Thursday, November 10, 2011

How the Pilgrims Almost Killed Thanksgiving

Why is so much left out of the traditional account of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving? A different story altogether would be discovered if we go right to the journal of Governor Bradford, written as events happened.  Things which somehow have been forgotten in the school textbooks and re-enactments we see on TV. 

Before it achieved a prosperity worthy of a Thanksgiving celebration, the Plymouth colony almost collapsed and died due to -- a failed experiment in Socialism. Anything in quotes in the following account comes directly from Governor Bradford's journal, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 - 1647.
Winter of 1620-21. Agricultural plans for the 1621 growing season were underway for the sustainability of the Plymouth colony. It was a meticulously planned new communal social order. Here, there will be NO private property and NO division of labor. All will share equally in the duties of the fields of the Plymouth Plantation. And the resulting harvest will be shared by all. Fairly and equally. 

Bradford writes, "all profits and benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" were given to the common stock of the colony. And, now for the sharing! "All such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel and all provisions out of the common stock."

In other words, we all put in all that we are able to, and we take only what we need. But, how the grand plan worked out in practice is told by Governor Bradford, in his own words:

"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."

"And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it." The young ones, the strong ones, the ones doing most of the work, "had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak." (this paragraph in Bradford's original spelling)

And so, as it has always been, the slothful and the schemers gave greatly unto themselves. And the able workers, to their credit, got tired of the giving of themselves unto others without a just return on their labors. They would outright refuse to work any more than was minimally required.

And food was stolen. Bradford: "The crops were small because much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable". To each according to his needs? Or every man for himself? Father, Son, Holy Ghost - He that grabs the fastest gets the most!

The harvest of 1621 was minimal. Although the Pilgrims held a harvest feast with the Indians, it was not associated with an official declaration of thanksgiving. The harvest of 1622 was meager. The pilgrims survived the winter by doing chores for the Indians in exchange for food.

The colony was in the final phases of starving into oblivion. And in 1623, Bradford established a new order of things, and that new order was -- private property. The colony was divided up into individual private plots. The common storehouse idea was abolished. Each family would now be on their own land, producing their own food. Whatever they produced on their land, they were allowed to keep for their own use. Note in the following quotes how this changed things:

Bradford writes: "They began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop, that they might not still thus languish in misery...And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of the number, for that end, only for present use . . . and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use"

Resentment was replaced by contentment.

And - behold, a miracle! - Those who had formerly been too weak - those who proclaimed themselves "disabled" - rose from their rest and worked.

Bradford says: "The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; "

And so, Plymouth Colony prospered. In 1623 the colony declared a Feast of Thanksgiving. Under the new private land-use system, and in spite of the drought that had plagued the summer, the pilgrims held a feast of thanksgiving.

Within a few years, the colony would have so much surplus corn that it became an export item. Prosperity is the reward of personal labor.

Bradford sums up the failure of the socialist experiment: "The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community it was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort."

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. And thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

No comments: