He was the son of William Bradford and his wife Alice Hanson, and was baptised on March 19, 1589/90 in Austerfield, Yorkshire. At an early age he was attracted to the primitive congregational church in nearby Scrooby. By 1607 he was a committed member of what was termed a separatist church, since they wanted to separate from the Church of England. When James I began to persecute separatists in 1608 he fled to the Netherlands along with many members of the congregation. They went first to Amsterdam before settling at Leiden. He married his first wife Dorothy May (1597 - December 7, 1620) on December 10, 1613 in Amsterdam. While at Leiden he supported himself as a fustian weaver.
Shifting alignments of the European powers caused the Dutch government fear approaching war with catholic Spain and to become allied with James I. Pressure and even attacks on the separatists increased in the Netherlands. Their congregation's leader, John Robinson, supported the emerging idea of starting a colony. Bradford was in the midst of this venture from the beginning. They wanted to remain Englishmen, yet get far enough away from the church and the government to have some chance of living in peace. Arrangements were made, and William with his wife Dorothy sailed for America in 1620 from Leiden, aboard the Mayflower. She died in Cape Cod Bay, near Provincetown.
The first winter in the new colony was a terrible experience. Half the colonists perished, including the colony's leader, John Carver. Bradford was selected as his replacement in the spring of 1621. From this point his story is linked with the history of the Plymouth Colony.
William Bradford's second wife, Alice Carpenter, came to Plymouth on the Anne in July 1623, and married Governor Bradford on August 14, 1623 at Plymouth. They had three children, William, Mercy, and Joseph. Alice also helped to raise John, the son of his first marriage. William Bradford died at Plymouth and was interred at Plymouth Burial Hill.
Bradford kept a detailed journal for many years. Large parts of this were published as Of Plymouth Plantation, and republished a number of times. (It is currently in print as ISBN 0075542811.) George Morton merged parts of it with the journal of Edward Winslow to publish Mourt's Relation to give an account of the early days of the Pilgrim settlements.
Bradford's history at the Pilgrim Museum