Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Success at Plymouth

William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony, died on this day in 1657 in Plymouth, Massachusetts at the age of about 67.

William Bradford's record of building a permanent settlement out of the virgin lands of the Massachusetts coast almost makes Walter Raleigh, John White and John Smith look like Moe, Larry and Curly. Raleigh and White misplaced a couple of groups of colonists at Roanoke between 1588 and 1590; Smith's Jamestown colony was an unmitigated disaster of Indian wars, internal mistrust and starvation which limped along until James I took it over from the brink of bankrupcty after 17 years; but within 6 short years, Bradford led the Plymouth colony in the repayment of all of its debts and the successful buy-out of its original investors amid relative peace and prosperity.

The difference may have been in their aims: while Moe, Larry and Curly came to North America in search of a quick score of gold nuggets lying on the shore, Bradford came to honor God. When he was 12 he became a member of the Separatist Church in Yorkshire, an offshoot of the Puritans, and at 19 he moved to Holland with a group of like-minded "nonconformists" in search of religious freedom. Not finding it there, he helped to organize the Mayflower voyage in which about 100 "pilgrims" sailed to the New World in 1620.

Upon arriving, he was one of the framers of the "Mayflower Compact," an agreement for voluntary civic cooperation, and as governor during almost every year from 1621 to 1656, he maintained peace treaties with Massasoit and the Wampanoag Indians; initiated such democratic institutions as town meetings and elections; helped to avoid starvation by directing the cultivation of corn; and maintained an environment of toleration for all nonconformists. He also left behind a valuable, well-written account of the colony, History of Plymouth Plantation (1620-47).

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