… is from pages 1338-1339 of Robert Ellickson’s landmark 1993 Yale Law Journal article “Property in Land” (footnotes removed; Ellickson’s quotation in the third paragraph is from pages 300-301 of the 1912 Massachusetts Historical Society edition of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation):
To finance their voyage, the Pilgrims formed a joint stock company with London investors. At the investors’ insistence, the settlers agreed to pool output, land, capital, and profits during their first seven years abroad. From this “common stock,” residents of the colony were to receive food and other necessities, and at the end of the seven-year period, the land and other assets were to be “equally divided betwixt” the investors and the settlers. The colonists initially complied with the spirit of this contract. Although they planted household gardens almost from the start, they collectivized initial field and livestock operations. The setters had some agricultural successes, but they were unable to grow corn in their common field. Within six months of reaching Plymouth, almost one-half of the population had perished from disease.
In 1624 the Plymouth colonists deviated from the investors’ plan and assigned each family from one to ten acres, depending on the number of family members. This greatly increased productivity.
[Parcelization] had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise. . . . The women now wente willingly into the field, and tooke their little-ones with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes and inabilitie; whome to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.
When I first quoted these words from Ellickson (and Bradford) here at the Cafe, on the day before Thanksgiving in 2004, I closed my post with the following (which I now slightly amend from its original version):
Today, we Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. We would be turkeys if we fail to understand the true source of our bounty. That source is not the land itself nor any “natural” abundance of “natural resources” – it is not dumb luck – it is not god inexplicably smiling upon Europeans who occupy the North American continent: it is consistent and widespread reliance upon private-property markets as well as our general high regard for bourgeois pursuits.
And let’s not forget that we today have far more – words-fail-us-in-attempting-to-describe more – to be thankful for than did those first brave English subjects of James I who latched themselves onto the Massachusetts wilderness.