by Stacy B.C. Wood, Jr.
I hope many of you saw the first program in C-SPAN's American Writers—a journey through history in March 2003. It was titled William Bradford—The Mayflower Compact and it was telecast from Plimoth Plantation and Pilgrim Hall. It is significant that C-SPAN writers chose Governor Bradford to be the first and earliest writer of the 44 writers it selected to cover throughout its thirty-eight week series. There was William Bradford right in there with the likes of Ben Franklin, James Fenimore Cooper, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Walter Lippman, Jack Kerouac, Betty Friedan and William F. Buckley!
During that first program, you had a glimpse of Pilgrim Hall's facsimile copy of Bradford's manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation. The PA Society of Mayflower Descendants also has a copy, number 146 of an unknown number printed. This summer we had our copy rebound and a slip cover made to help preserve it for another century. The facsimile copies were published by Ward and Downey Ltd. in 1896. This was the year in which the PA Society was founded. The 1896 facsimile was the first publishing of the complete Bradford manuscript in any form as earlier editions were based on a hand written transcription that omitted certain passages.
What is Bradford's history Of Plimoth Plantation? Most readers will recognize the title and some will know that it is the firsthand account of Plymouth Colony's history written during the period 1630-1650 by the Colony's second and, with 33 years, its longest serving governor. The original manuscript measures 11 ½" x 7 ¾" and consists of about 270 leaves, mainly written on the obverse. Although a good account of the Pilgrims' first months in New England is found in Mourt's Relation published in 1622 and Capt. John Smith has some history of the Colony in his New England Trials published in 1624 and Edward Winslow also has some history in his 1624 Good News From New England, none are as complete as Bradford's history.
Finally, although Bradford writes of the successful harvest of the first summer 1621, he does not tell the story that we have come to know as "the First Thanksgiving." Rather, it was Edward Winslow who wrote of this to a friend in England on 11 Dec 1621 and his letter is included in Mourt's Relation.
On the curiosity side, we find pages where Bradford records his English-Hebrew dictionary and exercises.
In ending the summary of his History, of great importance is his complete listing of the passengers of the Mayflower (whose name he, "Mourt," and other contemporaries never mention in their writings). This listing includes the "increasings" or additions to the original families.
Enough of what Bradford's History is. Now for the story of its own history:
Governor William Bradford died on 9 May 1657 at the age of 61. This was approximately nine years after his final entry in his Of Plimoth Plantation.
Following his death, his manuscript descended initially to his second son, my ancestor, Major William Bradford who married Alice Richard. It was then passed to his son Major John Bradford who married Mercy Warner and then to John's son Samuel who married Sarah Gray.
According to Samuel Eliot Morison's Introduction to his 1959 edition of "History," we learn the following "History of the History:"
Nathaniel Morton, Governor Bradford's nephew who later became the Secretary of the Plymouth Colony, used the manuscript in writing his previously mentioned history New England Memoriall that was published in Cambridge in 1669 and dedicated to the then Governor Prence. This was the first published history of New England.
Increase Mather was the next to borrow it around 1676 for use in his research for his History of the Indian Wars. While in his possession it miraculously survived the burning of Mather's house. William Hubbard then used it while writing his History of New England in 1683.
Cotton Mather, a son of the above Increase Mather, used it while preparing his Magnalia Christi Americana that was published in London 1702.
Between 1725 and 1728, Judge Samuel Swell, a diarist, also borrowed it. The Rev. Thomas Prince, minister of the Old South Church in Boston, so noted this on the manuscript. The Rev. Prince accumulated a library collection so large that he prepared a space for it in the steeple room of the Old South Church. He called it "The New England Library." While working on his own Chronological History of New England that would be published in 1736, he offered to buy the Bradford manuscript from Samuel Bradford. Bradford replied that he would never part with it permanently, but he would lend it to Prince. He retrieved it from Swell and Prince then inscribed it with the ownership on a flyleaf — and then put a New England Library book plate on the same page.
Prince died in 1758 and left his New England Library of some 2000 books to the Old South Church. The collection still exists but is now housed in the Rare Books and Manuscripts department. Unfortunately, Of Plimoth Plantation is not among them.
Thomas Hutchinson, the colonial governor of Massachusetts from 1771 to 1774, used the manuscript in preparing volume 2 of his 3 volume, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay that was published in 1767. A Tory, he fled to England in 1774.
At the end of the American War of Independence, the manuscript was not to be found. Hutchinson was certainly a prime suspect in its disappearance, however, the Old South Church had been used by the occupying British garrison as a riding school and it is also possible that they took it as well as other works when they withdrew from Boston. Indeed, a portion of Gov. Bradford's Letter-Book was later found shortly after 1783 in Halifax to which the British had removed.
Because only Book I (the first ten chapters) of the manuscript had been previously copied by Bradford's nephew into the Church Records of Plymouth, the loss of the Second Book that begins with the "Mayflower Compact" was a historical catastrophe for our new nation.
It wasn't until 1855 that a quotation from the manuscript was discovered in A History of the Protestant Church in America written by the Bishop of Oxford, England, in 1844. This led to the locating of the manuscript in the library of Fulham Palace in London. This, until 1973, was the residence of the Bishop of London. The bookplate of the New England Library proclaimed "It now belongs to the Bishop of London's Library."
Attempts were immediately made to secure the return of the manuscript. However, it would take over forty years of negotiations to effect the return. In 1860 it was suggested by the president of the Massachusetts Historical Society that the Prince of Wales bring it with him on his visit to the U.S. that year. In 1867, the Philadelphia Library, in an act of courtesy, returned some official manuscripts from the reign of James I that it possessed. The Bishop of London stated that an Act of Parliament or the approval of Queen Victoria would be necessary to ensure its release. On the assassination of President Garfield in 1881, it was suggested that the return of the History would be evidence of English sympathy. This did not fly either.
In 1896 there was a concerted effort made by the American Antiquarian Society, the Pilgrim Society, and the New England Society of New York in a joint application delivered by the American Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, Thomas F. Bayard. By now there was a new Bishop of London who was an historian, Bishop Mandell Creighton, who then appealed to the Prime Minister for an opinion. He passed it back to the Bishop. There was the British concern that the list of Mayflower passengers contained in the manuscript might cause their descendants to make claim to property in England. It was pointed out that the list had already been printed in the 1856 edition and in the 1896 facsimile edition. Regardless, the church lawyers insisted that the manuscript be officially called "The Log of the Mayflower."
A Consistory Court met in St. Paul's Cathedral on 25 March 1897 and a decree created the myth that the manuscript "known and entitled 'The Log of the Mayflower,' containing an account as narrated by Captain William Bradford..." Further, the manuscript was to be deposited in Pilgrim Hall at "New Plymouth" or such place designated by the President and Senate of the United States. It was to be delivered by Ambassador Bayard to the Governor of Massachusetts.
In the Spring of 1897, Ambassador Bayard, a Democrat who knew that the new Republican President, William McKinley, would certainly name his replacement, resigned and returned to the States with the manuscript.
On the morning of May 26, 1897, Bayard turned over Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation to a joint Convention of both houses of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Amid great pomp and circumstance, US Senator George Frisbie Hoar in a tribute to Queen Victoria, declared that there was nothing like the Bradford History "in the annals since the Story of Bethlehem." He went on to promise that "Massachusetts will preserve it until the time shall come that her children are unworthy of it; and that time shall come, – never!"
That evening, The American Antiquarian Society gave a banquet at the Parker House for 34 of its members and ten invited guests including the Governor, Ambassador Bayard, the British Consul General, and representatives of the Bradford and Winslow families. The menu contained: green turtle and cream of lobster soups; boiled salmon and fried soft shell crabs; removes of roast spring lamb, fillet of beef, and boiled Philadelphia capon; entrees of sweetbreads, patties of lobster Newburg, & fried bananas glace, Benedictine; releve of frozen Tom & Jerry; game: English Snipe and pover; sweets of frozen pudding, strawberry shortcake, sultana roll, and maraschino jelly; and desserts of strawberries, pineapples, ice cream, sherbet, cake, olives and coffee.
Governor Wolcott decided to deposit the manuscript in the State Library. It is there today.
As stated above, my source for this story has been what I consider to be the best printed version of the "History": Samuel Eliot Morison's 1959 edition. Grammar, syntax and every word that Bradford wrote are included. Modern punctuation and modern spelling are used and proper names have been standardized with present usage. His footnotes are invaluable. In his introduction, he sets down in great detail the History of the History, which is his title. Copies of his edition are available through better book stores and Amazon.com. Copies of earlier editions can be found for various prices on www.bookfinder.com and other used book sites. I have yet to find one of the 1896 numbered facsimile offered on the Internet.