Stepping Stones: Plymouth Plantation

“Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.” William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Quoted in William J. Federer, America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, p. 67

American Minute with Bill Federer

May 9 – William Bradford, Pilgrim Governor

William Bradford died on MAY 9, 1657.

Sailing on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims, he was chosen as Governor of the Plymouth Colony in 1621, and reelected 30 times until his death.

In 1650, William Bradford wrote a history Of Plymouth Plantation of the events which led to the Pilgrims’ departure from England:

“Since ye first breaking out of ye light of ye Gospel in our Honorable Nation of England…what wars and oppositions ever since, Satan, hath raised, maintained, and continued against the Saints…Some times by bloody death and cruel torments; other whiles imprisonments, banishments, and other hard usages…

But when he could not prevail by these means against the main truths of ye Gospel…he then began…working upon their pride and ambition, with other corrupt passions incident to all mortal men…by which woeful effects followed; as not only bitter contentions, and heartburnings, schisms, with other horrible confusions…

So as in ye ancient times, the persecutions by ye heathen and their Emperors, was not greater than of the Christians one against another.”

In 1607, as a result of religious persecution upon their persons, reputations, families, and livelihood, the “Separatists,” or Pilgrims, departed from England for Holland.

Governor Bradford recorded:

“Being thus constrained to leave their native soil and country, their lands and livings, and all their friends…to go into a country they knew not…where they must learn a new language, and get their livings they knew not how, it being a dear place, and subject to the miseries of war, it was by many thought an adventure almost desperate, a case intolerable, and a misery worse than death….

But these things did not dismay them (though they did sometimes trouble them) for their desires were set on ye ways of God and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested in His providence, and knew whom they had believed.”

Governor William Bradford stated:

“They shook off this yoke of anti-christian bondage, and as the Lord’s free people, joined themselves by a covenant of the Lord into a church estate in the fellowship of the Gospel, to walk in all His ways, made known unto them, according to their best endeavors, whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them.”

On December 15, 1617, in their letter to Sir Edwin Sandys in London, John Robinson and William Brewster explained that the Pilgrims were: Knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond and covenant of the Lord, of the violation whereof we make great conscience, and by virtue whereof we do hold ourselves straightly tied to all care of each other’s good, and of the whole by every one and so mutually.”

In 1618, the Pilgrims’ Church of Leyden, Holland, sent seven Articles to the Counsel of England in order to receive approval to settle in Virginia:

“Article III. The King’s Majesty we acknowledge for Supreme Governor in his Dominion…but in all things obedience is due unto him if the thing commanded be not against God’s Word….

Article VII. And lastly, we desire to give unto all Superiors due honor to preserve the unity of the Spirit, with all who fear God, to have peace with all men what in us lieth, and wherein we err to be instructed by any. Subscribed by John Robinson and William Brewster.”

In July 1620, after having lived in Holland for 12 years, Governor William Bradford described the Pilgrims’ departure from Leyden, Holland, to Delfes-Haven, Holland, and from there to Southampton, England, where they would board the ship bound for America. Little did they realize that out of the 103 Pilgrims who departed, 51 would die in the first winter in the New World:

“So being ready to depart, they had a day of solemn humiliation, their pastor taking his text from Ezra 8:21: ‘And there at ye river, by Ahava, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble ourselves before our God and seek of Him a right way for us, and for our Children, and for our substance.’ …

The rest of the time was spent in powering out prayers to ye Lord with great fervency, mixed with abundance of tears. And ye time being come that they must depart, they were accompanied with most of their brethren out of ye city, unto a town sundry miles off called Delfes-Haven, where the ship lay ready to receive them.

So they left ye goodly and pleasant city, which had been there resting place for near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrims (Hebrews 12), but lift their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.”

On September 6, 1620, after two attempts which were canceled due to the ship, the Speedwell, developing a leak, the Pilgrims finally set out for America in the Mayflower, just as the stormy season began in the North Atlantic.

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