In 1609 the Pilgrims fled the restrictive environment of the Church of England and moved to Holland in order to freely practice their religious convictions. Economic difficulties and the fear of losing their cultural heritage inspired the voyage to the New World.
It was not possible to sail to the New World without a license or patent and the English claim in America, called Virginia in its entirety, was divided between two chartered companies whose job it was to not only promote settlement in Virginia but to also manage the resulting colonies for the English Crown. The London Virginia Company had jurisdiction over all land from what is today North Carolina to New Jersey, and the Plymouth Virginia Company from New York to Maine. The Pilgrims secured a patent to settle in the Virginia territory from the London Company with financing from a London merchant, Thomas Weston, who secured investors to finance their trip and in September 1620, 102 individuals and crew set sail under the leadership of William Bradford, to found a new colony.
Terms of the investors contract required that whatever the new colony produced was to be put into a common warehouse, with each individual getting one equal share. All the land, buildings and end products were communally owned. That first winter saw the death of at least half of the settlers and governor Bradford realized that collectivism had been a costly and destructive mistake; that it gave no incentive to the most creative and industrious among the settlers to work any harder than anyone else. Socialism had prevented the exercise of personal motivation.
Bradford wrote that “The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tired sundry years . . . that by taking away property, and bringing community into a commonwealth, would make them happy and flourishing — as if they were wiser than God . . . “ “For this community [so far it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for others men’s wives and children without recompense . . . that was thought injustice.”
Bradford instituted one historic change that was to ensure the flourishing success of the colony and change American history ever afterwards. Communal agriculture was abandoned and private planting was established. They trashed part of their contract with the London merchants; learned from the local Indians how to produce better crops and harvest more fish; assigned private property rights of land to all members; and, gave them the right to profit from their industry, which according to Gorernor Bradford was very successful. “It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.
The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times–that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort.”
Publishers of history books today have to remain “politically correct” in order to sell their textbooks to school systems. But textbooks merely interpret history, they don’t report it objectively. What is now called by revisionists as the first Thanksgiving, was actually a traditional English harvest celebration to thank God for their bounty, a celebration which they chose to share with the Indians as an expression of appreciation for their help. It was only in the 19th century that this event became identified as a traditional American Thanksgiving.
Once socialism was abolished from the settlement, the colonist were able to pay off their London sponsors. Their success initiated the “Great Puritan Migration” which fostered the rapid colonization of America .
Inspired by the Pilgrims success, Thomas Hooker would found the first and greatest constitutional colony, in Connecticut. Massachusetts adopted its Body of Liberties, which included 98 protections to individual rights, including: “no taxation without representation,” “due process of law,” “trial by a jury of peers,” and prohibitions against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Of Plymouth Plantation: Bradford’s History” is Governor’s Bradford’s eyewitness account of the Settlement from 1608-1650. You can order a copy here.