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Welcome to Episode #187 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

It is Thanksgiving this week here in the US where we take time to intentionally be grateful for what we’ve been given and count our blessings, but it is also the one time of year where the whole nation remembers an event that began during the life of William Shakespeare: the journey of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Not many people realize the story of William Shakespeare overlaps with that of the Pilgrims, due mostly to the fact that the Pilgrims wouldn’t actually set sail from Plymouth until 1620, which is 4 years after the death of William Shakespeare. However, The Puritans were a major part of Shakespeare’s life in England prior to that fateful day in 1620, including Puritans who lived within walking distance of the known residences Shakespeare took up in London. The story of the Mayflower, Pilgrims, and so-called “Strangers” that travelled with them including Miles Standish, William Brewster, and William Bradford, informs our understanding of Shakespeare’s culture and the strong religious tensions that were building up in early 17th century England.. 

As many countries were flocking to the New World and trying to establish colonies there, England, too was placing a mark on the new land with settlements like Jamestown being established under Captain John Smith in 1607. At the same time, the Pilgrims were seeking to go to this New World, but for a decidedly different reason. As a group of religious separatists, as they were known then, they were seeking the right to freedom of religion. The group capitalized on the popular wave of exploration under James I to secure a land patent that allowed them to travel to England and set up a new colony where they could worship, and live, in freedom. Accompanied by the Merchant Adventurers and sanctioned by the Plymouth Colony, the Pilgrims set sail on September 6, 1620. 

Here today to tell us about the history behind the Pilgrim’s journey from England to Plymouth and the realities of that First Thanksgiving are our guests and historians behind the 1620 Experience, David and Aaron Bradford.

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David is a 13th generation direct descendant of Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford and a life member with the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Delaware where he currently serves as Governor. Since 2013 in conjunction with American Liberty Tours of West Chester, PA, David has been portraying William Bradford and sharing Bradford’s account of Pilgrim history with senior centers, schools, and historical societies in DE and PA. 

For the past 25 years, Aaron shared a love for history from the Era of Jamestown through the American Civil War at historic sites, educational venues, and in historical films. He is a Certified Interpretive Guide with the National Association of Interpretation, Interpretive Supervisor with Coastal Heritage Society, interpretive ranger at Colonial Wormsloe, and offers engaging tours and educational programs as Liberty Encounters in Savannah, Georgia, and beyond.

Beginning in 1990, David was founder of a quality management and behavior-based safety training and consulting firm before becoming the Quality & Safety Manager for the prime contractor at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Over the years David has held leadership positions with various Quality, Safety, Home School and Historical organizations and for over 25 years has served as an Elder in the Bible Fellowship Church of Newark.


Aaron discovered a passion for history as a young child when he learned that he is a direct 14th generation descendant of Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford.  For the past 25 years, Aaron shared a love for history from the Era of Jamestown through the American Civil War at historic sites, educational venues, and in historical films.  After earning a B.A. in History Education from the University of Delaware, Aaron served as an educator and historical interpreter at Pamplin Historical Park near Petersburg, Virginia.  He served as the Education Chair and is the Social Media Assistant for the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Delaware.  He is a Certified Interpretive Guide with the National Association of Interpretation, Interpretive Supervisor with Coastal Heritage Society, interpretive ranger at Colonial Wormsloe, and offers engaging tours and educational programs as Liberty Encounters in Savannah, Georgia, and beyond.

David and Aaron Bradford are a father and son team. They are 13th and 14th generation descendants respectively of the Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford. They are the historians behind the forthcoming 1620 Experience.


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In this episode, I’ll be asking David & Aaron Bradford about :

  • Travelling to the New World during Shakespeare’s lifetime was not as simple as getting on a boat and heading out, because under English law, to go anywhere, you had to have permission from the crown to leave. There were organizations set up to provide this permission and the company that ended up sponsoring the Pilgrims was called, fittingly, Plymouth Company. David and Aaron, how were the Pilgrims able to secure approval from Plymouth Company to sail for New England in the first place? 

  • Often we point to the Pilgrims in our celebrations of Thanksgiving here in the US in acknowledgement of what’s called The First Thanksgiving. William Bradford writes about this harvest feast taking place in November of 1621. Based on these surviving accounts, what do we know about the First Thanksgiving?  Was it a real feast?

  • When they arrived here, were the Pilgrims the first Europeans to settle in this area? 

  • … and more!

The video version of today’s show is now available just for members! Come inside and see David & Aaron in full Pilgrim costume, straight from the set of 1620 Experience, along with Aaron’s authentic 17th century sword named Victory and other history tidbits! The video version is only available for members. Sign up today to get immediate access to this episode and all the video versions of our show! 

If men could be contented to
be what they are, there were no fear in marriage;
for young Charbon the Puritan and old Poysam the
Papist, howsome’er their hearts are severed in
religion, their heads are both one


Alls Well That Ends Well (I.3)

Fur traders in Canada, trading with Indians (1777). by William Fadden (1745-1836) Library and Archives Canada – originally from: Cartouche from William Faden, “A map of the Inhabited Part of Canada from the French Surveys; with the Frontiers of New York and New England”, 1777. Source


Pilgrims Sold Beaver to Finance Their Settlement

David and Aaron explain why the Pilgrims departure was sanctioned in the first place;

They were not poular people. It was really killing two birds because their departure was beneficial for both parties James had them away where they caused less trouble. No love lost in terms of his desire to punish them for what they had done or doing. 

Joint stock companies (whthin a coupe of decades of the pilgrim’s departure) theywere done by two different entities. They had a negotiator, someone who negotiated the terms of support that they needed, the merchant adventurers helped finance the trip.

King James was upset with William Brewster printing pamphlets, such as the Perth Assembly, and fomenting trouble in England.  This was a way to further remove their disruption from the Church of England.  Patent (permission) came from the king and was relatively easy to obtain. Financing came from Cushman and Brewster.  John Carver and William Bradford 

Also one Thomas Weston, a merchant of London, came to Leyden about the same time… having much conference with Mr. Robinson and others of the chief of them, persuaded them to go on and not to meddle with the Dutch. He and such merchants as were his friends, together with their own means, would set them forth; and they should make ready and neither fear want of shipping nor money… they were to draw such articles of agreement and make such propositions as might the better induce his friends to venture.  Upon which… articles were drawn and agreed unto and were shown unto him and approved by him.  And afterward by their messenger (Mr. John Carver) sent into England who, together with Robert Cushman, were to receive the moniess and make the provisions…  So those that were to go prepared themselves with all speed and sold off their estates and put in their moneys into the common stock, which was disposed of by those appointed, for the making of general provisions.  About this time also they had heard, both by Mr. Weston and others, that sundry Honourable Lords had obtained a large grant from the King for the more northerly parts of that country, derived out of the Virginia patent and wholly secluded from their Government, and to be called by another name, viz., New England.  Captain John Smith referred to the northern part of Virginia as New England.

Once they arrived in the New England, the Pilgrims had to find a way to produce an income and a livelihood for themsleves. The rich natural resources discovered here afforded them an opportunity. 

The primary livelihood of Plymouth Colony was to be fishing and trapping beaver.  Though Thomas Weston changed to key original parts of the provision, and there was much division among the Adventurers, the Pilgrims persevered.

When leaving out from England, the Pilgrims were not taking their journey lightly. They had arrived at this decision with a great deal of preparation and with a solemn commitment to their choice:

Pilgrims sold their homes and possessions [to finance the voyage], and they really “put alot of skin in the game.” to make this happen, which underscores how much was at stake and how much was committed.

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Map of New France about 1750 using modern political boundaries – English Version. Author:Pinpin, describes the map with this description: “Own work from Image:Nouvelle-France1750.png  1)Les Villes françaises du Nouveau Monde : des premiers fondateurs aux ingénieurs du roi, XVIe-XVIIIe siècles / sous la direction de Laurent Vidal et Emilie d’Orgeix /Éditeur: Paris: Somogy 1999. 2) Canada-Québec 1534-2000/ Jacques Lacoursière, Jean Provencher et Denis Vaugeois/Éditeur: Sillery (Québec): Septentrion 2000. Map 1 ) () The Forts of Ryan’s taint in Northeast America 1600-1763, Osprey Publishing, pp. 6– ISBN: 9781846032554Map 2 ) René Chartrand (20 April 2010) The Forts of New France: The Great Lakes, the Plains and the Gulf Coast 1600-1763, Osprey Publishing, p. 7 ISBN9781846035043.” This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. | Source

The English Were Not the First Europeans to Arrive Here

In the New World, many areas were named after their countries of origin, including one section near present day Cape Cod, called New Netherland. Plymouth Company had originally offered New Netherland to the Puritans of the Mayflower, but they declined it in favor of Plymouth. Far frombeing selective about their destination, the Pilgrims were operating within the system established by the Plymouth Company in England.

Companies James setup in 1606–London Company and virginia company of Plymouth called the Plymouth company, it basically, the whole eastern seaboard from Maine down to the carolinas and about 100 miles inland was the area we’re talking about. They were headed for the Hudson river when they arrived, but bc they didn’t land there, they landed in a kind of buffer zone between the authorities of two companies, they didn’t have hte authority ot be there in PLymouth so even when they first landed they started to “stand for the southward” as Bradford said but they iummediately hit shoals nad breakers. In fear their ship would be destroyed they turned aroun and went back to province town harbor to spend the winter. 

Though the Pilgrims considered Guiana near the Equator, they understood that such a climate was vastly different from what their “English bodies” were accustomed to.  One of the four reasons Bradford listed as why the Pilgrims left Holland was the realization that the children of the Pilgrims were losing their English identity and becoming Dutch.  Bradford also wrote, when arriving off Cape Cod, “May not and ought not our children rightly say, our fathers were Englishmen…”  The 12 year truce of the Treaty of Antwerp began in 1609, that was to end in 1621.  The Pilgrims were also aware of what Catholic Spain did to the French Protestant Hugenots at Fort Caroline in North Florida in 1565, during which time they put the men, women, and children to the sword.  The Carribean was referred to as the Spanish Main.  I believe their identify as Englishmen was important to them.

John Smith searched out “new England’ as opposed to new Amsterdam, [because] they were [intentionally] bringing England to the new place. 

Visit of Samoset to the Colony. among them, and greeted them in a few English words, which he hadlearned from the fishermen and other voyagers on tlie coast of Maine, 1621.) FIRST INTERCOURSE WITH INDIANS. 401 his home being on the Pemaquid. This mans name was Samoset,but why he was so far from home is not clear. He may The visit ofhave been brought and left in the neighborhood by Captain inJian^!^Dermer, who had twice been upon this coast, making his s^n^^set.second voyage only the previous summer. On his first voyage hevisited the place, which, he said, in Captain Smiths map is calledPlimouth. And, he adds, I would that the first Plantation mighthere be seated, if there come to the number of Fifty persons, or up-wards. 1 From this Samoset they learned that the Indian name of the placethey had settled upon was Patuxet, and that about four years beforeall the inhabitants had been swept off by a plague.^ He told themwho were their nearest Indian neighbors | Identifier: popularhistoryof00brya (find matchesTitleA popular history of the United States : from the first discovery of the western hemisphere by the Northmen, to the end of the first century of the union of the states ; preceded by a sketch of the prehistoric period and the age of the mound builders Year1876 (1870sAuthorsBryant, William Cullen, 1794-1878 Gay, Sydney Howard, 1814-1888 PublisherNew York : Scribner, Armstrong, and Company Contributing LibraryLincoln Financial Foundation Collection Digitizing SponsorThe Institute of Museum and Library Services through an Indiana State Library LSTA Grant View Book PageBook Viewer About This BookCatalog Entry View All ImagesAll Images From Book
Click here to view book online to see this illustration in context in a browseable online version of this book. | Original Source


Plymouth Colony was the first experiment in consensual government in Western history between individuals with one another, and not with a monarch. The colony was a mutual enterprise, not an imperial expedition organized by the Spanish or English governments. In order to survive, it depended on the consent of the colonists themselves. Necessary in order to bind the community together, it was revolutionary by chance.

Author Rebecca Fraser[2]:55

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Marry, sir, sometimes he is a kind of puritan.

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The Embarkation of the Pilgrims, 1843, US Capitol Rotunda. The name of the ship, Speedwell, and 1620 are written in the foreground of the painting. | Robert W. Weir (photograph courtesy Architect of the Capitol) – Architect of the Capitol | Protestant pilgrims are shown on the deck of the ship Speedwell before their departure for the New World from Delft Haven, Holland, on July 22, 1620. William Brewster, holding the Bible, and pastor John Robinson leading Governor Carver, William Bradford, Miles Standish, and their families in prayer. The prominence of women and children suggests the importance of the family in the community. At the left side of the painting is a rainbow, which symbolizes hope and divine protection. Weir (1803–1890) had studied art in Italy and taught art at the military academy at West Point. The dimensions of this oil painting on canvas are 548 cm x 365 cm (216 inches x 144 inches; 18 feet x 12 feet) | Source


Damage to the Speedwell Delays Their Voyage

Most of the passengers aboard the Mayflower were Puritans, but even in the surviving monuments to the Plymouth voyage, acknowledgement is given to a group called “Strangers” these men and women were not Puritans, nor motivated by religion specifically to leave england. They were members of the Merchant Adventurers sent along with the Pilgrims, in part, as experts in the rugged life that awaited the passengers on arrival in the New World. David and Aaron outline some of the Merchant Adventurers who travelled with the Pilgrims:

John ALden, he was a cooper–he made the abrrles they kept the gunpowder in and the barrels they packed fish in. He cam rover for his skills. He was 21 years old, unmarried

Miles Standish was one the pilgrims new in leiden, but he came because he had military experience. 

These were people who were servants (about 9) and many of hte travellers were children of their parents. 

They were planning a kind of church plant. This was very unusual at this time. Even the jamestown colony was just men. 

Stephen Hopkins–being washed aboard an island for several months before making it onward to Jamestown. Hopkins had mich experience with the Indians at Jamestown and he’s the only one of the original mayflower passengers who had been to jamestown previuosy. Brought experience in dealing with indigenous people. The tight quarters of the 66 day voyage. Clark and Coppin, been of the coast of cape code many times, so their experience sailing those waters was invaluable to christopher [last name] captain of the Mayflower.

Painting of the Mayflower at Sea, unknown date. Part of the Detroit Publishing Company Collection. The Newberry makes its collections available for any lawful purpose, commercial or non-commercial, without licensing or permission fees to the library, subject to the following terms and conditions: https://www.newberry.org/rights-and-reproductions |Source

Aaron adds details about the mix of religious and adventure focused passengers:

More we learn about the history of the passengers, the more we realize that the members of the congregations had a more similar worldview to those of the Leiden congregation.  Three examples of Pilgrims who were not part of the Leiden Congregation who stayed on and became part of Plymouth were about 30 children and 9 servants.  They were willing to go!  Many of their motivations remain unknown.  John Alden was a cooper who chose to stay on.  Stephen Hopkins was the only one of the Pilgrims who had experience in going to Jamestown and with the American Indians.  Sailors Clark and Coppin had been off the coast many times.  Myles Standish was the captain who led the military of Plymouth Colony.  The Leiden congregation knew him in Holland.

On board Mayflower II, Plymouth MA. Stitched from several images. The Mayflower II is an exact replica of the original Mayflower. This image shows the conditions onboard the ship where the Pilgrims and Merchant Adventurers would have travelled. 11 November 2008, 12:10:45 | Photographer/Artist: Kenneth C. Zirkel |This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. | Source

From bad weather to disagreements about the plan for travel, the Pilgrims had several delays in departure from Plymouth, including a leaking ship that had to be repaired. Delays encountered by the Mayflower caused the voyage to leave much later than originally planned. 

Two major issues responsible for delays, 1) seaworthiness of Speedwell and 2) last minute changes to terms of contract THomas Weston imposed rules. Committed to working 6 days a wekk with the sabbath their holy day. He tried to make them work 7 days a week and it was unacceptable and upsetting to them, but being later and later, they had to agree to these terms. 

Left Delfshaven on the Speedwell to Southampton.  Mayflower and Speedwell departed the coast of England from Southampton on August 5th.  Speedwell leaked, returned to Dartmouth, searched and repaired, put to sea again, and returned to Plymouth.  Departed on the Mayflower on September 6th a.  Renegotiated contract to work 7 days a week.  Delay caused more storms than otherwise.  Beam cracked and iron screw held in place.  Consumed many foodstuffs and had to sell off and leave behind 30 or so passengers.

30 passengers decided to stay in Englnad,so they went on with just one vessel they’d originally contracted. Bradford notes in his diary that the master and the crew of the speedwell were purposely overmasking the sails that causedit to take on more water and caused the leaking. After they left the Speedwell in England it served for years without any troubles.

Halfway across, one of the main beams in the mnidship cracked, made all the sailors fear for the sufficiency of the ship. They were debating going back to England, but the carpenter and oehers worked out how to get support under the beam. They had brought an iron screw, thypically used for building houses and staking wood, they used that screw to put that support beam into the place, caulked above the beam as much as possible, and they finally had it sufficiently repaired to continue.

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    In cypress chests my arras counterpoints,
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    Taming of the Shrew (II.1)

    Samuel de Champlain (1567? -1635), Geographical map of New France: 1612. First map of Champlain published: GEOGRAPHIC MAP OF THE NOVVELLE FRANSE MADE BY SIEVR DE CHAMPLAIN SAINT TONGOIS CAPPITAINE ORDINAIRE POUR LE ROY EN LA MARINE, faict len 1612. The map incorporates Champlain’s explorations and cartography up to 1611. The angular difference between the oblique meridian and the fleur-de-lys indicates that the map is oriented towards the magnetic pole for uncorrected compasses. The map incorporates the 1607 painting and probably the lost maps of the St. Lawrence (1603) and the west coast from La Hève to Canso (Canseau) (1607). English: Map of New France, by Samuel de Champlain (1567? -1635): 1612 | Description Translated from French to English | Public Domain | Source

    The Pilgrims Worked from a Map by Samuel de Champlain

    In 1605, a French cartographer, Samuel de Champlain made a map of the Plymouth Harbor where the Pilgrims would ultimately settle and on his map he showed a Patuxet Village as a thriving settlement and 6 years before the Pilgrims set sail, John Smith published a map of the same area labeling this now abandoned Patuxet village as “New Plimouth.” The Pilgrims used these maps to help inform their voyage and when the Pilgrims landed in this area, the maps were correct about the location, but they were surprised at what they discovered there.

    They did use these maps. Specifically John Smith’s map was used by the captain of the MAyflower. THey were useful and they didn’t have it measured as precisely as we do today, but they were certainly very accurate. But there was not at all a thriving settlement there. Plague 1616 – 1619 wiped out 95% of the Natives. Decimated Patuxet. 

    “Interview of Samoset with the Pilgrims”, book engraving, 1853. Public Domain. Source

    The English learned of the history of the decimation of the Patuxet tribe from Samoset.

    They were up in land where they had not intended to arrive, but what they found or how they learned what happened here was basically in the SPring of the next year (after the horrible winter where half the company died) about the 16th of March, a certain indian came boldly among us and spoke to us in broken English which we could well understand but marvelled out. He was an abonacki spelling?? He was visiting from maine, explaining and sharing with them lots of things. He was extremely profitable to them providing information, who people were, the state of the country, who the people were, name, number, strength, etc, he was willing to share with them. 5 days later he brought Massasoit and Squanto and others of the Poconoit tribe. They entered into this treaty that last over half a century. Very important encounter. 


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    Spice up your Thanksgiving table with a splash of Shakespeare.

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