Of Plymouth Plantation | Study Guide

William Bradford

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Of Plymouth Plantation | Book 2, A.D. 1643–46 | Summary

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Summary

Book 2, A.D. 1643

William Brewster, the spiritual leader of the New Plymouth congregation, died in April 1643. Bradford commemorates his friend with some brief notes on Brewster's life, career, and character, describing him as wise, discreet, well spoken, cheerful, and modest. He also seizes the occasion to remark on the surprising longevity of the Pilgrims, many of whom have lived into their 60s and 70s.

Violence was mounting between the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes (the latter Bradford calls the "Monhiggs"). Faced with the possibility of armed conflict on multiple fronts, New Plymouth banded together with Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven to form the United Colonies of New England. When the Narragansett chief Miantinomo was captured, the colonists sanctioned his execution.

Book 2, A.D. 1644

The original New Plymouth community continued to disperse to outlying towns during this year to Bradford's disappointment. War between the Narragansetts and the Mohegans reached its height and then ceased when the United Colonies arranged a truce.

Book 2, A.D. 1645

The truce, however, was short lived, and the United Colonies prepared to enter the war, levying a force of 300 men. Once the Narragansetts became aware of the English colonists' plans to intervene, they quickly concluded a peace treaty, agreeing to pay a tribute in the form of wampum.

Book 2, A.D. 1646

This extremely succinct chapter tells of Thomas Cromwell, a ship captain, who came ashore with a group of hard-drinking, "very unruly" sailors. In attempting to break up a fight among his men, Cromwell accidentally killed one of them but was acquitted of any crime. He subsequently died in a horse-riding accident. The final event mentioned in the chronicle is Edward Winslow's return to England to address the "many slanders" being uttered about New Plymouth. As of 1650, when Bradford stopped writing, Winslow had not yet returned.

Analysis

Bradford's writings leave off in 1646, just over a third of the way through the formal existence of Plymouth Colony. During those 26 years, the colony grew and changed considerably, undergoing cycles of prosperity and scarcity, war and peace. In 1620 New England had virtually no Englishmen, but it did have a thriving Native American population. By 1646 thousands of English colonists populated the region, and war and disease had eaten away at the Native communities.

Several trends attested in Of Plymouth Plantation continued in the latter half of the 17th century. Initially, New Plymouth had been a close-knit religious community whose members knew one another and settled in a small, fortified village. By the 1640s, however, several towns had split from the original New Plymouth settlement, many of them with their own churches. At the time Bradford stopped writing, the religious and political ties holding Plymouth Colony together had weakened considerably. Although the United Colonies were able to prevent the rekindling of the Narragansett/Mohegan war, tensions between colonists and Native peoples erupted dramatically in the later Great Narragansett War (1675–76), also known as King Philip's War.

Throughout its 70-year history, Plymouth Colony petitioned for various forms of official recognition, including patents to establish trading posts in the region. Some of these requests were granted, but some—through malice, delay, or mere politicking—were denied. The colony never received a royal charter, which would have marked the Crown's permanent legal recognition of New Plymouth as a territorial entity. In 1691 the Massachusetts Bay Colony had its own charter extended to include the New Plymouth territory, and New Plymouth ceased to exist as a separate colony.

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