Smith, Bradford, and Winthrop: America’s Founding Fathers Essay

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The majority of simplified historical accounts inaccurately portray the European settling of the United States as one undertaking by a homogeneous group of people. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ignoring the differences and similarities between the leading founders and their various groups of settlers fails to capture the full array of passion and diverse motivations amongst our earliest countrymen. The writings of Captain John Smith capture the harsh conditions and intercommunity strife experienced during the grueling founding of Jamestown.

William Bradford is another influential leader whose political ingenuity allowed him to harness the loyalty of the Pilgrims through the creation of the Mayflower Compact and during the settling of the Plymouth Rock. John Winthrop’s tool of leadership included his deeply religious connection to his fellow Puritan settlers. He, too, sought to form a new community, but was driven by a distrust of the English Church and a loyalty to the Puritan religion. These three leaders share the experiences of founding new communities in America, but their approaches, goals, triumphs, and tribulations differ extensively.

The most obvious common thread observed in the reading of the writings from Smith, Bradford, and Winthrop is the significant role of religion. From the accounts of Captain John Smith, his belief in the power of faith and spirituality to overcome the unreasonable and often aggressive acts of man and nature is apparent, but religion does not seem to be as important to this leader compared to the business aspects of founding a new community in America. Religion is the singular most important driving force for both John Winthrop and William Bradford, but their motives behind and the application of religion can still be contrasted.

Bradford’s community of Plymouth was a religious community where the roles of political and religious leaders were differentiated. John Winthrop and his settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony also emphasized religion as the key or missing element of any new community. Winthrop believed following the uniform beliefs of Christian Doctrine would result in a model society that would undoubtedly be replicated by other founders of new communities. Perhaps Bradford’s writings are less zealous because the Pilgrims were all too familiar with the removal of religious freedom.

The settlers of Jamestown, the Massachusetts Bay colony, and Plymouth shared common struggles with disease and deadly conflicts with Native Americans. The leadership approaches by figures like Captain John Smith, Bradford, and Winthrop directly influenced the survival and success of these communities. The election and appointment of these leaders differed with Bradford being elected repeatedly by a group of his peers. Alternatively, John Smith was appointed by English royalty.

This act indicates the contrasting motives to the founding of Jamestown compared to the other communities. Winthrop’s sermon-like writing indicates his differential approach to leading others. While he was likely a memorable and inspirational speaker, this passage lacks the practical contributions that were consistently woven in the statements of Bradford. Winthrop communicates an intolerance for divergences from his rigorous beliefs, while the leadership styles of Smith and, especially, Bradford seems more diplomatic and somewhat democratic.

Depending on one’s perspective on the settlers treatment of Native Americans and their original motives for founding new colonies, it’s debatable whether these early communities were examples of successful societal expansion or failed human decency. Comparing the colonial leaders original goal with the outcome of each community indicates relative success in that surviving members of Jamestown, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay eventually founded well-established communities that would merge to become part of the first American colonies.

The individual successes of influential leaders and the combined efforts of a community to found a new society are apparent in these expressions of pride, but these communities were not without their failed goals. Jamestown, especially, suffered extensive loss of life as a result of disease and deadly conflicts with Native Americans. The death of the original settlers may have reinvigorated the settlement itself because new colonists and supplies were transported to the area.

Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay colony were more isolated from their European roots following their settlement. The work of Smith and Bradford also failed to produce the financial gains anticipated from the investors that funded their ventures. In light of their impressive contributions to lead the founding of what would become the United States of American, their inability to discover gems, gold, and treasures upon their arrival is not viewed as a failure from today’s perspective.

Violent conflicts between Native Americans, described as savages, and the European settlers were described as a reoccurring theme in the writings of these leaders. It’s difficult not consider their experiences with the modern knowledge of how these conflicts would tragically result for the once vast population of Native Americans. Smith and Bradford particularly seemed to recognize the dire need to address these tumultuous relations. Bradford engaged a more diplomatic approach that makes one wonder if a universal approach of justice could have changed the course of history.

Even through the window of small snippets of personal writings, it’s clear the leadership styles, driving motivations, goals, and personalities of John Smith, William Bradford, and John Winthrop were starkly different. They share the common distinction of leading a group of courageous settlers through extraordinarily challenging circumstances to found communities that would grow to become one of the most successful nations in the world.

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