350 years apart – One goal

May 18, 2012 6:17 pm

A tenuous link – an experience shared. William Bradford, the son of a Yorkshire farmer, was born in sleepy Austerfield, just outside Doncaster in 1590. What if I was to tell you this man was a factor two of mankind’s most heroic adventures? That without him Neil Armstrong may never have set foot on the surface of the Moon?

350 years apart, inseparable in vision, William Bradford and John F Kennedy were united by their goals.

William Bradford spent his early years in the Manor House in Austerfield, where his parents owned considerable tracts of land. Nevertheless, they were simple farmers through and through. The young Bradford became an orphan at the age of 7, and turned to the religious sect known as the Pilgrims for comfort and guidance. Unable to work land due to a long illness, the boy turned his attentions to literature, finding inspiration in the pages of the Bible and other works of the period. His curiosity and drive took him into the realms of those practicing ‘illegal’ worship, men and women, Puritans persecuted by the government of England. In search of religious freedom he travelled first to the Dutch Republic before realising only one place held the hope of salvation for his people. Embarking on the fabled Mayflower, he led a journey to the almost mythical continent of America.

The Mayflower rode the waves of the treacherous Atlantic Ocean, just as a ship would journey 240,000 miles across the carpet of deep space three hundred years later in search of a similar goal.

Encountering native traps, atrocious weather conditions, sickness and even the death of his wife, Bradford and his companions struggled to survive their new surroundings. Clawing a foothold on the shores of the New World, the greatest frontier of the age, a whole continent lay undiscovered, boundless and enticing in its lure.

By 1620, many of the original Pilgrims had succumbed to illness, leaving less than half their original number to ensure the survival of Europeans in the New World. Overcoming great adversity and making peace with the native Indian tribes, William Bradford became governor of the Plymouth Bay colony, a position he held until his death in 1657.

This was not the end of Bradford’s story; on September 12th 1962, the youthful John F Kennedy, 35th President of the now long-established United States, stood in front of a crowd of thousands at Rice University in Texas and promised his own people they would stand on the shores of another ‘New World’ sometime before midnight, 1st January 1970.

In a story parallel to Bradford’s, over a quarter of a millenium after the Mayflower made landfall in Plymouth Bay, the descendants of the original immigrants prepared for their own voyage into the unknown. Kennedy proudly stood up and took the words of William Bradford for his own ends.

‘William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage. If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not.’


Days later, because of his choice of words, Kennedy had the funding he needed for his ambitious Apollo program. The Saturn V rocket, this modern day Mayflower, was intended to carry 3 ambassadors, 3 pilgrims, from the Earth to the ‘New World’ of the Moon. As history faithfully records, 27 men made the voyage from the Earth to the ‘New World’, with 12 of these pilgrims walking upon the shores of its lunar seas.

From the fields of South Yorkshire to the Sea of Tranquility, the story had come full circle. Two men, Bradford and Kennedy, united by a dream, made possible the dreams of exploring two very different frontiers of humanity. How fitting that the nation that took mankind to the furthest outpost of human participation should be that created by men such as William Bradford, the Yorkshireman who would not rest until his goals had been reached. He would surely agree with the  sentiment of John F Kennedy;

‘Space is there, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.’

Two men, two adventures, one common belief.

Anthony French

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