In 1575, there lived in Austerfield, Yorkshire County, England, one William Bradford. It has been found impossible to trace the family beyond this point but there is strong probability that this William Bradford was a relative of the celebrated preacher martyr, John Bradford, who was burned at the stake at Smithfield [Eng.], January 31, 1555, for his opposition to papacy. It has also been supposed that this William Bradford was a relative of a Bradford who participated in connections with Thomas Stafford, son of Lord Stafford, in a rebellion against the hated Queen Mary, for which he was executed at Tyburn, May 29, 1557.
There is evidently some reason why the founder of the family in this country, the celebrated Pilgrim, who will hereafter be known as [Governor] Gov. William, was always silent on the subject of his own family, notwithstanding his numerous writings on the early colonists.
It may be interesting to mention that the name of Bradford is supposed to have originated at a time when families were frequently called after places near their homes, and that the first family of this name lived near a "broad ford." The name is frequently spelled Bradfurth and Bradfourth, in the church records of England. The family of William Bradford, of Austerfield, belonged to a class called yeomanry, which was at that time next to the gentry, and had the right to use coats-of-arms. They usually owned [the] lands they occupied, and were, to use the language of today, farmers of large estates. This William Bradford has four children, viz.: William, Thomas, Robert, and Elizabeth. The dates of their birth are not known, but Robert was baptized June 25, 1561, and Elizabeth July 16, 1570. The oldest son, William, married Alice Hanson, June 21, 1584. She was the daughter of John Hanson, the only man in Austerfield at that time besides William Bradford who paid taxes to the crown. William Bradford and Alice Hanson had the following children: Margaret, born March 8, 1585; Alice, born October 30, 1587; and William the Pilgrim, baptized March 19, 1589/90. The Pilgrim's father died July 1591, leaving him an orphan. He went to live with his grandfather and upon the death of the latter in January 1595/96 was cared for by his uncles, Thomas, Richard (?) [??], and Robert Bradford.
Gov. William in his younger days was prevented from entering into the pursuits of his relatives by the state of his health, but having inherited a comfortable estate, he was well provided for. When 12 years old, he manifested great interest in the Scriptures and sought the company of Richard Clifton and other Puritan preachers. Profiting by their teachings, he soon embraced the Puritan faith. In 1607, Gov. William, in company with the other Puritans, moved to Holland, in order to be able to enjoy freedom of worship. While on his way, he was imprisoned at Boston, England, for a time on account of his religious belief. They first went to Amsterdam but soon moved to Lydon [Lyden]. At this place, Gov. William Learned the art of dyeing silk, and when he came of age, sold his estate in England and engaged in commerce.
In 1620, Gov. William, in company with other Puritans, when to England from Holland and embarked in the Mayflower for America. In 1621, he was chosen Governor and re-elected every year until 1657 except the years 1633-34, 1636, 1638-44. In all, he served 30 years as governor, often against his wishes and during the five years he was not governor, served the colony in some capacity as a public officer. Gov. Bradford, according to Cotton Mather, was well acquainted with Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, particularly the latter. He spoke French and Dutch fluently, and well understood history, philosophy, and theology. He was the only historian of Plymouth Colony, and his "prose writings were above mediocrity." Gov. Bradford's manuscript history of Plymouth Colony, of two hundred and seventy pages, descended to his grandson, John, who presented it with some other manuscripts and a letter-book formerly belonging to the governor to the New England Library. These manuscripts were deposited in the tower of the old South Church, Boston, for safe keeping and so far as known were there when the city was taken by the British in 1775. It will be remembered that the British soldiers used this church as a riding school during their occupancy of the city.
When Boston was evacuated in the spring of 1776, Gov. Bradford's manuscript history of Plymouth Colony, and many other valuable documents, among them his letter-book, were missing. The letter-book was discovered in a grocery store at Halifax, Nova Scotia, some years after (a large portion of it having been destroyed) and sent to the Massachusetts Historical Society. The history could not be found, and it [was] supposed that it had been destroyed. Previous to 1775, several early colonial historians had mad extracts from this history and the tenor of these extracts was known by those well versed in early colonial history. In 1855, it was discovered by the Massachusetts historian, Rev. John S. Barry, that a volume entitled "A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America" by Samuel, Lord Bishop of Oxford, London, 1846, contained extracts from a manuscript in the Fulham Library similar to some of the above mentioned. The Fulham Library is a manor-house or palace, located in the village of Fulham, a few miles from London! This palace is the residence of the Lord Bishop of London. This discovery having been brought to the attention of the Massachusetts Historical Society, an agent was employed to examine the Fulham manuscripts. The result of the examination was that the manuscripts proved beyond a doubt to be the original history of Plymouth Colony written by Governor William Bradford's own hands. The Society had the manuscript opened and published. The publication was in 1856. The original manuscript still remains in the Fulham Library, England, and the agency by which it reached there from New England Library, Boston, is still unknown.
Gov. Bradford, while living in Holland, married Dorothy May, and English Puritan December 10, 1613. By this marriage he had one son who did not come over in the Mayflower, but in another vessel some years later. The Governor's wife, Dorothy, was drowned in Cape Cod harbor, December 17, 1620. August 14, 1623, the Gov. married Alice Carpenter Southworth, widow of Edward Southworth. Gov. Bradford died at Plymouth, May 9, 1657. His wife Alice died at the same place March 26, 1670, aged about 79 years.