… is from Caroline Baum’s Nov. 25th e21 article, “Giving Thanks for Property Rights“:
One of the traditions the Pilgrims had brought with [them] from England was a practice known as “farming in common” (the “common course and condition” to [Gov. William] Bradford). Everything produced became community property, to be allocated according to need as specified in the Mayflower Compact.
They had thought “the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing,” Bradford writes. Instead, “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.” Young, able-bodied men resented working for others without compensation, which they saw as an “injustice.”
After three winters of near-starvation, Bradford and his advisors decided to experiment when it came time for the spring planting. They set aside a plot of land for each family “that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard to trust to themselves.”
“This had very good success,” Bradford writes, “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, carrying their young children on their backs. Those who previously claimed they were too old or ill to work embraced the idea of private property, eventually producing enough to trade their surplus corn for furs and other commodities.
Grateful for their ample harvest in 1623, the Pilgrims set aside a day of thanksgiving. “Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them to this day,” Bradford writes in an entry from 1647, the final year of his history.