Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lessons from the Plymouth Plantation

From my friend, Tom:

The following is a short piece from an interminably long document by William Bradford ("History of Plymouth Plantation").

The History (attached) contains [numbers] that correspond to the below sections, if you wish to see them in context.

Several interesting items occur to me:

1. These people had not yet immersed themselves in the King James Bible, and therefore, had not yet accepted the spellings that would become standardized by the KJV.

2. They started out, as provided in their original contract, as a commonwealth...and learned that that form of "government" caused laziness and equal misery.

3. Their misery caused them to abandon their commune and go for free enterprise.

4. Free enterprise encouraged them to work for their own benefit.

5. The last paragraph explains why people in a commune don't want to work.

(10li means 10 pounds worth of money, whatever. )


Ano: 1620. July 1.

1. The adventurers & planters doe agree, that every person that goeth being aged 16. years & upward, be rated at 10li., and ten pounds to be accounted a single share. [57]

2. That he that goeth in person, and furnisheth him selfe out with 10li. either in money or other provissions, be accounted as haveing 20li. in stock, and in ye devission shall receive a double share.

3. The persons transported & ye adventurers shall continue their joynt stock & partnership togeather, ye space of 7. years, (excepte some unexpected impedimente doe cause ye whole company to agree otherwise,) during which time, all profits & benifits that are gott by trade, traffick, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons, remaine still in ye com̅one stock untill ye division.

4. That at their com̅ing ther, they chose out such a number of fitt persons, as may furnish their ships and boats for fishing upon ye sea; imploying the rest in their severall faculties upon ye land; as building houses, tilling, and planting ye ground, & makeing shuch com̅odities as shall be most usefull for ye collonie.

5. That at ye end of ye 7. years, ye capitall & profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods and chatles, be equally devided betwixte ye adventurers, and planters; wch done, every man shall be free from other of them of any debt or detrimente concerning this adventure.

[29] 6. Whosoever cometh to ye colonie herafter, or putteth any into ye stock, shall at the ende of ye 7. years be alowed proportionably to ye time of his so doing.

7. He that shall carie his wife & children, or servants, shall be alowed for everie person now aged 16. years & upward, a single share in ye devision, or if he provid them necessaries, a duble share, or if they be between 10. year old and 16., then 2. of them to be reconed for a person, both in trāsportation and devision.

8. That such children as now goe, & are under ye age of ten years, have noe other shar in ye devision, but 50. acers of unmanured land. [58]

9. That such persons as die before ye 7. years be expired, their executors to have their parte or sharr at ye devision, proportionably to ye time of their life in ye collonie.

10. That all such persons as are of this collonie, are to have their meate, drink, apparell, and all provissions out of ye com̅on stock & goods of ye said collonie.

The cheefe & principall differences betwene these & the former conditions, stood in those 2. points; that ye houses, & lands improved, espetialy gardens & home lotts should remaine undevided wholy to ye planters at ye 7. years end. 2ly, yt they should have had 2. days in a weeke for their owne private imploymente, for ye more comforte of them selves and their families, espetialy such as had families. But because letters are by some wise men counted ye best parte of histories, I shall shew their greevances hereaboute by their owne letters, in which ye passages of things will be more truly discerned.

All this whille no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length, after much debate of things, the Govr (with ye advise of ye cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves; in all other things to goe on in ye generall way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcell of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance), and ranged all boys & youth under some familie. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means ye Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into ye feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.


The experience that was had in this com̅one course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times;—that ye taking away of propertie, and bringing in com̅unitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymēt that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For ye yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter ye other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and [97] equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c., with ye meaner & yonger sorte, thought it some indignite & disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it. Upon ye poynte all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought them selves in ye like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut of those [164]relations that God hath set amongest men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of ye mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none objecte this is men's corruption, and nothing to ye course it selfe. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fiter for them.

Bradford's History of 'Plimoth Plantation'
From the Original Manuscript. With a Report of the Proceedings Incident to the Return of the Manuscript to Massachusetts
Author: William Bradford

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