The Lost Manuscript of Gov. William Bradford

The priceless manuscript Of Plymouth Plantation, penned by Gov. William Bradford, was once lost for almost a century.  I don’t know about you, but I’m just glad the poor guy was long gone so he didn’t have to know about it!!The Bradford manuscript is the single most complete authoritative history of the Pilgrim life and travels from 1608-1647. Gov. Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth Colony and architect of the Mayflower Compact, chronicled nearly three decades of the Pilgrims experiences.  It follows the journey of the English Separatists to Holland and then on to the Plymouth Colony aboard the Mayflower. It tells of their difficult arrival, in which half of their expedition perished during the first six months, and records their first encounter with the Native Americans.  In fact, this book is how we have come to know about the first Thanksgiving.

Although Bradford never attempted to publish the manuscript, he did intend for it to be preserved and read by others:

“I have been the larger in these things, and so shall crave leave in some like passages following, (though in other things I shall labour to be more contract) that their children may see with what difficulties their fathers wrestled in going through these things in their first beginnings, and how God brought them along notwithstanding all their weaknesses and infirmities. As also that some use may be made hereof in after times by others in such like weighty employments; and herewith I will end this chapter.”

So how does a manuscript of such historical significance get lost? The book remained in the Bradford family, being passed down from son to son, for nearly a century.

“The book was rit by Govener William bradford and given to his son mager William Bradford And by him to his son mager John Bradford. rit by me Samuel bradford mach 20, 1705.”

At times it was loaned for the perusal of others, including Increase Mather, for research in writing historical tomes.  It wast loaned to Rev. Thomas Prince for use in his publication of Chronological History which was published in 1736.  To ensure attribution of proper ownership Prince wrote the following in the inside flap under Samuel Bradford’s notation.

“But major Bradford tells me and; assures me that He only lent this Book of his Grandfather’s to Mr. Sewall ; that it being of his Grandfather’s own hand writing He had so high a value of it that he would never Part with ye Property, but would lend it to me; desired me to get it, which I did;  write down this that sd Major Bradford and his Heirs may be known to be the right owners.”

When Prince died in 1758, the book was deposited in the New England Library, in the tower of the Old South Church in Boston. During the American Revolution the Church was sieged by British soldiers.  A host of documents were taken by the British to Nova Scotia where many of them were destroyed.   Of Plymouth Plantation was thought to be lost forever.

In about 1890 two Boston gentlemen were in a bookstore in England and came across the History of the Colonial Church, an English book, which referenced the manuscript. In fact, it stated that Of Plymouth Plantation was in the library of the Bishop of London.  The Bishop was reluctant to return the book a half a century of negotiation ensued. At last a new Bishop of London was appointed who felt cordial toward the United States and declared that if he were given the authorization by his superior, the Archbishop of Canterbury, he would return the tome. By a whimsical chance he was soon appointed to Archbishop of Canterbury and after so many years of deliberation Gov. William Bradford’s original manuscript was at last returned to America.  In 1897 is was returned and rendered into a modern translation by Harold Paget in 1909 – one hundred years ago.
My husband and sons are descendants of this esteemed forefather. Bradford (first name) is indeed named for him. Our oldest son, Justin, bears it as his middle name. This book then, to us, is both a family and an American treasure.

This Thanksgiving is Brad’s birthday.  He once owned a copy of The History of Plymouth Plantation (current name of manuscript) which we had purchased in Plymouth, MA.  The book was destroyed in a  fire , so I thought I’d replace it for him this year. Just think, if this manuscript had not been found, he wouldn’t be getting this present for his Thanksgiving/birthday.  Nor would we he be able to share this written heritage with his sons. That is something to be thankful for!  And while we are on the subject . . . Gov. Bradford recorded the fact that my own ancestor, John Howland, fell off the Mayflower and almost drowned.  If he hadn’t been rescued, I wouldn’t be here blogging about it!


Happy Birthday, Brad!  Happy Thanksgiving, all!

5 thoughts on “The Lost Manuscript of Gov. William Bradford

  1. Wow. Don’t you find it interesting and rather providential that your husband’s birthday happens to be during the Thanksgiving season? Granted, the original Thanksgiving was probably celebrated in October (at least from what I recollect from other sources I’ve read recently). However, God definitely had plans and I think uses the calendar accordingly to impress on the rest of us how perfect his timing is!
    So glad I found your blogs. I’m very interested in history, live in Kansas but loved visiting Boston and someday hope to come to Maine. (Have friends there through an organization I belong to…long story.)

    Let’s just say visiting Maine is one of the things on my “bucket list.”

    Keep writing!


  2. Hi Shauna,
    So glad you stopped by. I do find it providential!! God is amazing. I also know that it was no mistake when He brought my grandparents from Sweden and his (other side of the family) from Norway about the same time and to live in the same area that we should get to meet someday. There is a grand plan and it helps me to be mindful of that.

  3. Thank you for posting this!

    We had no idea that it had been lost.

    We’d love to hear more from you!

  4. Carla,
    I know this was writing more than 2 years ago, but I was just doing a little research on my family and found your site through the Coffin Family post you had. I am a descendant of the Coffin’s through my paternal grandfather. But I find it fascinating that I am also a descendant of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley (as well as Thomas Cushman and Mary Allerton) but on my maternal grandmother’s side.
    I didn’t know about Of Plimouth Plantation being lost and enjoyed reading about it. I have my own copy because I’m fascinated with that history. Thanks!

  5. I believe I have this right; Wiiliam Bradford – William Bradford – Hannah Bradford – Leah Ripley – Jerusha Cook – Jerusha Allen married Samuel (3rd) Wheat (5th gen in America) – William – Rufus – George – Clark – Elmer – Robert. Just curious if you have any evidence to the contrary?
    18923 E Mercer Dr, Arora, CO 80013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s