Pilgrim Governor

Author Melinda Penner Published on 11/07/2013

William Bradford was the long-serving governor of the Plymouth Colony. He arrived in the new world in 1621. Bradford helped author the Mayflower Compact, which set out the civil laws the settlers agreed to live by. The Compact provided for fair treatment for all with the common good in view. This is the general view of government that the Founding Fathers had in mind as they drew up the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These ideas were fundamental in the very beginning of our country with the Pilgrims.

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.