Of Plymouth Plantation
God’s Justice in Of Plymouth Plantation
Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation opened the possibility that Indians were as much in God’s favor as the Pilgrims.During that time period written in the 17th century, this argument would be rather controversial.To begin, the exercise of human agency appeared to invoke God’s attention within the text.Whenever a noteworthy character incited a change of fate from his actions, he was described as “lusty”: having agency, whether for good or bad.
Also, from the beginning, Bradford set up the theme and a possible equation of how God executed justice.When the first “lusty” man was introduced, he was the sailor who harassed the passengers who were ill, and his actions were described as “grievous” as well as his consequences.The repetition of that adjective constructed a direct relationship between actions and repercussions.And his fate, directed by God, was described as “just”. However, “just” in this case, whether the able-bodied man deserved his death—could be described as biased.This resulted to a hypothesis whether the scales of justice were based on the well-being of only the Pilgrims.
Based on the able-bodied sailor’s death seen as an act of justice, his execution was a very Utilitarian stance on justice in this text.
“…[the Pilgrims] noted it to be the just hand of God upon him.” (pg 142).
Perhaps the good for the majority—rather than favoritism for a certain people—was a significant factor in His Judgement.Evidence that, within the text, God was not as biased for the Pilgrims as Bradford described could be seen by how the Pilgrims were never guaranteed safety throughout their journey. Also, this observation might be a stretch, but the word “hand” was repeated when describing a change of fate, and it was coincidentally similar to the idioms “the hands of fate” or “a hand of cards”—alluding to the arbitrary nature of justice.
Despite Bradford’s justifications that these tribulations—such as the diseases, the death of an innocent servant Samuel Fuller, and the trauma the Pilgrims endured from the sea—were resolved by God, He also did not prevent them.These hardships proved that God was no less harsh on the Indians as the Pilgrims.The Indian’s difficulties, as extracted from the text, were only described as the occasional outbreaks of violence among the Pilgrims. Never in the text were the Indians described to have suffered the wrath of God as severe as the obstacles the sailors endured.In short, Of Plymouth Plantation focused more on the Pilgrims’ struggles, and despite describing God on the settler’s side, and the English faced a variety of severe hardships that could question the favor of God being only their side.
Another example of distance between the Pilgrim’s perception of justice and God’s could be seen when none of the Indians were injured when one of the Pilgrims, once again described as “lusty”, fired his musket three times—aimed directly at the Indians.Furthermore, Bradford considered the Pilgrims’ arrival as a “blessing” from God to the Indians since the English introduced a method of harvesting corn.
“And here is to be noted a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that here they got seed to plant them corn the next year, or else they might have starved…” (page 146).
Following his reasoning, the Indians were also granted providence from God, despite not recognizing His presence.This proved that God also protected the Indians like He did to the Pilgrims.In contrast, the word “blessing” referenced back to the previous argument of perspective and context; if the Pilgrims were purely a blessing from God, their intentions would be solely to help the Natives.However, there was questionable self-interest in their aid in case they should remain on Plymouth Plantation over a longer period.This led to my final point of how much credit Bradford allowed the Pilgrims to have in their fate contrasted to the God’s involvement.
The adjective “lusty” repeatedly described men who inspired a change of fate; these were the moments in the text when God intervened.Perhaps Bradford perceived that human agency appealed to God.Moreover, the trials described on page 144—of the dangerous terrain, the cold and the wild animals—were supposedly acknowledged by God who did not alleviate the sailors.The description read like a game of “survival of the fittest”, and God usually responded with providence only at the Pilgrims’ utmost despair.These observations concluded that in Of Plymouth Plantation, God noticed those with agency. Moreover, Bradford’s choice of diction further underscored the mixed and complex relationship of God’s interference in human affairs.On page 143, the sailors were described to be
“entangled” with frightening waves, implying that the Pilgrims had actively ventured into such danger.However, Bradford reduced the entirety of the sailors’ responsibility for their misfortunes with the verb “fell”—“…they fell among the most dangerous shoals” (page 143).“fell” was a passive verb since the act of falling is usually not intended; hence, the presence of these two verbs, one active and one passive, illustrated the blurred human involvement in creating their fates.
The Pilgrims and the Indians had agency to react to their encounters, but did not have control over whom or what they encountered; and in this text, humans could not control their ultimate destiny.This proved that God’s favor was not guaranteed for either the Pilgrims or the Indians since He protected or punished both based on their reactions to their fates.By the end of the passage, Bradford concluded with God’s mercy—as though the Pilgrims had convinced Him that they deserved safety by overcoming their obstacles.
Lastly, the structure in Of Plymouth Plantation echoed the theme throughout the text that God had ultimate decision over the Pilgrims’ and the Natives’ destinies. Perhaps He already knew what would become of them at the very end.The text was narrated in third person, and Bradford separated himself from the sailors, whom he referred to as “they” although he had been a part of this journey. His use of “they” instead of a first-person journal-like account implied that some duration had passed, and as he relived these memories, he was aware of the ending.
The characters in his account however, were not aware of their consequences until the reader had reached the end of the narration.There was a God-like quality in Bradford’s choice of presenting these accounts since he had separated himself from the characters—despite once being a part of them—and he was aware of their endings, much like how God determined the destinies of the sailors and the Natives. While this structural effect—paralleling the scale of God’s power contrasted with humans’—could be unintentional, it is a noteworthy possibility.
Hence, Bradford’s stylistic narration could be a metaphor paralleled to how God overlooked human activities and could arbitrarily intercede with changes of fate, similar to how Bradford omitted certain details—which he confessed to doing on page 144—or focused on certain perceptions.Overall, balance was produced between the hardships of the sailors and their ultimate safety, as well as their relationship with the Natives in the text.Perhaps, an underlying possibility in Bradford’s interpretation of God’s justice was—establishing homeostasis of the world, rather than pure favor to one side.