Of Plimoth Plantation- Part 2

Last week we saw how it was discovered that William Bradford’s manuscript, Of Plim̃oth Plantation,  giving an account of the Mayflower voyage was discovered to be at Fulham Palace. This week, we see how the manuscript returned to Massachusetts. 

The final approach

On the 19th September 1896 Senator George Frisbie Hoar wrote to Mandell Creighton, Bishop of London, requesting access to see the manuscript, with an enclosed letter of recommendation from Creighton’s nephew W.H. Grenfell.[1] Following this Hoar wrote to both Creighton and Archbishop Temple on the 18th November 1896 referencing a previous discussion with Temple when he was Bishop of London, and notes that Temple said that if he had known ‘how highly this manuscript is esteemed by Americans’ it would have been returned long ago.[2] Hoar suggests to Creighton that an Act of Parliament might not be necessary to secure the return of the manuscript if it were judged that it was not the rightful property of the Bishop of London: ‘If a book belonging to the British Museum were found at Fulham, even if it had been there a hundred years, I presume you would direct its restoration without asking anybody’s leave, with as much promptness, if the case were clear, as if any visitor had left his cane or umbrella in the Library by accident. But of all this you are much the most competent judge.’.[3]

Following this, dated just three days later, Creighton received a letter from various American historical societies formally requesting the return of the manuscript, signed personally by Hoar, William Evarts and J. Pierpont Morgan, amongst various others.[4] The letter provides a brief history of the manuscript, a description of the inside leaf attributing ownership to Thomas Prince, a history of the Prince Library, and speculation on how the manuscript came to rest at Fulham. The letter argues that no civilised nation, ‘least of all so enlightened and liberal a nation as Great Britain’, would view the property of libraries or universities as spoils of war.[5]

In January 1897 the American Ambassador to Great Britain, Thomas Francis Bayard, followed up this request with a letter stating that the Secretary of State of the United States had asked him to informally bring the matter to the attention of Creighton.[6] The following month was spent attempting to establish the legal status of the manuscript, with correspondence exchanged between Creighton, Temple, and the Prime Minister (Lord Salisbury) concerning how it came to be deposited at Fulham and the relevance of Bishop Porteus’ will.[7] It is clear however that no clear answer emerged, and despite initial suggestions that parliamentary authority may be required to transfer the manuscript, ultimately the Prime Minister left the matter in the hands of Creighton. Bayard subsequently wrote to Creighton acknowledging that the return of the manuscript did not rest on a technicality of ownership, but rather on a ‘spirit of kindness between nations and peoples’.[8]

As a result, Creighton ordered Thomas Hutchinson Tristram, Chancellor of the Diocese of London, to summon a Consistory Court to rule on the matter. Meeting on 25 March 1897 at St Paul’s Cathedral, the Court issued a decree, copied on to the first two leaves of the manuscript, mandating that the manuscript be delivered to Bayard to be speedily sent to the United States and deposited in either Massachusetts Archives or the Library of the Historical Society, as well as placing responsibility for its custody and access arrangements in the hands of the Governor of Massachusetts.[9] Soon after this the election of a new US President (William McKinley) brought a change of ambassador, and the new first secretary at the embassy, Henry White, wrote to Creighton questioning the personal right of Bayard to act as courier of the manuscript (as the Consistory Court had decreed), but did not challenge the authority of the Court or Creighton to make this decision.[10]

The return of the manuscript

Honouring the Consistory Court’s decree, the manuscript was returned to Massachusetts by Bayard on 26 May 1897. Bayard wrote to Creighton giving an account of the event, stating that he handed the manuscript to Governor Roger Wolcott at the State House in Boston, with the two Houses of Legislature present in joint session – proceedings were described as ‘formal and marked with general public interest’, and while Bayard expressed regret that Creighton was not personally present to receive the ‘gratulations of the community at large’, he stated that events such as the return of the manuscript ‘obliterate the memories of ancient feuds, and ignorant prejudices, and bring the hearts of two kindred nations into sympathetic and normal relations’.[11] Notification was also given that both Creighton and Temple had been elected for membership of the American Antiquarian Society.

Illuminated address
Illuminated address sent to Archbishop Temple and Mandell Creighton by The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New York . [LPL MS2022f1v-2r]
In July 1897 Creighton received a letter from Dominic E. Colnaghi, Consul General in Boston, requesting a photograph of Creighton for a forthcoming published volume of manuscript, featuring the decree of Consistorial Court, the addresses of Hoar, Bayard and the Governor to the homecoming ceremony, and photographs of those involved in the saga, including Temple and Creighton.[12] The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New York sent an illuminated address to Temple and Creighton – held now at Lambeth Palace Library – expressing appreciation for the role of both in the return of manuscript, dated 7th April 1897, suggesting it ‘will tend to increase the friendship of the people of the two nations’.[13]

A letter from Temple to Hoar, sent on receipt of the account of the manuscript’s reception in Massachusetts, captures the spirit of the final part of this protracted affair: ‘the words used at that reception by yourself and by the other speakers will long burn in many English hearts as expressing the warm feeling which so many Americans cherish toward the Mother Country. Be assured that the strong respect and affection which is felt in England towards the Great Republic of the West, our pride in your greatness, and desire for your good will, although they may wax and wane as human beings inevitably do, yet will never perish.’.[14]


[1] FP Creighton 8, ff.253-256.

[2] F. Temple 5, ff.68-69.

[3] FP Creighton 8, ff.257-258.

[4] FP Creighton 8, ff.259-262.

[5] FP Creighton 8, ff.259-262.

[6] FP Creighton 8, ff.263-266.

[7] FP Creighton 8, ff.269-278; F. Temple, ff.70-71.

[8] FP Creighton 8, ff.279-280.

[9] Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, pp.xxxvi-xxxvii.

[10] FP Creighton 8, ff.281-282.

[11] FP Creighton 8, ff.283-284.

[12] Bradford’s History ‘Of Plimoth Plantation’, Boston: Wright & Potter, 1898.

[13] MS 2022.

[14] E.G. Sandford (ed), Memoirs of Archbishop Temple by Seven Friends, Vol. II, London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1906, p.175.

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