This printed edition of William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation is presented as part of the observation of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Plimoth Colony in 1620. In tandem with a newly produced, born-digital verbatim transcription of the original manuscript, this volume will, we hope, be the beginning of a series of observations stretching into the subsequent decades of the century, marking further anniversaries of the founding of towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, under which Plimoth was eventually subsumed, to become a single entity. It is the desire of the scholars who here offer up the fruits of their labor not only to observe an anniversary but to continue a reassessment of the meaning of Plimoth, as an act of faith but also an act of colonization; as a step toward a new life for some but a step that meant the end of a way of life for others who had lived there from time immemorial and who had an intimate relationship with its streams, bays, fields and marshes; as the effort of a community to preserve its “sacred bond,” but which in the process fragmented and was swept up in the larger tides of colonial and imperial appropriation.

Of Plimoth Plantation tells the story, extending nearly five decades, of a small English group of puritans who organized themselves into a church in the early seventeenth century. Its narrator, William Bradford (1590–1667), emerged to be the colonial community’s most influential early leader. Born in Yorkshire, England, as a teenager he became an adherent to the puritan movement, joining a Separatist fellowship in Scrooby. He remained a stalwart member of the community through its persecutions by English authorities as well as when the congregation took up residence in the Netherlands. After more than a decade in the city of Leiden, a portion of the fellowship, including Bradford, returned to England with the intention of sailing to the New World, which, after opposition and delays, and joined by other individuals not of their group, they accomplished in 1620, landing at Cape Cod after a two months’ journey. Appropriating the Native site of Patuxet, given the English name Plimoth or New Plimoth, Bradford and his fellow colonizers established a colony, over which Bradford was elected governor, or served in other key roles, for most of the succeeding three and a half decades. In 1630, he embarked on his history of his fellow Pilgrims and of the colony of Plimoth.

Since its first publication in the 1850s, Bradford’s history has been viewed in a quasi-religious manner, hailed as a piece of “national literature” because of the way it was perceived to forecast the creation of the United States, with its Mayflower Compact and egalitarian ethos. But filiopietistic views that assume evangelical Christian origins or tout a linear march towards democratic institutions and American exceptionalism have for some time been discredited and are undergoing reassessment. For scholars working in this period, the text highlights a larger shared culture of its subjects that was transatlantic, pan-protestant, and imperial. Readers who have not before encountered Of Plimoth Plantation, or who have not read it for a time, may well be struck by the fact that the Pilgrims were political and religious refugees, who had had more than their share of persecution and hardship and were looking for a place to live and worship according to their own lights.

Of continuing fascination and relevance are the place of the Pilgrims within the larger separatist movement that grew out of the protestant Reformation, and the distinctive religious culture that the early Congregationalists developed. The beliefs and piety of Bradford and his fellow travelers have often been dismissed as foils for economic self-interest and appropriation of land, but we cannot fully understand Bradford and his congregation without exercising our historical imagination, entering into their mental world, and seeing how religion shaped their perception of all around them. In his section of the introduction, Francis J. Bremer treats the worldview of the Scrooby fellowship, tracing their emergence within the English Reformation, the distinctive nature of their community, doctrines, polity, and piety—the “Pilgrim Way”—their persecution by authorities, and the itinerations that such persecutions caused. A sketch of William Bradford gives information on the author’s life and his place within the movement, followed by a description of his other writings beside the one for which he is most widely known.

In the course of composing Of Plimoth Plantation over a couple of decades, Bradford included a broad range of characters and events that at once informed about occurrences within Plimoth and beyond, reflected important changes and decisions, and illustrated what for Bradford presented exemplary lessons. While all of the issues in Bradford’s history cannot be treated within the scope of this introduction, several are isolated in order to give the reader a basis for comprehending Bradford’s rotation of events and themes year by year.

For Native Americans, who had welcomed the Pilgrims, Of Plimoth Plantation only tells a story of pain, loss, betrayal, and bigotry, and non-Native scholars and readers must recognize and affirm this. Discussions of such an impact, with only a few exceptions, have too often been segregated between Native and non-Native historians, though more recently there have been efforts to merge (or “braid,” as Abenaki member and historian Lisa Brooks aptly describes it) approaches. For the first time in a collaborative presentation of the entire text of Of Plimoth Plantation (OPP), the long-neglected Native perspective on the invasion and appropriation of their land by English colonists is included. We hope that Wampanoag writer Paula Peters’ “Of Patuxet,” as well as engagement in other parts of the introduction and in the annotations throughout this volume with more recent scholarship in Native American Studies and related disciplines, will contribute to the effort to understand Bradford’s history within a wider spectrum of convictions and concerns.

A Note on the Text then provides a history of the manuscript and describes the principles by which both a new transcript and edited version of Of Plimoth Plantation were produced. It also provides some comments on the informative details realized by this return to the original holograph, the first in more than a century.

During his declining years, Bradford’s piety turned to language. He wrote “Dialogues” between young and old people, composed didactic poetry (of questionable quality), and devoted his time to the study of Hebrew, in the hopes of understanding divine oracles—the “language of Canaan”—as given in the Hebrew scriptures. In the blank pages at the front of the volume in which Of Plimoth Plantation was written, Bradford late in life recorded a lengthy series of Hebrew words and phrases along with their English translation, largely derived from lexicons of the day. Bradford’s “Some Hebrew words englished,” is presented here in an appendix, fully transcribed and annotated for the first time in order to take in the full nature of his efforts in this one remarkable volume. While these exercises appear at the forefront of that volume, they are presented last so as to reflect their place in Bradford’s literary efforts.