William was born in 1590, to William Sr. and Alice Bradford. His family owned a beautiful farm in Austerfield, Yorkshire, England. At the time of his birth they were well off financially. However, Williams father would die when he was only 1 year old. His mother then remarried when he was 4 years old and he was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather lived 2 more years, and soon afterward his mother died leaving him an orphan at age 7. William was then raised by 2 uncles who wanted him to work on the farm, but he chose to read the Bible and classic works of literature instead.
When he was just 12 years old a friend took him to hear the Reverend Richard Clyfton. Clyfton gave a sermon were he told the parishioners that the Church of England should stay away from the legacy of the Roman Catholic Church. His uncles didn't want him to go to any more of Clyfron's sermons, but he kept going. Then a short time later he joined a group of dissenters from the Anglican Church (Church of England)who began meeting at William Brewster's home in Scrooby Manor, which was 4 miles from his home. Before long, Brewster and many of his followers were arrested and Brewster was found guilty of being “disobedient in matters of religion.”
Then in 1609, the entire Scrooby Manor congregation decided to leave England illegally and sail to the Netherlands where there was religious freedom. William Bradford was just 19 at the time. He eagerly joined what was being called the Separatist movement. However, the Separatist (Pilgrims)found themselves double crossed by the ships captain who turned them over to the authorities as subversives. William and the rest of the Separatist (Pilgrims) would all spend a short amount of time in jail. Then in small groups they each made their way to Amsterdam, in the Dutch Republic. Life soon very difficult because in Amsterdam they were forced to take the worst jobs with the lowest pay. Finally, they got disgusted and moved on to the town of Leyden. At first William lived with the Brewster family, but when he turned 21 years old he was entitled to his families inheritance. Soon after, he bought a house and married Dorthy May.
After a few years the Scrooby congregation started talking about going to the New World. Almost 11 years passed before the group purchased 2 boats, the Mayflower, and the Speedwell. The Speedwell was not structurally sound, and at least fifty of its passengers were transferred to the 100 foot long Mayflower. The Mayflower was filled to the maximum with 102 passengers and 40 crew members. The boat leaked the entire 3 month voyage. They spotted Cape Cod on November 10, 1620. The next day 41 of the passengers signed the Mayflower Compact. William Bradford was the second to sign. What they didn't know at the time was that the sickness that had affected passengers on the boat was spreading, and by the end of the winter 50 percent of them were dead.
In April of 1621, William was elected governor of the new colony. He would be elected governor 30 more times in the next 35 years. The older William got the more religious he became. Before long, he began to see the hand of God in anything good that happened. William lived longer than almost all of the original Pilgrims who came on the Mayflower. William Bradford kept a detailed accounting of his time in the Plymouth Colony from 1621 to 1646. The diary was latter published and entitled a “History of the Plymouth Plantation.” In the book he draws parallels in the Bible with what occurred in Plymouth, and he believed that it was divine intervention that brought him there.