Born in Yorkshire, William Bradford was one of the founding members of Plymouth Colony and among the first group of passengers aboard the Mayflower. He was elected the colony's second governor in 1621, an office he held for most of the next 35 years. As leader, Bradford helped the colony overcome poverty and starvation, maintain peace with Native American and European neighbors, and negotiate with investors back home. Although Of Plymouth Plantation ends in 1646, Bradford lived another 10 years. He retired from the governorship in 1656, not long before his death in May 1657.
Born in 1566, William Brewster studied briefly at Cambridge and was a founding member of the English Separatist congregation at Scrooby. He was already well established as a member of this community when they emigrated to the Netherlands in 1608. Brewster was among the passengers on the 1620 Mayflower voyage and is thought to have cowritten the Mayflower Compact. He was highly regarded within the colony, but his status as a nonordained minister sometimes created trouble with the Church of England. In Of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford describes Brewster's death in 1644 as a grave loss to the colony.
Myles Standish was an English soldier, possibly a mercenary, who fought in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century. Hired by the Separatist congregation to serve as their military advisor, he was formally elected in 1621 captain of the Plymouth militia, a title he retained for decades. Standish is praised as a decisive and skillful leader, though sometimes overly passionate and occasionally cruel. He is one of few non-Puritan colonists to appear in a favorable light in Bradford's writings.
Squanto, a Native American of the Pawtuxet tribe, was kidnapped by English sailors in 1614 and sold into slavery. At some point between then and 1620, he "got away [to] England," as Bradford mysteriously puts it. He then made his way back to North America and had resettled there when the English colonists arrived. Squanto's help was indispensable to the colony's survival. During the crucial early years, he served as a liaison and translator between the English and their Native American neighbors. He also schooled the English colonists in the basics of survival in New England. He taught them to plant maize and to fertilize the soil with fish to ensure a successful harvest. He also helped the colonists get their footing in the fur trade, a major source of income for the colony and its principal means of financing its debts.
Born in England, John Carver helped organize the Separatist exodus to the Netherlands and their later voyage to New Plymouth. Carver was a signatory and possible coauthor of the Mayflower Compact, the colony's original governing document. In Book I of his colonial history, Bradford praises Carver for his piety and leadership. His sudden death in April 1621 was, Bradford says, a great loss to the colony.
Isaac Allerton was one of the original Mayflower passengers and a signatory of the Mayflower Compact. He served as assistant governor during the early days of Plymouth Colony and then was sent to England to manage the colony's business with its London investors. Over the course of his chronicle, Bradford grows increasingly frustrated with Allerton, who frequently committed colonial funds to unauthorized projects. Allerton's family connection may have shielded him from harsher criticism.