Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Lost Manuscript of Gov. William Bradford

The priceless manuscript Of Plymouth Plantation, penned by Gov. William Bradford, was once lost for almost a century.  I don't know about you, but I'm just glad the poor guy was long gone so he didn't have to know about it!! 

The Bradford manuscript is the single most complete authoritative history of the Pilgrim life and travels from 1608-1647. Gov. Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth Colony and architect of the Mayflower Compact, chronicled nearly three decades of the Pilgrims experiences.  It follows the journey of the English Separatists to Holland and then on to the Plymouth Colony aboard the Mayflower. It tells of their difficult arrival, in which half of their expedition perished during the first six months, and records their first encounter with the Native Americans.  In fact, this book is how we have come to know about the first Thanksgiving.

Although Bradford never attempted to publish the manuscript, he did intend for it to be preserved and read by others:

    "I have been the larger in these things, and so shall crave leave in some like passages following, (though in other things I shall labour to be more contract) that their children may see with what difficulties their fathers wrestled in going through these things in their first beginnings, and how God brought them along notwithstanding all their weaknesses and infirmities. As also that some use may be made hereof in after times by others in such like weighty employments; and herewith I will end this chapter."

So how does a manuscript of such historical significance get lost? The book remained in the Bradford family, being passed down from son to son, for nearly a century.

"The book was rit by Govener William bradford and given to his son mager William Bradford And by him to his son mager John Bradford. rit by me Samuel bradford mach 20, 1705."

At times it was loaned for the perusal of others, including Increase Mather, for research in writing historical tomes.  It wast loaned to Rev. Thomas Prince for use in his publication of Chronological History which was published in 1736.  To ensure attribution of proper ownership Prince wrote the following in the inside flap under Samuel Bradford's notation.

"But major Bradford tells me and; assures me that He only lent this Book of his Grandfather's to Mr. Sewall ; that it being of his Grandfather's own hand writing He had so high a value of it that he would never Part with ye Property, but would lend it to me; desired me to get it, which I did;  write down this that sd Major Bradford and his Heirs may be known to be the right owners."

When Prince died in 1758, the book was deposited in the New England Library, in the tower of the Old South Church in Boston. During the American Revolution the Church was sieged by British soldiers.  A host of documents were taken by the British to Nova Scotia where many of them were destroyed.   Of Plymouth Plantation was thought to be lost forever.

In about 1890 two Boston gentlemen were in a bookstore in England and came across the History of the Colonial Church, an English book, which referenced the manuscript. In fact, it stated that Of Plymouth Plantation was in the library of the Bishop of London.  The Bishop was reluctant to return the book a half a century of negotiation ensued. At last a new Bishop of London was appointed who felt cordial toward the United States and declared that if he were given the authorization by his superior, the Archbishop of Canterbury, he would return the tome. By a whimsical chance he was soon appointed to Archbishop of Canterbury and after so many years of deliberation Gov. William Bradford's original manuscript was at last returned to America.  In 1897 is was returned and rendered into a modern translation by Harold Paget in 1909 - one hundred years ago.

My husband and sons are descendants of this esteemed forefather. Bradford (first name) is indeed named for him. Our oldest son, Justin, bears it as his middle name. This book then, to us, is both a family and an American treasure.

This Thanksgiving is Brad's birthday.  He once owned a copy of The History of Plymouth Plantation (current name of manuscript) which we had purchased in Plymouth, MA.  The book was destroyed in a  fire , so I thought I'd replace it for him this year. Just think, if this manuscript had not been found, he wouldn't be getting this present for his Thanksgiving/birthday.  Nor would we he be able to share this written heritage with his sons. That is something to be thankful for!  And while we are on the subject . . . Gov. Bradford recorded the fact that my own ancestor, John Howland, fell off the Mayflower and almost drowned.  If he hadn't been rescued, I wouldn't be here blogging about it!

Happy Birthday, Brad!  Happy Thanksgiving, all!

How would you feel if your manuscript were lost? How can you preserve history with your writing?


  1. My heart would sink if I lost a manuscript. Considering this makes me realize that if I never submit any of my work for publication, that it would be lost.

    There may be an exception to this, though. I am fascinated with genealogy and have been trying to record some of our family stories on my blog http://familyhistory.wordpress.com.Hopefully other family members who share my passion might help pass the stories along and preserve the legacy.

    I'd like to talk more about this in a post another time. Would you like that?

  2. I'm a complete history buff and I've read parts of this journal, reprinted in other works, but I would love to read it all the way through. Maybe I'll pick up a copy with my next Amazon order.

    Family heritage is another favorite subject of mine. My family's surname is Lewis and we go back to the 1600s in America as well. Lots of colorful characters in all those years!

  3. What a great story! After the amount of work I've done, I'd feel like I'd lost a family member.

    Is the book you referenced still available? I guess I should check Amazon. :)


  4. That was very interesting. I had no idea that manuscript had been lost. And how cool to know such a thing about your own ancestor, Carla. Fell off the Mayflower! I wonder if he could laugh about it, years later?

    I have a family tree dating back to 1610, when the first of my ancestors sailed from England to the New World, but no specific anecdotes about them.

  5. Glad you enjoyed the post. I just love history, too! If you look hard enough usually you can find some tid bit in a will or some type of narrative online about early New England ancestors. Toss me a couple of names and I just might have something tucked away in my research files. My ancestors settled in the Essex county,MA area, and a few around Kittery, ME. As Pegg said, there were a lot of colorful characters back in the day.

    I think it's a pretty crazy thing about falling off the Mayflower, but I'm sure he didn't think so. It probably did give him something to laugh about years later. He was a very devout Christian, as was his wife. I wonder if his harrowing experience settled any doubts he might have had.

    I posted a link to the book at Amazon in the post if you're interested.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving!

    I had no idea they'd lost his journal/manuscript. Good thing they found it!

  7. Isn't that so cool that is was found? Even though it was lost, what a great find now! I think I know one item that would thrill DH to have on his Christmas list, his family came to these shores eons ago. :)

  8. I really enjoyed reading about this bit of history.But I think it is really cool to know your relatives and who they are like that!


Thanks for visiting Adventures of the Heart. Be sure to check back for my responses to your comments. Be blessed!