English Class: American Literature

Lessons From Plymouth Plantation

In the early 1600s there was a group of Separatists who lived in Scrooby, England who were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Their difficulties increased as they continued to worship outside of the Church of England, and in 1609 this group of Separatists finally made their way to Holland in search of freedom to worship as they wished. However, after 12 years in Leiden, Holland and a war with Spain about to break out, the Separatists decided to leave their homes once again. They felt that the environment in Holland was bad for their children, who were not all remaining loyal to their beliefs. So, in 1620, after making the necessary preparations 102 passengers, including non-separatists, departed for America on the Mayflower. They had to leave behind the Speedwell  due to it being unseaworthy. When they finally landed in Cape Cod, more than 200 miles from their original destination, in was November, and the cold winter of New England had already set in. When winter was finally over half of the population had died. Over the next years the colony would finally establish itself and soon grow prosperous. But as more people left to seek greater opportunities the small colony dwindled, and in 1691 Plymouth Colony was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

One prominent figure in Plymouth Colony was William Bradford who lived from 1590 to 1657. In his journal Of Plymouth Plantation, he describes the Separatists move to Holland, coming to America, and the life of the colonists in Plymouth. As governor for thirty years, Bradford was a key shaper of Plymouth colony. Bradford wrote his journal to be a moral tale for others who would read it. One example of a moral tale in Of Plymouth Plantation was Bradford’s descriptions of how life in Holland influenced the Separatists’ children. He portrays it as a struggle between the Separatist parents trying to keep their children faithful to their beliefs and shielding them from the evil influence and the worldly, negative affect Holland had on many of their children. This is what he writes in his journal:

“But that which was more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of their children, by these occasions and the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents.”

We can see here that he wanted to warn other people of the dangers of being influenced by the world and of the struggle between good and evil. By giving the example of the situation in Holland, Bradford could better help the reader understand his message.

Another example was when Bradford discussed the privatization of property in the colony. He writes about how disastrous the situation was when property was communally shared. Young men didn’t want to work for other men’s families, old men thought it was not right to have to work as hard as younger and stronger men, and the women didn’t want to do work for other men. This communal situation breed discontent, laziness, and ultimately famine. However, once private property was instituted everyone started working harder because they knew they would reap the rewards of their own labour. Bradford wrote that because mankind is corrupt God had put in place private property to maintain order in society.

Throughout his book, Bradford tries to teach others moral lessons by using examples from the Separatists’ lives.

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