William Bradford Facts
The American journalist William Bradford (1722-1791) published an influential newspaper. Opponent of British policies, he followed words with heroic deeds during the Revolution and was known as "the patriot printer of 1776."
Born in New York City, William Bradford was the grandson of the William Bradford who introduced printing in the Middle colonies and gave New York its first newspaper. His uncle, Andrew Bradford, was responsible for Philadelphia's first newspaper. The tradition would be continued by William's own son, Thomas. The Bradfords must be recognized as one of the most influential families of printers in America for nearly 150 years. Young William learned the craft from his uncle, then visited London to improve his skills and prospects. In 1742 he returned to Philadelphia with printing equipment and stock for a bookstore. His career established, he married Rachel Budd from a prosperous New Jersey family.
Bradford carried on a profitable printing and bookselling business and issued two of the best colonial periodicals, the Pennsylvania Journal (begun in 1742), a weekly, and the American Magazine (1757), a monthly. The Journal rivaled Benjamin Franklin's Gazette. Bradford's paper, better printed and as well edited, circulated throughout the Colonies, including the West Indies.
A man of wide contacts in a prospering city, Bradford was successful in a number of ventures. In 1762 he and a partner formed the Philadelphia Insurance Company, designed to insure shipping and merchandise. The background for his other operations was the London Coffee-House for Merchants and Traders, which he opened in 1754, where men of influence met to transact business and exchange opinions. In time Bradford was able to consolidate most of his ventures in adjoining buildings. He was a powerful figure in a colony of critical importance. And he was in touch with his peers elsewhere.
Bradford's position in Philadelphia society and his interest in Pennsylvania's prosperity made him a key figure in the development of colonial opposition to Great Britain. During the French and Indian War he gained some military experience. One of the most vehement antagonists of the Stamp Act of 1765, he became a leader in the Sons of Liberty. At the same time he opposed some Americans who seemed too irresponsible, particularly William Goddard of the Maryland Journal. Bradford followed his own newspaper attacks on British policies with increasing emphasis on the importance of a continental congress. In 1774 his paper carried the famous picture of a dissected snake with the motto, "Unite or Die." He was the printer for the First Congress, and along with editors in other cities he also became a postmaster.
Bradford joined the Revolution, first with money and aid in communication, then as a soldier. Badly wounded at Princeton, after 1778 he gave himself to administrative work in the revolutionary cause. His service ruined both his health and his business. He died on Sept. 25, 1791.
Bradford was an example of the prosperous colonial figures with their own economic interests and intercolonial contacts, whose spirits grew steadily toward revolution, and who frequently gave the cause a rather moderate character.
Further Reading on William Bradford
The fullest source on Bradford is John W. Wallace, An Old Philadelphian: Colonel William Bradford (1884). Besides an extensive, though uncritical, biography, it includes sketches by associates and gleanings from his press. For background on newspapers and the Revolution, as well as information on Bradford, a helpful book is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain (1957). Also useful is Carl and Jessica Bridenbaugh, Rebels and Gentlemen: Philadelphia in the Age of Franklin (1942). □
The American printer William Bradford (1663-1752) is often referred to as "the pioneer printer of the Middle colonies." He was involved in frequent controversies over freedom of the press.
William Bradford was born on May 20, 1663, in Leicestershire, England. His parents apprenticed him to Andrew Sowle, the foremost Quaker printer in London. The ambitious young man learned the trade, adopted Sowle's religion, and in 1685 married his master's daughter, Elizabeth. Bradford sailed to Pennsylvania in 1685. He carried a letter of recommendation from George Fox, the founder of the Quakers.
Bradford wasted little time in setting up shop. By the end of the year the first printing in the Middle colonies had appeared. It was an almanac, the Kalendarium Pennsilvaniense, by Samuel Atkins. In it Bradford asked forgiveness for some errors caused by haste and the disorders of travel. But he hoped his readers would be cheered that "after great Charge and Trouble" he had brought "that great Art and Mystery of Printing to this part of America."
The almanac got an unexpected reception. Printing in the New World was often a precarious business. Governor William Penn may have been uneasy about the establishment of a press in his colony; in any case, he took offense at one slight reference to him in the almanac. Atkins was swiftly reprimanded, and Bradford was ordered to print nothing without license from the Pennsylvania Council. In 1687 Bradford was told that nothing could be printed about the Quakers without their formal approval. In 1689 trouble arose between a new governor and the populace. The governor officially reprimanded Bradford for issuing Penn's original charter for the colony, in spite of the printer's plea that it was his business to print whatever was brought him by any party. For a time Bradford resigned his business and went to England, returning in 1690 to what he thought were better prospects. He was involved with William Rittenhouse in opening the first paper mill in British America. But trouble came again a few years later when Bradford took the minority side in a conflict among Quakers. His property was seized and he was arrested, though he escaped conviction.
In April 1693 the New York Council invited Bradford to become their public printer. His first New York production, called New-England's Spirit of Persecution Transmitted to Pennsilvania, discussed his own case. His New York business was wide and varied, including the printing of books, tracts, paper money, and the laws of the colony.
Bradford has numerous "firsts" to his credit in the history of American printing. From 1725 to 1744 he published the New York Gazette, the colony's first newspaper. After 1733 it had a rival, the Weekly Journal, published by Bradford's former apprentice and partner, John Peter Zenger. Bradford, as public printer, supported the government. Zenger was sponsored by a faction opposed to the government. When attempts were made to suppress Zenger, Bradford took a new side, against the government, in the famous freedom-of-press controversy.
Bradford's business, which included bookselling, grew lucrative. After 1723 he also did printing for New Jersey. He retired at the age of 80 and died on May 23, 1752. His son Andrew and his grandson William were also important early American printers and journalists.
Further Reading on William Bradford
A brief and interesting portrait of Bradford is in John T. Winterich, Early American Books and Printing (1935). The standard book on printing in the Colonies, Laurence C. Wroth, The Colonial Printer (1931; 2d ed. 1938), considers Bradford at length. For the background of freedom of the press, the most important book is Leonard W. Levy, Legacy of Suppression: Freedom of Speech and Press in Early American History (1960). □
William Bradford (1590-1657), one of the Pilgrim Fathers, was the leader of the Plymouth Colony in America. His extraordinary history, "Of Plymouth Plantation, " was not published until 1856.
On March 19, 1590, William Bradford was baptized at Austerfield, Yorkshire, England. His father, a yeoman farmer, died when William was only a year old. The boy was trained by relatives to be a farmer. He was still young when he joined a group of Separatists (Protestant radicals who separated from the established Church of England) in nearby Scrooby. For most of the rest of his life, the best source is his Of Plymouth Plantation.
Becoming a Pilgrim
In 1607 Bradford and about 120 others were attacked as nonconformists to the Church of England. They withdrew to Holland, under the religious leadership of John Robinson and William Brewster, living for a year at Amsterdam and then in Leiden, where they stayed nearly 12 years. They were very poor; Bradford worked in the textile industry. In these hard years he seems to have managed to get something of an education because he lived with the Brewsters near a university. Bradford was attracted to the ideal of a close-knit community such as the Scrooby group had established. At the age of 23 he married 16-year-old Dorothy May, who belonged to a group of Separatists that had come earlier from England.
The threat of religious wars, the difficulty of earning a decent living, the loss from the community of children who assimilated Dutch ways, the zeal for missionary activity— these forces led the Scrooby group to consider becoming "Pilgrims" by leaving Holland for America. After many delays they chose New England as their goal, and with financial support from London merchants and from Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who claimed rights to the American area they sought, the Pilgrims readied to leave for America.
Signing the Mayflower Compact
But the terms arranged for the colonists by their deacon were treacherous; the backers and the settlers were to share ownership in the land the colonists improved and the dwellings they constructed. Many of the Pilgrims' coreligionists backed out of the enterprise, and a group of "strangers" was recruited to replace them. When one of their two ships, the Speedwell, proved unseaworthy, the expedition was delayed further. Finally, in September 1620 the Mayflower departed alone, its 102 passengers almost equally divided between "saints" and "strangers." The men on board signed a compact that established government by consent of the governed, the "Mayflower Compact." John Carver (with Brewster, the oldest of the saints) was elected governor.
On landing at Cape Cod in November, a group led by Myles Standish went ashore to explore; they chose Plymouth harbor for their settlement. Meanwhile Dorothy Bradford had drowned. (In 1623 Bradford married a widow from Leiden, with whom he had three children.)
The settlers soon began to construct dwellings. The winter was harsh; one of many who died of the illness that swept the colony was Governor Carver. Bradford became governor, and under him the colonists learned to survive. Squanto, a Native American who had lived in England, taught the settlers to grow corn; and they came to know Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag tribe. A vivid report on these early adventures written by Bradford and Edward Winslow was sent to England and published as Mourt's Relation (1622); with it went clapboard and other materials gathered by the settlers to begin paying off their debts. (Unfortunately the cargo was pirated by a French privateer—a typical piece of Pilgrim bad luck.)
Bradford was responsible for the financial burdens as well as the governing of the colony until his death, though for some five years he did not officially serve as governor. These years saw the debt continue to grow (with great effort it was paid off in 1648).
Developing Plymouth Colony
The population of the colony gradually increased, and by 1623 there were 32 houses and 180 residents. Yet during Bradford's lifetime the colony, which began for religious reasons mainly, never had a satisfactory minister. John Robinson, a great pastor in Holland who had been expected to guide the saints, never reached America. One clergyman who did come, John Lyford, was an especially sharp thorn in Bradford's side. Eventually he was exiled, with the result that the London backers regarded the colonists as contentious and incapable of self-rule.
Gradually as Plymouth Colony came to encompass a number of separate settlements, Bradford's particular idea of community was lost. After 1630 the colony was overshadowed by its neighbor, the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But in fact Plymouth never amounted to much as a political power. By 1644 the entire colony's population was still a mere 300. Plymouth did make other northern colonizing efforts attractive; it supplied important material aid to the Bay Colony, and it may have helped establish its Congregational church polity as the "New England way." Bradford was admired by Governor John Winthrop of Boston, with whom he frequently met to discuss common problems.
Bradford the Man
Bradford's private life was distinguished by self-culture. He taught himself Greek and came to know classical poetry and philosophy as well as contemporary religious writers. He worked on his great history, Of Plymouth Plantation, from 1630 until 1646, adding little afterward. Most of the events were described in retrospect. He wrote as a believer in God's providence, but the book usually has an objective tone. Though far from being an egotist, Bradford emerges as the attractive hero of his story. The last pages reflect his recognition that the colony was not a success, and the book has been called a tragic history. Though he stopped writing his history altogether in 1650, he remained vigorous and active until his death in 1657.
Further Reading on William Bradford
A convenient modern edition of Bradford's history was prepared by Samuel Eliot Morison, ed., Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 (1952). Another edition was published in 1962, edited and with an introduction by Harvey Wish. The best biography is Bradford Smith, Bradford of Plymouth (1951). G. F. Willison, Saints and Strangers (1945), an account of the Pilgrims, contains much material on Bradford. Background works include Harvey Wish, Society and Thought in Early America (1950); Ruth A. Mclntyre, Debts Hopeful and Desperate: Financing the Plymouth Colony (1963); and George D. Langdon, Jr., Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691 (1966). □