gets it essentially right when he says in 1641 that "our bishops were never so near a downfall as now." A year after those words were written, the English Civil War would break out, ushering in more than a decade of Puritan rule. Bishops had no place within the new system, and their offices were abolished in 1646.

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