Thursday, November 25, 2010


Pilgrim's First Thanksgiving, by Jennie Brownscomb

Path Through the Woods

Why the Pilgrims Starved and Then Prospered
 by Richard J. Maybury 1999

Each year at this time school children all over America are taught the official Thanksgiving story, and newspapers, radio, TV, and magazines devote vast amounts of time and space to it. It is all very colorful and fascinating.

It is also very deceiving. This official story is nothing like what really happened. It is a fairy tale, a whitewashed and sanitized collection of half-truths which divert attention away from Thanksgiving's real meaning.

The official story has the pilgrims boarding the Mayflower, coming to America and establishing the Plymouth colony in the winter of 1620-21. This first winter is hard, and half the colonists die. But the survivors are hard working and tenacious, and they learn new farming techniques from the Indians. The harvest of 1621 is bountiful. The Pilgrims hold a celebration, and give thanks to God. They are grateful for the wonderful new abundant land He has given them.

The official story then has the Pilgrims living more or less happily ever after, each year repeating the first Thanksgiving. Other early colonies also have hard times at first, but they soon prosper and adopt the annual tradition of giving thanks for this prosperous new land called America.

The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.

In his 'History of Plymouth Plantation,' the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years, because they refused to work in the fields. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with "corruption," and with "confusion and discontent." The crops were small because "much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable."

In the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622, "all had their hungry bellies filled," but only briefly. The prevailing condition during those years was not the abundance the official story claims, it was famine and death. The first "Thanksgiving" was not so much a celebration as it was the last meal of condemned men.

But in subsequent years something changes. The harvest of 1623 was different. Suddenly, "instead of famine now God gave them plenty," Bradford wrote, "and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God." Thereafter, he wrote, "any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day." In fact, in 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn.

What happened?

After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, "they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop." They began to question their form of economic organization.

This had required that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock." A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take out only what he needed.

This "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were starving. Bradford writes that "young men that are most able and fit for labor and service" complained about being forced to "spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children." Also, "the strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak." So the young and strong refused to work and the total amount of food produced was never adequate.

To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of famines.

Many early groups of colonists set up socialist states, all with the same terrible results. At Jamestown, established in 1607, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived, less than half would survive their first twelve months in America. Most of the work was being done by only one-fifth of the men, the other four-fifths choosing to be parasites. In the winter of 1609-10, called "The Starving Time," the population fell from five-hundred to sixty.

Then the Jamestown colony was converted to a free market, and the results were every bit as dramatic as those at Plymouth. In 1614, Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch there was "plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure." He said that when the socialist system had prevailed, "we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now."

Before these free markets were established, the colonists had nothing for which to be thankful. They were in the same situation as Ethiopians are today, and for the same reasons. But after free markets were established, the resulting abundance was so dramatic that the annual Thanksgiving celebrations became common throughout the colonies, and in 1863, Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

Thus the real reason for Thanksgiving, deleted from the official story, is: Socialism does not work; the one and only source of abundance is free markets, and we thank God we live in a country where we can have them.

William Bradford Brief Biography:

(1590-1657) American writer. William Bradford was born in 1590 in Yorkshire, but he would become one of the most famous writers and leaders in American history, famous for the "Mayflower Compact" and "History of Plimoth Plantation," which wasn't published in full until 1856.

Although Bradford never received formal education, his leadership were exemplary when he took over as governor in 1621, after the first governor died. He held the position for the rest of his life (excluding five years), and his writings about the Plymouth colony, with all of their triumphs and tragedies is dramatic and unforgettable.

Read his book here.


Donna said...

Very pretty Thanksgiving pics. Thanks for sharing.

Homeschool on the Croft said...

I have read this history before. It doesn't surprise me that things weren't prosperous for them in the beginning, but it doesn't surprise me either that the 'full' story is not told...
Thanks for posting. As usual, your articles are so well thought out, well researched, and well written.
From an appreciative reader!
Anne x

dora said...

Thanksgiving is not celebrated here in England.

But, reading the post about the history of Thanksgiving makes you realise that God knows what is best for us.

The word of God tells us in Deuteronomy 12v7, 'And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you'.

If we put our hands to nothing, that's what we will get.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Lady Lydia!

Sherry Lauser said...

Thank you for sharing the true story of Thanksgiving!! I had not known that it also happened in the Jamestown settlement.

God bless,
Mrs. Lauser

Lydia said...

Governor Bradford recorded in his book about Plimouth Plantation about the first experiment in socialism and how it failed. That bitter experience kept socialism out of America for many years, but as immigrants came in, without the experience of the past and without the knowledge of the failure of socialism, they put measures in place that were very socialistic. Even today, we live off the socialistic empire, that eats itself up and then demands more, like the leach in Proverbs. People immigrate here with ideas of being looked after all their lives, not realizing that the money comes from other people's hard work. It is not Biblical and it is not honest.

Anonymous said...

I like the dishonesty issue comment about socialism. Isn't that the truth...AND "if we put our hands to nothing, that's all we will get"....good for bumper stickers......


Anonymous said...

An excerpt from "The Pilgrims' Real Thanksgiving Lesson" by Ben Powell on campaign for liberty:

Many people believe that after suffering through a severe winter, the Pilgrims' food shortages were resolved the following spring when the Native Americans taught them to plant corn and a Thanksgiving celebration resulted. In fact, the pilgrims continued to face chronic food shortages for three years until the harvest of 1623. Bad weather or lack of farming knowledge did not cause the pilgrims' shortages. Bad economic incentives did.

In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on "equality" and "need" as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. Governor William Bradford, in his 1647 history, Of Plymouth Plantation, wrote that this system "was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort." The problem was that "young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense." Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced.

Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. While not a complete private property system, the move away from communal ownership had dramatic results.

This change, Bradford wrote, "had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been." Giving people economic incentives changed their behavior. Once the new system of property rights was in place, "the women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability."

Once the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Plantation abandoned their communal economic system and adopted one with greater individual property rights, they never again faced the starvation and food shortages of the first three years. It was only after allowing greater property rights that they could feast without worrying that famine was just around the corner.

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT. I had read this in the past, but never as succinctly put as you have related it here. These important points about the socialist experiment of the Pilgrims must not be omitted from any child's education.

If all you ladies could please pray for our family (off topic a bit), I would appreciate it. I had our fifth baby this past summer (my first home birth) and am having great difficulty with the homeschooling. I have three students who are all young, ages seven and under, plus a potty training toddler - my husband is very worried about the quality of their education combined with the new baby, the fact that I am having great difficulty with postpartum depression and he is - in my opinion at this time - being very unreasonable in what I can manage to do at this time. I did not do Thanksgiving very well and he is not happy. He is "promising" that Christmas will not be a happy one because I am not getting my duties accomplised sufficiently... this moment, therefore, I feel quite weak and am requesting the prayers of all so that I can create a Christmas that will make him happy. Thanks in advance.

Lydia said...

Your husband needs to have more knowledge of what women need at your stage in life, and to understand that homeschooling is not about creating smart people, but about creating loving and obedient people who honor the home. I think also there is no command in the scriptures to observe national Thanksgiving or Christmas, as both are man-made types of celebrations, and commercial also. I grew up in a very large family and there is no way my mother could have managed the type of holidays that people expect today, so we kept it extremely simple. On the other hand, if it is so important to your husband, you should ask him to pay for more conveniences to make it easier for you--like a dinner from the deli at the grocery store. Sometimes you can order ahead and have him pick it all up, hot and ready to serve. As for Christmas, homeschooling can be included, as the children learn to create the kind of atmosphere the Dad is looking for. He needs to help create that atmosphere too and make life easier for you. After all, you bore his children and are caring for them. All you need to do is what you CAN do, and sometimes the children, even as young as they are, can create a celebration that is quite nice. They may not decorate the way you would, but every little thing has a meaning to them. Your husband can help by hiring someone to help you, or he can arrange to have Thanksgiving and Christmas at either of your parents, instead.

Lydia said...

Regarding post partum: you have to eat more often and keep your blood sugar levels high. You have to drink a lot of liquids and also be sure to rest when you can. There might be some homeschool teen girls who would be willing to come to your house and get the laundry done or clean up the kitchen. That always helps a lot.

Lydia said...

Donna, I am going to try to add your historical comment to the main piece. It was also really good.

In my observation, the only place communism works is in the home when the children are little. Everyone shares one couch, one table, one set of dishes, and a common meal. They do everything together, and even those who are helpless or can't work, are taken care of. Once outside that unit, you cant share equally and you dont have a right to anyone else's property. Even at home, the communist system is limited to what the abilities of the children and the discernment of the parents. The so called Bible description of everyone selling everything and having everything in common, in Acts 2 was not the communist dictatorship that many people admire and want today. It was only a temporary situation to accommodate those who had visited in Jerusalem for the Passover from foreign countries. Eventually everyone went home or scattered abroad, taking the gospel they heard, with them.