William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony

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William Bradford

Nicknames: "Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony", "William Bradford lll", "William "Mayflower" Bradford"
Birthplace: Austerfield, Yorkshire, England
Death: Died in Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Place of Burial: Burial Hill, Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Bradford, II; William Bradford; William Bradford; Alice Briggs; Alice Hansen and 1 other
Husband of Alice Southworth; Alice Carpenter Southworth; Dorothea Bradford, "Mayflower" Passenger and Alice Bradford
Father of William (Maj.) Bradford; Maj. William Bradford, Jr.; Lt. John Bradford; Maj. William Bradford, Jr., Dep. Gov. of Plymouth Colony; Mercy Vermayes and 1 other
Brother of Margaret Bradford and Alice Bradford
Half brother of Agnes Briggs and Robert Briggs, Jr.

Occupation: Governor of Plymouth Colony, weaver, writer, Plymouth County Governor, governor of Plymouth MA
Managed by: Steve
Last Updated:

About William Bradford

William Bradford

  • Birth: on or before 19 March 1589/90 - Austerfield, Yorkshire, England
  • Christened: 19 March 1589/90 - St. Helen's Chapel, Austerfield, Yorkshire, England
  • Parents: William Bradford, Alice Hanson
  • Spouses: Dorothy May, Alice Carpenter
  • Death: 9 May 1657 - Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts
  • Burial: 12 May 1657 - Burial Hill, Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts

William Bradford (c.1590 – c.1657) was an English Separatist leader in Leiden, Holland and in Plymouth Colony. He emigrated to the New World on the "Mayflower" in 1620, signing the Mayflower Compact, and then serving as Plymouth Colony Governor five times covering about thirty years between 1621 and 1657. His memoir, "of Plimouth Plantation," has been called "'an American classic' and 'the pre-eminent work of art' in seventeenth-century New England."

See more at Wikipedia, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Find A Grave Memorial# 124, about.com .....



  1. on 10 Dec 1613 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands to Dorothy May, b abt 1597, died Dec. 7, 1620, Cape Cod Harbor, (now Provincetown) MA. Records suggest she was the daughter of Henry May.
  2. on 14 Aug 1623 in Plymouth, Plymouth, MA to Alice Carpenter (1590-1670), widow of Edward Southworth. She was the daughter of Alexander Carpenter and Priscilla Dillen.

William and Dorothy had one child, a son:

  1. John Bradford; b. c 1615, Leyden, Holland; d. Sep. 7, 1679, Norwich CT. Married Martha Bourne; no known children.

William and Alice had three children:

  1. William Bradford b: 16 Jun 1624 in Plymouth, Plymouth, MA. Married 1) Alice Richards 2) Sarah Tracy, widow Griswold 3) Mary Atwood, widow Holmes
  2. Mercy Bradford b: 1627/1630 in Plymouth, Plymouth, MA. Married Benjamin Vermayes; no known children.
  3. Joseph Bradford b: 1627/1630 in Plymouth, Plymouth, MA. Married Jael Hobart.

A good genealogy link to follow as of 5 Oct 2013 is Pedigree of: William Bradford 1589/90-1657 by Phillips Verner Bradford. (EH)


Wikipedia maintains a list of the descendants of William Bradford who have achieved noteworthy standing in numerous fields.

Phillips V. Bradford, Sc.D. noted in 2005:

"From statistical analysis, I can estimate that there are about 4 million descendants of Gov. Wiliam Bradford of Plymouth in the US alive today. And, about 10,000 of us, still bear the family name."

biographical information

From Find A Grave Memorial# 124

William Bradford was a leader of the separatist settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, and was elected thirty times to be the Governor after John Carver died. He was the second signer and primary architect of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor. His journal (1620-1647), published as Of Plymouth Plantation. It was a handwritten journal detailing the history of the first 30 years of Plymouth Colony. Large parts of this journal have been republished a number of times.

Bradford, along with Edward Winslow and others, contributed material to George Morton, who merged everything into a book, published in London in 1622, nicknamed Mourt's Relation, which was primarily a journal of the colonists' first years at Plymouth.

Bradford is credited as the first to proclaim what popular American culture now views as the first Thanksgiving.

At an early age William was attracted to the "primitive" congregational church, in nearby Scrooby, and became a committed member of what was termed a "Separatist" church, since the church-members had wanted to separate fron the Church of England. By contrast, the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England. The Separatists instead felt the Church was beyond redemption due to unbiblical doctrines and teachings. When James I began to persecute Separatists in 1609, Wm. fled to the Netherlands, along with many members of the congregation. These Separatists went first to Amsterdam before settling at Leiden.

Bradford married his 1st wife, Dorothy in Amsterdam. While at Leiden, he supported himself as a fustian weaver. Shifting alignments of the European powers (due to religious differences, struggles over the monarchies and intrigues within the ruling Habsburg clan) caused the Dutch government to ear war with Catholic Spain, and to become allied with James I of England. Social pressure (and even attacks) on the sparatists increased in the Netherlands. Their congregation's leader, John Robinson, supported the emerging idea of starting a coony. Bradford was in the midst of this venture from the beginning. The sparatists wanted to remain Englishmen (although living in the Netherlands), yet wanted to get far enough away from the Church of England and the government to have some chance of living in peace. Arrangements were made, and Wm. with his wife sailed for America in 1620 from Leiden aboard the Mayflower.

On December 7, 1620, before the colony was established, Bradford's wife died. She died while the Mayflower was at anchor in Provincetown Harbor. However, there are no contemporary accounts of the circumstances of her death, only a later mention of drowning by Cotton Mather in Magnalia Christi Americana. Bradford included only brief mention of her passing in his own writing. There is a widely circulated story that she committed suicide because the Mayflower was a moored ship, but this is derived from a work of historical fiction published in the June, 1869 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. This claims that they had decided to leave their young son in the Netherlands, and his wife was so stricken with sadness that she took her own life. Regardless of this fictional treatment, there is no proof of suicide.

The first winter in the new colony was a terrible experience. Half the colonists perished, including the colony's leader, John Carver. Bradford was selected as his replacement on the spring of 1621. From this point, his story is inextricably linked with the history of the Plymouth Colony.

William's 2nd wife Alice came to Plymouth aboard the "Anne" in Jluy 1623 following the death of her 1st husband, Edward Southworth. They married and had 3 children. Alice helped raise John, the son of his 1st marriage. Alice's sons from her first marriage arrived in Plymouth sometime after 1627 and presumably lived with their mother and stepfather.

Wm. died at Plymouth and was interred at Plymouth Burial Hill. On his grave is etched:

"qua patres difficillime adept sunt nolite turpiter relinquere" "What our forefathers with so much difficulty secured, do not basely relinquish."


Colonial Governor William Bradford's English Origins

From http://heraldry.celticradio.net/printpage.php?type=family&id=78ernor

In 1575, there lived in Austerfield, Yorkshire County, England, one William Bradford. It has been found impossible to trace the family beyond this point but there is strong probability that this William Bradford was a relative of the celebrated preacher martyr, John Bradford, who was burned at the stake at Smithfield [Eng.], January 31, 1555, for his opposition to papacy. It has also been supposed that this William Bradford was a relative of a Bradford who participated in connections with Thomas Stafford, son of Lord Stafford, in a rebellion against the hated Queen Mary, for which he was executed at Tyburn, May 29, 1557.

There is evidently some reason why the founder of the family in this country, the celebrated Pilgrim, who will hereafter be known as [Governor] Gov. William, was always silent on the subject of his own family, notwithstanding his numerous writings on the early colonists.

It may be interesting to mention that the name of Bradford is supposed to have originated at a time when families were frequently called after places near their homes, and that the first family of this name lived near a "broad ford." The name is frequently spelled Bradfurth and Bradfourth, in the church records of England. The family of William Bradford, of Austerfield, belonged to a class called yeomanry, which was at that time next to the gentry, and had the right to use coats-of-arms. They usually owned [the] lands they occupied, and were, to use the language of today, farmers of large estates. This William Bradford has four children, viz.: William, Thomas, Robert, and Elizabeth. The dates of their birth are not known, but Robert was baptized June 25, 1561, and Elizabeth July 16, 1570. The oldest son, William, married Alice Hanson, June 21, 1584. She was the daughter of John Hanson, the only man in Austerfield at that time besides William Bradford who paid taxes to the crown. William Bradford and Alice Hanson had the following children: Margaret, born March 8, 1585; Alice, born October 30, 1587; and William the Pilgrim, baptized March 19, 1589/90. The Pilgrim's father died July 1591, leaving him an orphan. He went to live with his grandfather and upon the death of the latter in January 1595/96 was cared for by his uncles, Thomas, Richard (?) [??], and Robert Bradford.

Gov. William in his younger days was prevented from entering into the pursuits of his relatives by the state of his health, but having inherited a comfortable estate, he was well provided for. When 12 years old, he manifested great interest in the Scriptures and sought the company of Richard Clifton and other Puritan preachers. Profiting by their teachings, he soon embraced the Puritan faith. In 1607, Gov. William, in company with the other Puritans, moved to Holland, in order to be able to enjoy freedom of worship. While on his way, he was imprisoned at Boston, England, for a time on account of his religious belief. They first went to Amsterdam but soon moved to Lydon [Lyden]. At this place, Gov. William Learned the art of dyeing silk, and when he came of age, sold his estate in England and engaged in commerce.

In 1620, Gov. William, in company with other Puritans, when to England from Holland and embarked in the Mayflower for America. In 1621, he was chosen Governor and re-elected every year until 1657 except the years 1633-34, 1636, 1638-44. In all, he served 30 years as governor, often against his wishes and during the five years he was not governor, served the colony in some capacity as a public officer. Gov. Bradford, according to Cotton Mather, was well acquainted with Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, particularly the latter. He spoke French and Dutch fluently, and well understood history, philosophy, and theology. He was the only historian of Plymouth Colony, and his "prose writings were above mediocrity." Gov. Bradford's manuscript history of Plymouth Colony, of two hundred and seventy pages, descended to his grandson, John, who presented it with some other manuscripts and a letter-book formerly belonging to the governor to the New England Library. These manuscripts were deposited in the tower of the old South Church, Boston, for safe keeping and so far as known were there when the city was taken by the British in 1775. It will be remembered that the British soldiers used this church as a riding school during their occupancy of the city.

When Boston was evacuated in the spring of 1776, Gov. Bradford's manuscript history of Plymouth Colony, and many other valuable documents, among them his letter-book, were missing. The letter-book was discovered in a grocery store at Halifax, Nova Scotia, some years after (a large portion of it having been destroyed) and sent to the Massachusetts Historical Society. The history could not be found, and it [was] supposed that it had been destroyed. Previous to 1775, several early colonial historians had mad extracts from this history and the tenor of these extracts was known by those well versed in early colonial history. In 1855, it was discovered by the Massachusetts historian, Rev. John S. Barry, that a volume entitled "A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America" by Samuel, Lord Bishop of Oxford, London, 1846, contained extracts from a manuscript in the Fulham Library similar to some of the above mentioned. The Fulham Library is a manor-house or palace, located in the village of Fulham, a few miles from London! This palace is the residence of the Lord Bishop of London. This discovery having been brought to the attention of the Massachusetts Historical Society, an agent was employed to examine the Fulham manuscripts. The result of the examination was that the manuscripts proved beyond a doubt to be the original history of Plymouth Colony written by Governor William Bradford's own hands. The Society had the manuscript opened and published. The publication was in 1856. The original manuscript still remains in the Fulham Library, England, and the agency by which it reached there from New England Library, Boston, is still unknown.

Gov. Bradford, while living in Holland, married Dorothy May, and English Puritan December 10, 1613. By this marriage he had one son who did not come over in the Mayflower, but in another vessel some years later. The Governor's wife, Dorothy, was drowned in Cape Cod harbor, December 17, 1620. August 14, 1623, the Gov. married Alice Carpenter Southworth, widow of Edward Southworth. Gov. Bradford died at Plymouth, May 9, 1657. His wife Alice died at the same place March 26, 1670, aged about 79 years.

-------------------- English Separatist and leader of settlers at Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts



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Gov William Bradford findagrave

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William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony's Timeline

March 19, 1589
Austerfield, Yorkshire, England
March 19, 1589
Austerfield, South Riding of Yorkshire, England
Age 15
Age 18
Age 18
Went to Holland and joined Separatist Pilgrims
Age 19
November 30, 1613
Age 24
Amsterdam, (Present Noord-Holland), Holland, Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden (present The Netherlands)
Age 27
Leiden, Rhynland (Present South Holland), Holland, Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden
Age 30
Age 30