Back on November 27, 2013, would-be member of the University of Maine System Board of Trustees Susan Dench provided us with this striking revisionist view of the Pilgrims. It appeared in her blog in the Bangor Daily News. According to Dench, later nominated by Governor LePage for a coveted seat on the System Trustees, the Pilgrims’ original scheme after landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, was to embrace a communal style of settlement that lacked the incentives found in more individualistic–oriented schemes.
“There was no private property, women did chores for everyone, not only their own families, and the men planted, grew, and harvested the food that was grown and equally distributed among all the colonists.” “According to some”–including Dench herself—the Pilgrims were outright “communists.” The fact that Communism as an ideology did not come about until the nineteenth century hardly mattered.
Dench’s crucial point was that the Pilgrims soon realized that this “imagined economic utopia” was leading to economic, social, and moral collapse. On “the brink of starvation,” Plymouth Colony, under the leadership of Governor William Bradford, changed course and, according to Dench, thereby changed American history. “Self-determination” now became the means of salvation. Each family was given a parcel of land, with size dependent on its number of members. Each family worked alone rather than for the whole. The incentive of “no work, no food” worked. Tragedy was averted.
Dench lamented that too many Americans since the seventeenth century have failed to appreciate the Pilgrims’ hard-won lessons about the intrinsic evil of communism and the glory of the “basic societal foundation building block—the family unit.” Plus the glory of both “self-determination” and “free market” forces.
Dench’s simplification of Plymouth Colony’s early history did not win her any respect among scholars, none of whom would ever propose such a distorted interpretation. Nor, alas, did it win her confirmation by the Maine Senate, which, to be sure, had many other concerns in rejecting her nomination.
Not surprisingly, Governor LePage was outraged by the rejection of the wife of one of his major fundraisers. After all, with a Board of Trustees that, by design, has not a single educator among its members, why go against the Senate’s customary superficial approval of all nominees by all governors?
At least no Senator accused Susan Dench of being a godless Communist!
Happy Thanksgiving to fellow Mainers who embrace family values.