So many people make judgements about the First Thanksgiving. They talk negative about the Indians or the Pilgrims. Liberals criticize the Pilgrims. Consrvatives give glory to the Pilgrims. The only real way to know is to get a first account from someone who was really there. The governor during the first Thanksgiving was Willam Bradford. He was an avid record keeper, kind of like keeping his own diary of what was going on in that day. So here are some actual quotes from people who were actually there.
The difficulty with the first Thanksgiving story is that the crop of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and plenty of the colonists were lazy and could even be considered thieves. Wow! You ever hear that about The FIRST THANKSGIVING?
In his ‘History of Plymouth Plantation, ‘ the governor of the colony, William Bradford, claimed the colonists went hungry for years , because they refused to work in the fields. They preferred instead to steal food from others. 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 crop banquets of 1621 and 1622, “all had their hungry bellies filled,” but only momentarily. The existing condition during those years was not the bounty of food that we always hear, it was famine and death. “The first Thanksgiving” was not so much a party as it was more so the last meal of condemned men.
But in successive years everything radically changed. The crop 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.” Actually in 1624, so much food was produced 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 changed their organizational and economical structure. Before this “everything gained by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” was gathered from the colony and put into a shared storage for the colony and “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 they could raise and take out just what he needed.
This “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was an early form of socialism, and it’s exactly why the colonists were starving. Bradford stated that the “young men that are most able and fit for labor and service were angered about having been made 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 and the industious refused to work and the total amount of food grown was never enough.
To save themselves from extinction, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a plot of land and agreed they could keep all that they produced, or barter it away as they saw fit. He gave them free property rights-something else not prevalent in socialism. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of famines.
Now The FIRST THANKSGIVING
Many early groups of colonists had set up socialist like states, all with similar terrible results. At Jamestown, established in 1607, out of each shipload of settlers that arrived, fewer than half survived their first year in America. The majority of the work was being done by only a fifth of the people and the other four-fifths chose leach. In the winter of 1609-10, called “The Starving Time,” the number of pilgrims plummeted from approximately 500 to only sixty.
Then the Jamestown colony changed to a free market, and the results were just as dramatic as those at Plymouth. In 1614, Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch, there were “masses of food, which every person by his own industry may simply and doth procure.” He had said that when this socialist-like system was being used, “we reaped not so much corn from the works of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”
Before these free markets were implemented, the colonists did not have anything for which to be grateful. They were in a similar scenario as the poorest and most destitute of the world are today, and for the same reason. After free markets were instituted, the ensuing abundance was so dramatic that the annual Thanksgiving parties became common place throughout the colonies, and in 1863, The FIRST THANKSGIVING turned into a nationwide vacation.
The FIRST THANKSGIVING Truth And Lesson
Thus the actual reason for Thanksgiving is that: Socialism does not work ; the only source of excess is free markets. So this Thanksgiving remember the first Thanksgiving and thank Heavens we live in a country where we may have the right to earn and keep the fruits of our own labors.
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The FIRST THANKSGIVING article originally appeared in The Free Market, November 1985, by Richard J. Maybury.