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Puritans in the New WorldA Critical Anthology
By David D. Hall
Princeton University PressDavid D. Hall
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WILLIAM BRADFORD, THE "PILGRIMS," AND THE FOUNDING OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION
In November 1620 a small group of English men and women reached the coast of New England. Another month passed before their ship, the Mayflower, anchored in Plymouth Bay, to the north of Cape Cod, and the emigrants went ashore to begin a permanent settlement at Plymouth. William Bradford (1589-1657) told the story of the "Pilgrims," the name by which this group became known in the nineteenth century, in a manuscript headed "Of Plimmoth Plantation." In his youth he had joined a group of Separatists, radical Puritans who pleaded the right of "conscience" to free themselves from "unlawful and anti-christian" aspects of the Church of England. In 1606 this group organized an independent (and therefore illegal) congregation in the village of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, under the leadership of two former ministers in the Church of England, Richard Clyfton and John Robinson. The congregation made its way to Amsterdam in 1607/8 but removed in 1609 to Leiden in order to escape the disarray within another Separatist community, the "Ancient Church," and the controversies surrounding John Smyth, a former minister and fellow Separatist who repudiated infant baptism and the doctrine of original sin.1
By 1617 the Leiden congregation was initiating steps to secure a "patent" to territory in North America that belonged to the Virginia Company of London. Among the reasons that the congregation had for leaving the Netherlands was the exiles' anxiety that living in a foreign land would cause their children to "lose our language and our name of English," a process of assimilation that eventually occurred among the families who remained there.2 Half of the passengers who had arrived on the Mayflower died during the first winter in New England, but the tiny colony was able to celebrate in November 1621 (the exact date is not specified in the records) a harvest feast that Americans look back to as the first "Thanksgiving."
Much of Bradford's history consists of letters and other texts that document the community's efforts to obtain a patent, pay off their creditors in England, control the unruly "strangers" who intruded on them, and negotiate a durable peace with the Native Americans. Bradford was at the center of all these efforts; elected governor in April 1621, he was annually reelected from 1627 to 1656. When he began to write Of Plymouth Plantation in 1630, completing the first ten chapters before putting the manuscript down, he was sharply aware of the newly founded colony of Massachusetts Bay, to the north. Wanting to defend the path of Separatism against its Puritan critics, he began by recalling the struggles of the Christian church against the Antichrist. Bradford located the Pilgrims within the framework of this struggle, conflating their persecution and survival with the "deliverance" of Christian martyrs as narrated by the fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius and retold by the English martyrologist John Foxe in his Book of Martyrs (1559, 1565). The overriding theme of Bradford's story was God's protecting providence. Yet Bradford's certainty about God's providence often gave way to uncertainty, for he "recognize[d] the faithful search for God's will as the major quest of the pilgrim's life."3 When Bradford described the "wilderness" that the emigrants had entered in 1620, he was writing as a moralist who understood the Christian life as constantly beset by adversity.
After a long interruption, he resumed writing in 1644 or 1645, now organizing his narrative around each year's events, or "annals." His audience had become the "young men" or "children" who had no first-hand experience of the early years and who were moving away from the communal center to live on "farms," a process that eventually affected every seventeenth-century New England town. Bradford rejoiced in the triumph of the Puritans in England and the "downfall of the Bishops, with their courts, canons, and ceremonies . . . it is the Lord's doing, and ought to be marvelous in our eyes!"4 But he also complained that the "sacred bond" uniting the Separatist community in the early years was "as it were insensibly by degrees [beginning] to dissolve, or in a great measure, to weaken." He wrote, therefore, to create a lasting "memorial" of the "constant faithfulness" and self-sacrificing practices of the "ancient members" of the community as counterweight to the "decay and want thereof" among the next generation.
Howard (1971); Levin (1972); Rosenmeier (1972); Anderson (2003), contesting Axtell (1985) and others on the Pilgrims' policy toward Native Americans; Gallagher and Werge (1976). The related primary sources are reprinted in Arber (1897) and Young (1841). See also Bradford's "Dialogue Between young Men Born in New England and Sundry Ancient Men that Came Out of Holland and Old England," in Young (1841).
Of Plymouth Plantation
And first of the occasion and inducements thereunto; the which, that I may truly unfold, I must begin at the very root and rise of the same. The which I shall endeavor to manifest in a plain style, with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things; at least as near as my slender judgment can attain the same.
It is well known unto the godly and judicious, how ever since the first breaking out of the light of the gospel in our honorable nation of England (which was the first of nations whom the Lord adorned therewith after the gross darkness of popery which had covered and overspread the Christian world),5 what wars and oppositions ever since, Satan hath raised, maintained and continued against the saints, from time to time, in one sort or other. Sometimes by bloody death and cruel torments; other whiles imprisonments, banishments and other hard usages; as being loath his kingdom should go down, the truth prevail and the churches of God revert to their ancient purity and recover their primitive order, liberty and beauty.
But when he could not prevail by these means against the main truths of the gospel, but that they began to take rooting in many places, being watered with the blood of the martyrs and blessed from heaven with a gracious increase; he then began to take him to his ancient stratagems, used of old against the first Christians. That when by the bloody and barbarous persecutions of the heathen emperors he could not stop and subvert the course of the gospel, but that it speedily overspread, with a wonderful celerity, the then best known parts of the world; he then began to sow errors, heresies and wonderful dissensions amongst the professors6 themselves, working upon their pride and ambition, with other corrupt passions incident to all mortal men, yea to the saints themselves in some measure, by which woeful effects followed. As not only bitter contentions and heartburnings, schisms, with other horrible confusions; but Satan took occasion and advantage thereby to foist in a number of vile ceremonies, with many unprofitable canons and decrees, which have since been as snares to many poor and peaceable souls even to this day.
So as in the ancient times, the persecutions by the heathen and their emperors was not greater than of the Christians one against other:-the Arians and other their complices against the orthodox and true Christians. As witnesseth Socrates in his second book.7 His words are these: "The violence truly (saith he) was no less than that of old practiced towards the Christians when they were compelled and drawn to sacrifice to idols; for many endured sundry kinds of torment, often rackings and dismembering of their joints, confiscating of their goods; some bereaved of their native soil, others departed this life under the hands of the tormentor, and some died in banishment and never saw their country again, etc."
The like method Satan hath seemed to hold in these later times, since the truth began to spring and spread after the great defection made by Antichrist, that man of sin.8
For to let pass the infinite examples in sundry nations and several places of the world, and instance in our own, when as that old serpent could not prevail by those fiery flames and other his cruel tragedies, which he by his instruments put in use everywhere in the days of Queen Mary and before, he then began another kind of war and went more closely to work; not only to oppugn but even to ruinate and destroy the kingdom of Christ by more secret and subtle means, by kindling the flames of contention and sowing the seeds of discord and bitter enmity amongst the professors (and seeming reformed) themselves. For when he could not prevail by the former means against the principal doctrines of faith, he bent his force against the holy discipline and outward regiment of the kingdom of Christ, by which those holy doctrines should be conserved, and true piety maintained amongst the saints and people of God.
Mr. Fox recordeth how that besides those worthy martyrs and confessors which were burned in Queen Mary's days and otherwise tormented, "Many (both students and others) fled out of the land to the number of 800, and became several congregations, at Wesel, Frankfort, Basel, Emden, Markpurge, Strasbourg and Geneva, etc."9 Amongst whom (but especially those at Frankfort) began that bitter war of contention and persecution about the ceremonies and service book, and other popish and anti-Christian stuff, the plague of England to this day, which are like the high places in Israel which the prophets cried out against, and were their ruin. Which the better part sought, according to the purity of the gospel, to root out and utterly to abandon. And the other part (under veiled pretences) for their own ends and advancements, sought as stiffly to continue, maintain and defend. As appeareth by the discourse thereof published in print, anno 1575; a book that deserves better to be known and considered.10
The one side labored to have the right worship of God and discipline of Christ established in the church, according to the simplicity of the gospel, without the mixture of men's inventions; and to have and to be ruled by the laws of God's Word, dispensed in those offices, and by those officers of pastors, teachers and elders, etc. according to the Scriptures.11 The other party, though under many colors and pretences, endeavored to have the episcopal dignity (after the popish manner) with their large power and jurisdiction still retained; with all those courts, canons and ceremonies, together with all such livings,12 revenues and subordinate officers, with other such means as formerly upheld their anti-Christian greatness and enabled them with lordly and tyrannous power to persecute the poor servants of God. This contention was so great, as neither the honor of God, the common persecution, nor the mediation of Mr. Calvin and other worthies of the Lord in those places, could prevail with those thus episcopally minded; but they proceeded by all means to disturb the peace of this poor persecuted church, even so far as to charge (very unjustly and ungodily yet prelatelike) some of their chief opposers with rebellion and high treason against the emperor, and other such crimes.
And this contention died not with Queen Mary, nor was left beyond the seas. But at her death these people returning into England under gracious Queen Elizabeth, many of them being preferred to bishoprics and other promotions according to their aims and desires, that inveterate hatred against the holy discipline of Christ in his church hath continued to this day. Insomuch that for fear it should prevail, all plots and devices have been used to keep it out, incensing the queen and state against it as dangerous for the commonwealth; and that it was most needful that the fundamental points of religion should be preached in those ignorant and superstitious times. And to win the weak and ignorant they might retain divers harmless ceremonies; and though it were to be wished that divers things were reformed, yet this was not a season for it.13 And many the like, to stop the mouths of the more godly, to bring them on to yield to one ceremony after another, and one corruption after another; by these wiles beguiling some and corrupting others till at length they began to persecute all the zealous professors in the land (though they knew little what this discipline meant) both by word and deed, if they would not submit to their ceremonies and become slaves to them and their popish trash, which have no ground in the Word of God, but are relics of that man of sin.14 And the more the light of the gospel grew, the more they urged their subscriptions to these corruptions. So as (notwithstanding all their former pretences and fair colors) they whose eyes God had not justly blinded might easily see whereto these things tended.
And to cast contempt the more upon the sincere servants of God; they opprobriously and most injuriously gave unto and imposed upon them that name of Puritans, which is said the Novatians out of pride did assume and take unto themselves.15 And lamentable it is to see the effects which have followed. Religion hath been disgraced, the godly grieved, afflicted, persecuted, and many exiled; sundry have lost their lives in prisons and other ways. On the other hand, sin hath been countenanced; ignorance, profaneness and atheism increased, and the papists encouraged to hope again for a day.
This made that holy man Mr. Perkins16 cry out in his exhortation to repentance, upon Zephaniah 2: "Religion (saith he) hath been amongst us this thirty-five years; but the more it is published, the more it is contemned and reproached of many, etc. Thus not profaneness nor wickedness but religion itself is a byword, a mockingstock, and a matter of reproach; so that in England at this day the man or woman that begins to profess religion and to serve God, must resolve with himself to sustain mocks and injuries even as though he lived amongst the enemies of religion." And this, common experience hath confirmed and made too apparent.17 But that I may come more near my intendment.
When as by the travail and diligence of some godly and zealous preachers, and God's blessing on their labors, as in other places of the land, so in the north parts, many became enlightened by the Word of God and had their ignorance and sins discovered unto them, and began by his grace to reform their lives and make conscience of their ways; the work of God was no sooner manifest in them but presently they were both scoffed and scorned by the profane multitude; and the ministers urged with the yoke of subscription, or else must be silenced. And the poor people were so vexed with apparitors and pursuivants and the commissary courts, as truly their affliction was not small.
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