Lone Star William Bradford Beliefs About Puritans Mission & Identity Discussion

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Passenger of the Mayflower voyage, 1620

Governor of Plymouth Colony, re-elected 30 times, total term of 33 years

Writes a famous history of the colonists’ experiences: Of Plymouth Plantation

Covers years 1620 (Mayflower landing) to 1646. Unpublished until 1856!

American Exceptionalism: the theory that the United States is “qualitatively different” from other states. Puritans believed God had made a covenant with their people and had chosen them to provide a model for the other nations of the Earth. One Puritan leader, John Winthrop (see “A Modell of Christian Charity,” 380ff), metaphorically expressed this idea as a “City upon a Hill”—that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world (p. 389, top; see also Matthew 5: 14-15 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house”). (Utopianism: An attempt to construct an ideal community or society.) The “City on a Hill” metaphor is often used by proponents of exceptionalism. The Puritans’ deep moralistic values remained part of the national identity of the United States for centuries, remaining influential to the present day.

Bradford’s history is not just a chronicle or a log of events. It is a history, an interpretation, a search for the meaning of these events, an argument for a particular theological explanation of events.

His thesis: The Puritans’ story closely resembles the ancient Israelites’ story: first slavery/persecution, then Exodus, then wandering in the wilderness, finally entrance to the “Promised Land”

Providence: God’s intervention in the events of the world. A guiding concept for Puritans. In its simplest terms, God rewards virtue with blessing/prosperity, and God punishes wickedness with hardship/poverty/illness. See the anecdote of the Profane Sailor (pg. 400). A kind of template for how events conform neatly to his beliefs and the Puritan utopian project.

Bradford is anxious about a certain ambiguity: (A) They experience much hardship (401-05). Half the company die. Cold, disease, starvation, lack of water, fear of native people. Does this mean that God doesn’t approve of their plan? (B ) This “chosen people” still behave badly. How can he make sense of this? It doesn’t seem to fit his idealistic narrative. See “Wickedness Breaks Forth” (415-16) and “A Horrible Case of Bestiality” (416). The first execution in colonial America.

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