William Bradford was America’s first great statesman, legislator and politician. His journal, History of Plymouth Plantation (1600-1646), was lost for over a century. It was rediscovered in England and returned to America in 1896. U.S. Senator George Hoar then said that Bradford’s journal was the only authentic history of “the most important political transaction that has ever taken place on the face of the earth.” He said that it is the greatest story since the story of Bethlehem.
William Bradford was born into Elizabethan England in 1588. The era brings forth visions of Shakespeare and gallantry, of Sir Walter Raleigh and Renaissance Faires. But in reality, life in merry ole England was not so merry. England had been the backwater of Europe for several centuries. Its people, were for the most part, ignorant, poor and illiterate peasants. Its government controlled every major decision of life.
As it is today, the corruption of society was most clearly seen in English royalty (celebrity) and a corrupt government. However, the commoners in this highly caste driven society were equally corrupt. They were what Cellini called “English savages.” By his early teens, young Bradford was faced with all the temptations of this semi-pagan society. For example, their May Day celebrations were based on old pagan traditions and resulted in all night parties in the forests that went on for days. One German observer, Hentxner, explained their practice. He said, “At the sound of a bell the folk become insane, thousands at a time, and forget all decency and common sense. It is to Satan and the devil that they pay homage, and do sacrifice in these abominable pleasures.”
But William Bradford chose another path from the majority of his peers. He came to a saving knowledge of Christ through reading His Word. Bradford met a life-long friend and godly mentor, William Brewster at that time. He joined himself to the small believing, outlawed congregation of Separatists in 1603 as they began to meet in Brewster’s Manor house in Scrooby in secret by candlelight. The government did not allow any freedom of religion, speech or press. They suffered much persecution. John Choules reminds us to never forget that “the prison, the scaffold and the stake were stages in the march of civil and religious liberty.”
The congregation was forced into exile in Holland. There William grew in intellectual and spiritual wisdom under the teaching of their pastor John Robinson. Robinson taught brilliantly on the issues of self and civil government, religious liberty and free enterprise. This tiny group of persecuted exiles was being prepared to seed and model the most free and prosperous nation in history.
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