Examination of Puritan Philosophy in Bradford\'s "On Plymouth Plantation"


The Puritan people first came to the New World to escape the religious
persecution that hounded Non-Anglicans in England. They established the
Plymouth Colony in 1620, in what is now Massachusetts. The colony was a
reflection of the Puritans\' beliefs. These beliefs, along with the experience
of establishing a colony in "the middle of nowhere", affected the writings of
all who were involved with the colony. In this writing, the Puritan philosophy
behind William Bradford\'s "Of Plymouth Plantation" will be revealed. Some
factors that will be considered include: how Puritan beliefs affect William
Bradford\'s interpretation of events, the representation of Puritan theology in
the above mentioned text, and how Puritanism forms the basis for Bradford\'s
motivation in writing.
In Bradford\'s text, there are numerous instances in which his beliefs
affect his interpretation of what happens. In Chapter IX (nine) of "Of Plymouth
Plantation", entitled "Of Their Voyage…" , he tells of a sailor "..of a lusty,
able body.." who "would always be condemning the poor people in their sickness
and cursing them daily….he didn\'t let to tell them that he hoped to help cast
half of them overboard before they came to their journey\'s end". But, "it
pleased God before they came half-seas over, to smite this young man with a
grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the
first that was thrown overboard". Bradford believes that the sailor died
because God was punishing him. According to Bradford, the sailor\'s cursing, and
mistreatment of the other passengers displeased God, so God punished him
accordingly.
In the same chapter, Bradford tells of another ship passenger named John
Howland. At one point in the trip, the Mayflower came upon a violent storm.
The winds of the storm were so fierce, and the seas were so high, that all the
sailors and passengers had to "hull for divers days together". During this
storm, a young man named John Howland was thrown into the sea, and as Bradford
tells us, "it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung
overboard and ran out at length". Howland caught hold of a rope, and "though he
was sundry fathoms under water", he held on until he was hauled up. Bradford
reasons that the man was saved because he was blessed by God. He goes on to say
that he "became a profitable member in both church and state, implying that John
Howland was one of the so called "Puritan Saints". To the Puritans, Saints were
people whom God was to save, so these people received God\'s blessings, and
therefore were profitable in Puritan society.
In Chapter X (ten) of Bradford\'s writing, entitled "Showing How They
Sought Out a Place…", Bradford tells us about an Indian attack on his people.
Some explorers went out to explore the area around Cape Cod. As they are
resting, the Indians attack. "And withal, their arrows came flying amongst
them." He continues "Their men ran with all their speed to recover their arms,
as by the good province of God they did." Bradford belief that the Puritans are
God\'s "chosen" shows in his writing, and affects his narration of the story.
After telling us of the attack, he adds, "Thus it pleased God to vanquish their
enemies, and give them deliverance; and by his special providence so to dispose
that not any one of them were either hurt or hit, though their arrows came close
by them, and on every side [of] them; and sundry of their coats, which hung up
in the barricado, were shot through and through."
In nowhere else does Bradford\'s Puritan beliefs affect his
interpretation of events in his writing as much as in Book II, Chapter XIX of
"Of Plymouth Plantation", entitled "Thomas Morton of Merrymount". Throughout
the chapter, Bradford tells of a Thomas Morton. His disdain for Morton shows
throughout the entire section.
As the story of goes, there is a plantation in Massachusetts called
Mount Wollaston owned and run by a Captain Wollaston. On this plantation were
indentured servants. Captain Wollaston sometimes went to Virginia on trips to
sell some of his indentured servants. On one particular trip, Wollaston puts a
man named Fitcher to be his Lieutenant, and thus govern the Plantation until he
returned.
But, as Bradford puts it, "..this Morton above said, having more craft
than honesty (who had been a kind of pettifogger of Furnival\'s Inn) in the
others\' absence watches an opportunity, and got some strong drink and other
junkets and made them a feast; and after they were