The Capitalist Blessings of Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony

Thanksgiving. The holiday we set aside each November to be grateful for our blessings throughout the year.

Although the historic celebration between the Pilgrims and Native Americans was not the first day of Thanksgiving ever to be observed in America, this story from our history teaches a valuable lesson any freedom lover will treasure.

The story of the colonists of Plymouth Massachusettes is one that needs to be remembered by modern Americans as it is a story that revolves around religious liberty, the inevitable failure of socialism, and the integral link between private property rights, Capitalism and the creation of wealth.

In fact, the bounty that was enjoyed by the Pilgrims and American Indians would never have been possible if Governor William Bradford hadn’t moved away from the socialist commune-style of living the colony had initially instated upon their arrival. This is the cornerstone of this remarkable story in American history, which is not covered in textbooks circulating through many schools in this country, today.

The group of individuals we now know as the ‘Pilgrims’ were part of a group of Christians known as Separatists who were desperate to escape the theocracy that King James I had established in England. This led to the execution of many famous Separatists including, John Penry, Henry Barrowe, and John Greenwood, according to This persecution by the Church of England resulted in the Pilgrims fleeing to Holland and then Massachusetts colony in search of the religious freedom they so deeply craved.

Between the time of the settlers landing in Plymouth and the first winter, around half of the original passengers who made the voyage to the New World had perished as a result of sickness, disease, lack of food, and – you guessed it – socialism.

Yes, it is true that Squanto taught the settlers how to plow the land and yield crops in unfamiliar territory, but what you may not know is that the harsh conditions were worsened due to the colony’s attempt to create a socialist commune with all of the crops being put into a common storehouse.

Governor William Bradford wrote of the hardships in his journal,

“ After this [the signing of the Mayflower Compact] they chose, or rather confirmed, Mr. John Carver (a man godly and well approved amongst them) their Governor for that year. And after they had provided a place for their goods, or common store (which were long in unlading for want of boats, foulness of the winter weather, and sickness of diverce [various kinds]) and begun some small cottages for their habitation, as time would admit, they met and consulted of laws and orders, both for their civil and military Government, as the necessity of their condition did require, still adding thereunto as urgent occasion in several times, and as cases did require.”

The colonists learned the hard way that socialism goes against our very nature as human beings, and that if a society is to remain industrious and thriving, it must have a privatized division of labor that simultaneously respects private property rights. Bradford noted that it was due to the respecting of private property that each man felt the need to improve his own circumstances, which lead to the ultimate success of Plymouth Colony.

Bradford wrote,

“All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. 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; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

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 (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. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

It is the blessings of capitalism and private property that made this three-day religious festival of thanks possible as Edward Winslow said, recalling the bounty of the feast,

“[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”

May we, as lovers of liberty, be truly thankful this Thanksgiving for the blessings which are made possible by capitalism. May we remember the hardships of the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts to ensure they are never experienced again.

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