The Pilgrims & Property Rights


The Pilgrims founded their colony at Plymouth Plantation in December 1620 and promptly started dying off in droves.

As the colony's early governor, William Bradford, wrote in "Of Plymouth Plantation":

That which was most sadd & lamentable was, that in 2. or 3. moneths time halfe of their company dyed.

When the settlers finally stopped croaking, they set about creating a heaven on earth, a society without private property, where all worked for the common good. Everything was shared. Especially bitching and moaning about working for the common good. Bradford again:

Yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompense….And for men's wives to be commanded to doe service for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brooke it.

With nobody working, everybody was suffering. And in case you think nobody was working simply because they couldn't understand a damn thing Bradford was saying, chew on this: In 1623, Bradford and the other leaders

…assigned to every family a parceel of land…this had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more torne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. 

 In no time at all

any generall wante of famine hath not been amongest them since to this day.

America would never go hungry again. So this week, before you drift into your annual tryptophan-induced coma, don't forget to give thanks to the true patron of this holiday feast: property rights.

For more on this, go here. For a contrary take on whether the Pilgrims were proto-socialists, go here.

Approximately 2.30 minutes.

Produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie. Voices by Meredith Bragg and Austin Bragg.

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  1. don’t forget to give thanks to the true patron of this holiday feast: property rights

    Copyright 2010, Reason Magazine

  2. But the Native American Indigenous Peoples lived here in peace for thousands of years and had no concept of property rights!

    1. In peace????? Where the fuck did you get that?

    2. Or were you being facetious?

      1. Ya think?

      2. I guess the name “left wing shill” wasn’t subtle enough for you.

    3. Yes, they DID have a good concept of property rights.

    4. Actually, as the Pilgrims themselves frequently noted, the Algonquin tribes in what became New England had long since divided their tribal farmlands into family parcels, and individual families were extremely zealous about property lines.

      1. Was it you who told me to read 1491, Xeones? The author talked a good bit about this.

  3. Hey how about COPYRIGHTS????

  4. Fucking commie eurotrash. Learn to spellcheck!

    1. Yeah, what’s that all about? Nobody seemed to use spellcheck back then. Abeegayal Adamse Wous thee wourste!

      1. Ask me about checking spells.

      2. That’s probably because the first reliable dictionary Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language wasn’t published until 1755 and Webser’s dictionary was first published in 1827.

        1. In 1828 Webser added a “t” to the middle of his name to stand for “tirony”. Tironically, the “t” has since been dropped forming the word “irony”.

  5. “Yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompense[.]”

    Those young men would be sent to the Gulag in other times to teach them solidarity…

  6. That which is moste diabolicall…is the Conditions of the Wive’s Snatches, all be-fowled & wyrm-ridden. O, for the Tayste of a M?den-childe’s sweete potte of Honey, in-stead of the Crone’s Neste.

      1. yet somewhat amusing.

  7. One has to read the counterside for examples of uncritical and naive reporting:


    Bradford did get rid of the common course ? but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn’t working. The Pilgrims just didn/t like it. [emphasis mine]

    Oh? Is that ALL?? “It worked, except they didn’t like it”???? It worked???

    In the accounts of colonists, Mr. Pickering said, “there was griping and groaning.”

    “Bachelors didn’t want to feed the wives of married men, and women don’t want to do the laundry of the bachelors,” he said.

    You see? It worked! It’s just that those damned bachellors and wives were so selfish!

    I mean, the Soviet Union ‘worked,’ it’s just that those selfish Russians didn’t like it.

    The real reason agriculture became more profitable over the years, Mr. Pickering said, is that the Pilgrims were getting better at farming crops like corn that had been unknown to them in England.

    But nothing to do with property rights and economic incentives – Nooooo. It was growing experience. Yeah.

    As for Jamestown, there was famine. But historians dispute the characterization of the colony as a collectivist society. “To call it socialism is wildly inaccurate,” said Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a historian at New York University and the author of “The Jamestown Project.” “It was a contracted company, and everybody worked for the company. I mean, is Halliburton a socialist scheme?”

    I mean, do you know how companies actually work, you imbecile?

    The Soviet farmers worked for a company as well – called the U.S.S.R. But they were NOT socialist – Noooooo.

    And people wonder why the Gray Lady is going down by the bow.

    1. The stoopid is deeeeeep at The Grey Lady.

    2. ‘Tis in the verie Nature of the Firme to commande and controlle that whiche is bounde uppe in its contracts; both goods and men alike yieldeth to the authoritee like vassal to lord. Such arrangements yea may well internalize many natalities externall, and yet to put all suche resources to beste use maybe not so muche.

      1. I’m all about the natalities externall.

        1. To eache acordinge to his neede, fromme eache acordinge to his abilityes.

      2. Man I gotta learn not to eat lunch while reading the Hit & Run comments. I nearly choked on a bite of sammich.

    3. Goddamn, Kate Zernike just doesn’t quit. Does anyone have a non pay-walled link to the article? Needs to get me my weekly dose of teh stoopid.

      1. I love how anything they disagree with is labelled “Tea Party” – that actually explains a lot, now that I think about it.

  8. The Center For a Stateless Society disputes the common depiction of Plymouth colony:

  9. There recently was an excellent show on PBS (not an oxymoron, really) about the “early settlers”. Really interesting stuff I didn’t know about how the relationship w/the natives changed over time.

    Long story short, the inevitable turn in the relationship over time, from the “mutual protection” treaty between Edward Winslow and Massasoit, and the all out war, subjugation, and ultimate westward expansion – ironically, under their sons, Josiah Winslow and “Phillip” (AKA Metacom) [see “King Phillip’s War”].

    I just keep thinking how fucked the natives were in terms of property rights…just had all their shit taken from them. Life’s a bitch…and power wins out, and it’s always been thus.

    Shit they don’t teach you in Middle School Social Studies class…Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Bradford did get rid of the common course ? but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn’t working. The Pilgrims just didn/t like it.

    Yes, of course.

    And the Germans got rid of the wall, not because it wasn’t working, but because it obscured the view.

    1. East Germany’s biggest problem was a lack of planning.

  11. And for men’s wives to be commanded to doe service for other men, as dresing their meate,


    1. I also wondered about “dresing their meate…”

  12. To the producers of this video: please tell me that your “literal” pronunciations are meant to be funny, and not that you’ve mistaken a divergent orthography for a divergent pronunciation. It’s sad that I have to ask this question, but, given the level of ignorance I’ve seen from my fellow citizens regarding language and history…

    (In case anyone is that obtuse or gullible, although Englishmen of the 1620s spelled words differently, they pronounced them pretty much the same as we do (or rather as Englishmen do) today.)

    One reason I ask is that I found it more annoying than funny, and that it detracted from the rather profound message.

    1. I found it very funny. But I have a sense of humor (humoure?) so that’s just me.

    2. Oh, c’mon – the pronunciations MADE the video! I LOL’ed.

      1. Maydee? Loleed?

    3. According to a video we were shown in high school, English-English sounded more like American English at that time, and at some later date (maybe late 1800s?) they deliberately made a change in their pronunciations (especially “a” and “r”) so they wouldn’t have the least-pleasant-sounding language in Europe.

      FWIW, I thought the pronunciations were funny.

    4. Lytten uppe!

  13. Larry King Interviews TSA officer that made young boy strip search

  14. progressive view: first the pilgrams were uber-religious wackjobs expelled fm several nations. then these morons brought starvation & disease on themselves. lastly, it didnt take ’em long, after the natives saved their sorry arses, to organize people-burning parties…mainly to seize property. try again…

  15. This is probably the best thing has ever put out, then again I am a sucker for cute things. I think there should be a series of cutesy cartons that show all the good things libertarian ideas have done in american history would be wonderful. Reason has once again made my day, that seems to happen just about every day, happy thanksgiving Reason.

  16. The phonetic reading of Bradford’s text is STUPID and demeaning. As a Pilgrim I am grievously offended.
    Joe Palmer Professor Emeritus, applied linguistics, Concordia University, Montr?al

  17. It is normal for Professors Emeritus to be offended, especially at Concordia. Nothing of note here.

  18. I’d rather turn to my somewhat darker hued ancestors, both indigenous and Spanish, for historical lessons. Cortes is probably the most under-acknowledged military leader in history, and the Aztecs were pretty interesting too. They may have eaten a turkey together at some point but at least we don’t try and pretend everything was hunky-dory from that point on.

  19. I give kudos to Reason for including the less-cute/wishful-thinking, more historically accurate version in the last line of the article:…..wanted=all

    They viewed each other as lazy because they all showed up hoping to make a quick buck and didn’t adapt quickly. They had poor harvests because of prevailing conditions (drought) and poor understanding of new world crop farming. The story was probably re-[mis-] interpreted as a cautionary tale during the Cold War.

    What’s right is right and what’s true is true, such as capitalism > statism. I like property rights and think socialism doesn’t work, but I don’t feel the need to change history to push an agenda. We’ve already ruined “the founding fathers,” who now get evoked to mean absolutely anything the speaker wants. The fact that Rush and Beck push this lazy socialist pilgrim story should be enough to make reasonable people hesitate.

  20. Nice and timely. Thanks.

    You might like to link to this as well, Benjamin Hart’s book Faith & Freedom. To quote:

    Even with the coming of spring, friendly relations with the Indians, and Squanto’s assistance, the colony was still a long way from prospering. Weston’s contract imposed a socialist system on the settlement, in which all property was owned by the company. In addition, all produce had to go into a common store, from which each individual would receive an equal ration, regardless of how much he had contributed. Any excess produce belonged to the investors. Also, the Pilgrims’ homes, which they had built, and all land, which they had cleared, was company property – terms the Pilgrims wanted to abide by, despite Weston’s shenanigans.

    Under this essentially communist economic system the people received no reward for individual effort and the colony was unable to produce enough food. “No supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any,” wrote Bradford, who went on to reflect on the folly of collectivist economics:

    “The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, that by taking away of property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing-as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so 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 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 other men’s wives and children without any recompense… This was thought injustice.”

    Not only did socialism fail to provide for the basic needs of the people, in Bradford’s estimation, it was counter to God’s plan for man. “If it did not cut relations God established among men, it did at least diminish and take mutual respect that should be preserved among them,” he observed. “Seeing all men have corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.” [Cf. Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity: “GOD ALMIGHTY in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission. … that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.” – Michael Makovi] Because of man’s fallen state, man cannot be expected to labor for no reward, which, in Bradford’s view, is why the God of Scripture rewards man for his good works. The Pilgrim leadership – after much discussion about whether it was right to ignore their company charter – abolished the socialist system, and “assigned every family a parcel of land,” observing that: “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 the governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content.”

    The elimination of communal, or corporate, property in favor of private ownership created prosperity. In fact, the Pilgrims soon found themselves with more food than they could use. They set themselves up as a trading post, exchanging their surplus corn to the Indians for beaver skins, which they in turn shipped back to England to the enormous delight of the investors. When news of the colony’s success began circulating, more ships arrived with more settlers, mostly separatist Protestants. At first, Bradford worried that they would not be able to feed them all, but Plymouth’s free enterprise system easily absorbed all who wanted to settle there: “Instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed to rejoicing in the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” Bradford’s decision to conform to the dictates of the profit motive inherent in human nature – rather than adhere to the letter of their corporate charter – enabled the Pilgrims to purchase their land outright from the company, thus more than adequately fulfilling their part of the bargain.

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