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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

The Life and Death of Elder Brewster

By William Bradford (1590–1657)

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

I AM to begin this year with that which was a matter of great sadness and mourning unto them all. About the 18th of April died their Reverend Elder, and my dear and loving friend, Mr. William Brewster; a man that had done and suffered much for the Lord Jesus and the gospel’s sake, and had borne his part in weal and woe with this poor persecuted church above thirty-six years in England, Holland, and in this wilderness, and done the Lord and them faithful service in his place and calling. And notwithstanding the many troubles and sorrows he passed through, the Lord upheld him to a great age. He was near fourscore years of age (if not all out) when he died. He had this blessing added by the Lord to all the rest, to die in his bed, in peace, amongst the midst of his friends, who mourned and wept over him, and ministered what help and comfort they could unto him, and he again recomforted them whilst he could. His sickness was not long, and till the last day thereof he did not wholly keep his bed. His speech continued till somewhat more than half a day, and then failed him; and about nine or ten o’clock that evening he died, without any pangs at all. A few hours before, he drew his breath short, and some few minutes before his last, he drew his breath long, as a man fallen into a sound sleep, without any pangs or gaspings, and so sweetly departed this life unto a better.

I would now demand of any, what he was the worse for any former sufferings? What do I say? Worse? Nay, sure he was the better, and they now added to his honor. “It is a manifest token,” saith the Apostle, “of the righteous judgment of God that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer; seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you: and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with His mighty angels. If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye, for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” What though he wanted the riches and pleasures of the world in this life, and pompous monuments at his funeral? Yet the memorial of the just shall be blessed when the name of the wicked shall rot (with their marble monuments).

I should say something of his life, if to say a little were not worse than to be silent. But I can not wholly forbear, though happily more may be done hereafter. After he had attained some learning, viz., the knowledge of the Latin tongue, and some insight in the Greek, and spent some small time at Cambridge, and then being first seasoned with the seeds of grace and virtue, he went to the Court, and served that religious and godly gentleman, Mr. Davison, divers years, when he was Secretary of State; who found him so discreet and faithful as he trusted him above all other that were about him, and only employed him in all matters of greatest trust and secrecy. He esteemed him rather as a son than a servant, and for his wisdom and godliness (in private) he would converse with him more like a friend and familiar than a master. He attended his master when he was sent in embassage by the Queen into the Low Countries, in the Earl of Leicester’s time, as for other weighty affairs of state, so to receive possession of the cautionary towns, and in token and sign thereof the keys of Flushing being delivered to him, in her Majesty’s name, he kept them some time, and committed them to this his servant, who kept them under his pillow, on which he slept the first night. And, at his return, the States honored him with a gold chain, and his master committed it to him, and commanded him to wear it when they arrived in England, as they rode through the country, till they came to the Court. He afterwards remained with him till his troubles, that he was put from his place about the death of the Queen of Scots; and some good time after, doing him many faithful offices of service in the time of his troubles. Afterwards he went and lived in the country, in good esteem amongst his friends and the gentlemen of those parts, especially the godly and religious.

He did much good in the country where he lived, in promoting and furthering religion, not only by his practice and example, and provoking and encouraging of others, but by procuring of good preachers to the places thereabout, and drawing on of others to assist and help forward in such a work; he himself most commonly deepest in the charge, and sometimes above his ability. And in this state he continued many years, doing the best good he could, and walking according to the light he saw, till the Lord revealed further unto him. And in the end, by the tyranny of the bishops against godly preachers and people, in silencing the one and persecuting the other, he and many more of those times began to look further into things, and to see into the unlawfulness of their callings, and the burden of many antichristian corruptions, which both he and they endeavored to cast off; as they also did, as in the beginning of this treatise is to be seen. After they were joined together in communion, he was a special stay and help unto them. They ordinarily met at his house on the Lord’s day, (which was a manor of the bishop’s,) and with great love he entertained them when they came, making provision for them to his great charge. He was the chief of those that were taken at Boston, and suffered the greatest loss; and of the seven that were kept longest in prison, and after bound over to the assizes. After he came into Holland he suffered much hardship, after he had spent the most of his means, having a great charge, and many children; and, in regard of his former breeding and course of life, not so fit for many employments as others were, especially such as were toilsome and laborious. But yet he ever bore his condition with much cheerfulness and contentation.

Towards the latter part of those twelve years spent in Holland, his outward condition was mended, and he lived well and plentifully; for he fell into a way (by reason he had the Latin tongue) to teach many students, who had a desire to learn the English tongue, to teach them English; and by his method they quickly attained it with great facility; for he drew rules to learn it by, after the Latin manner; and many gentlemen, both Danes and Germans, resorted to him, as they had time from other studies, some of them being great men’s sons. He also had means to set up printing, (by the help of some friends,) and so had employment enough, and by reason of many books which would not be allowed to be printed in England, they might have had more than they could do. But now removing into this country, all these things were laid aside again, and a new course of living must be framed unto; in which he was no way unwilling to take his part, and to bear his burden with the rest, living many times without bread, or corn, many months together, having many times nothing but fish, and often wanting that also; and drunk nothing but water for many years together, yea, till within five or six years of his death. And yet he lived (by the blessing of God) in health till very old age. And besides that, he would labor with his hands in the fields as long as he was able; yet when the church had no other minister, he taught twice every Sabbath, and that both powerfully and profitably, to the great contentment of the hearers, and their comfortable edification; yea, many were brought to God by his ministry. He did more in this behalf in a year, than many that have their hundreds a year do in all their lives.

For his personal abilities, he was qualified above many; he was wise and discreet and well spoken, having a grave and deliberate utterance, of a very cheerful spirit, very sociable and pleasant amongst his friends, of an humble and most modest mind, of a peaceable disposition, undervaluing himself and his own abilities, and sometimes overvaluing others; inoffensive and innocent in his life and conversation, which gained him the love of those without, as well as those within; yet he would tell them plainly of their faults and evils, both publicly and privately, but in such a manner as usually was well taken from him. He was tender-hearted, and compassionate of such as were in misery, but especially of such as had been of good estate and rank, and were fallen unto want and poverty, either for goodness and religion’s sake, or by the injury and oppression of others; he would say, of all men these deserved to be pitied most. And none did more offend and displease him than such as would haughtily and proudly carry and lift up themselves, being risen from nothing, and having little else in them to commend them but a few fine clothes, or a little riches more than others.

In teaching, he was very moving and stirring of affections, also very plain and distinct in what he taught; by which means he became the more profitable to the hearers. He had a singular good gift in prayer, both public and private, in ripping up the heart and conscience before God, in the humble confession of sin, and begging the mercies of God in Christ for the pardon of the same. He always thought it were better for ministers to pray oftener, and divide their prayers, than be long and tedious in the same (except upon solemn and special occasions, as in days of humiliation and the like). His reason was, that the heart and spirits of all, especially the weak, could hardly continue and stand bent (as it were) so long towards God, as they ought to do in that duty, without flagging and falling off. For the government of the church, (which was most proper to his office,) he was careful to preserve good order in the same, and to preserve purity, both in the doctrine and communion of the same; and to suppress any error or contention that might begin to rise up amongst them; and accordingly God gave good success to his endeavors herein all his days, and he saw the fruit of his labors in that behalf. But I must break off, having only thus touched a few, as it were, heads of things.