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The English Diggers (1649-50)

Background material (English Diggers &c.)

The (English) Digger Writings

In this chronological index and archive I have compiled the known tracts, manifestos, letters and other publications that the English Diggers left behind before retiring from the stage of social revolution.

Short history from Encyclopedia Britannica

Note from editor: the Encyclopedia Britannica is now again NOT Free! The editors have retreated from their Free experiment, and are again charging for access. For a brief moment, they had followed the model that briefly seemed to win out on the Net: free access provided for a variety of motivations: some commercial (i.e., pay for the site with advertising), some motivated by the ideal of open access. If we follow the concept of open access to its roots, part of that history involves the Diggers in San Francisco. More on this idea later. For now ...

This is a quick definition of who the original Diggers were. Eventually I want to include a substantial archive of materials here about the English Diggers, and especially to talk about the similarities between the 17th century Diggers and the 20th century Diggers. I mean just read "about time we started doin our own livin and dyin" -- it's eerie, really!

Here is the brief definition from the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Digger,

any of a group of agrarian communists who flourished in England in 1649-50 and were led by Gerrard Winstanley (q.v.) and William Everard. In April 1649 about 20 poor men assembled at St. George's Hill, Surrey, and began to cultivate the common land. These Diggers held that the English Civil Wars had been fought against the king and the great landowners; now that Charles I had been executed, land should be made available for the very poor to cultivate. (Food prices had reached record heights in the late 1640s.) The numbers of the Diggers more than doubled during 1649. Their activities alarmed the Commonwealth government and roused the hostility of local landowners, who were rival claimants to the common lands. The Diggers were harassed by legal actions and mob violence, and by the end of March 1650 their colony was dispersed. The Diggers themselves abjured the use of force. The Diggers also called themselves True Levelers, but their communism was denounced by the leaders of the Levelers.

Copyright (c) 1994, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Related Propaedia Topics:

Oliver Cromwell, the Commonwealth, and the Protectorate (1649-60); the Stuart Restoration (1660) under Charles II (1660-85) and James II (1685-88); the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and end of crown rule without Parliament

The Digger Songs

Levellers and Diggers
(Gerard Winstanley)

(The recording is from The Digger Song by Gerrard Winstanley and Leon Rosselson. Note: the recording begins at the 6th stanza below, "The lawyers they conjoyne..." If you cannot use the ActiveX Control to listen to the recording online, try downloading the Real Audio file, ca. 500k in size.)

From A Ballad History of England, Palmer

You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now,
You noble Diggers all, stand up now,
The wast land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name
Your digging does maintain, and persons all defame
Stand up now, stand up now.

Your houses they pull down, stand up now, stand up now,
Your houses they pull down, stand up now.
Your houses they pull down to fright your men in town
But the gentry must come down, and the poor shall wear the crown.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

With spades and hoes and plowes, stand up now, stand up now
With spades and hoes and plowes stand up now,
Your freedom to uphold, seeing Cavaliers are bold
To kill you if they could, and rights from you to hold.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now, stand up now,
Theire self-will is theire law, stand up now.
Since tyranny came in they count it now no sin
To make a gaol a gin, to starve poor men therein.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The gentrye are all round, stand up now, stand up now,
The gentrye are all round, stand up now.
The gentrye are all round, on each side they are found,
Theire wisdom's so profound, to cheat us of our ground
Stand up now, stand up now.

The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now, stand up now,
The lawyers they conjoyne, stand up now,
To arrest you they advise, such fury they devise,
The devill in them lies, and hath blinded both their eyes.
Stand up now, stand up now.

The clergy they come in, stand up now, stand up now,
The clergy they come in, stand up now.
The clergy they come in, and say it is a sin
That we should now begin, our freedom for to win.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The tithes they yet will have, stand up now, stand up now,
The tithes they yet will have, stand up now.
The tithes they yet will have, and lawyers their fees crave,
And this they say is brave, to make the poor their slave.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

'Gainst lawyers and 'gainst Priests, stand up now, stand up now,
'Gainst lawyers and 'gainst Priests stand up now.
For tyrants they are both even flatt againnst their oath,
To grant us they are loath free meat and drink and cloth.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The club is all their law, stand up now, stand up now,
The club is all their law, stand up now.
The club is all their law to keep men in awe,
But they no vision saw to maintain such a law.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now, stand up now,
The Cavaleers are foes, stand up now;
The Cavaleers are foes, themselves they do disclose
By verses not in prose to please the singing boyes.
Stand up now, Diggers all.

To conquer them by love, come in now, come in now
To conquer them by love, come in now;
To conquer them by love, as itt does you behove,
For hee is King above, noe power is like to love,
Glory heere, Diggers all.

World Turned Upside Down (Diggers)
(Leon Rosselson)

Recorded by Dick Gaughan

In 1649
To St George's Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people' s will
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace, they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common
And to make the waste land grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it can be
A common treasury for all.

The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Rise up at their command.

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve

We work, we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to masters
Or pay rent to the lords
We are free men
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory

Stand up now
From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers' claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed -
Only the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
The earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The order came to cut them down

Last updated December 15, 2013
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