More on Plockhoy: a"Commonwealth
of Love and Equality"
By Bart Plantenga
Pieter Corneliszoon Plockoy, founded a short-lived Dutch communitarian
settlement (1663-1664) at Zwaanendael on the banks of the Deleware
River. This utopian experiment was obliterated by British troops.
After years of obscurity, the visionary Plockhoy, "old,
blind and destitute," appeared, with his wife, in Germantown,
Pennsylvania. The Mennonite congregation in Germantown took them
in and cared for them.
Here are a few quotations and brief snapshots of Plockhoy's
life and thought. A longer article by Plantenga was published
in the April 2002 issue of Mennonite Historical Bulletin.
"Our rules and Laws being few, are to be only for necessity,
not to take away anyone's liberty..." Pieter Plockhoy
the real history of intentional community among
Euro-Americans begins with one Peter Cornelius Plockhoy, despite
his eminent status as communal leader, [he] remains historically
( Timothy Miller, "Pieter Cornelius Plockhoy and the Beginnings
of the American Communal Tradition," Gone to Croatan:
Origins of North American Dropout Culture.)
Plockhoy's lodestar was his moral compass - compassion for
the poor and the eradication of "the great inequality and
disorders among men in the world." This would come about
through the creation of a community of equals, a kingdom of God
on earth, aimed at eliminating the unjust gap between rich and
poor. Call it Christian communitarianism based on Jesus' example,
benevolent realpolitik, proto-communism, or social democracy,
but he made very interesting stabs at combining utilitarian economics
with social ideals, echoing today's social welfare states. Be
competitive, not acquisitive; be compassionate, not ruthless.
He hoped that the economic success of his enterprise might serve
as the best advertisement for his society. Many of his democratic
notions presaged the United States Constitution.
Plockhoy also believed true peace came from shunning material
things - living a simple life - like the Mennonites, Amish, Quakers,
and Shakers. His ideas regarding a "commonwealth of love
and equality" can also be found in English utopian John
Bellers' work which influenced Marx. Plockhoy may also have helped
set the stage for experimental societies like the Oneida Community,
Richard Owen's Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, hippie
communes and kibbutzes.
Socialist scholar, H. Quack, considered him the "originator
of socialistic and communal views which later led Hawthorne,
Thoreau, and Emerson to undertake such a life at Brook Farm,"
begun in 1841 in Massachusetts. To these ends he proposed the
o Anti-Slavery: "No lordship or servile slavery shall
burden our company." Plockhoy's anti-slavery declaration
preceded by five years the first recognized declaration against
slavery by Dutch Quakers in1668 in North America.
o Separation of church and state: the state should enforce religious
liberty and foster an ecumenical society.
o Freedom of thought, speech, and religion: an ecumenical
umbrella to allow freedom of religious worship although it was
assumed all were practicing Christians. Ministers according to
Kort Verhael would not be tolerated in the community, which would
"suffer all sorts of people (of what religion soever [sic]
they are) in any one country, as God suffers the same in all
the countries of the world." But some documents of dubious
authorship imply that Plockhoy's ecumenical tolerance uncharacteristically
stopped at Jews, Quakers, Puritans, and "stupid believers
in the millennium."
o Education: free progressive education, offered by honest
capable "spiritual captains," would provide "uplift"
for all children (rich or poor, girl or boy). All "handicrafters"
would be periodically retrained to learn new trades.
o Health care: free for the poor, the sick, and elderly. The
wealthy paid a fee for medical assistance.
o Leisure: "personal interests, desires, and pleasures"
were left to discretion of individual. Plockhoy believed work
was meant for travel and edification, not for wealth.
o Workday: six hours daily six days per week for the commune;
any overtime was for one's own gain. Non-members seeking admission
worked twelve hours per day until they were allowed entry.
o Charity: The colony was created for "the relief of
many aggrieved and languishing families." The wealthy in
the colony would display wealth through their extra benevolence
toward the poor. Everyone was guaranteed basic needs: shelter,
education, food, employment.
o Employment: empower the poor through gainful work. People
working for the common good would lead to the end of human exploitation.
o Management: all members had a chance to manage various socio-economic
sectors, assuring that members gained a variety of skills. Maids
and housewives had their prescribed functions but also time to
develop new skills. This promoted division of labor as well as
communal values and self-reliance.
o Private property: would be allowed but the commune would
own land and industries collectively. Overtime meant discretionary
o Communistic Individualism: Although members "shared
equally in the labor and its products" he allayed fears
that his system would squelch individualism: "the common
welfare should be kept in mind without restricting anyone's personal
and natural liberty
To suppress the individual by force,
as is usually the practise in the world, is according to our
opinion merely deferring the larger evil and making it break
out more violently." All would benefit from profits equally
among settlers. Every six months surpluses were to be equally
o Competitiveness: Plockhoy was keen to prove that his benevolent
system could compete in the world market. Success meant being
more enterprising and industriousness. His artisans would produce
higher quality goods because of the level of craftsmanship assured
by social well-being. He envisioned their products would undersell
the competition because of low overhead of their social arrangements.
o Marriage: Marriage outside the community was allowed
o Departures: those leaving would not be punished and received
their portion of profits and belongings. If there were no profits
they would receive an honorarium.
o Democracy: governor was chosen by settlers for one-year
term to prevent corruptibility. He would have three elected administrators
to assist him.
o Town Planning: o "meeting-places" with amphitheater
seating arrangement and desk tops to write ideas and read and
discuss Scripture in an open and egalitarian manner.
o Housing: settlement comprised of two dwellings: one inland
for twenty to thirty families engaged in industry and agriculture.
Another located near the river where he envisioned fisheries
and a fleet of trading vessels "to send to Flanders, Holland,
France and other places..." Settlers would live in a mix
of private family rooms and public space [library, guestroom,
playrooms, and school]. Plockhoy wanted it active and dynamic
- open spaces for freedom and convenient for meetings as well
as quiet sanctuaries and an area for a market. His ideas for
a central kitchen area, central heating and light were important
o Meals: would be communal meaning less energy and time spent
building many small fires for heat and cooking.
o Simple life: free of baubles and shows of wealth, or "painful
and laboursome inventions" obscured the notions of a good
and natural life.
Although there are those who insist it was his religious training
as a Mennonite that informed his ideas, Plockhoy himself wrote
that religion was an activity "with which in general [I
am] not concerned". But, yet, it is undeniable that on some
level he was able to subtly synthesize the dynamics of his new
found and rational social activism with his religious legacy
and require that the pragmatic coexist in harmony with the teachings
--Plantenga (firstname.lastname@example.org), Amsterdam,
The Netherlands, is a freelance writer and editor.