Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Poem by a Pilgrim

This poem and blog post are for the “Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge” held annually by blogger Bill West.  You can read all about the challenge at this link:
Bill will be posting all the entries on Thanksgiving Day, 23 November 2017.  It should make some great reading while you are waiting for your Thanksgiving dinner!


William Bradford (1590 - 1657) was the Pilgrim who wrote a journal of his experiences, thus ensuring that this obscure little band of settlers would become the most famous 102 people ever studied in American History.  More is known about these folks and their religion, genealogies, diet, history, society, and journey to a new settlement than any of their 17th century contemporaries, including William Shakespeare!  And a lot of what is known began when scholars began to read Bradford’s journal, and the writings of the other “Pilgrims”. 

William Bradford was a sickly child, who was orphaned and lived with relatives. He spent a good part of his childhood indoors reading books.  He learned to read the bible and other religious books as a young man, and became very spiritual.  When he was a teen aged boy he would walk 12 miles from his home in Austerfield, Yorkshire to Babworth, Nottingham to hear Rev. Richard Clyfton preach about Separatism.  Bradford became part of the Scrooby congregation under William Brewster, and went to Leiden, Holland with the Separatists who followed Rev. John Robinson.  This was the group who eventually came on the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  He began to write his journal during the journey, and was elected the Governor when John Carver died in 1621. Bradford spent his later years writing his memoirs.

What is lesser known is that Bradford also wrote poetry.  In his last will and testament, 9 May 1657, he wrote “In special I commend to you a little book with a black cover, wherein there is a word to Plymouth and a word to Boston and a word to New England with sundry useful verses.”  This poem below is one of those verses. The poetry he wrote in his later years was mostly about the “lost vision” of the Separatists as they slowly became absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony, governed by the Puritans.

It's fascinating to learn that the Pilgrims in Plymouth liked poetry.  Stereotypes have painted them as dour, boring people. But the more I study them, the more I learn that they like literature, dancing, music, drinking beer, and other suprising things. They were like us.

A Word to New England, by William Bradford

Oh New England, thou canst not boast;
Thy former glory thou hast lost.
When Hooker, Winthrop, Cotton died,
And many precious ones beside,
Thy beauty then it did decay,
And still doth languish more away.
Love, truth, goodness, mercy and grace-
Wealth and the world have took their place.
Thy open sins none can them hide:
Fraud, drunkenness, whoredom and pride.
The great oppressors slay the poor,
But whimsy errors they kill more.
Yet some thou hast which mourn and weep,
And their garments unspotted keep;
Who seek God's honor to maintain,
That true religion may remain.
These do invite, and sweetly call,
Each to other, and say to all;
Repent, amend, and turn to God,
That we may prevent his sharp rod.
Yet time thou hast; improve it well,
That God's presence may with ye dwell.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "A Poem by a Pilgrim", Nutfield Genealogy, posted November 2, 2017, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. I didn't know William Bradford was a poet. Love the piece you chose to share!

  2. It is very likely that the southern Bradfords were also poets.

  3. Bradford was a fascinating man. I think this was recited in the PBS special about the Pilgrims I saw a year or so ago. Some of this could apply to today's America as well.

    Thanks, Heather, for sharing it with us!

  4. How interesting to read Bradford's perception about the changes in New England during the years he was there. My perception of the Pilgrims and Puritans was like yours -- strict, dour, serious, righteous. My perception of the Puritans changed when I read Witches...., and now my perception of the Pilgrims begins to change, too. Thanks for sharing the poem, Heather.

    1. There is a great book by James Deetz, "The Times of their Lives: Life, Love and Death in Plymouth Colony", which is all about the Pilgrims and how they had fun, entertained themselves, and their social lives. It really helped me to understand their lives.