Monthly Archives: September 2017

Grave of Governor William Bradford

IMG_2483

I’ve been on hiatus from posting on this site for quite some time as I pursue my doctoral studies. However, rather than leave it altogether to collect ethereal dust, I thought I would switch gears a bit and post a series of short bits on some of my favorite New England historical sites, which I hope might be of some interest. Let’s start with one of the most beautiful locations on the Massachusetts shoreline—Plymouth’s Burial Hill and the monument to Governor William Bradford.

The eight-and-a-half foot obelisk in memory of Gov. William Bradford (1590-1657) on Burial Hill was placed by a group of his descendants—the effort coordinated by Hon. Alden Bradford (1765-1843). He was a historian, clergyman, and Secretary of the Commonwealth, born in Duxbury but later residing in Boston. The granite was taken from the ruins of the 1633 John Cotton house in Boston (later owned by Sir Henry Vane and Judge Samuel Sewell and located on southern end of today’s Pemberton Square in front of the Adams Courthouse).[1] The choice of the stone was meant to represent the symbolic ties between these leaders and theologians of Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colonies.

There is some disagreement as to where Gov. Bradford was in fact buried. Plymouth historian Dr. James Thacher stated in his 1835 History of the Town of Plymouth that Bradford’s son, Major William Bradford, was buried next to his father’s resting place. Thacher also included in his history an emotional plea to Bradford descendants hoping they would rectify the “melancholy” fact that the Governor’s grave bore no marker or memorial. And so, this obelisk was erected (the same year Thacher published his history) next to the marked grave of Major Bradford.

The obelisk bears inscriptions in English, Latin and Hebrew. The English inscription on the south side: “H I [abbreviation for hic iacet or “here lies”] William Bradford of Austerfield Yorkshire England. Was the son of William and Alice Bradford He was Governor of Plymouth Colony from 1621 to 1633, 1635, 1637, 1639 to 1643, 1645 to 1657.” The English inscription on the north side: “Under this stone rest the ashes of William Bradford a zealous Puritan & sincere Christian Gov. of Ply. Col. from 1621 to 1657, (the year he died) aged 69, except 5 yrs. which he declined.” The Latin inscription: “Qua patres difficillime adepti sunt nolite turpiter relinquere.” Translation: “What our fathers achieved with such difficulty, do not carelessly abandon.” The Hebrew inscription (reflecting the fact that Bradford learned Hebrew in order to read religious texts including older transcriptions of the Old Testament) reads, “Jehovah is our help.”

If you haven’t seen the view from Burial Hill, do put it on your list.

[1] Boston Daily Advertiser, June 16, 1835