The Diggers (True Levellers)
The Diggers called themselves "True Levellers". They were associated with the political Levellers but Lilburne and other spokesmen were at pains to deny the connection. The Digger agenda of the "levelling of all estates" — i.e. the abandonment of private property rights — was too radical a step for the Levellers, who were attempting to negotiate a political settlement within the existing social order.
The guiding light of the Digger movement was Gerard Winstanley, a former mercer whose business was ruined in the civil wars. Working as a cattle herdsman at Walton-on-Thames, Winstanley was inspired by a vision of communal cultivation of the land and an ending of property rights, which he outlined in his tract: The New Law of Righteousness. Similar ideas were arising spontaneously around the country. A Digger community in Buckinghamshire published a tract entitled Light Shining in Buckinghamshire in December 1648. Winstanley joined the community established by William Everard, a former soldier and lay preacher, who called upon the common people to support themselves by cultivating the waste and common land of England. The Diggers occupied St George's Hill in Surrey in April 1649. A Digger manifesto: The True Leveller's Standard Advanced appeared in the same month.
Winstanley attempted to put into practice his ideals for a utopian communistic society, but the Surrey Diggers were persecuted by local landowners and clergymen. The Council of State sent soldiers to break up the community and the Diggers were taken to court accused of trespassing. They were driven from St George's Hill to nearby Cobham Heath. Persecuted by landowners and lacking funds, the Cobham commune was dispersed by the summer of 1650. At least ten other Digger communities appeared in southern and central England around 1650, but all met with a similar fate to the Surrey group.
In 1652 Winstanley published The Law of Freedom in a Platform in which he proposed the introduction of his utopian commonwealth by state action. Though dedicated to Cromwell, Winstanley's approach to the rights of the common man over the rights of landowners had little influence during the Commonwealth and Protectorate.
Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (London 1975)
English Dissenters: Diggers, www.exlibris.org
Transcript of lecture on Gerard Winstanley by Christopher Hill
The Religion of Gerard Winstanley and Digger Communism, Article by Donald R. Sutherland
The Diggers Song