Communism vs. Free Markets at Plymouth Rock

The first Thanksgiving was not what is taught in government schools.

I learned from an article entitled Our Forefather’s Failure (at LibertyUnbound.com) that the colonies at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown tried both free-market and communist systems—long before Karl Marx was born. (The Liberty Unbound article appears to have been based on a 1985 Mises Institute article by Richard J. Maybury entitled The Great Thanksgiving Hoax and on a 2000 article by Dr. Judd W. Patton entitled The Pilgrim Story: Vital Lessons And Insights For Today.)

The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in December 1620, and in spite of help from the Native Americans, half of them died the first year as a result of their initial system. During the second year, more of them died. They would quickly learn that their initial system was tragically incompatible with human nature. It was simply unnatural.

The colonists had the ideal conditions for their initial system because they all had a reputation as virtuous hard working people, they were all of the same race, religion, politics, and nationality; and of course, they all had agreed to this system voluntarily. They also knew that failure meant death.

Nevertheless, under their initial system, they simply weren’t producing and storing enough food, which lead to starvation, disease, and discontent. Their first solution, which was in their second year, was to institute beatings for those who did not work hard enough, but this had little effect on productivity, and it further increased discontent.

The colonists astutely observed that their system tended to retard productivity while breeding confusion and discontent. They even left food rotting on the vine. We know all of this this because they wrote about it in their journals. Clearly, their initial system was incompatible with human nature.

By the spring of 1623 (their third growing season) the Pilgrims feared they would not survive another winter, so in desperation, they adopted a radically different system, and it saved their lives. Productivity increased, and in 1623, they knew they were saved, and their annual harvest feast was the first real Thanksgiving.

Which system failed the colonists initially, and which radically different system saved them? Which system was so incompatible with human nature, and which system was so compatible with human nature? Which system was so ugly, and which system was so beautiful?

In order to escape persecution and establish the Plymouth colony in America, the Puritan Separatists (later known as “Pilgrims”) made a somewhat reluctant agreement with their investors, the Virginia Company of London and the Virginia company of Plymouth (a.k.a. The Adventurers). In this contract (not the Mayflower Compact), they agreed to share everything produced by any one of them—from each according to his ability—to each according to his need, and then after 7 years, they would divide the common accumulated wealth and property with their investors.

According to Dr. Judd Patton’s article based on the 1647 book by Governor Bradford:

The contract between the Adventurers and the Pilgrims consisted of ten points. The most critical of which stated, “That all such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock and goods of the said colony.” Further, it was agreed that during the first seven years. “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any persons, remain still in the common stock until the division.”

The crew hired by the investors failed to find the correct landing spot, and after several weeks of trying, the Pilgrims insisted that they land at a reasonable looking spot, and based on the pretext of this failure, they cut out the investors and replaced the original agreement with the Mayflower Compact, which did not explicitly include the agreement to share everything equally, but sharing everything equally remained their initial system because, and as we know from their diaries and journals, that was indeed their initial practice.

The result was that only a small percentage of them worked hard, and the rest were freeloaders to varying degrees because they would rather risk death than be exploited by others. They were so reluctant to work that they even left food rotting on the vine! The result was indeed death. Half of them died! This reminds me of the saying by the people of the USSR, “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”

Then, in the spring of 1623, the surviving colonists decided to let each person keep the fruits of their labor, and the colony’s subsequent output that fall had increased so much that they were never hungry again. They knew that they were saved, and thus 1623 was the first Thanksgiving and not just another harvest feast.

The governor wrote in his journal that under their initial (communist) system, some of them claimed to be too weak or sick to work, and they were so convincing that it would have been the height of tyranny to force them work. Then, after they learned they could keep the fruits of their labor, those who were too sick to walk suddenly recovered and began working the fields!

Communism was killing the colonists at Plymouth Rock, and by switching to a free-market system, they became more productive and saved themselves in a single growing season.

The transition from communism to free markets still lacked full property rights however. Whereas each individual owned the fruits of his labor, he did not own the land he worked, and thus he did not own any improvements he made to that land.

In 1623, the colonists were still growing food on parcels of land that were reassigned by random lots each year, which they astutely observed was a disincentive for each farmer to make permanent improvements to his parcel of land because, in the following year, someone else would inherit the fruits of any labor he devoted to improvements. Therefore, in 1624, they adopted full property rights where everyone owned the land he worked, and the result was another productivity boost. Whereas, the first step toward property rights and the free market had increased productivity enough to feed everyone, the move to full property rights produced enough extra food to export and trade for furs and other goods.

The article goes on to explain the similar experience in Jamestown:

Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America, established in Virginia in 1607, had an experience similar to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Early years of starvation were followed by converting to a system of property rights and a free market, which brought abundance. Under collectivism, less than half of every shipload of settlers survived the first 12 months at Jamestown. Most of the work was done by only one-fifth of the men, to whom the socialist system gave the same rations as to the others. During the winter of 1609–10, called “The Starving Time,” the population fell from 500 to 60.

But when Jamestown converted to a free market, there was “plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure,” wrote the colony secretary Ralph Hamor in 1614. Under the previous system, he said, “we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”

Ralph Hamor (friend of John Rolfe, whose wife was Pocahontas) also described the failure of communism in Jamestown like this, “For formerly, when our people were fed out of the common store and labored jointly in the manuring of the ground and planting corn, glad was the man that could slip from his labor. Nay, the most honest of them in a general business would not take so much faithful and true pains in a week as now he will do in a day.”

Governor Bradford of Plymouth further explained the fatal conceit of communism by saying, “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; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a common-wealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God!”

None of these articles mentioned the Roanoke colony, whose people simply disappeared, and many speculate that they were killed by the Native Americans, but I think we can all deduce that it is more likely they were killed by communism. Given how they disappeared without any sign of a struggle, an even more likely explanation is that they merged with the Native Americans, but one can easily imagine how such a desperate move may have been precipitated by the failure of communism.

Although both my first hand experience and observations as well as my research and analysis have long since led me to conclude that the free market and property rights are superior to communism, I would have believed that communism could have worked in the case of the first American colonies because they had every advantage one could give communism. They had already unanimously agreed to communism. They all shared the same race, nationality, religion, political views, and economic views. Failure meant starvation, and slackers were beaten, but in spite of every advantage possible, communism was a catastrophic and systemic failure in the first American colonies.

Consider that the colonists at Plymouth Rock had no historical precedent on which to evaluate communism vs. the free market, and yet when communism failed them, they invented and adopted a complete free market system with full property rights in just two years.

In just four years, the colonists proved that that communism was a very unnatural and ugly thing, and that free-markets and property rights were a very natural and beautiful thing.

That lesson in the superiority of the free market and property rights made America the dominant nation on earth; whereas, today America is rapidly losing that status. Americans have forgotten the hard won knowledge of their ancestors.

Consider that Barack Obama (the US President as of this writing, April 18, 2010) had 400 years of additional historical precedent as well as a Harvard education, and yet he still doesn’t understand how the free market is superior to communism. Contrary to the Myth of Obama, he says, “When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.

Those colonists at Plymouth Rock, who seem so much more in touch with reality than the President of the United States, remind me of small town Americans of my childhood. Of course, the President sees small town Americans as basically racists who have “antipathy toward those who are different” and who “cling to their guns and religion”.

Although, Barack Obama is a dilettante, whose image was manufactured by the media, progressives have told me that he is right because communism in early America was too soon. They claim that it is not human nature to be a freeloader and that the people themselves have learned a lot since then and would no longer be freeloaders.

In case anyone cannot see that the progressive argument is BS, then consider that the Danish recently proved that 90% still prefer to be freeloaders when they can—even when they can make more money working.

One has to ask why this critical lesson is not taught to every American (and every human) multiple times per year—even in government schools—especially in government schools. Such a thorough conspiracy by the global mainstream to hide the definitive failure of communism made most of the horrors of the 20th century possible, such as the Stalinist purges, the killing fields of Cambodia, and related horrors—all of which killed nearly 100 million, impoverished the rest, and censored or imprisoned anyone left alive who complained.


  • President does things close to what most of voters want him to do.
    Unfortunately still too many people like socialism.

  • Infrated says:

    You had me until then last two paragraphs. You fail to address abuse of the "free market" that occurs when too much influence is concentrated in the hands of a few (wealthy/powerful) who become motivated more by greed and avarice than simple self-interest. It is at such times that (at least in the US) the electorate may rise up with the only power they posess (their vote) in an attempt to realign power and priorities of the government and society.

  • Jim says:

    The previous poster, Infrated, says he agrees with me until the last two paragraphs because apparently he thinks the President is protecting us from "abuses by the free market", and he is disappointed that I did not address such abuses in this article.

    My last two paragraphs are about how statements by the President demonstrate that he doesn't possess the hard won knowledge of our ancestors, and that he arrogantly dismisses those who do.

    But Infrated is right. The President is an economic genius and a master of American history. He even won a Nobel Prize! That PROVES he is right.

    The "abuses of the free market" would have to be a different article in which I would explain that there has never been an abuse because of the free market. Any abuse Infrated may imagine is the result of governmnet interference in the free market. If he is disappointed that I did not include such a large general topic in this small focused article, then I suspect he is disappointed a lot.

  • Excellent Post – Stumbled on you via ZeroHedge – Bravo Sir.

  • Anonymous says:

    The government and socialism is the tool they most readily use to concentrate influence and wealth into the hands of the few. You are right. It is a serious problem. The power to resist is the power to refuse to do business with them. One can not refuse to do business with the government whether they vote or not. Refusal to participate is illegal. That must be stopped.

  • Anonymous says:

    Great article. We also have two closed experiments from the 20th century: West Germany vs East Germany and South Korea vs North Korea.

    From the current century we have Colombia vs Venezuela and Chile vs Argentina.

  • Anonymous says:

    Very well written and researched article, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I learned this story some years ago and repeat it, in not so great of detail, to those who espouse some version of socialism. They're always shocked to learn that America was, on two occasions, communist.

    Sometimes it seems to make them think. It must be that those who believe in socialism/communism are just optimists. They don't truly understand that taking from one person and giving to another is unproductive and unsustainable, and the only way make it work, temporarily, is with force and death. See: Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, China, Laos, et al.

  • Skylos says:

    You cannot always refuse to do business with entities. There are frequently no viable alternatives. This takes away our power to resist entirely. This is bad.

  • Skylos says:

    What exactly is 'obvious' about this experiment that indicates it is 'incompatible with human nature'?

    I assert it is NOT obvious, jumping to this conclusion invalidates your entire article.

    Explain for those of us for whom its not obvious exactly what is known about 'human nature' and why this particular characteristic of humanity is chosen as the sole explanation for the failure.

  • Jim says:

    In addition to common sense, our common experiences, and the the examples I already cited, consider the well known failure of subsequent experiments with communism, and consider the well known evolutionary forces. You do believe in evolution don't you?.

  • Jim says:

    I agree that a monopoly over a life saving product is a big problem if the owner demands more than a reasonable profit; however, a big rights-violating tyranny of the majority government is the worst possible solution – as we are seeing around the world. Consider that a well armed and well informed people would never be the kind of victims you imagine. How is it that the party that says it wants to empower the little guy is the party that wants to disarm the little guy?

  • Jim says:

    One of the most effective solutions to a monopoly on a life saving product is that the kind of society empowered by a free-market would quickly develop a copy or an alternative; whereas, the kind of solution provided by a government requires the kind of government power that is more likely to restrict such new competition, either intentionally or accidentally – just like we have today.

  • Anonymous says:

    Great Point!!! I have typically pointed to the Soviet Union as evidence of the evil and disaster of communism. But to have side by side comparisons as you have laid out is great.

  • Anonymous says:

    Are you denying that it is human nature to desire something for nothing? If so, with all due respect, you lie to yourself. Do you deny that people wish to avoid pain? Of course they do. Work is pain and if possible is to be avoided. Do you use tweezers to remove lent from your carpet? No you use a vacuum. Why? It avoids the pain of the work. This al all obvious. Do you turn down a free lunch? You might for SOCIAL reasons, ie to be nice to a friend or to impress, but if an unknown (ie government) offers you a free lunch you take. You this is true.

  • Anonymous says:

    Sadly, I think people push for socialism is for the stuff and living for the day. Screw the future and screw my kids, today I get a free phone, free daycare, etc. Sadly, the day of reckoning for this live-for-the-day attitude with no view of the future has come and we are collapsing under its weight.

    I also think there is a mental ills at play. The left wants what it wants because they want it. Give them facts, and they just turn to "well I want it". They want socialism to enrich themselves. Prove that it will result in the opposite and the mental ills forces them to say "well I want socialism to work therefore it does work, period". There are few other explanations for this insanity.

  • Jim says:

    You are being played.

    If voting could change anything, it would be illegal.

    Oligarchs don't care who does the voting as long as they do the nominating.

    It is not he who votes that counts, it is he who counts the votes.

  • Anonymous says:

    The people that are uneducated about the free markets and gov't controls/abuses and the insane amount of bureaucratic red tape that increases every year – are the ones who like gov't to make decisions for them. This is a very serious and growing problem in the US society and a big issue with the US gov't ability to pay out – entitled people, these are the socialists we speak of.

  • Anonymous says:

    What is truly "obvious" is that Skylos does not wish to be confused by facts!

  • Jim says:

    In a different context, such as what system appeals most to people, it would be true that socialism is very compatible with human nature and maybe more compatible than the free-market, but that is not true in the context of which system yields the most productivity given human nature.

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