Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 Summary and Study Guide

William Bradford

Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647

  • 76-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 36 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in English Literature
Access Full Summary

Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 76-page guide for “Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647” by William Bradford includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 36 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like God’s Providence and Creating a Christian Community.

Plot Summary

Of Plymouth Plantation is a firsthand account of both the events leading up to the voyage of the Mayflower and the first twenty-five years of settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was written as a journal by William Bradford, a passenger on the Mayflower who also served multiple terms as Plymouth’s governor. He appears in Of Plymouth Plantation both as a narrator and as a character in the story’s events, which are told in retrospect. In 1920, the manuscript was rendered into Modern English by Harold Paget and first published under the title Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement 1608–1650. An unabridged republication of this text, which retains part of Paget’s introduction, was first published in 2006 by Dover Publications, Inc.

Bradford begins with an overview of the religious persecution the Pilgrims faced in English. The Pilgrims, along with other Calvinist sects, frequently clashed with the hierarchical Anglican Church and eventually relocated to the city of Leyden between 1607 and 1608. In the Netherlands, and under the leadership of their pastor John Robinson, the Pilgrims were able to practice their religion freely. They soon discovered, however, that it was difficult to make a living in Leyden and consequently decided to settle in America.

The process of obtaining a land patent and financial backers proved long and difficult, but a group of Pilgrims finally set sail in the fall of 1621. They arrived at Cape Cod in November and quickly settled on a location for settlement before the weather worsened. Nevertheless, the first winter proved extremely difficult for the Pilgrims; in fact, more than half died in an outbreak of disease. Thanks in part to help from Squanto—a Native American who acted as an interpreter and provided the Pilgrims with advice on farming—the remaining Pilgrims managed to make it through the first few years of settlement. They were frequently the victims of famine, however, as well as of dishonest dealings on the part of their investors, and it was not until they started to farm according to a system of private ownership that they truly began to succeed.

As the years went on, the Pilgrims worked to pay off their debt to the investors by sending them animal skins and other goods; eventually, the Pilgrims were able to join together with a group of English businessmen to purchase their business from their financial backers. They also built up a trading network within New England, expanding their land holdings and forging relationships with various tribes. As more settlers came to the region, tensions began to mount between the Pilgrims and other groups. Some would-be colonists—like those sent by an investor named Thomas Weston—threatened the survival of Plymouth through their behavior, which not only risked corrupting the moral purity of Plymouth, but also turned some Native Americans against the colonists in general. Others—like the Dutch—competed with the Pilgrims for territory or trading rights. The Pilgrims also faced difficulties with their new business partners, in part as a result of double-dealing by Isaac Allerton, the representative they sent to negotiate with them.

By the early 1630s, many of the settlers had grown wealthy enough to expand their farming, which meant acquiring land farther away from the original settlement. This weakened Plymouth’s sense of Christian community, and the population loss contributed to an overall decline in the colony’s power relative to other settlements in the region. Plymouth was forced to cede some of its territory to Massachusetts Bay settlers who had infringed on their patent. Despite these disagreements, Plymouth eventually entered into a loose confederacy with three other colonies in the region: Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven. This alliance extended only to military matters and formed largely in response to repeated conflicts with local tribes—particularly the Pequot, whom the Bay colonists all but wiped out in a brief but brutal war.

Bradford’s account ends in 1646 on an ambiguous note. The Pilgrims have finally succeeded in paying off their debts to their investors and business partners, and they appear to be safe from war with either Native Americans or other colonists. However, many of the colony’s founders have passed away, and the population continues to disperse throughout the broader New England area. Bradford closes his account with a list of the passengers who came over on the Mayflower, perhaps out of a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era.

This is just a preview. The entire section has 793 words. Click below to download the full study guide for Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647.