Bradford uses the terms “general” and “particular” to describe two sorts within the colony’s population: those who partook in the common ownership and working of the land, and those who were independent planters or entrepreneurs.
At first, until the time when the common stock was abolished in 1623, nearly all were in the “general.”
But within a short time, the London investors began sending over more and more people who were on their own “particular”.
At least, that was their status on paper: for the general were often expected to support them until they were established, or ended up having to do so because those on their particular proved particularly incompetent.
In either case, these were significant drains on the colony’s resources, which made it more difficult and extended the time it took to pay their debts.
As noted by Bradford, one such “particular” was John Lyford. Lyford had studied at Oxford. He had then gone on to be a preacher in the Church of Ireland, which was an ideal position for a Puritan because King James had allowed ministers in Ireland to implement whatever Puritan policies they wanted to.
They didn’t have to do any of the church rituals they disapproved of, like pledging allegiance to the Book of Common Prayer, making the sign of the cross or wearing the surplice.
That meant that Puritans who didn’t want to compromise their ideas could move to Ireland to help convert the locals. The Church of Ireland had become dominated by Puritans, and Lyford had chosen to settle in one of the most contentious counties.
Then, he had an illegitimate child while in Ireland, and another. Then he got married, but after his marriage he got caught having raped a woman. After that, he was expelled from the Church of Ireland, and forced to return to London.
That’s where he connected with the Merchant Adventurers, who had sent him to Plymouth as a new minister. They’d already sent one minister, but he’d simply stayed a year, and lived quietly, written Latin poems, and left everyone alone. (Sarah Tanksalvala)
While his stay in the colony began well, Lyford soon collected a faction of discontented people, led by John Oldham. The two of them wrote a number of letters to the investors, which Governor William Bradford described as “full of slanders & false accusations, tending not only to their prejudice, but to their ruin and utter subversion.” (Plimoth Patuxet)
As noted by Bradford, “When this man first came a shore, he saluted them with that reverence & humilitie as is seldome to be seen, and indeed made them ashamed, he so bowed and cringed unto them, and would have kissed their hands if they would have suffered him …”
“… yea, he wept & shed many tears, blessing God that had brought him to see their faces; and admiring ye things they had done in their wants, &c. as if he had been made all of love, and ye humblest person in ye world.”
“Ater some short time he desired to joyne himselfe a member to ye church hear, and was accordingly received.”
“He made a large confession of his faith, and an acknowledgemente of his former disorderly walking, and his being intangled with many corruptions, which had been a burthen to his conscience, and blessed God for this opportunitie of freedom & libertie to injoye ye ordinances of God in puritie among his people, with many more such like expressions.” (Bradford)
Bradford then speaks about John Oldham, “I must hear speake a word also of Mr. John Oldom [Oldham], who was a copartner with him in his after courses. He had bene a cheefe sticler in ye former faction among ye perticulers, and an intelligencer to those in England.”
“But now, since the coming of this ship and he saw ye supply that came, he tooke occasion to open his minde to some of ye cheefe amongst them heere, and confessed he had done them wrong both by word & deed, & writing into England …”
“… but he now saw the eminente hand of God to be with them, and his blesing upon them, which made his hart smite him, neither should those in England ever use him as an instrumente any longer against them in any thing …”
“… he also desired former things might be forgotten, and that they would looke upon him as one that desired to close with them in all things, with such like expressions.”
“Now whether this was in hipocrisie, or out of some sudden pange of conviction (which I rather thinke), God only knows.” (Bradford)
The Pilgrims became suspicious that Lyford almost immediately joined with John Oldham (both non-Pilgrims) in sending letters to London criticizing the colony and its leadership to the Merchant Adventurers.
These criticisms had included criticism of everyday life, policy, and even the colony’s religious nature.
When confronted, Lyford denied the accusations.
Bradford was determined to find out what he was doing, so he asked the captain of the next boat carrying mail to England to pause after they were beyond the view of the Plymouth colonists. He followed in a small boat, intercepted the vessel and opened Lyford’s mail. (Sarah Tanksalvala)
It seemed clear that Lyford and Oldham were partnering with a faction of investors at home and planning to overturn the religious and political leadership of the colony, ending the independence movement within the colony, and turning into a mainstream Puritan colony. (Sarah Tanksalvala)
So, Lyford and Oldham were put on trial.
Lyford denied writing the letters, but then he was shown the letters he wrote …
“Lyford denyed that he had any thing to doe with them in England, or knew of their courses, and made other things as strange that he was charged with.”
“Then his letters were prodused & some of them read, at which he was struck mute.”
“But Oldam begane to rage furiously, because they had intercepted and opened his letters, threatening them in very high language, and in a most audacious and mutinous maner stood up & caled upon ye people, saying, My maisters, wher is your harts?”
Lyford and Oldham were convicted and exiled.
“In conclusion, he was fully convicted, and burst out into tears, and ‘confest he feared he was a reprobate, his sinns were so great that he doubted God would not pardon them, he was unsavorie salte, &c.; and that he had so wronged them as he could never make them amends, confessing all he had write against them was false & nought, both for matter & maner.’”
“And all this he did with as much fullnes as words & tears could express.”
“After their triall & conviction, the court censured them to be expeld the place; Oldame presently, though his wife & family had liberty to stay all winter, or longer, till he could make provission to remove them comfortably.”
“Lyford had liberty to stay 6. months.”
Lyford and Oldham briefly stayed with a new band of colonists at Naumkeag, which would later become Salem. From there, they went to Virginia, where Lyford seemed to have been made a minister at either the Wests’ or John Martin’s plantation, but died just a few months later. Oldham later apologized for his participation in the affair and rejoined Plymouth colony.
The Lyford affair nearly tore the investors apart. Investors in London split into two groups, but most of the company’s powerful backers supported Lyford.
London investors wrote to Plymouth, accusing the settlers of being “contentious, cruel and hard-hearted among your neighbors, and towards such as in all points both civil and religious, jump not with you.”
Meanwhile, Bradford said that Oldham and Lyford were evil, profane and perverse, a human manifestation of the anti-Christ, and malignants. (Sarah Tanksalvala)
Click the following link to a general summary about Lyford and Oldham: