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William Bradford


Growing Up

William Bradford was born in Austerfield, England in 1590 to William and Alice Bradford. His father, a wealthy farmer and landowner, died when William was still a baby and his mother died when he was seven. William was brought up by his uncles where he worked on the farm and read the Bible.


Against the will of his uncles, William began to attend Separatists church meetings around the age of 12. Separatists were people who wanted to "separate" from the Church of England to form a more "pure" church. At that time, however, it was illegal in England to practice any religion other than the Church of England.

William began to secretly meet with other Separatists at William Brewster's house. In 1607, the Church of England had many of the Separatists arrested. Some of them were sent to prison while others, like William Bradford, were fined. From that point on, suspected Separatists were watched all the time and were constantly in fear of being arrested. The Separatists decided to move to the Netherlands where they could worship freely.

The Netherlands

In 1608, when William was eighteen, he moved to the Netherlands along with many other Separatists. While in the Netherlands he married Dorothy May. They had a son, John, in 1617. Around that time, the Separatists decided to start their own colony in the Americas. William and Dorothy decided to make the trip to America, but they left their son John behind with his grandparents.

Plymouth Colony

Bradford and his wife sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620. The group of travelers would later be called the Pilgrims because of their quest to find religious freedom in the New World. Upon arrival, Bradford signed the first set of laws for the colony called the Mayflower Compact.

Bradford volunteered to be on the first expeditions to find a place to settle. He was part of the group that discovered Plymouth Harbor where the Pilgrims would build Plymouth Colony. Unfortunately, upon his return Bradford learned that his wife had fallen off the Mayflower and drowned.


The first winter at Plymouth Colony was brutal. Around half of the original settlers died that first year from disease or starvation including the first governor, John Carver. That Spring, William Bradford was elected the new governor of Plymouth Colony.

Bradford served as governor for the next twelve years. He would be elected several more times and serve a total of thirty years as governor. His strong leadership was just what the colony needed to survive. He worked at keeping the peace with the local Native Americans and allotted farmland to all of the settlers.

Of Plymouth Plantation

Bradford was also a writer. He wrote a detailed history of the Plymouth Colony called Of Plymouth Plantation. This document is one of the best records of the Pilgrim's struggles to survive in the early years. It also gives great insight into the daily lives of the colonists. It covers much of the history of the Pilgrims up until the year 1647, twenty seven years after they arrived at Plymouth.


William Bradford died in Plymouth on May 9, 1657.

Interesting Facts about William Bradford

To learn more about Colonial America:

Colonies and Places
Lost Colony of Roanoke
Jamestown Settlement
Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims
The Thirteen Colonies

Daily Life
Clothing - Men's
Clothing - Women's
Daily Life in the City
Daily Life on the Farm
Food and Cooking
Homes and Dwellings
Jobs and Occupations
Places in a Colonial Town
Women's Roles
William Bradford
Henry Hudson
James Oglethorpe
William Penn
John Smith
Roger Williams

French and Indian War
King Philip's War
Mayflower Voyage
Salem Witch Trials

Timeline of Colonial America
Glossary and Terms of Colonial America

Works Cited

History >> Colonial America >> Biography

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