A Rare Manuscript Copy of Governor William Bradford's Journal, Goes on the Auction Block

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A rare facsimile edition by Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation fame, goes up for auction on the popular internet site eBay. The 1896 facsimile edition of the manuscript is one of approximately 100 surviving copies in the world; only 5 or so are thought to be in private hands, the rest are in museums and universities. The facsimile manuscript is expected to fetch $6,000 to $12,000...but don't be surprised if Pilgrim Nation outbids the predictions for this rare gem.

The Journal of William Bradford is under lock and key at the Massachusetts State House. A rare 1896 facsimile copy of the original manuscript is up for sale on the popular auction site, eBay. The publishers of the late 1800s used the most advanced photographic and printing processes of their time; and the results were stunning. You can see in page after page where Bradford crossed out a word and penned a different one, underlined this sentence, or how he added editorial passages as time advanced, and there is even an odd misspelling of his own name (he was apparently distracted or lost in thought during one of the numerous times he wrote his name into the journal, for in this particular entry he spelled his name 'Willilliam').

The story of Plymouth Colony is presented as a series of annual reports, with letters and correspondence faithfully copied into the manuscript. Modern Library Editions says, William Bradford's Journal (or more commonly called "Of Plymouth Plantation") is a remarkable work by a man who himself was something of a marvel. It remains one of the most readable seventeenth-century American books, attractive to us as much for its artfulness as for its high seriousness, the work of a good storyteller with intelligence and wit.

But there was a time when the journal was utterly lost.

The Bradford family passed the journal down from the time of the Governors death in 1657. Along the way many famous writers borrowed them: Nathaniel Morton, William Hubbard, Increase Mather, and Cotton Mather. By 1728, the book was in the possession of Judge Samuel Sewall when it was then loaned to the Rev. Thomas Prince of the Old South Church in Boston. Prince kept Bradford’s journal in his "New England Library", where it still remained at his death in 1758. The last known person to use the manuscript was Governor Thomas Hutchins, for his History of Massachusetts Bay, published in 1767.

At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1780, the library in the Old South Church was in ruins. Bradford’s journal as well many other books were gone without a trace.

For seventy-five years it was not known what became of the manuscript. Did Gov. Hutchins' family still have it? Did the British take it during the war? Soon clues began to surface. After the Revolutionary War there was a discovery of part of a Letter Book (written by Governor Bradford) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was found in a fish market, the pages used to wrap fish. The remains of the Letter Book were returned to Massachusetts in 1793. The Letter Book was also believed to have been in Prince’s library in Boston. Fast-forward fifty years. More clues, almost unnoticed, arose with the publication of two minor books in 1844 and 1848; the first made "an unmistakable quotation" from Bradford’s journal citing a "Fulham Manuscript History" while the second expressly cited Governor Bradford’s manuscript as one of its’ sources. It wasn’t until 1855 that the references were finally noticed, with the realization that the journal was alive and well in the library of the Bishop of London at Fulham Palace.

It was determined that the books were taken by the British troops garrisoned at the Old South Church during the war. Two other books with Prince's "New England Library" bookplate were also found in Fulham Palace. The trail from Boston to Halifax to England matches that of the British troops after the war.

Although the journal was re-discovered in 1855, it took another forty-two years of negotiations before it was finally returned to Massachusetts. Fortunately the reading public did not have to wait long for Bradford’s words as the Bishop of London agreed to have a copy transcribed which was then published in 1856 to much fanfare.

The year before the manuscript returned to America, it was published in a very limited photo/engraving facsimile edition in 1896.

To find this rare 1896 copy of the manuscript on eBay, search for "plymouth plantation", or by its item number: 15002724829.

But you will have to hurry; Pilgrim Nation only has until September 6, 2006 to complete the bidding.

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K.E. Schlieff

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