Certainly one of the earliest of our Christian founders was William Bradford, who from 1621 until his death in 1656, was Governor of the Plymouth Plantation settlement in Massachusetts. His early life in England was marked by the death of his parents, so William lived with relatives and soon began attending a Separatist church near Scrooby. It was through the teaching of such pastors as Clyfton, Robinson, and Brewster that Bradford learned about real religious freedom. After fleeing to Amsterdam and Leyden, Bradford and 101 other Pilgrims sailed for America to found a colony where they would be free to worship without the persecution they had suffered under the Bishops of the Church of England.
While still on board the Mayflower, these men of God created a document stressing the laws of liberty that our country has abided with since that time. The Mayflower Compact established the ideas of the worth of the individual and the protection of individual freedoms within the framework of a civil society. The men who signed this document agreed that their new community was “For the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith”1 as stated in the document. In chapter 4 of his diary, Bradford states that their zeal was to lay the Christian foundation for the kingdom of Christ in the new world. This hope and goal gave them uncommon strength in the face of extreme hardships during those first years in the colony.
Bradford guided the new colony with firm religious principles, laws that required work from all, and continual prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with believers. The church was built in the center of town because Bradford knew that the church ought to be the center of every community. It was through the Biblical teaching each week that the community of Plymouth grew together, solving their problems and strengthening each other by mutual respect and hard work at the local level.
Of Plymouth Plantation is full of Bradford’s praise of God and His many blessings on them. Even though half the original Pilgrims died within the first two years, Bradford saw God’s hand in leading them to this new, free land. Their vision for America was a new kingdom of religious freedom and they were proud to have started the tradition.
*Anyone interested in a complete bibliography of sources I use may email me for that list: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Plantation (New York, Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, 1952), 25.