This post will give a brief explanation of the origins of the holiday we in the U.S. call Thanksgiving, while pointing out a detail of the story many Americans are unaware of.
The Pilgrims were members of the Puritan faith who fled England in the early 1600s. The church of England, under the rule of King James I, was hunting down, imprisoning and sometimes even executing those people, like the Puritans, who refused to submit to its rules.
They initially established a community in Holland. Several years later, forty of these Puritans made a contract with a group of venture capitalists to finance their travel to the New World and on August 1, 1620 the Mayflower set sail with the forty Pilgrims and their families totaling 102 people led by William Bradford.
They arrived at Plymouth Rock in November of 1620 to what Bradford's journal refers to as, "..a cold, barren, desolate wilderness..." There was no shelter and the first winter was devastating. Almost half the original group, including Bradford's own wife, died from either starvation, sickness or exposure.
In the spring an English speaking Indian, Squanto, helped the Pilgrims by giving them food and teaching them how to build shelters, catch fish, grow crops and other survival skills. With these newfound skills, the settlers were able to survive, but only barely.
The Pilgrims eventually became prosperous but few history books explain why.
What You May Not Know
You see, the Pilgrims' original contract with the European merchants stipulated that the Plymouth Plantation would operate as a collective, with all production going into a common store and all land cleared and buildings built would be commonly owned. In short, a socialist commune.
I'll let Mr. Bradford's journal explain.
"The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years...that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing – as if they were wiser than God. For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort."
This proved to be a disastrous plan. There was no incentive for the able bodied to work to their potential. In fact, the young bachelors greatly resented having to support the older men's families.
"For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense...that was thought injustice."
The settlement began to truly prosper only when Bradford scrapped the original contract and assigned each family a parcel of land to farm with the understanding that any surplus they produced was their own.
This scrapping of communism in favor of capitalism ignited the entrepreneurial spirit and brought about great gains. In fact, they soon found themselves with more than they could consume. Trading posts were established to barter with the Indians and the debt to the European investors was paid off early.
The success of the Plymouth Plantation was so profound it attracted more European settlers and began what came to be known as the "Great Puritan Migration".
That's right, centuries before Marx, Lenin or Mao, the Puritan settlers in the New World had proved that communism stifled the individual's desire to excel while capitalism encouraged it with obvious results.
Thanksgiving - Yesterday and Today
The Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving feast was to give thanks to God for helping them to survive as well as a celebration of the first harvest. On October 3rd 1789 President George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving Proclamation and the holiday was eventually codified into law by congress on October 6, 1941 as the 4th Thursday in November.
Today's Thanksgiving celebration is quite different from the first Pilgrim feast in many ways but in many ways it is similar. We gather with friends and/or family and remind ourselves of the many ways we are blessed.
We feast and overindulge as we prepare mentally for the coming shopping season when we take part in the very system of capitalism that helped found this country.
I truly hope that you, no matter where you live, have many blessings in your life to be thankful for and hope you take the time to recognize those blessings in life money can't buy.
If you are traveling, please be safe but, above all, have a Happy Thanksgiving!
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