Being in libertaran circles, I’ve heard of the Thomas Dilorenzo rendition of James Town a time or two. It basically goes:
socialism=starvation and individualism=prosperity
Out of curiosity, I was interested in possibly confirming (confirmation bias?) about James Town with what is listed on wikipedia. Interestingly, there is not a single mention of the property methods that were employed during this time period.
According to Dilorenzo-
“There, in the Virginia Tidewater region, they found incredibly fertile soil and a cornucopia of seafood, wild game, and fruits of all kind.”
Really? It sounds like they just stepped into the Garden of Eden.
According to Wikipedia-
“[They] chose the location because it was favorable for defensive purposes, but it offered poor hunting prospects and a shortage of drinking water.” “Hunting on the island was very poor, and they quickly exhausted the supply of small game.”
What? But Dilorenzo just told me that food was in abundance. Are you sure we are talking about the same place?
Wikipedia also says-
“…the [native american confederacy] Powhatan placed the colony completely under siege and attempted to end the English settlement through starvation”
Wow, the local tribes meant to intentionally starve the colony? Dilorenzo never mentioned that. Let’s have a look at what else Dilorenzo doesn’t mention.
Dilorenzo never mentions:
*How the colonists were poor farmers, and did not come prepared to do farming.
*Lack of drinking water was compounded by a drought.
*Powhatan’s prevented colonists from making trade which stopped access to gaining water and other needed resources.
*There was an accidental fire that “leveled all of the colony’s living quarters”.
*Attempts to have supply ships delivered from Europe failed repeatedly for different reasons.
If all of this wasn’t bad enough, the Powhatan’s killed and kidnapped many colonists, especially those who attempted to farm, or forage for food, or establish trade with outside tribes.
Unlike Dilorenzo’s version of the story, it sounds like a huge mess of problems to me. Not just simply:
The heart of Dilorenzo’s libertarian version of the story largely appears to rest on 2 quotes:
“As soon as the settlers were thrown upon their own resources, and each freeman had acquired the right of owning property, the colonists quickly developed what became the distinguishing characteristic of Americans — an aptitude for all kinds of craftsmanship coupled with an innate genius for experimentation and invention.”
“A second and more significant step toward private property came in 1618 with the establishment of the headright system.”
So I decided to do a little digging on these quotes. Unfortunately, the first quote is in a book that I do not have access to, so I was unable to verify it or it’s context.
Concerning the second quote, I personally discredit it mildly because it comes from a libertarian author. Though, there is an included letter from Governor Bradford which speaks of making all property private property. This would be good news for Dilorenzo’s story, if it weren’t for the fact that the letter was written 1623, more than 10 years after the “starving time” was subdued.
Does any of this mean that Dilorenzo is lying or fully incorrect about events? I don’t necessarily think so, and wikipedia could very well have some things inaccurate too. I am largely pro-freemarkets and would probably agree with Dilorenzo on most things politically. On this James Town story though, I personally trust wikipedia as a more unbiased source of information than Dilorenzo.
In my opinion here, I think that Dilorenzo has shown himself to be a heavily biased writer of historic events, and discredits himself in writing this way. I would not trust what he says at face value without fact checking it for myself.