11/24/2014 02:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Letter of Thanks That Is More Than 300 Years Overdue

A note of appreciation to my eighth great grandfather, William Bradford of the Mayflower -- tens of millions thank you!

Dear Bill,

I am writing on behalf of tens of millions of people who are direct descendants of those that landed at Plymouth Rock 394 years ago. You were their leader, their spiritual guide and their mouthpiece. At this Thanksgiving time, I am writing to thank you belatedly.

You died in 1657 and I was born in 1950. So almost 300 years separate us, but I still feel your presence and admire your courage.

What you overcame to help lead the pilgrims to Plymouth Rock and beyond is nothing short of magnificent.

There are many other direct descendants of yours that have you to thank as well:

• Clint Eastwood, famous actor, director and producer
• Noah Webster, American educator known for Webster's Dictionary
• Benjamin Spock, world-famous childcare specialist and author
• William Rehnquist, for Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court
• Julia Child, entrepreneur and famous chef
• Christopher Reeve, American film actor
• George Eastman, Inventor and founder of Eastman Kodak
• Sally Field, American actress, singer and director.
• The Baldwin Brothers, actors and activists
• Deborah Sampson, famous female fighter in the Revolutionary War

There were only 102 brave souls that landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. But as of today, the Mayflower Society estimates that "tens of millions" descended from those brave souls. For the record Bill, here is how we are related:

I am David Russell Bradford (born 1950)
My father was Sylvester Duncan Bradford (died 1985)
Whose father was Sylvester Duncan Bradford (died 1955)
Whose Father was Rawsel Bradford (died 1897)
Whose Father was Jehial Bradford (died 1845)
Whose Father was Joel Bradford (died 1837)
Whose Father was Simeon Bradford (died 1793)
Whose Father was Lt. Ephraim Bradford (died 1746)
Whose Father was Major William Bradford (died 1702)
Whose Father was Governor William Bradford (died 1657)

Bill, I know that first winter was hard. In fact one half of those that landed died including your wife. The trials you and your brave pilgrim friends faced were monumental from freezing cold wind and snow to attacks from Native American Indian tribes to starvation and disease. My gratitude for your bravery, your independence and determination is untold.

Even at that, you and your team probably would not have made it but for an important treaty you signed in March of 1621 with Chief Massasoit of the Pokanoket tribe. As you remember, it promised mutual protection. The Treaty read essentially as follows:

"If any did unjustly war against Massasoit, the pilgrims would aid him; if any did war against the pilgrims, Massasoit should aid them."

I am one of the fortunate who bear your name to this day. I am descended through your second half Alice Carpenter and your son who you also named William. Those pictured here have all been blessed by your fortitude and determination.


Today more than ever, my thoughts turn gratefully to you and all of your brave comrades. The blessings of living in this great nation surrounded by family, friends and terrific business colleagues is a gift I am only beginning to fully appreciate. But it started with one man 394 years ago who had the guts and vision to make a difference. That was you, Bill!

You were named as the father of American history for your role in the pilgrim colonies as well as your extensive writings on the early history which occurred there. Hence, I have learned many things from your life:

1. Be a reader -- Readers are leaders. As a small boy, you were orphaned at the age of 7, and you turned to reading the Bible for comfort. Reading became a lifelong passion for you.

2. Be a peacemaker -- Your early work in negotiating and living up to a key treaty with the Native Americans, was a cornerstone for the safe growth of the Plymouth colony and subsequent generations.

3. Be a caring leader -- Your fellow citizens voted you in on five occasions as their Governor. You were perceived as fair and compassionate. Thanks for your 30 years of guiding the early Plymouth colony and establishing the state of Massachusetts.

4. Be a lover of the Almighty -- You once said that in your life you "hoped to demonstrate the workings of divine providence for the edification of future generations."

5. Be a hard worker. -- Your life's work began early. At the young age of 18, you became one of the leaders of the Separatists who left England and the oppression of the Church of England and escaped its tyranny.

6. Be a writer -- You were known as the forerunner of American literature. You loved writing and leaving a legacy. Your best-known work, "Of Plymouth Plantation," gave us the most detailed history of the lives of the Plymouth colonists over a 25-year period.

7. Be courageous in the face of discouragement -- Your journey with your pilgrim followers encountered several major setbacks in trying to leave England most notably when you were betrayed by the English sea captain who had agreed to take you and your team to the Netherlands but instead turned you over to authorities. You must have been incredibly discouraged during your imprisonment. And yet, as you would write years later describing your departure to the new World: "With mutual embraces and many tears, they took their leaves of one another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them... but they knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things, but lifted their eyes to heaven..." The name Pilgrim was, in fact, taken from that authorship.

Let me again express my undying gratitude for your marvelous courage and example!

Your grandson,