William Bradford was born in 1590 in the small farming community of Austerfield, Yorkshire. His father died when he was one year old. Orphaned from his parents and grandparents, from the age of seven William and his older sister Alice were raised by their uncle Robert Bradford.
William was a sickly boy and by the age of 12 had taken to reading the Bible intensely. As a teenager, he became involved with the ministry of Richard Clyfton and John Smyth, around which the Separatist churches of the region would eventually form.
When he was about 18 years old, Bradford fled England with his mentor William Brewster and the Scrooby Congregation. Once in Leiden, he took up the trade of a serge weaver and he was able to recover some of the estate in England that had been left to him by his father.
By 1620, Bradford and his wife Dorothy joined the Mayflower venture. While the ship was anchored off Provincetown Harbor at the tip of Cape Cod, and with many of the Pilgrim men out exploring, Dorothy Bradford inexplicably fell overboard and drowned.
After the death of John Carver in April 1621, Bradford was elected Governor of the Plymouth colony. He was re-elected nearly every year after. As Governor, the head of the government of Plymouth, Bradford oversaw the courts, the colony's finances, correspondence with investors and other settlements.
As he also formulated policy with regards to foreigners, Indians and the law, he had a very active role in the running of the Colony as a whole. Beginning in 1630, Bradford started writing a history of the Plymouth Colony, which is now published under the title Of Plymouth Plantation. A number of his letters, poems, conferences, and other writings have also survived.
On 8 May 1657 following a long illness, William Bradford told his friends and family that he was going to die. He died the next day, aged sixty-eight.