ORIGIN: Leiden, Holland

MIGRATION: 1620 on Mayflower


OCCUPATION: Magistrate.

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP: As a member of the Scrooby congregation, Bradford was of course prominent also in the churches both at Leiden and Plymouth.

FREEMAN: In "1633" list of Plymouth freemen, prior to those admitted on 1 January 1632/3 [PCR 1:3]. "Mr. William Bradford" (as governor) was in the Plymouth section of the list of 1639 [PCR 8:173].

EDUCATION: Although not educated at one of the universities, Bradford could certainly hold his own with any of those who were. His library was one of the most extensive among the first generation of New Englanders, being valued at £15 3s. [MD 3:232-33], and, like many of the ministers, he had knowledge of many languages, including Hebrew [Bradford xxvii]. His education was also on display in his many writings (see BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE below).

His inventory included a detailed listing of his library, valued at £14 3s. and comprising two Bibles, thirty books or sets of books (mostly theological) listed by title and a parcel described as "three and fifty small books" [MD 2:232-33, citing PCPR 2:1:57-58]. The inventory of his widow's estate included a similar list, stated to be located in "the study," valued at £14 7s. and comprising the same listing as in her husband's inventory, with the exception of four specific titles which she no longer held [MD 3:146-47, citing PCPR 3:1:3].

OFFICES: Governor of Plymouth Colony, 1621-32, 1635, 1637, 1639- 43, 1645-56 [Bradford 86; PCR 1:32, 48, 116, 140, 2:8, 33, 52, 83, 100, 115, 123, 139, 153, 166, 3:7, 30, 48, 77, 99 (note that this gives Bradford thirty-one terms as governor, an accounting at odds with a number of secondary sources)]. Assistant, 1633, 1634, 1636, 1638, 1644 [PCR 1:5, 21, 36, 79, 2:71]. Plymouth Commissioner to United Colonies, 1647-49, 1652, 1656 [PCR 2: 115, 123, 139, 3 :99, 9:84, 109 ( elected president), 150, 10:71, 153 (elected president)].

"Mr. Bradford" appeared in the Plymouth section of the 1643 Plymouth Colony list of men able to bear arms [PCR 8:188]. His inventory included "3 matchcock muskets" valued at £2 2s., "a snaphance musket" valued at £1, "a birding piece and another small piece" valued at 18s., "a pistol and cutlass" valued at 12s., "a corslet and one headpiece" valued at £1 10s. and "1 fowling piece without a lock, 3 old barrels of guns, one pair of old bandoliers and a rest" valued at 16s. [MD 2:229-34, citing PCPR 2: 1 :54-59]. The inventory of his widow included "2 guns and a pair of bandoliers" valued at £1 and "a rest and some other odd things" valued at 2s. [MD 3:145-49, citing PCPR 3:1:3-5].

ESTATE: In 1623 Plymouth land division received three acres as a passenger on the Mayflower, and Alice Bradford received one acre as a passenger on the Anne [PCR 12:4, 6]. In the 1627 Plymouth cattle division "the Governor Mr. William Bradford and . .. his wife Alles Bradford," William Bradford Junior and Mercy Bradford were the first four persons in the eleventh company [PCR 12: 12].

Assessed £1 16s. in the Plymouth tax list of 25 March 1633 and £1 7s. in the list of 27 March 1634 [PCR 1:9, 27].

In his nuncupative will, dated 9 May 1657 and proved 3 June 1657, "Mr. William Bradford Senior being weak in body, but in perfect memory having deferred the forming of his will in hopes of having the help of Mr. Thomas Prence therein," stated that he had "disposed to John and William already their proportions of land, which they are possessed of," asked "that my son Joseph be made in some sort equal to his brethren out of my estate," made "my dear and loving wife Allice Bradford" executrix and for "her future maintenance my will is that my stock in the Kennebecke trade be reserved for her comfortable subsistence," appointed "my well-beloved Christian friends Mr. Thomas Prence, Captain Thomas Willett and Lieutenant Thomas Southworth" as supervisors, to whose wisdom he commended "some small books written by my own hand to be improved as you shall see meet; in special I commend to you a little book with a black cover, wherein there is a word to Plymouth, a word to Boston, and a word to New England, with sundry useful verses" [MD 2:228-29, citing PCPR 2:1:53].

The inventory of "the estate of Mr. Will[i]am Bradford Sr. lately deceased," taken 22 May 1657, was not totalled; it included several parcels of real estate, not all of which were valued: "the house and orchard and some small parcels of land about the town of Plymouth," £45; "one parcel at Eastham and another at Bridgwater," not valued; and "a small parcel about Sawtuckett and his purchase land at Coaksett with his rights in the town's land at Punckatessett," not valued [MD 2:229-34, citing PCPR 2:1:54-59].

In her will, dated 29 December 1669 and proved 7 June 1670, "Allis Bradford Senior of the town of Plymouth ..., widow,". requested that "my body may be interred as near unto my deceased husband, Mr. William Bradford, as conveniently may be" and bequeathed to "my dear sister Mary Carpenter" moveables; to "my son Mr. Constant Southworth my land at Paomett"; to "my said son Constant Southworth and unto my son Mr. Joseph Bradford the one-half of my sheep to be equally divided betwixt them and the other half to my son Captain Will[i]am Bradford"; to "my said son Joseph Bradford" livestock; to "my honored friend Mr. Thomas Prence one of the books that were my dear husband's library, which of them he shall choose"; to "my dear grandchild Elizabeth Howland, the daughter of my dear son Captain Thomas Southworth deceased, the sum of seven pounds, for the use and benefit of her son James Howland"; to "my servant maid Mary Smith a cow calf'; residue equally divided to "my sons Mr. Constant Southworth, Captain Will[i]am Bradford and Mr. Joseph Bradford" [MD 3:144-45, citing PCPR 3:1:2].

The inventory of the estate of "Mistress Allice Bradford Senior late deceased," taken 31 March 1670, totalled £162 17s., with no real estate included [MD 3:145-49, citing PCPR 3:1:3-5].

BIRTH: Baptized Austerfield, Yorkshire, 19 March 1589/90, son of William and Alice (Hanson) Bradford [MD 7:65-66; NEHGR 84:10-11].

DEATH: Plymouth 9 May 1657 [Hull 180].

MARRIAGE: (1) Amsterdam, Holland, 10 December 1613 [NS] Dorothy May of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire [MD 9:115-17, 22:63-64; Plooij XXVII, LXX; Stratton 324-26]. She died on 7 December 1620 (Prince 165].

(2) Plymouth 14 August 1623 Alice (Carpenter) Southworth [Prince 221], daughter of Alexander Carpenter and widow of Edward Southworth (see PRISCILLA CARPENTER [PM 92] and CONSTANT SOUTHWORTH [PM 437]). She died at Plymouth on 26 March 1670 [MD 18:68].


With first wife

  1. JOHN BRADFORD, b. say 1617; m. by 1650 Martha Bourne, daughter of Thomas Bourne [Waterman Gen 615-19, 625].

With second wife

  1. WILLIAM BRADFORD, b. Plymouth 17 June 1624 [Prince 227, MD 30:4]; m. (1) by 1650 Alice Richards, daughter of THOMAS RICHARDS {1633, Dorchester} [GMB 3:1575-79], d. Plymouth 12 December 1671 [MD 18:68]; m. (2) by 1675 Sarah ( ) Griswold, widow of Francis Griswold [NEHGR 155:245-50]; m. (3) after 7 March 1675/6 Mary (Wood) Holmes, daughter of John Wood and widow of John Holmes [PCR 5:188, 6:163; PLR 4:20, 11:156, 14:93; NEHGR 144:26-28].
  2. MERCY BRADFORD, b. by 1627; m. Plymouth 21 December 1648 Benjamin Vermayes [PCR 8:5].
  3. JOSEPH BRADFORD, b. about 1630; m. Hingham 25 May 1664 Jael Hobart [NEHGR 121:116], daughter of the Reverend Peter Hobart, and granddaughter of EDMUND HOBART {1633, Charlestown} [GMB 2:958-60].

COMMENTS: In his accounting of the Mayflower passengers, Bradford described his own family in 1620 as "William Bradford and Dorothy his wife, having but one child, a son left behind who came afterward," and in 1651 reported that "William Bradford his wife died soon after their arrival, and he married again and hath four children, three whereof are married" [Bradford 441, 444].

Although we know that Dorothy May, first wife of William Bradford, was from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, her parentage has not been satisfactorily determined. She has been called daughter of John and Cordelia (Bowes) May [NEHGR 50:462-65], and this couple apparently did have a daughter Dorothy, but that she was the same as the wife of William Bradford remains only a supposition. Bowman debunked the story claiming that Dorothy (May) Bradford had committed suicide [MD 29:97-102, 31: 105], and Stratton summarized the literature on her identity and her death [Stratton 324-26].

BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE: The best information on William Bradford is found in his own writings. Most important of these, of course, is his history of Plymouth Colony, and of its antecedents. In his edition of this work Samuel Eliot Morison tells the story of how the manuscript was found after having been lost for many years. He also lists all earlier editions of the history and allows that "the best edition of Bradford was edited by Worthington C. Ford."

  • History of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. By William Bradford, ed. Worthington C. Ford, 2 volumes (Boston 1912).
  • Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, ed. Samuel Eliot Morison (New York 1952).

The Five Generations Project of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants has published the descendants of William Bradford in Volume 22 of the series, compiled by Ann Smith Lainhart and Robert S. Wakefield and published in 2004.

The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620-1633

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