William Bradford was born in a comfortable Yorkshire yeoman's home, but the family that might have provided him with a nurturing beginning was disrupted by the early death of Bradford's parents. Raised by his uncles to be a farmer, Bradford was a sickly youth given to private reading. In early adolescence, Bradford first heard the preaching of Richard Clyfton, a nonconformist minister who converted Bradford to the Separatist movement. A lifelong commitment to that church followed; Bradford first joined the Scrooby congregation, later migrated to Holland in 1608, and sailed with the Pilgrims in 1620. Shortly after his arrival in what is present-day Massachusetts, Bradford was elected governor of the Plymouth settlement. Bradford's principal literary contributions lie in the area of history. His account of the Puritans' early settlement provides both an invaluable document of early American life and a powerful example of how Puritan theology found expression in the literal events of history. Both Puritan theologian Cotton Mather and contemporary critics hailed Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation (1856) as a masterpiece. Bradford's work frames the development of the Americas in biblical terms that illustrate the purposes of an omnipotent God. Bradford also employed verse in his exploration of Providence. His Collected Verse consists of largely didactic meditations. Widely read, Bradford's work influenced several generations of Puritan intellectuals. Bradford died in 1657.
History of the Plimoth Plantation: Containing an Account of the Voyage of the 'Mayflower'