This video from PBS American Experience depicts actor Roger Rees as William Bradford, reading one of Bradford’s most well-known passages, which includes the famous quote, “…they were but strangers and pilgrims on the Earth.”
William Bradford was a Pilgrim Father and the second governor of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. Bradford is best known for his role in organizing and leading the Mayflower voyage in 1620 and for his detailed journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which provides valuable insights into the early history of the colony.
William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation
Without question, William Bradford’s most important literary work is his history of the colony, called Of Plimouth Plantation, or History of Plymouth Plantation. Written in the style of a journal, Bradford documented the history of the Pilgrims from their time in the Netherlands, the Mayflower journey, and Plymouth Colony to 1647.
Bradford’s original manuscript was kept in the Old South Meeting House in Boston, which was occupied by British troops during the American Revolutionary War. During the war, the manuscript disappeared. According to various accounts, British troops stole it and carried it back to England with them, however, there is no proof this happened.
In 1855, Bradford’s journal was discovered at Fulham Palace in the Bishop of London’s library. Some officials from the Church of England believed the journal belonged in church archives because it contained important birth and death records for a historically significant group of English colonists.
However, a British court ruled the document was taken after the 13 Original Colonies declared Independence, and the original was ordered to be returned to Massachusetts.
On May 26, 1897, the journal was returned to the Governor of Massachusetts during a joint session of the legislature.