Themes come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify key themes in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation and support their choices with details from the text.
Of Plymouth Plantation Themes and Ideas to Discuss
The Importance of Faith
An important theme in Of Plymouth Plantation is the importance of faith. William Bradford and the other Puritans were firm believers in Providence, or the hand of God guiding all things. When a particularly nasty shipman was knocked overboard in a storm on their Mayflower voyage, Bradford wrote that it was because of God’s will. The Pilgrims’ faith is always at the center of Bradford’s writing, and unlike some of his counterparts who were writing at the time, he credited all of the colony’s successes to the strength God gave the Pilgrims in their endeavors, rather than himself.
The Strength of A United Community
Another important theme raised in Of Plymouth Plantation is the strength of a united community. Bradford writes about the first winter, with all of the diseases and starvation that afflicted many of the Pilgrims. He mentions six or seven “sound persons” who did everything for the ill and infirm. He says they did all of it “willingly and cheerfully without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren...” This is the sense of a united community that Bradford highlights throughout his narrative, a community that was united not only in turmoil, but in their faith, and as a result, they survived.
An additional important theme in Of Plymouth Plantation is perseverance. Despite the first harsh winter, the many skirmishes with the Native American tribes (especially the Pequot), the diseases, and the struggles of building something from nothing in a New World far removed from Europe, the Pilgrims survived and began to flourish. This is due to their resolve to persevere in spite of the obstacles they encountered. Part of this is also due to the fact that they knew there was no place for them in England, or in Holland anymore. With nowhere else to go, and wishing to remain separate from the settlement in Jamestown, the Pilgrims’ perseverance helps them to survive and still keep their faith.
The Rewards of Hard Work
A final important theme found in Of Plymouth Plantation is the rewards of hard work. Because of the Pilgrims’ perseverance, Bradford writes about the many rewards: they establish a peace treaty with the Nauset tribes, including Squanto and Massasoit, who provide essential aid and important commodities to the settlers; the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which increases the number of settlers and supplies; Harvard University is founded; the New England Confederation is formed; the settlers are free to practice their religion as they wish, even to the exclusion of others. All of these things come as a result of the settlers’ hard work, perseverance, and common faith in God.
(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)
Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in Of Plymouth Plantation . Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.
- Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
- Identify the theme(s) from Of Plymouth Plantation you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
- Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
- Write a description of each of the examples.
- Save and submit your storyboard.
(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)
Born of substantial yeomen in Yorkshire, England, Bradford expressed his nonconformist religious sensibilities in his early teens and joined the famed Separatist church in Scrooby at the age of seventeen. In 1609 he immigrated with the congregation, led by John Robinson, to the Netherlands. For the next eleven years he and his fellow religious dissenters lived in Leyden until their fear of assimilation into Dutch culture prompted them to embark on the Mayflower for the voyage to North America.
Did You Know?
William Bradford's descendants include Noah Webster, Julia Child and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.
The Pilgrims arrived in what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 with a large number of non-Separatist settlers. Before disembarking, the congregation drew up the first New World social contract, the Mayflower Compact, which all the male settlers signed.
Bradford served thirty one-year terms as governor of the fledgling colony between 1622 and 1656. He enjoyed remarkable discretionary powers as chief magistrate, acting as high judge and treasurer as well as presiding over the deliberations of the General Court, the legislature of the community. In 1636 he helped draft the colony’s legal code. Under his guidance Plymouth never became a Bible commonwealth like its larger and more influential neighbor, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Relatively tolerant of dissent, the Plymouth settlers did not restrict the franchise or other civic privileges to church members. The Plymouth churches were overwhelmingly Congregationalist and Separatist in form, but Presbyterians like William Vassal and renegades like Roger Williams resided in the colony without being pressured to conform to the majority’s religious convictions.
After a brief experiment with the “common course,” a sort of primitive agrarian communism, the colony quickly centered around private subsistence agriculture. This was facilitated by Bradford’s decision to distribute land among all the settlers, not just members of the company. In 1627 he and four others assumed the colony’s debt to the merchant adventurers who had helped finance their immigration in return for a monopoly of the fur trading and fishing industries. Owing to some malfeasance on the part of their English mercantile factors and the decline of the fur trade, Bradford and his colleagues were unable to retire this debt until 1648, and then only at great personal expense.
Around 1630 Bradford began to compile his two-volume Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, one of the most important early chronicles of the settlement of New England. Bradford’s history was singular in its tendency to separate religious from secular concerns. Unlike similar tracts from orthodox Massachusetts Bay, Bradford did not interpret temporal affairs as the inevitable unfolding of God’s providential plan. Lacking the dogmatic temper and religious enthusiasm of the Puritans of the Great Migration, Bradford steered a middle course for Plymouth Colony between the Holy Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the tolerant secular community of Rhode Island.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.