Pedigree of:
William Bradford

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William Bradford*; Bap. March 19, 1589/90, Austerfield, Yorkshire, England; d. May 9, 1657, Plymouth MA

Brief Biography:

William Bradford (1589/90-1657) was the well-known separatist who was an organizer of the separatists (later known as Pilgrims), who sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620. After Governor Carver died during the first winter, William Bradford (1587-1657) was elected Governor of the Plymouth Colony and was re-elected annually for 31 years (except for 5 years in which declined to serve).

Governor William Bradford was the author of Of Plimoth Plantation, a major work of early American History, and other writings. He knew many languages, including English, Dutch, French, Latin and Hebrew as well as local Indian speech. Born in Austerfield, Yorkshire, he was baptised there on Mar. 19, 1589. He became an orphan after his father died in 1591 and his mother died in 1597. He was brought up by an uncle, Robert Bradford (1591-1637) and a great uncle, Thomas Bradford (d. 1605).

No relationship has yet been found linking his family to the famous Protestant Martyr, John Bradford (c1510-1555), who was burned at the stake in 1555. Although, from certain religious leanings, it would seem as if Gov. Bradford had been influenced somehow by the Martyr's cause. It is known that the young William had somehow managed to obtain (or obtain access to) a copy of The Book of Martyrs by John Foxe (1517-1587), which contained a history of John Bradford (c1510-1555). This may have been an important book providing early influence upon, and shaping the young mind of, the man who was later to become Governor Bradford of Plymouth.

Until he was about 18 years old, William lived among his community of sheep herders and woolen workers in and around Austerfield, often helping out with farm chores and listening carefully to his uncles, who were somewhat wise to the ways of the world and saw that young William and his older sister, Alice Bradford (1587-1607), might have a sense of family and might so require some special attention since they had become orphaned. William was provided the education offered by a local "Dame School", which was a kind of local school run by women teachers, mainly concerned with domestic skills, such as cooking and weaving. William had little idea at the time how much these skills would later be needed in the New World, or indeed to make a living in Holland during his sojourn there.

William was not so poor as he may have felt, for his father was one of the richest Yeomen in Austerfield and left him and his sister a reasonable estate, including a small farm in Bentley handed down through generations by his great-great grandfather, Peter Bradforth (1460-1542) (as the surname was spelled then). The estate was managed for him by his uncle Robert Bradford (1561-1609) which could afford such niceties as a Dame School for William. Later, this estate helped William secure an investment in the Mayflower.

He was also quite attached to his elderly great-uncle Thomas Bradford (d. 1605) who was interested in expanding his intellectual horizons and filled him with adventure stories and created an air of wonderlust. Thomas told him of the wisdom of the "Gray Friars" at their local Church of All Hallows in Austerfield. They must have been a little spooky because they held on to some very old pagan traditions that may have pre-dated Christianity. They, and his great-uncle Thomas, were somewhat suspicious of Church authority, and told little William about Foxe's book, The Book of Martyrs, and helped him find the Friars that could teach him a little Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, so he could read the word of GOD as it was first handed down, and not as it was interpreted by local Ecclesiastical Law.

Thomas also had a circle of elderly friends, probably meeting regularly at the local pub, who were gossiping about the adventures of one of their friends and neighbor, Sir Martin Frobisher (c1539-1594), a beknighted World-class seafaring explorer and adventurer, whose every story was a life-risking, hair-raising tale of desperation and exploitation. Certain members of Frobisher's family appear as witnesses to Bradford wills and official documents of the time. Young William must have had his head filled with adventure and wonder about distant places, especially the New World.

In his teenage years, William must have met Alice Carpenter in Yorkshire but he did not marry her until 1623 (in Plymouth MA) after his first wife died in 1620, and after Alice's first husband, Edward Southworth, died in 1621. According to a recent finding, Williams's second cousin, George Morton, who married Alice Carpenter's sister, Julianna Carpenter, so that William and George were also to become brothers-in-law.

In about 1606, William became involved with a group of religious dissidents who were experimenting with alternative religious beliefs, some of which were considered heretical by the Church of England. A Minister of the established Church, Richard Clyfton, was preaching puritan ideology in nearby Gainsborough, and John Smyth, a Pastor at the Scrooby Church, within walking distance of Austerfield, went a step farther and "separated" his congregation from the established Church. William Brewster, a Cambridge educated postmaster became a mentor to young William's philosophical thinking toward Church reforms and became one of the separatists. Richard Clyfton soon joined the separatists, and the momentum grew. The attraction to this group, calling themselves "separatists", for young William was wide-ranging and included everything from philosophy to adventure to romance. The latter, since it is avoided in most biographies, merits a sentence or two of elaboration. Some of the Separatists and similar organizations believed that young girls should be exposed to sexual stimulation, as soon as they are physically and emotionally capable of being seduced, because it is GOD's way. On this and other matters, the separatists brushed against the law, and also became disenfranchised by their own families. They put themselves into a situation where they chose to emigrate to Holland where they could pursue their beliefs without the harrassment of the established Church of England. It is quite possible that William was first attracted to Dorothy May in England when she was at the tender age of 11 in about 1607, shortly before he arrived in Holland in 1609, but was not married to her until Nov. 9, 1613, in Holland, when she was 16. She was born in 1596 in Wisbeach, Cambridgeshire, England. William Bradford, along with some of the other separatists, were jailed for a short time in Boston, Lincolnshire, England, in 1608 upon the failure of their first attempt to sail to Holland

Dorothy May's family has been recently found by Charles. H. Townshend of New Haven CT in Dorothy May and her Relations on page 754 in a Gary Boyd Roberts publication. Her parents were John May of Shouldham Abbey, Norfolk, England; and Cordelia Bowes. Dorothy had siblings, Francis May, Farnneru (Jacomye?) May, Henry May, John May, and Stephen May. John May of Shouldham Abbey was the son of John May, Bishop of Carlisle, Doctor of Divinity and Master of Catherine's Hall, Cambridge, who died in Apr. 1598. Cordelia Bowes was the daughter of Martyn Bowes, who was the son of Sir Martyn Bowes, knight, goldsmith and Lord Mayor of London in 1545. Sir Martyn Bowes was married to Frances Clopton, daughter of William Clopton of Groton, who was the son of Richard Clopton of Melford and Groton, Suffolk, England.

Dorothy was described in a Heresiography by Ephraim Paget, minister of St. Edmund's, Lombard Street, London as follows: "Mistress May, who used to in her house sing psalms being more fit for a common brawl ... by reason of such uncouth and strange translations and the meeter [meter] used in them the Congregation was made a laughing stock unto strangers". Dorothy's brother, Henry May had become a member of the sect known as the "Ancient Brethren", a sexually promiscuous group of dissidents that broke away from the Jews.

William Bradford, along with his separatist companions, successfully emigrated to Amsterdam in 1609, and subsequently moved their community to Leyden (now Leiden), where they established a Church under the pastorate of John Robinson, and shared ideas with other religious reformers who had been proscribed from practicing in England or elsewhere in Europe. There were Dutch Mennonites, Brownists, Ancient Brethren, and philosophers at Leyden University, such as Polyander and Grotius, who influenced the separatists to modify their views from the more puritan notions that they held in England. The liberalization of their views contributed to John Smyth's even more extreme belief that the Bible was not the word of God, but was written by ancient people who took certain liberties in the interpretation of God's intentions.

The separatists made a decision to form a company, sell all their belongings in England and Holland, and hire two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, to take them to America to found a new colony. The venture was also funded in part by private merchant bankers in London and Holland, and indentured servants were invited to join the party. The Speedwell proved not to be seaworthy and had to turn back, but the Mayflower arrived on Cape Cod in August, 1620, delivering 101 settlers to found the Plymouth Colony.

The religious philosophy that the separatists brought to America included the notion that people should be able to choose their own beliefs in spiritual matters, and meet to discuss them and to decide their own moral principles and create laws in a more-or-less democratic fashion. The separatists later became known as "pilgrims" of a humanist and naturalistic philosophy based on broadly Christian ideas. They should not be confused with the "puritans" who settled somewhat later, in much greater numbers, in Boston and other New England towns, and ultimately absorbed the separatists among them.


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