Source: Digger Tracts, 1649-50, published by John the Red Nose, Seattle?, 1996
(Copy provided by Mikke Sennekke and Richard Schneider)
A Declaration of the grounds and Reasons, why we the poor Inhabitants of the Parish of Iver in Buckinghamshire, have begun to dig and manure the common and waste Land belonging to the aforesaid Inhabitants, and there are many more that gives consent.
The word of God hath witnessed unto us, that the Lord created the earth with all that is therein for whole mankind, equal to one as to another, and for everyone to live free upon to get an ample livelihood therein, and therefore those who have by an unrighteous power made merchandize of the earth, giving all to some, and none to others, declares themselves tyrannical and usurping Lords over God's heritage, and we affirm that they have no righteous power to sell or give away the earth, unless they could make the earth likewise, which none can do but God the eternal Spirit.
2. We are very sensible that although Mankind was by the will of his Maker, constituted in all his branches, a supreme Lord over all creatures of other kinds, yet we see that no creature is so much deprived of a being and subsistence as mankind is; and though those who are become Lords and Masters over their fellow creatures, do challenge a larger circuit of earth to be given of God, more particularly to them then to others; we say that this is false, unless they mean their God covetousness, the God of this world, who hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, and this God is an unequal and impartial divider, and therefore he must be destroyed.
We know that Cain is still alive in all the great Landlords, and such like earthmongers who are continually crucifying their poor brethren by oppression, cheating and robbery: therefore you Lords of Manors especially, the Lord hath set Cain's mark upon you, because he will surely find you out, if you do not repent and give over, lie down therefore and submit (and why not) that your iniquities may be no more in remembrance, and that the cry of your cruelty may be heard no more in the Land.
3. Then thirdly, there is a promise in Scripture (which God hath made) to free us from that bondage wherein you have involved us, and that pride and oppression shall be heard of no more in the Land, and that the Lord will restore the whole creation into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, which is no other liberty then that which Christ himself by his spirit hath invested us withal, and that is equality, community and fellowship with our own kind; for the first shall be last, and the last shall be first, and he that sitteth, as he that serveth.
4. We are urged to go forth and act in this righteous work, because of our present necessity, and want of the comfort which belongs to our creation, that the earth being enclosed into the hands of a few, whereby time, custom and usurping laws have made particular interests for some, and not for all: so that these great taskmasters will allow us none of the earth whilst we are alive, but only when we are dead, they will afford us just as much as will make the length of our graves, because they cannot then keep it from us, and that then we should be equal with them; but why may we not whilst we are alive with them, have as much of the earth as themselves? yes truly, remove but covetousness, and kill that cursed power, and then those men would not keep all to themselves, but would willingly suffer their fellow creatures to enjoy the birthright of their creation; for whiles the great ones like rats and mice draw all the treasures and fruits of the earth into their nests and holes after them, resolving rather to spoil these good things, then to suffer the common sort to have part with: and therefore they have now got a custom to diet the Markets, and make a dearth in time of plenty, and though the lord be pleased to give joyful and fruitful seasons, yet we see that this helpeth us nothing: we must be starved nevertheless, and why? because the rich will have it so, no other reason can be rendered: Therefore you of the poorer sort, understand this, that nothing but the manuring of the common land, will reduce you into a comfortable condition; and likewise we declare, that though we keep our selves close to our hard labours, breaking our due and necessary rest which should refresh us, whereby our lives are become a burden to us, and yet our careful and diligent labour, will afford us no other than a distracted, languishing and miserable life, for how can it be otherwise? seeing we cannot enjoy the benefit of our labours ourselves but for the maintenance of idle persons, slow bellies who reign and ride over the common people in every Parish, as Gods and Kings: And therefore if this be that freedom which we have for these nine years striven for: then we pray you to exchange this freedom for our old bondage, and to set us down in that kennel where you did first lift us out.
5. And further we declare before God and the whole world, that the inhumane cruelty of our taskmasters is, and hath ever been the just cause of all our miseries, and of the whole nation into this sad condition, and that we see no hope, comfort, or redress to be had from any that are in authority in our parish, who say they will do nothing but what they are forc'd to do: therefore from their own words we may gather, that their full intent is to make us absolute slaves and vassals to their wills.
6. We have great encouragement from this present Parliament, by making of those two excellent laws, the one to cast out Kingly Power, and the other to make us all a free people, which we understand, is to break the neck of the Norman power which was brought in upon us by the Norman Bastard, continued and increased ever since within this nation, by every King who was his successor.
7. This act of ours endeavouring to make the waste land fruitful, is an act full of honour, righteousness, justice and peace, and consequently agreeing the Law of God and the Law of reason; for the Scripture saith, The meek shall inherit the earth: this work therefore of ours is not to be carried on by force of Arms, it is a thing which we much abhor, but in love only and meekness, and this power only shall at last conquer, and bring in the Kings and Princes of the earth: therefore all you that are prepared to act freedom and love, come forth and break your swords into ploughshares, and levy war no more.
8. There is a principle of reason that teacheth every man to do as he would be done by, that is to live in love, and be at peace with all men, and to do as we would be done by, is to allow the same liberty to others, that we ourselves are willing to enjoy, which is food and raiment, freely without being a slave to any of our fellow creatures: We desire all those that are free to act with us in this work, that they would come forth and set their hands to remove this bondage which we have lain under this 600. years: And further we desire, that those who cannot come forth as yet in person, that they would lend us their assistance and encouragement to supply our necessities whilst our labours lies buried in the earth until the fruit comes up; our condition being but poor at the beginning, that so this righteous work may not fall off and perish, to give the adversary cause to perceive that we are again brought back into bondage.
10.(sic) And lastly, we do not intend to proceed upon this work in any other power, but that which is before expressed, which is the Lords own way, even peace and love, steadfastly resolving not to meddle with any man's property, but what is known to be common land, and these are the essential grounds and reasons of us the poor inhabitants of Iver in Buckinghamshire, whose names are hereunder written.
And we much desire the fishing trade may presently be set up, for then we might have more fish for one shilling, then now we have for 4s. which would be great comfort to us the poor, and no hurt to you therefore; and likewise that Potters List might be paid, which so long from them have been stayed.
And that engrossers and buyers of corn might be looked to, that we might have it at some reasonabler rate. And that there may be commissioners granted, to call the churchwardens and overseers of the poor for the country as well as for the city to an account.*[see note below] We hear that they have begun manuring the Commons in Kent, at Wellingborough, and Bosworth old in Northamptonshire & in Gloucestershire, & in Nottinghamshire, and they intend to sow roots till July, & then follow for winter corn, and then to build for the poorest in the parishes, and if the rich will not let them alone, the poor will leave them their children to keep, as they have done in Surrey.
And we pray release all prisoners for debt, that cannot pay their debt, and let the prisons be for work-houses for the poor to make things for the fishing trade, what will poor men's bones do you good?
1. Whether there be any Statute or Law against breaking up, or manuring of the Common which was left out for us ever since the Conquest, only for the poor by all old records, and now we intend to make use of our own, and if the rich will not let us provide for our wives and children truly, then they must, for we will not be such slaves as we have been formerly. 2. Whether there be any Statute or Law extant, or can be produced or shown to us by any Lord of Manor, to take honest poor men from their true and righteous labour, and put them into a Norman stronghold, and there to lie as long as corrupt Law, and unjust Justices will please. 3. Whether the Parliament, Council of State, High Court of Justice, and Council of War, will uphold such Norman laws, seeing that the successor's head is cut of, we hope you will not maintain the same still, if you will, we fear you may want poor men's help when you stand in need of them. 4. Whether those words in your Acts against Kingly Power, and all that hold claiming under the King, do not take away all Lords of Manors, and tithing priest power too likewise, seeing they came in all by the Norman Conqueror, and those words in the other Act, that you made England a free Commonwealth, doth not mean all the poor as well as you rich, and if it mean but only the rich, then let the rich fight all the battles that are to be fought, for we will have some assurance of our true freedom, and what you mean by your words, and how we shall have our pay and our debentures; for we cannot live for or by fair words any longer, and they not performed neither.
5. Whether it be not felony in or by any man to set fire on his house and burn it down, the Law saith it is; and if so, what will it be in any man to get some 30. or 40. or more together, and go and set fire on 6 or 7 very poor men's houses that had set them up in some waste places, and these people before mentioned, came and burned them down, and some of their goods too: now no question, and if the first be felony, this is in a higher nature, more felonies than the first: we desire it may be taken notice of by all rational' men in this whole free Common-wealth of England for ever hereafter, that no such felony be committed again by any man whatsoever.
We write this, because we have 9. especial friends that were at work in their own ground as they conceived, and were taken from their righteous labour, and carried from Wellingborough to Northampton Goal, and at sessions last, being the 16. & 17. of April last; they could prove nothing against them, and yet would not set them free by proclamation according to law; but we hope our honest army will not pass by there, till they have freed them: the General's own cornet Spinege was on the bench, and saw that they could prove nothing against them, we hope he will help release them.
Henry Norman. Edw: Dun. Rob: Dun. Tho. Taylor. Wil. Saunders. Henry Slave. Tho. Beedle, younger. Rich. Moseley. John Currant.
London, Printed for T. Brewster, and G. Moule, at the three Bibles in Pauls Church-yard near the West end of Pauls, the 1 of May, 1650.
*[note:] Thy are at work at Barnet, and at Enfield, and there they are resolved if they will not let them plant and build, they will leave them in Barnet 7. Children, and at Enfield nine Children.
They were better leave them then starve them, and themselves too; and they are at work at Dunstable, in Buckinghamshire also, and we hear they are going to build in many Countries, and are resolved to pay no more rent, things are so dear they cannot.