Of Plymouth Plantation: “Every Man for His Own Particular”

THIS is Thanksgiving day, so on this occasion we shall depart from our usual subject matter.

The following two paragraphs, from William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, describe the colony’s reluctant transition away from Bible communism. That was their “common course and condition,” which was the “the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth,” which they assumed “would make them happy and flourishing,” but which “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.” The text requires no commentary from us.

This version uses contemporary vocabulary and spelling, and it comes from this source: Private and communal farming (1623). Our only editorial touch is to bold the phrase we’ve used for our title, and to break up the original two paragraphs, which are a bit too long for easy reading.

All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they 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 thing 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 family.

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 women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

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’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; and that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth 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 the 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. 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 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 indignity 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 brook it.

Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects 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.

For those who want to read the foregoing in Bradford’s own vocabulary, spelling, and paragraphing, you can see the original version here: Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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12 responses to “Of Plymouth Plantation: “Every Man for His Own Particular”

  1. So, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock discovered that we work best when we work in our own self-interest.

    Would that this become the message of Thanksgiving that we teach in our schools.

  2. But that would be too insensitive!

  3. Both Paul to the Thessalonians and Capt. John Smith of Jamestown Colony heartily agree “He that does not work will not eat.”

    I do believe many non-secular and home schools do teach Thanksgiving this way. Only the staterun propagandist schools like the “we had to beg food from the Indians” or “It was a multicultural feast” versions.

    Someone once said ” if their were no God we would have to invent him.”
    Man being so lazy and evil and all.

  4. Gee, I must have been a state-employed propagandist for 27 years, and I didn’t even realize it! And here I thought I was just teaching science.

    I must admit, I am not certain what my colleagues over in Social Studies were teaching, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t written by Marx or Lenin.

    Persnickety, do you have first-hand knowledge to back up your statement about “staterun” schools, or are you merely repeating “something you heard somewhere”?

  5. sciguy

    My stuff is at least somewhat original so in the future please consider giving me credit for “making stuff up” as opposed to “hearing it somewhere”

    And well just going by personal experience having attended both public and private schools here in the old USA as well as a couple internationally(State Department run). History is taught quite erratically and provincially by all schools I’ve attended.

    Still playing with the big boys(and girls) here on such a serious site I shall endeavor to be more cogent.

  6. retiredsciguy

    Persnick, I apologize for not giving you credit for making stuff up. It’s just that your statement had the sound of a sweeping generalization, and that got my hackles up.

    There is a contingent that wishes to get public money for private religious schools. To make their idea more politically acceptable (if not constitutionally acceptable), they have been bad-mouthing public education at any opportunity.

    Now, I’m not a mindreader, so I can’t be certian about their motives. However, I suspect it might have something to do with not wanting evolution to be mentioned.

  7. retiredsciguy

    And yes, I do know how to spell “certain”. Simple typo. Don’t blame it on the fact I went to public schools, or taught therein.

  8. retiredsciguy

    Make that “went”.

  9. From where I sit it’s ‘retiredsciguy’ not ‘retiredspelguy’.

    Being around serious pedants all the time tends to make one needlessley gunshy with spellin and gramer mistakes.

    If I see one more case of someone getting jumped on about their spelling, despite the obvious intelligence of the comment, I swear I’m going to go [relieve myself] in a corner.

    As for the Curm’s post, I suspect the success of the pilgrims was not simply due to help from the locals, nor simply from exploiting self interest.

    Most things are a little more complex than that.

  10. “As for the Curm’s post, I suspect the success of the pilgrims was not simply due to help from the locals, nor simply from exploiting self interest.”

    They were obviously good, hard-working people. And they had the brains to shake off their bible communism when they saw that it was killing them.

  11. retiredsciguy

    “Want me to fix it?”
    Yeah, if you would please, for the record. Sometimes I get in too much of a hurry to hit the “Submit” button, and don’t proofread as well as I should.
    And thanks, b_sharp, for your kind comments concerning obvious intelligence.