When the Diggers occupied St. George’s Hill, they stood on generations of leveller history protesting aristocratic enclosures of common lands.
From Putney to St. George's Hill
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
In an important sense, the Leveller movement preexisted the people who were called “Levellers” during the English Civil Wars. The name General Ireton plastered onto his Agitator enemies at Putney came from anti‐enclosure riots in the Midlands a full three decades earlier (1607). By the time radicals elected from the New Model Army squared off in debate with the conservative Cromwellians at Putney, though, there was a rapidly‐developing political party identifying with the work done by earlier hedge‐destroyers. Now, with the king held captive and the Parliament ripe to make concessions to popular liberty, England’s levellers could come out of hiding, embrace their libertarian intellectual (and spiritual) heritage, and transform their country in the process. Ireton’s slur became a badge of honor for the radicals—even a point of contention between their own factions and ranks.
You may recall that at Putney, Colonel Rainsborough traced a fine line between abolishing lordly rights and privileges and eliminating personal property altogether. At times, even modern libertarians who would like to see themselves in Rainsborough (myself included) can easily forget that he too was a political operative. He too seems to use purposively obscure language and mixed sentiments. On the one hand, he speaks for the abolition of all state‐granted privilege—and that’s it. On the other, he does say he cares very much ‘whether there be property, or no property.’ He chose to continue Ireton’s simplistic treatment of the question at hand and proceeded to pacify both the individualistic and the communistic elements of the Leveller coalition.
Let’s give Rainsborough all due credit, though—at the time the distinctions between property‐loving and property‐hating libertarians were not so sharp and clear as they are today. In part, at least, this is because the actual practice and meaning of property holding was so different then than it is today. All Levellers, whether individualists or communists, possessed the fundamental libertarian insight that power—whatever its form—simply cannot be trusted. Yet there it was all around them, growing ever greater, more concentrated, more intrusive, more absolute by the day. All Levellers knew that power was the scourge of humanity, but the moderates and the “True Levellers” continued to disagree about how far down the problems of power polluted social life.
The Leveller coalition reached its peak of influence in the couple of years after Putney, but Cromwell and the grandees continued to entrench themselves. By 1649, Parliamentary power turned against the Levellers as though they were every bit as dangerous as the Royalists. Defenders of landed interests conspired to either kill or imprison key Agitators and their supporters. For the moment, liberty’s destiny appeared grim even with the king laid low. With the moderate Levellers temporarily quelled, the True Levellers decided to dig their way out of the modern horrors unleashed over the last few centuries. In a manifesto directed to all Englishmen, the True Levellers declared their intentions to occupy and plant upon the wastes of St. George’s Hill in Surrey, just outside London. Their lordly enemies called these utopians “Diggers,” meant once again to deride and degrade their project. But on the Diggers dug, content with the belief that by taking direct action to plow over hedges and build up the commons once again, they were doing God’s work.
Or, The State of Community opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men. By:
The True Levellers Standard Advanced (1649)
William Everard, John Palmer, John South, John Courton, William Taylor, Christopher Clifford, John Barker, Gerrard Winstanley, Richard Goodgroome, Thomas Starre, William Hoggrill, Robert Sawyer, Thomas Eder, Henry Bickerstaffe, John Taylor, &c.
Beginning to Plant and Manure the Waste land upon George‐Hill, in the Parish of Walton, in the County of Surrey.
London, Printed in the Yeer, MDCXLIX.
To all my fellow Creatures that shall view these ensuing Lines.
The God of this world blinding the eyes of the men of the world, have taken possession of them and their Lives, Rules and Raigns, and in a high measure opposeth the everlasting spirit, the King of Righteousness; both in them, and on the whole Creation, bending all its Wit and power to destroy this spirit, and the persons in whom it lives, rules and governs; making Lawes under specious pretences, yea and penalties too, that all Nations, Tongues, and Languages, shall fall down and worship this god, become subject, yea in slavery to it, and to the men in whom it dwels: But the god of this world is Pride and Covetousness, the rootes of all Evil, from whence flowes all the Wickedness that is acted under the Sun, as Malice, Tyranny, Lording over; and despising their fellow Creatures, killing and destroying those that will not, or cannot become subject to their Tyranny, to uphold their Lordly Power, Pride and Covetousness. I have had some Conversation with the Authour of this ensuing Declaration, and the Persons Subscribing, and by experience find them sweetly acted and guided by the everlasting spirit, the Prince of Peace, to walk in the paths of Righteousness, not daring to venture upon any acts of injustice, but endeavouring to do unto all, as they would have done to them, having Peace and Joy in themselves, knit together and united in one Spirit of Glory and Truth, Love to their fellow Creatures, Contentation with Food and Rayment, shewing much Humility and Meekness of spirit; such as these shall be partakers of the Promise.
Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Secondly, For this action of theirs, in labouring to Manure the wast places of the Earth, it is an action full of Justice and Righteousnesse, full of Love and Charity to their fellow Creatures; nothing of the god of this world, Pride and Covetousnesse seen in it, no self seeking, or glorying in the Flesh.
Vouchsafe to reade, or view over these ensuing Lines yee Powers of the Earth; Oh that Reason might sit upon the throne of your hearts as judge; I am confident there is nothing written in anger or hatred to your persons, but in love to them as fellow Creatures; but against that which have bound up your own Spirits in slavery; if you could speak impartially, your own Consciences can bear me witnesse, and only bears sway in your forcing you to exercise Tyranny, scourging and trampling underfoot your fellow Creatures, especially those whose eyes are opened and can cleerly discover the great Devil, Tyranny, Pride and Covetousnesse working to and fro upon your Spirits, and raigning in you, which will prove your own destruction: The Angels that kept not their first Estate, are reserved under Chains of darknesse unto the Judgment of the great day.
The whole Creation are the Angels of the everlasting Spirit of Righteousnesse, they are all ministring spirits, speaking every Creature in its kind the Will of the Father. The Chariots of God are 20000 thousands of Angels, Psal.&c.
But yee the great ones of the Earth, the Powers of this world, yee are the Angels that kept not your first estate; and now remain under Chains of darknesse: Your first Estate was Innocency and Equallity with your fellow Creatures, but your Lordly power over them, both Persons and Consciences, your proud fleshly imaginations, lofty thoughts of your selves, are the fruits of darknesse which you are kept under: The whole Creation groaneth and is in bondage, even until now, waiting for deliverance, and must wait till he that with‐holdeth be taken away, that man of sin, that Antichrist which sits on the throne, in the hearts of the men of this world, the Powers of the Earth, above all that is called God.
I know you have high thoughts of your selves, think you know much, and see much, but the Light that is in you is Darknesse; and how great is that darknesse? They that live in the light of the Spirit can discover that to be the blacknesse of darknesse which you count light. And truly, a great Light, a bright Morning Star which will flourish and spread it self, shining in Darknesse, and darknesse shall not be able to comprehend it, though you Spurn never so much against it.
I expect nothing but opposition, mockings, deridings from Lord Esau the man of Flesh: I know it will be counted in the eye of Flesh, a foolish undertaking, an object of scorn and laughter; but in this is their Comfort and incouragement, That the power of Life and Light, the Spirit by whom they are commanded, will carry them on, strengthen and support them, rescuing them from the Jaw of the Lyon and Paw of the Bear; For great is the work which will shortly be done upon the Earth. Despise not Visions, Voyces and Revelations; examine the Scriptures, Prophecies are now fulfilling; be not like Josephs Brethren, speak not evil of things you know not: For whatsoever is of God will stand, do what you can, though you may crush it for a time, the time is neer expired it will spring up again and flourish like a green Bay tree: What is not of the Father will fall to the ground, though you bend all your wit, power and policy to keep it up; but of that will be no Resurrection. That the eternal Spirit may enlighten you, that Reason may dwel in you, and act accordingly, is the desire of your Loving Friend, and Fellow Creature,
April 20, 1649.
A Declaration to the Powers of England, and to all the Powers of the World, Shewing the Cause why the Common People of England have begun, and gives Consent to Digge up, Manure, and Sowe Corn upon George‐Hill in Surrey; by these that have Subscribed, and thousands more that gives Consent.
In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another.
And the Reason is this, Every single man, Male and Female, is a perfect Creature of himself; and the same Spirit that made the Globe, dwels in man to govern the Globe; so that the flesh of man being subject to Reason, his Maker, hath him to be his Teacher and Ruler within himself, therefore needs not run abroad after any Teacher and Ruler without him, for he needs not that any man should teach him, for the same Anoynting that ruled in the Son of man, teacheth him all things.
But since humane flesh (that king of Beasts) began to delight himself in the objects of the Creation, more then in the Spirit Reason and Righteousness, who manifests himself to be the indweller in the Five Sences, of Hearing, Seeing, Tasting, Smelling, Feeling; then he fell into blindness of mind and weakness of heart, and runs abroad for a Teacher and Ruler: And so selfish imaginations taking possession of the Five Sences, and ruling as King in the room of Reason therein, and working with Covetousnesse, did set up one man to teach and rule over another; and thereby the Spirit was killed, and man was brought into bondage, and became a greater Slave to such of his own kind, then the Beasts of the field were to him. And hereupon, The Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In‐closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves: And that Earth that is within this Creation made a Common Store‐house for all, is bought and sold, and kept in the hands of a few, whereby the great Creator is mightily dishonored, as if he were a respector of persons, delighting in the comfortable Livelihood of some, and rejoycing in the miserable povertie and straits of others. From the beginning it was not so.
But this coming in of Bondage, is called A‐dam, because this ruling and teaching power without, doth dam up the Spirit of Peace and Liberty; First within the heart, by filling it with slavish fears of others. Secondly without, by giving the bodies of one to be imprisoned, punished and oppressed by the outward power of another. And this evil was brought upon us through his own Covetousnesse, whereby he is blinded and made weak, and sees not the Law of Righteousnesse in his heart, which is the pure light of Reason, but looks abroad for it, and thereby the Creation is cast under bondage and curse, and the Creator is sleighted; First by the Teachers and Rulers that sets themselves down in the Spirits room, to teach and rule, where he himself is only King. Secondly by the other, that refuses the Spirit, to be taught and governed by fellow Creatures, and this was called Israels Sin, in casting off the Lord, and chusing Saul, one like themselves to be their King, when as they had the same Spirit of Reason and government in themselves, as he had, if they were but subject. And Israels rejecting of outward teachers and rulers to embrace the Lord, and to be all taught and ruled by that righteous King, that Jeremiah Prophesied shall rule in the new Heavens and new Earth in the latter dayes, will be their Restauration from bondage, Jer.23.5,6
But for the present state of the old World that is running up like parchment in the fire, and wearing away, we see proud Imaginary flesh, which is the wise Serpent, rises up in flesh and gets dominion in some to rule over others, and so forces one part of the Creation man, to be a slave to another; and thereby the Spirit is killed in both. The one looks upon himself as a teacher and ruler, and so is lifted up in pride over his fellow Creature: The other looks upon himself as imperfect, and so is dejected in his Spirit, and looks upon his fellow Creature of his own Image, as a Lord above him.
And thus Esau, the man of flesh, which is Covetousness and Pride, hath killed Jacob, the Spirit of meeknesse, and righteous government in the light of Reason, and rules over him: And so the Earth that was made a common Treasury for all to live comfortably upon, is become through mans unrighteous actions one over another, to be a place, wherein one torments another.
Now the great Creator, who is the Spirit Reason, suffered himself thus to be rejected, and troden underfoot by the covetous proud flesh, for a certain time limited; therefore saith he, The Seed out of whom the Creation did proceed, which is my Self, shall bruise this Serpents head, and restore my Creation again from this curse and bondage; and when I the King of Righteousnesse raigns in every man, I will be the blessing of the Earth, and the joy of all Nations.
And since the coming in of the stoppage, or the A‐dam, the Earth hath been inclosed and given to the Elder brother Esau, or man of flesh, and hath been bought and sold from one to another; and Jacob, or the yonger brother, that is to succeed or come forth next, who is the universal spreading power of righteousnesse that gives liberty to the whole Creation, is made a servant.
And this Elder Son, or man of bondage, hath held the Earth in bondage to himself, not by a meek Law of Righteousnesse, But by subtle selfish Councels, and by open and violent force; for wherefore is it that there is such Wars and rumours of Wars in the Nations of the Earth? and wherefore are men so mad to destroy one another? But only to uphold Civil propriety of Honor, Dominion and Riches one over another, which is the curse the Creation groans under, waiting for deliverance.
But when once the Earth becomes a Common Treasury again, as it must, for all the Prophesies of Scriptures and Reason are Circled here in the Community, and mankind must have the Law of Righteousnesse once more writ in his heart, and all must be made of one heart, and one mind.
Then this Enmity in all Lands will cease, for none shall dare to seek a Dominion over others, neither shall any dare to kill another, nor desire more of the Earth then another; for he that will rule over, imprison, oppresse, and kill his fellow Creatures, under what pretence soever, is a destroyer of the Creation, and an actor of the Curse, and walks contrary to the rule of righteousnesse: (Do, as you would have others do to you; and love your Enemies, not in Words, but in actions).
Therefore you powers of the Earth, or Lord Esau, the Elder brother, because you have appeared to rule the Creation, first take notice, That the power that sets you to work, is selfish Covetousnes, and an aspiring Pride, to live in glory and ease over Jacob, the meek Spirit, that is, the Seed that lies hid, in & among the poor Common People, or yonger Brother, out of whom the blessing of Deliverance is to rise and spring up to all Nations.
And Reason, the living king of righteousnesse, doth only look on, and lets thee alone,That whereas thou counts thy self an Angel of Light, thou shalt appear in the light of the Sun, to be a Devil, A- dam and the Curse that the Creation groans under; and the time is now come for thy downfal, and Jacob must rise, who is the universal Spirit of love and righteousnesse, that fils, and will fill all the Earth.
Thou teaching and ruling power of flesh, thou hast had three periods of time, to vaunt thy self over thy Brother; the first was from the time of thy coming in, called A‐dam, or a stopage, till Moses came; and there thou that wast a self‐lover in Cain, killed thy brother Abel, a plain‐hearted man that loved righteousnesse: And thou by thy wisdom and beastly government, made the whole Earth to stinck, till Noah came, which was a time of the world, like the coming in of the watery Seed into the womb, towards the bringing forth of the man child.
And from Noah till Moses came, thou still hast ruled in vaunting, pride, and cruel oppression; Ishmael against Isaac, Esau against Jacob; for thou hast still been the man of flesh that hath ever persecuted the man of righteousnesse, the Spirit Reason.
And Secondly, From Moses till the Son of Man came, which was a time of the world, that the man child could not speak like a man, but lisping, making signs to shew his meaning; as we see many Creatures that cannot speak do. For Moses Law was a Language lapped up in Types, Sacrifices, Forms and Customs, which was a weak time. And in this time likewise, O thou teaching and ruling power, thou wast an oppressor; for look into Scriptures and see if Aaron and the Priests were not the first that deceived the people; and the Rulers, as Kings and Governors, were continually the Ocean‐head, out of whose power, Burdens, Oppressions, and Poverty did flow out upon the Earth: and these two Powers still hath been the Curse, that hath led the Earth, mankind, into confusion and death by their imaginary and selfish teaching and ruling, and it could be no otherwise; for while man looks upon himself, as an imperfect Creation, and seeks and runs abroad for a teacher and a ruler, he is all this time a stranger to the Spirit that is within himself.
But though the Earth hath been generally thus in darknesse, since the A‐dam rise up, and hath owned a Light, and a Law without them to walk by, yet some have been found as watchmen, in this night time of the world, that have been taught by the Spirit within them, and not by any flesh without them, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Prophets: And these, and such as these, have still been the Butt, at whom, the powers of the Earth in all ages of the world, by their selfish Laws, have shot their fury.
And then Thirdly from the time of the Son of man, which was a time that the man‐child began to speaklike a child growing upward to manhood, till now, that the Spirit is rising up in strength. O thou teaching and ruling power of the earthy man, thou hast been an oppressor, by imprisonment, impoverishing, and martyrdom; and all thy power and wit, hath been to make Laws, and execute them against such as stand for universal Liberty, which is the rising up of Jacob; as by those ancient enslaving Laws not yet blotted out; but held up as weapons against the man‐child.
O thou Powers of England, though thou hast promised to make this People a Free People, yet thou hast so handled the matter, through thy self‐seeking humour, That thou hast wrapped us up more in bondage, and oppression lies heavier upon us; not only bringing thy fellow Creatures, the Commoners, to a morsel of Bread, but by confounding all sorts of people by thy Government, of doing and undoing. First, Thou hast made the people to take a Covenant and Oaths to endeavour a Reformation, and to bring in Liberty every man in his place; and yet while a man is in pursuing of that Covenant, he is imprisoned and oppressed by thy Officers, Courts and Justices, so called.
Thou hast made Ordinances to cast down Oppressing, Popish, Episcopal, Self‐willed and Prerogative Laws; yet we see, That Self‐wil and Prerogative power, is the great standing Law, that rules all in action, and others in words.
Thou hast made many promises and protestations to make the Land a Free Nation: And yet at this very day, the same people, to whom thou hast made such Protestations of Liberty, are oppressed by the Courts, Sizes, Sessions, by thy Justices and Clarks of the Peace, so called, Bayliffs, Committees, are imprisoned, and forced to spend that bread, that should save their lives from Famine.
And all this, Because they stand to maintain an universal Liberty and Freedom, which not only is our Birthright, which our Maker gave us, but which thou hast promised to restore unto us, from under the former oppressing Powers that are gone before, and which likewise we have bought with our Money, in Taxes, Free‐ quarter, and Bloud‐shed; all which Sums thou hast received at our hands, and yet thou hast not given us our bargain.
O thou A‐dam, thou Esau, thou Cain, thou Hypocritical man of flesh, when wilt thou cease to kill thy yonger Brother? Surely thou must not do this great Work of advancing the Creation out of Bondage; for thou art lost extremely, and drowned in the Sea of Covetousnesse, Pride and hardness of heart. The blessing shall rise out of the dust which thou treadest under foot, Even the poor despised People, and they shall hold up Salvation to this Land, and to all Lands, and thou shalt be ashamed.
Our bodies as yet are in thy hand, our Spirit waits in quiet and peace, upon our Father for Deliverance; and if he give our Bloud into thy hand, for thee to spill, know this, That he is our Almighty Captain: And if some of you will not dare to shed your bloud, to maintain Tyranny and Oppression upon the Creation, know this, That our Bloud and Life shall not be unwilling to be delivered up in meekness to maintain universal Liberty, that so the Curse on our part may be taken off the Creation.
And we shall not do this through force of Arms, we abhorre it, For that is the work of the Midianites to kill one another; But by obeying the Lord of Hosts, who hath Revealed himself in us, and to us, by labouring the Earth in righteousness together, to eate our bread with the sweat of our brows, neither giving hire, nor taking hire, but working together, and eating together, as one man, or as one house of Israel restored from Bondage; and so by the power of Reason, the Law of righteousness in us, we endeavour to lift up the Creation from that bondage of Civil Propriety, which it groans under.
We are made to hold forth this Declaration to you that are the Great Councel, and to you the Great Army of the Land of England, that you may know what we would have, and what you are bound to give us by your Covenants and Promises; and that you may joyn with us in this Work, and so find Peace. Or else, if you do oppose us, we have peace in our Work, and in declaring this Report: And you shall be left without excuse.
The work we are going about is this, To dig up Georges Hill and the waste Ground thereabouts, and to Sow Corn, and to eat our bread together by the sweat of our brows. And the First Reason is this, That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation; so that our Maker may be glorified in the work of his own hands, and that every one may see, he is no respecter of Persons, but equally loves his whole Creation, and hates nothing but the Serpent, which is Covetousness, branching forth into selfish Imagination, Pride, Envie, Hypocrisie, Uncleanness; all seeking the ease and honor of flesh, and fighting against the Spirit Reason that made the Creation; for that is the Corruption, the Curse, the Devil, the Father of Lies; Death and Bondage that Serpent and Dragon that the Creation is to be delivered from.
And we are moved hereunto for that Reason, and others which hath been shewed us, both by Vision, Voyce and Revelation.
For it is shewed us, That so long as we, or any other, doth own the Earth to be the peculiar Interest of Lords and Landlords, and not common to others as well as them, we own the Curse, and holds the Creation under bondage; and so long as we or any other doth own Landlords and Tennants, for one to call the Land his, or another to hire it of him, or for one to give hire, and for another to work for hire; this is to dishonour the work of Creation; as if the righteous Creator should have respect to persons, and therefore made the Earth for some, and not for all: And so long as we, or any other maintain this Civil Propriety, we consent still to hold the Creation down under that bondage it groans under, and so we should hinder the work of Restoration, and sin against Light, that is given into us, and so through the fear of the flesh man, lose our peace.
And that this Civil Propriety is the Curse, is manifest thus, Those that Buy and Sell Land, and are landlords, have got it either by Oppression, or Murther, or Theft; and all landlords lives in the breach of the Seventh and Eighth Commandments, Thou shalt not steal, or kill.