Political Economy – William Bradford


William Bradford was an English Separatist who became the second Governor of the Plymouth Colony in 1621.

William Bradford (c.1590 – May 9, 1657) was an English Separatist originally from the West Riding of Yorkshire, who later moved to Leiden in Holland, and then in 1620 migrated to the Plymouth Colony on the Mayflower.

He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact and went on to serve as Governor of the Plymouth Colony intermittently for about thirty years between 1621 and 1657.

His journal Of Plimoth Plantation covered the years from 1620 to 1657 in Plymouth.


Plymouth Colony (sometimes New Plymouth or Plymouth Bay Colony) was an English colonial venture in North America from 1620 to 1691.

The first settlement of the Plymouth Colony was at New Plymouth, a location previously surveyed and named by Captain John Smith.

The settlement served as the capital of the colony, and is the modern town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.


According to Richard Maybury there are good reasons to laud the economic policies of William Bradford because he ended famine by replacing socialism with a market economy.

The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hard-working or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.

In his History of Plymouth Plantation, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years because they refused to work in the field. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” The crops were small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”

In the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622, “all had their hungry bellies filled,” but only briefly. The prevailing condition during those years was not the abundance the official story claims, it was famine and death. The first “Thanksgiving” was not so much a celebration as it was the last meal of condemned men.

But in subsequent years something changes. The harvest of 1623 was different. Suddenly, “instead of famine now God gave them plenty,” Bradford wrote, “and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” Thereafter, he wrote, “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.” In fact, in 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn.

What happened? After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, “they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop.” They began to question their form of economic organization.

This had required that “all profits & benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means” were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, “all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.” A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take only what he needed.

This “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were starving. Bradford writes that “young men that were most able and fit for labor and service” complained about being forced to “spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children.” Also, “the strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak.” So the young and strong refused to work and the total amount of food produced was never adequate.

To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a markets, and that was the end of the famines.

The Great Thanksgiving Hoax – Richard J. Maybury – The Mises Institute

This is a remarkable perspective because it appears William Bradford demonstrated that “socialism” doesn’t work long before “socialism” officially appeared in the “mid-to-late 1700s”.

Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production; as well as the political ideologies, theories, and movements that aim at their establishment.

Social ownership may refer to forms of public, collective, or cooperative ownership; to citizen ownership of equity; or to any combination of these.

Although there are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.

The socialist political movement includes a diverse array of political philosophies that originated amid the revolutionary movements of the mid-to-late 1700s and of a general concern for the social problems that were associated with capitalism.


In fact, reading the History of Plymouth Plantation its very easy to believe that “God in his wisdome” foresaw “another course fiter” long before socialism appeared.

All this whille no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any.

So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie.

At length, after much debate of things, the Gov r (with ye advise of ye cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his ownc perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves ; in all other things to goe on in ye generall way as before.

And so assigned to every family a parcell of land, according to the proportion of their
number for that end, only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance), and ranged all boys & youth under some familie.

This had very good success ; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means ye Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente.

The women now wente willingly into ye feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie ; whom to have compelled would
have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.

The experience that was had in this comone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times ; – that ye taking away of propertie, and bringing in comunitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing ; as if they were wiser then God.

For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymet that would have been to their benefite and comforte.

For ye yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence.

The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter ye other could; this was thought injuestice.

The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c, with ye meaner & yonger sorte, thought it some indignite & disrespect unto them.

And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c, they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it.

Upon ye poynte all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought them selves in ye like condition, and one as good as another ; and so, if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongest men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of ye mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them.

And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition.

Let none objecte this is men’s corruption, and nothing to ye course it selfe.

I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fiter for them.

History of Plymouth Plantation – William Bradford – 1856

However, these predictive powers of “God in his wisdome” are more likely associated with the hind-casting abilities of the Church of England because the “given up as lost” History of Plymouth Plantation miraculously materialised during 1855 in the bishop of London’s library at Lambeth Palace.

William Bradford’s most well-known work by far is Of Plymouth Plantation.

The Of Plymouth Plantation manuscript disappeared by 1780, “presumably stolen by a British soldier during the British occupation of Boston”; it reappeared in Fulham, England.

Philip Gould states, “In 1855, scholars intrigued by references to Bradford in two books on the history of the Episcopal Church in America (both located in England) located the manuscript in the bishop of London’s library at Lambeth Palace.


The History of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, the second Governor of the colony, after having remained in manuscript for more than two hundred years, is now given to the public in this present form.

It is well known to all students of our early annals, that Governor Bradford wrote, and left at his decease, a History of this colony ; and that this, which was never published, was freely used by Morton in compiling his Memorial, first published in 1669 ; and subsequently by Prince and Hutchinson.

In the Preface to the first volume of his Annals, 1736, Prince cites, as one of his
manuscript authorities, ” Governor Bradford’s History of Plymouth People and Colony, from 1602 to the end of 1646, in 270 pages, with some account, at the end, of the increase of those who came over with him, from 1620 to 1650, and all in his own handwriting.”

Governor Hutchinson, in his second volume, first published in 1767, is one of the last, if not the very last, who has made use of this manuscript.

From that time nothing, until recently, has been heard of this volume.

While in the possession of Prince, who died in 1758, it was deposited in the New England Library, in the tower of the Old South Church, where he kept his choice historical treasures, and where it may have reposed at the time of the siege of Boston, when that church was used for a riding-school by the British soldiers.

Among these treasures was Governor Bradford’s Letter-Book.

This was carried to Nova Scotia, and a large portion of it destroyed ; but the remainder was rescued from a grocer’s shop in Halifax some time afterwards, by James Clark, Esq., a Corresponding Member of this Society, and was printed in the third volume of its Collections.

It was supposed that Bradford’s History shared the fate of other documents that were at that time destroyed or carried away.

It had long been given up as lost.

Thus matters stood until about a year since as regards this long-lost manuscript.

On the 17th day of February, 1855, the Rev. John S. Barry, who was at that time engaged in writing the first volume of his History of Massachusetts, since published, called upon me, and stated that he believed he had made an important discovery ; it being no less than Governor Bradford’s manuscript History.

He then took from his pocket a duodecimo volume, entitled “A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America, by Samuel, Lord Bishop of Oxford. Second edition. London, 1846,” – which a few days before had been lent to him by a friend, – and pointed out certain passages in the text, which any one familiar with them would at once recognize as the language of Bradford, as cited by Morton and Prince ; but which the author of the volume, in his foot-notes, referred to a ” MS. History of the Plantation of Plymouth, &c, in the Fulham Library.”

There were other passages in the volume, not recognized as having before been printed, which were referred to the same source.

I fully concurred with Mr. Barry in the opinion that this Fulham manuscript could be no other than Bradford’s History, either the original or a copy, – the whole or a part ; and that measures should at once be taken to cause an examination of it to be made.

History of Plymouth Plantation – William Bradford – 1856

The 1855 miraculous materialisation was preceded by the “most important part” of this long lost history miraculously materialising in Plymouth a “few years” before 1841.

This volume will be found to contain an authentic History of the Pilgrim Fathers who planted the Colony of Plymouth, from their origin in John Robinson’s congregation in 1602, to his death in 1625, written by themselves.

Some account of the nature of these Chronicles, and of the circumstances which led to their
compilation in this form, may not be unacceptable to the reader.

It is well known to those who are familiar with the early history of New England, that William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth, wrote a History of that People and Colony from 1602 to 1647, in 270 folio pages ; which was used by Morton in compiling his Memorial, by Hutchinson in writing his History of Massachusetts, and by Prince in digesting his Annals of New England.

The manuscript of this valuable work, being deposited with Prince’s library in the tower of the Old South Church in this city, disappeared in the War of the Revolution, when this church was occupied by the British troops, and has long since been given up by our historians as lost.

The most important part of this lost History I have had the good fortune to recover.

On a visit at Plymouth, a few years since, I found in the records of the First Church a narrative, in the hand-writing of Secretary Morton, which, on comparing it with the large extracts in Hutchinson and Prince, I recognised as the identical History of Governor Bradford ; a fact put beyond all doubt by a marginal note of Morton at the beginning of it, in which he says, ” This was originally penned by Mr. William Bradford, governor of New Plymouth.”

This fact of the real authorship of the document seems to have escaped the observation of all who had preceded me in examining the records, such as Judge Davis, Mr. Bancroft, and even of Hazard, who attributes it expressly to Nathaniel Morton.

The value of this document depends upon its authorship, and cannot be over-estimated.

It takes precedence of every thing else relating to the Pilgrims, in time, authority, and interest.

Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, from 1602-1625
Young, Alexander – 1841


The pre-1841 miraculous manuscript reads like a Ripping Yarn compared to the 1856 “God in his wisdome” manuscript.


Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, from 1602-1625
Young, Alexander – 1841



History of Plymouth Plantation – William Bradford – 1856

If you believe [like Wikipedia] in the 1856 “God in his wisdome” manuscript then the first Thanksgiving in 1623 was “a full day of prayer and worship and probably very little revelry”.

The first “Thanksgiving” as the Pilgrims would have called it (referring to solemn ceremony of praise and thanks to God for a congregation’s good fortune) did not occur until 1623, in response to the good news of the arrival of additional colonists and supplies.

That event probably occurred in July and consisted of a full day of prayer and worship and probably very little revelry.



On the other hand, if you believe in the pre-1841 Ripping Yarn manuscript then the first Thanksgiving [with ex-pat Brits] probably included a few too many beers with aqua vitae chasers.

But we marched through boughs and bushes, and under hills and valleys, which tore our very armor in pieces, and yet could meet with none of them, nor their houses, nor find any fresh water, which we greatly desired and stood in need of; for we brought neither beer nor water with us, and our victuals was only biscuit and Holland cheese, and a little bottle of aqua-vitae, so as we were sore athirst.

Again, we had yet some beer, butter, flesh, and other such victuals left, which would quickly be all gone ; and then we should have nothing to comfort us in the great labor
and toil we were likely to undergo at the first.

for we could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December.

Monday, the 25th, being Christmas day, we began to drink water aboard. But at night the master caused us to have some beer ; and so on board we had divers
times now and then some beer, but on shore none at all.

He was a tall, straight man, the hair of his head black, long behind, only short before, none on his face at all. He asked some beer, but we gave him strong water, and biscuit, and butter, and cheese, and pudding, and a piece of mallard ;

Let your cask for beer and water be iron-bound, for the first tire, if not more.

Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, from 1602-1625
Young, Alexander – 1841


Aqua vitae (Latin for “water of life”) or aqua vita is an archaic name for a concentrated aqueous solution of ethanol.
Aqua vitae was typically prepared by distilling wine; it was sometimes called “spirits of wine” in English texts, a name for brandy that had been repeatedly distilled.


And if you don’t believe in either manuscript then there’s always beer with aqua vitae chasers.


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