William Bradford

William Bradford is known as one of the first Pilgrims to the New World in search of religious freedom from the Church of England.

He was part of the religious movement known as “Separatists” and led the way in the Plymouth Colony for those that wanted a peaceful life without fear of punishment by the British.

His strong leadership also included the ability to have a good relationship with the local Native Indians.


Where did William Bradford live?

Bradford was born in England in 1590 and was the son of a wealthy landowner and farmer. His father died when he was an infant, and his mother died when he was seven years old.

William Bradford was raised by his uncles, where he was taught farming and deep religious doctrine of the Church of England.

The Separatists Movement

It was against the opinion of his uncles that Bradford took an interest in the new movement called the “Separatists.” At the age of 12, Bradford started attending their church meetings and found that he liked their message.

Separatists were those that wanted to separate from the Church of England so that they could form a more “pure” church. It was against the law in England at the time to practice any form of religion other than the Church of England.

Bradford continued to attend the Separatists meetings, and many in the group were arrested, while Bradford was only fined.

It was during this time that people were assigned to watch suspected Separatists for the purpose of arrest.

It was at this time that the Separatists made the decision to relocate to the Netherlands so that they could choose what religion they wanted. William was only eighteen years old when he moved.

The Mayflower voyage

During the time in the Netherlands, he met and married Dorothy May and joined the group that decided to move to what is now the United States to establish a Separatists colony.

William Bradford and his wife sailed in 1620 on the Mayflower with 102 passengers and a crew of 30, and they were later referred to as Pilgrims.

Once they arrived in America, Bradford signed the colony’s first set of laws called the Mayflower Compact.

Bradford was heavily involved in the settlement expeditions of the area and was part of the group involved in the Plymouth Harbor discovery, where the colonists would build their colony.

During his travels, he learned that his wife had fallen off the Mayflower, where she drowned.

Life on the Colony

The colonists weren’t used to the brutal weather conditions of their new home, as well as the lack of knowledge for planting and growing food.

Almost half of the original colonists died within the first year of disease or starvation.

Governor of the Plymouth

When the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony died, the colonists elected William Bradford. He would serve as Governor for twelve years and then later re-elected so that he was Governor for thirty years.

Bradford had a strength of leadership that was needed for the survival of the colony. He gave specific farmland areas to all of the new settlers and maintained peace with the local Native Americans.

Bradford is given credit for coordinating with the Native tribes as they brought food to the colonists in what would be the first Thanksgiving.

One of the tributes to Bradford is that he was a talented writer and kept complete details about the Plymouth Colony in his journal “Of Plymouth Plantation.”

History offers a record of the struggles and hardships as well as the daily lives of the colonists.

William Bradford lived in the settlement for the rest of his life and died in 1657 at Plymouth.

Facts about William Bradford

  • Born in March 1590
  • Married Dorothy May in Amsterdam on December 10, 1613
  • Dorothy died in 1620 when she fell from the deck of the Mayflower into Cape Cod Harbor
  • In 1623 William Bradford married Alice (Carpenter), Southworth
  • Founder and longtime governor of the Plymouth Colony settlement
  • Brought food to the colonists in what would be the first Thanksgiving
  • Died in 1657 aged 67

What did you learn?

What was the name of the religious organization that William Bradford joined?


What country did William Bradford first move to in search of religious freedom?

the Netherlands

What is the name given to those individuals that sailed on the Mayflower to Plymouth?


What government position did William Bradford hold in the new colony?


What holiday is attributed to William Bradford?


What is the name of William Bradford’s journal/book that told the history of the colonists?

Of Plymouth Plantation