Communal Farming vs. Private Farming


The first colonies in the New World were established as “everything common” or what we call socialism today. Everything supplied or produced went into the common store and each person was to take only what they needed. There was no individual ownership. The investors of these early colonies were the ones who set the guidelines for this system and they expected to receive their share to repay their investment and to earn revenue for themselves. Plymouth and Jamestown are the two colonies that have been presented the most often in our grade school history books. The following accounts are recorded by members of these colonies who actually experienced the circumstances.


The first account is from William Bradford’s writings, Of Plymouth Plantation and the year was 1623. Things were very difficult for the colonists, their crops were not supplying enough to get them through the winters and Bradford and Captain Standish would make expeditions in search of provisions, in the winter of 1622. Bradford describes certain events and people which brings him to the following passage:


“All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some families. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means and the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would claim weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”


“The experience that was had in this commons course and condition, tried a number of years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well convince the vanities of the conceit of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that taking away of properties, and bringing in community to common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (as far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did complain that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter that the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals , clothes, etc, with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well tolerate it. Upon the point all being to have alike and all do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition and one as good as another; and so, if it did not out of those relations that God had set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of the mutual respect that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”


The organizers of the first English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 had visions of easy wealth and abundant resources. The colonists, a group with little agricultural experience and unaccustomed to manual labor, instead found a swampy and disease-ridden site. The local Indians were unwilling to labor for them. All but 38 out of 104 died within a few months. Two years later, the Virginia Company sent 500 more colonists and within 6 months 440 had died. Captain John Smith had been a soldier, explorer, and adventurer. With the colony in near chaos, he took over the government of the colony in 1608 and instituted a policy of rigid discipline and agricultural cultivation. When a gunpowder accident forced his return to England in 1608, the colonists faced a disastrous winter known as “starving time.” He recorded the following account in 1609:


“This was that time, which still to this day we called the starving time; it is too vile to say, and scarce to be believed, what we endured: but the occasion was our own, for want of providence, industry and government, and not the barrenness and defect of the country, as is generally supposed; for till then in three years, for the numbers were landed us, we had never from England provision sufficient for six months, though it seemed by the bills of loading, sufficient was sent us, such a glutton is the Sea, and such good fellows the Mariners; we as little tasted of the great proportion sent us, as they of our want and miseries, yet notwithstanding they ever over-swayed and ruled the business, though we endured all that is said, and chiefly lived on what this good Country naturally afforded; yet had we been even in Paradise itself with these Governors, it would not have been much better with us; yet there was amongst us, who had they had the government as Captain Smith appointed, but that they could not maintain it, would surely have kept us from those extremities of miseries. This in ten days more, would have supplanted us all with death.


But God that would not this Country should be unplanted, sent and Sir Thomas Gates, and Sir George Sommers with one hundred and fifty people most happily preserved by the Bermudas to preserve us: strange it is to say how miraculously they were preserved in a leaking ship, as at large you may read in the ensuing history of those lands."


In 1611, the British government sent Sir Thomas Dale to serve as "high marshal" of the colony. He immediately diagnosed the problem as the absence of property rights in the land, and subsequently determined that each man would be given three acres of land and be required to work no more than one month per year to contribute to the colony, i.e., to pay taxes.


Once private property was established the colony immediately began to prosper. Historian Mathew Paige Andrews, author of Virginia: The Old Dominion, wrote: "As soon as the settlers were thrown upon their own resources, and each freeman had acquired the right of owning property, the colonists quickly developed what became the distinguishing characteristic of Americans – an aptitude for all kinds of craftsmanship coupled with an innate genius for experimentation and invention." The Indians, who had previously looked down upon the settlers as incompetents, began trading furs and other items for the corn that was being harvested by the settlers.


We could surmise that these two colonies were experiments in socialism, and they failed, miserably. The colonies prospered with the foundation of private property and a free-market system of commerce. There are those today who as William Bradford wrote, “think they are wiser than God”.


“It’s not that I want to punish your success,” Obama explained. “I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you, that they’ve got a chance for success too. My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody … I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”


Those were the words of our current President when he was confronted on the campaign trail. In other words, we will take your money and put it in the common store, and distribute it as we see fit. It would appear that he and the current congress are attempting to do just that. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and the third president of the United States wrote the following:


“Place economy among the first and most important virtues, and Public Debt as the greatest danger to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our leaders load us with perpetual debt. We must make our choice between Economy and Liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labors and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy. The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our money for unexplained projects forbids its disposition of public money."

Note: This text has been edited into modern text for easier reading, taking care to only change the spelling to modern form.
Sources: William Bradford: History of Plymouth Plantation; John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & The Summer Isles (Glasgow Scotland: James MacLehose and Sons, 1907), Vol. 1: 203–05, Thomas DeLorenzo Archives@LRC; SIFE Freedom Quotes

Contributed by Kathryn Currier

posted May 25, 2009




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