William Bradford – Biography, Birth, Death, Plymouth Colony, Legacy & Facts

Growing Up of William Bradford

William Bradford was born in Austerfield, England in 1590 to William and Alice Bradford. His father, a wealthy farmer and landowner, died when William was a baby, and his mother died when William was seven. William grew up reading the Bible while working on a farm with his uncles.

William Bradford Overview:

Occupation Governor of Plymouth Colony
Children Joseph Bradford, William Bradford
Born 1590 in Austerfield, England
Died May 9, 1657 in Plymouth, Massachusetts
Best known for Leading the Pilgrims and founding Plymouth Colony

Biography of William Bradford:


Against the wishes of his uncles, William began attending separatist church meetings around the age of 12. Separatists were those who wished to “separate” from the Church of England in order to establish a “pure” church. However, at that time it was illegal to practice any religion other than the Church of England.

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William began meeting secretly with other Separatists at William Brewster’s house. In 1607 the Church of England arrested many separatists. Some of them were sent to prison, others, like William Bradford, were fined. From that point on, suspected separatists were under constant surveillance and under constant threat of arrest. The separatists decided to move to Holland, where they could worship freely.

The Netherlands

In 1608, when William was eighteen, he emigrated to Holland along with many other Separatists. While in Holland he married Dorothy May and had a son John in 1617. It was around this time that the Separatists decided to create their own colonies in the Americas. William and Dorothy decided to travel to America, but left their son John with their grandparents.

Plymouth Colony

Bradford and his wife crossed the Atlantic on his Mayflower in 1620. The tour group later came to be known as the “Pilgrims” for their pursuit of religious freedom in the New World. Upon arrival, Bradford signed the colony’s first treaty, the Mayflower Accords.

Bradford volunteered to participate in the first expedition to find his settlement. He was part of the group that discovered Plymouth Harbor, where the Pilgrims founded the Plymouth Colony. Unfortunately, Bradford learned after his return that his wife had fallen off the Mayflower and drowned.


Plymouth Colony’s first winter was harsh. About half of the original settlers died of disease or starvation in the first year, including the first governor, John Carver. That spring, William Bradford was elected the new governor of Plymouth Colony. Bradford served as governor for the next 12 years.

He was re-elected several times and served as governor for a total of 30 years. His strong leadership was exactly what the colony needed to survive. He worked to maintain peace with the local Native Americans, allocating farmland to all the settlers.

Plymouth Plantation

Bradford was also a writer. He wrote a detailed history of the Plymouth Colony entitled “On Plymouth Plantation”. This document is one of the best records he has of the early pilgrims’ struggle to survive.

There is also a great insight into the daily life of the settlers. The book covers much of Pilgrim’s history from his arrival in Plymouth to his 1647, twenty-seven years later.

Death of William Bradford

William Bradford died in Plymouth on May 9, 1657.

Interesting Facts about William Bradford

Bradford married his second wife Alice Southworth in 1623. They had 3 children.

Famous descendants of William Bradford include actor Clint Eastwood, chef Julia Child, inventor George Eastman, U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Noah Webster.

He presided over what many historians regard as his first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621.

One of Bradford’s partners in colonial administration was Captain Miles Standish, who was in charge of the colony’s defense and military affairs.

Bradford had his first wedding at Plymouth Colony in 1621.