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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

How the Colony Was Troubled with a Hypocrite

By William Bradford (1590–1657)

[History of Plymouth Plantation. Written 1630–50.]

THE THIRD eminent person (which the letters before mention) was the minister which they sent over, by name John Lyford, of whom and whose doing I must be more large, though I shall abridge things as much as I can. When this man first came ashore, he saluted them with that reverence and humility as is seldom to be seen, and indeed made them ashamed, he so bowed and cringed unto them, and would have kissed their hands if they would have suffered him; yea, he wept and shed many tears, blessing God that had brought him to see their faces; and admiring the things they had done in their wants, etc., as if he had been made all of love, and the humblest person in the world. And all the while (if we may judge by his after carriages) he was but like him mentioned in Psa. x. 10; that croucheth and boweth, that heaps of poor may fall by his might; or like to that dissembling Ishmael, who, when he had slain Gedelia, went out weeping and met them that were coming to offer incense in the house of the Lord, saying, “Come to Gedelia,” when he meant to slay them. They gave him the best entertainment they could, (in all simplicity,) and a larger allowance of food out of the store than any other had; and as the Governor had used in all weighty affairs to consult with their Elder, Mr. Brewster, (together with his assistants,) so now he called Mr. Lyford also to counsel with them in their weightiest businesses. After some short time he desired to join himself a member to the church here, and was accordingly received. He made a large confession of his faith, and an acknowledgment of his former disorderly walking, and his being entangled with many corruptions, which had been a burden to his conscience, and blessed God for this opportunity of freedom and liberty to enjoy the ordinances of God in purity among his people, with many more such like expressions.

I must here speak a word also of Mr. John Oldham, who was a co-partner with him in his after courses. He had been a chief stickler in the former faction among the particulars, and an intelligencer to those in England. But now, since the coming of this ship and he saw the supply that came, he took occasion to open his mind to some of the chief amongst them here, and confessed he had done them wrong both by word and deed, and writing into England; but he now saw the eminent hand of God to be with them, and his blessing upon them, which made his heart smite him, neither should those in England ever use him as an instrument any longer against them in any thing. He also desired former things might be forgotten, and that they would look upon him as one that desired to close with them in all things, with such like expressions. Now whether this was in hypocrisy, or out of some sudden pang of conviction (which I rather think), God only knows. Upon it they show all readiness to embrace his love, and carry towards him in all friendliness, and called him to counsel with them in all chief affairs, as the other, without any distrust at all.

Thus all things seemed to go very comfortably and smoothly on amongst them, at which they did much rejoice; but this lasted not long, for both Oldham and he grew very perverse, and showed a spirit of great malignancy, drawing as many into faction as they could; were they never so vile or profane, they did nourish and back them in all their doings; so they would but cleave to them and speak against the church here; so as there was nothing but private meetings and whisperings amongst them; they feeding themselves and others with what they should bring to pass in England by the faction of their friends there, which brought others as well as themselves into a fool’s paradise. Yet they could not carry so closely but much of both their doings and sayings were discovered, yet outwardly they still set a fair face of things.

At length when the ship was ready to go, it was observed Lyford was long in writing, and sent many letters, and could not forbear to communicate to his intimates such things as made them laugh in their sleeves, and thought he had done their errand sufficiently. The Governor and some other of his friends knowing how things stood in England, and what hurt these things might do, took a shallop and went out with the ship a league or two to sea, and called for all Lyford’s and Oldham’s letters. Mr. William Peirce, being master of the ship, (and knew well their evil dealing both in England and here,) afforded him all the assistance he could. He found above twenty of Lyford’s letters, many of them large, and full of slanders, and false accusations, tending not only to their prejudice, but to their ruin and utter subversion. Most of the letters they let pass, only took copies of them, but some of the most material they sent true copies of them, and kept the originals, lest he should deny them, and that they might produce his own hand against him. Amongst his letters they found the copies of two letters which he sent enclosed in a letter of his to Mr. John Pemberton, a minister, and a great opposite of theirs. These two letters of which he took the copies, were one of them written by a gentleman in England to Mr. Brewster here, the other by Mr. Winslow to Mr. Robinson, in Holland, at his coming away, as the ship lay at Gravesend. They lying sealed in the great cabin, (whilst Mr. Winslow was busy about the affairs of the ship,) this sly merchant takes and opens them, takes these copies, and seals them up again; and not only sends the copies of them thus to his friend and their adversary, but adds thereto in the margin many scurrilous and flouting annotations. The ship went out towards evening, and in the night the Governor returned. They were somewhat blank at it, but after some weeks, when they heard nothing, they then were as brisk as ever, thinking nothing had been known, but all was gone current, and that the Governor went but to dispatch his own letters. The reason why the Governor and rest concealed these things the longer, was to let things ripen, that they might the better discover their intents and see who were their adherents. And the rather because amongst the rest they found a letter of one of their confederates, in which was written that Mr. Oldham and Mr. Lyford intended a reformation in church and commonwealth; and, as soon as the ship was gone, they intended to join together, and have the sacraments, etc.

For Oldham, few of his letters were found, (for he was so bad a scribe as his hand was scarce legible,) yet he was as deep in the mischief as the other. And thinking they were now strong enough, they began to pick quarrels at every thing. Oldham being called to watch, (according to order,) refused to come, fell out with the Captain, called him “rascal,” and “beggarly rascal,” and resisted him, drew his knife at him; though he offered him no wrong, nor gave him no ill terms, but with all fairness required him to do his duty. The Governor, hearing the tumult, sent to quiet it, but he ramped more like a furious beast than a man, and called them all traitors, and rebels, and other such foul language as I am ashamed to remember; but after he was clapt up awhile, he came to himself, and with some slight punishment was let go upon his behavior for further censure.

But to cut things short, at length it grew to this issue, that Lyford with his accomplices, without ever speaking one word either to the Governor, Church, or Elder, withdrew themselves and set up a public meeting apart, on the Lord’s day; with sundry such insolent carriages, too long here to relate, beginning now publicly to act what privately they had been long plotting.

It was now thought high time (to prevent further mischief) to call them to account; so the Governor called a court and summoned the whole company to appear. And then charged Lyford and Oldham with such things as they were guilty of. But they were stiff, and stood resolutely upon the denial of most things, and required proof. They first alleged what was written to them out of England, compared with their doings and practices here; that it was evident they joined in plotting against them, and disturbing their peace, both in respect of their civil and church state, which was most injurious; for both they and all the world knew they came hither to enjoy the liberty of their conscience and the free use of God’s ordinances; and for that end had ventured their lives and passed through so much hardship hitherto, and they and their friends had borne the charge of these beginnings, which was not small. And that Lyford for his part was sent over on this charge, and that both he and his great family was maintained on the same, and also was joined to the church, and a member of them; and for him to plot against them and seek their ruin, was most unjust and perfidious. And for Oldham or any other that came over at their own charge, and were on their particular, seeing they were received in courtesy by the plantation, when they came only to seek shelter and protection under their wings, not being able to stand alone, that they, (according to the fable,) like the hedgehog whom the cony in a stormy day in pity received into her burrow, would not be content to take part with her, but in the end with her sharp pricks forced the poor cony to forsake her own burrow; so these men with the like injustice endeavored to do the same to those that entertained them.

Lyford denied that he had any thing to do with them in England, or knew of their courses, and made other things as strange that he was charged with. Then his letters were produced and some of them read, at which he was struck mute. But Oldham began to rage furiously because they had intercepted and opened his letters, threatening them in very high language, and in a most audacious and mutinous manner stood up and called upon the people, saying, “My masters, where is your hearts? Now show your courage; you have oft complained to me so and so; now is the time, if you will do any thing, I will stand by you,” etc. Thinking that every one (knowing his humor) that had soothed and flattered him, or otherwise in their discontent uttered any thing unto him, would now side with him in open rebellion. But he was deceived, for not a man opened his mouth, but all were silent, being struck with the injustice of the thing. Then the Governor turned his speech to Mr. Lyford, and asked him if he thought they had done evil to open his letters; but he was silent, and would not say a word, well knowing what they might reply. Then the Governor showed the people he did it as a magistrate, and was bound to it by his place, to prevent the mischief and ruin that this conspiracy and plots of theirs would bring on this poor colony. But he, besides his evil dealing here, had dealt treacherously with his friends that trusted him, and stole their letters and opened them, and sent copies of them, with disgraceful annotations, to his friends in England. And then the Governor produced them and his other letters under his own hand, (which he could not deny,) and caused them to be read before all the people; at which all his friends were blank, and had not a word to say.

It would be too long and tedious here to insert his letters (which would almost fill a volume), though I have them by me. I shall only note a few of the chief things collected out of them, with the answers to them as they were then given; and but a few of those many, only for instance, by which the rest may be judged of.

1. First, he saith, the church would have none to live here but themselves. Secondly, neither are any willing so to do if they had company to live elsewhere.

Answer: Their answer was, that this was false, in both the parts of it; for they were willing and desirous that any honest men may live with them, that will carry themselves peaceably, and seek the common good, or at least do them no hurt. And again, there are many that will not live elsewhere so long as they may live with them.

2. That if there come over any honest men that are not of the separation, they will quickly distaste them, etc.

Answer: Their answer was as before, that it was a false calumniation, for they had many amongst them that they liked well of, and were glad of their company; and should be of any such like that should come amongst them.

3. That they excepted against him for these two doctrines raised from 2. Sam. xii. 7: First, that ministers must sometimes particularly apply their doctrine to special persons; secondly, that great men may be reproved as well as meaner.

Answer: Their answer was, that both these were without either truth or color of the same (in was proved to his face), and that they had taught and believed these things long before they knew Mr. Lyford.

4. That they utterly sought the ruin of the particulars; as appears by this, that they would not suffer any of the general either to buy or sell with them, or to exchange one commodity for another.

Answer: This was a most malicious slander and void of all truth, as was evidently proved to him before all men; for any of them did both buy, sell, or exchange with them as often as they had any occasion. Yea, and also both lend and give to them when they wanted; and this the particular persons themselves could not deny, but freely confessed in open court. But the ground from whence this arose made it much worse, for he was in counsel with them. When one was called before them, and questioned for receiving powder and biscuit from the gunner of the small ship, which was the company’s, and had it put in at his window in the night, and also for buying salt of one, that had no right to it, he not only stood to back him (being one of these particulars) by excusing and extenuating his fault, as long as he could, but upon this builds this mischievous and most false slander: That because they would not suffer them to buy stolen goods, ergo, they sought their utter ruin. Bad logic for a divine.

5. Next he writes, that he charged them with this: that they turned men into their particular, and then sought to starve them, and deprive them of all means of subsistence.

Answer: To this was answered, he did them manifest wrong, for they turned none into their particular; it was their own importunity and earnest desire that moved them, yea, constrained them to do it. And they appealed to the persons themselves for the truth hereof. And they testified the same against him before all present, as also that they had no cause to complain of any either hard or unkind usage.

6. He accuseth them with unjust distribution, and writeth, that it was a strange difference, that some have been allowed sixteen pounds of meal by the week, and others but four pounds. And then (floutingly) saith, “It seems some men’s mouths and bellies are very little and slender over others.”

Answer: This might seem strange indeed to those to whom he wrote his letters in England, which knew not the reason of it; but to him and others here, it could not be strange, who knew how things stood. For the first comers had none at all, but lived on their corn. Those which came in the “Anne,” the August before, and were to live thirteen months off the provisions they brought, had as good allowance in meal and pease as it would extend to, the most part of the year; but a little before harvest, when they had not only fish, but other fruits began to come in, they had but four pounds of meal a week, lived better than the other, as was well known to all. And yet it must be remembered that Lyford and his had always the highest allowance.

Many other things (in his letters) he accused them of, with many aggravations; as that he saw exceeding great waste of tools and vessels; and this, when it came to be examined, all the instance he could give was, that he had seen an old hogshead or two fallen to pieces, and a broken hoe or two left carelessly in the field by some. Though he also knew that a godly, honest man was appointed to look to these things. But these things and such like was written of by him, to cast disgrace and prejudice upon them; as thinking what came from a minister would pass for current. Then he tells them that Winslow should say, that there was not above seven of the adventurers that sought the good of the colony; that Mr. Oldham and himself had had much to do with them, and that the faction here might match the Jesuits for polity. With many the like grievous complaints and accusations.

1. Then, in the next place, he comes to give his friends counsel and direction. And first, that the Leyden company (Mr. Robinson and the rest) must still be kept back, or else all will be spoiled. And lest any of them should be taken in privately somewhere on the coast of England, (as it was feared might be done,) they must change the master of the ship (Mr. Wm. Peirce), and put another also in Winslow’s stead, for merchant, or else it would not be prevented.

2. Then he would have such a number provided as might oversway them here. And that the particulars should have voices in all courts and elections, and be free to bear any office. And that every particular should come over as an adventurer, if he be but a servant; some other venturing ten pounds, the bill may be taken out in the servant’s name, and then assigned to the party whose money it was, and good covenants drawn between them for the clearing of the matter; “and this,” saith he, “would be a means to strengthen this side the more.”

3. Then he tells them that if that captain they spoke of should come over hither as a general, he was persuaded he would be chosen captain; for this Captain Standish looks like a silly boy, and is in utter contempt.

4. Then he shows that if by the forementioned means they can not be strengthened to carry and overbear things, it will be best for them to plant elsewhere by themselves; and would have it articled by them that they might make choice of any place that they liked best within three or four miles distance, showing there were far better places for plantation than this.

5. And lastly he concludes, that if some number came not over to bear them up here, then there would be no abiding for them, but by joining with these here. Then he adds: “Since I began to write, there are letters come from your company, wherein they would give sole authority in divers things unto the Governor here; which, if it take place, then, væ nobis. But I hope you will be more vigilant hereafter, that nothing may pass in such a manner. I suppose,” saith he, “Mr. Oldham will write to you further of these things. I pray you conceal me in the discovery of these things,” etc.

Thus I have briefly touched some chief things in his letters, and shall now return to their proceeding with him. After the reading of his letters before the whole company, he was demanded what he could say to these things. But all the answer he made was, that Billington and some others had informed him of many things, and made sundry complaints, which they now denied. He was again asked if that was a sufficient ground for him thus to accuse and traduce them by his letters, and never say word to them, considering the many bonds between them. And so they went on from point to point; and wished him, or any of his friends and confederates, not to spare them in any thing; if he or they had any proof or witness of any corrupt or evil dealing of theirs, his or their evidence must needs be there present, for there was the whole company and sundry strangers. He said he had been abused by others in their informations, (as he now well saw,) and so had abused them. And this was all the answer they could have, for none would take his part in any thing; but Billington, and any whom he named, denied the things, and protested he wronged them, and would have drawn them to such and such things which they could not consent to, though they were sometimes drawn to his meetings. Then they dealt with him about his dissembling with them about the church, and that he professed to concur with them in all things, and what a large confession he made at his admittance, and that he held not himself a minister till he had a new calling, etc. And yet now he contested against them, and drew a company apart, and sequestered himself; and would go minister the sacraments (by his episcopal calling) without ever speaking a word unto them, either as magistrates or brethren. In conclusion, he was fully convicted, and burst out into tears, and “confessed he feared he was a reprobate; his sins were so great that he doubted God would not pardon them; he was unsavory salt, etc.; and that he had so wronged them as he could never make them amends, confessing all he had written against them was false and nought, both for matter and manner.” And all this he did with as much fulness as words and tears could express.

After their trial and conviction, the court censured them to be expelled the place; Oldham presently, though his wife and family had liberty to stay all winter, or longer, till he could make provision to remove them comfortably. Lyford had liberty to stay six months. It was, indeed, with some eye to his release, if he carried himself well in the meantime, and that his repentance proved sound. Lyford acknowledged his censure was far less than he deserved.

Afterwards, he confessed his sin publicly in the church, with tears more largely than before. I shall here put it down as I find it recorded by some who took it from his own words, as himself uttered them. Acknowledging that he had done very evil, and slanderously abused them; and thinking most of the people would take part with him, he thought to carry all by violence and strong hand against them. And that God might justly lay innocent blood to his charge, for he knew not what hurt might have come of these his writings, and blessed God they were stayed. And that he spared not to take knowledge from any, of any evil that was spoken, but shut his eyes and ears against all the good; and if God should make him a vagabond in the earth, as was Cain, it was but just, for he had sinned in envy and malice against his brethren as he did. And he confessed three things to be the ground and causes of these his doings: pride, vainglory, and self-love. Amplifying these heads with many other sad expressions, in the particulars of them.

So as they began again to conceive good thoughts of him upon this his repentance, and admitted him to teach amongst them as before; and Samuel Fuller (a deacon amongst them), and some other tender-hearted men amongst them, were so taken with his signs of sorrow and repentance, as they professed they would fall upon their knees to have his censure released.

But that which made them all stand amazed in the end, and may do all others that shall come to hear the same, (for a rarer precedent can scarce be shown,) was, that after a month or two, notwithstanding all his former confessions, convictions, and public acknowledgments, both in the face of the church and the whole company, with so many tears and sad censures of himself before God and men, he should go again to justify what he had done.