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.

Of Plimoth Plantation- Part 1

This year sees the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower and founding of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. Much of what is known of the early years of the colony, which would become the second successful English colony in America and the first permanent European settlement in New England, comes from a history of the colony written by one of its founders, and second governor, William Bradford. His manuscript, titled Of Plim̃oth Plantation, details the voyages of the Pilgrims from England to Holland and then onwards to the new world, as well as the key events in the formative years of the colony.

The manuscript, the property of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is currently deposited at the State Library of Massachusetts, but for many years was held in the library at Fulham Palace, formerly the residence of the Bishop of London.[1] A great deal of information on the history of the manuscript can be found in the Fulham Papers – the archives of the Bishops of London, dating from the 18th-19th centuries, and including correspondence on the administration of the diocese of London and on the churches abroad which came under the bishop’s jurisdiction before the founding of separate episcopates in those countries. Originally stored at Fulham Palace, the Church Commissioners removed the bulk of this collection during the 1950s and 1960s, and eventually transferred the records to Lambeth Palace Library.[2]

First page of Bradford's Of_Plimoth_Plantation
First page of Bradford’s Of_Plimoth_Plantation, once held at Fulham Palace and now at the State Library of Massachusetts. [Image public domain]

History of the Manuscript

The journey of the manuscript is an interesting tale. Charles Reuben Hale states it was given to the Revd T. Prince in 1728 to deposit in the ‘New England Library’ (Old South Church, Boston), and subsequently presumed lost for many years.[3] In February 1855 the Revd J.S. Barry spotted similarities in passages between Wilberforce’s History of the Church in America and citations by Prince from the manuscript, which were enough to discern that it could be found in the collections at Fulham Palace.[4] Following this the Revd J. Hunter, Vice-President of the Society of Antiquaries, made enquiries resulting in the Bishop of London, Charles James Blomfield, permitting a transcription be made, paid for by Massachusetts Historical Society, and published 1856.[5]

Quite how the manuscript ended up in the possession of the Bishop of London is unclear. Hale suggests that it may have been taken by a soldier during the revolution – perhaps a soldier serving under Sir William Howe when Boston was evacuated in March 1776 – then later falling into the hands of someone who sent it to Fulham Palace for safekeeping.[6] Alternatively it was proposed that Thomas Hutchison, the last Royal Governor or Massachusetts, may have brought it to England prior to outbreak of the Revolutionary War.[7] Bishop of London Archibald Campbell Tait, writing to the Earl of Derby in 1867, states it is difficult to say how the manuscript came into the possession of Bishop Porteus, but that he probably purchased it from a close friend along with other volumes.[8]

In any case, the discovery that the manuscript survived and could be found at Fulham Palace, as well as the subsequent publication of a transcription, began a near 50-year quest on the part of various American scholars, dignitaries and societies to have it returned the USA.

Early attempts to secure repatriation

It is noted that as early as 1855 John Waddington had proposed that the manuscript should be returned to the USA, and in April 1867 the Earl of Derby (Edward Geoffrey Smith-Stanley, Prime Minister) wrote to Tait regarding a letter he received from Waddington querying the ownership of it.[9] As noted, Tait was unsure of the manuscript’s history, and wrote that ‘I do not know what would be the right course to pursue if it were decreed desirable to present [the manuscript] to the American Nation.’.[10] On 15 December 1867 Lord Stanley at the Foreign Office wrote to Tait regarding a letter from Benjamin Scott, Chamberlain of the City of London, proposing the return of the manuscript – a proposal which Lord Stanley thought worthy of consideration as the UK government was keen to garner positive public opinion in the USA, but that any objections from Tait would be considered final.[11] It seems clear Tait did object, as later in the same month Lord Stanley stated he would ‘allow the matter to drop’.[12]

The next attempt to secure the manuscript’s repatriation came in 1877, when William George Tozer (formerly Bishop of Nyasaland and later Bishop of Jamaica) wrote to John Jackson, then Bishop of London, enclosing an ‘Extract from an American letter, respecting the Fulham MSS’ of unidentified author and date. Tozer states a facsimile would ‘more than make good, for English readers, the loss of the original document’, and attempts to convince the Bishop: ‘Do try and say ‘yes’, and delight the souls of all Americans’.[13] The writer of the extract details the gratitude that would follow from the return of the manuscript and argues that ‘You English people have so much more ‘connected with your past’ than we have, that, I doubt, if you can fully appreciate how we care for all that concerns our past. This MSS would be a most interesting relic to us. No one would think of claiming it, as a matter of right or blaming the bishop for keeping it.’, continuing that ‘if he could return it to America, it would excite a degree of enthusiasm, of which, I do not think, even you have an idea.’[14]

In support of their case, the writer argues that the manuscript is not a church document and would be more fitting held in an archives where it would be viewed as ‘precious treasure’, states the return of manuscript would have effect of uniting two nations which ought to be friends, and cites the return of Arctic discovery vessel HMS Resolute (from which the Resolute Desk was subsequently made and gifted to the US president) as an example of an ‘act of kind courtesy’ to which the return the manuscript would be similar.[15] The letter finishes: ‘It would be appreciated, not only by Massachusetts people only, but all over the continent, – for Massachusetts has been, as it were, the cradle of the United States.’[16] It’s not clear how Jackson responded to this plea, but certainly the manuscript remained at Fulham Palace for the time being.

Next week, in part 2, we look at how the manuscript finally returned to Massachusetts.


[1] State Library of Massachusetts, ‘Of Plimoth Plantation: manuscript, 1630-1650’, https://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/208249, accessed 31/01/2020.

[2] Lambeth Palace Library , ‘Fulham Papers (Papers of the Bishops of London) (FP)’, https://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/fulhampapers, accessed 31/01/2020.

[3] FP Jackson 33, f.6.

[4] FP Jackson 33, f.6.

[5] Tait 83, f.105.

[6] FP Jackson 33, f.6.

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

[8] Tait 83, f.105.

[9] Waddington’s role is noted in Samuel Eliot Morison’s Introduction to William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, Samuel Eliot Morison (ed.), New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 2002, p.xxxiv; Tait 83, ff.99-100.

[10] Tait 83, f.105.

[11] Tait 83, ff.295-296.

[12] Tait 83, f.306.

[13] FP Jackson 33, ff.4-5.

[14] FP Jackson 33, f.7.

[15] FP Jackson 33, f.7.

[16] FP Jackson 33, f.7.