The Real Story of Thanksgiving

There’s a little more to the story about Squanto. Once he escaped from slavery in Spain he got a ride to England either by stowing away on a British ship or perhaps he was invited aboard. He then lived in England for at least 4 years with a sympathetic merchant and his family. He learned to speak English, and became acquainted with English beer which was a necessary staple on British ships at sea where clean drinking water was scarce. Beer keeps for a long time. It kept British seaman supplied with a substitute for drinking water when it was needed. Like most people who have a chance to add beer to their diet, Squanto liked it.

When he returned to America he found that his native Patuxet tribe had been completely wiped out by disease. Squanto lodged with other tribes but remained a lonely sole for his own people.  Plus, there was no beer.

When William Bradford, Miles Standish and the pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower Squanto was glad to see them because he had been treated well by the English. The pilgrims were surprised at his knowledge of their language, and even more shocked when one of the first things he asked them was did they have any beer?

The Real Story of Thanksgiving, from Freedom Keys:

Did you know that the first [Plymouth Colony Pilgrim’s] Thanksgiving was a celebration of the triumph of private property and individual initiative?

William Bradford was the governor of the original Pilgrim colony, founded at Plymouth in 1621. The colony was first organized on a communal basis, as their financiers required. Land was owned in common. The Pilgrims farmed communally, too, following the “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” precept.

The results were disastrous. Communism didn’t work any better 400 years ago than it does today. By 1623, the colony had suffered serious losses. Starvation was imminent.

Bradford realized that the communal system encouraged and rewarded waste and laziness and inefficiency, and destroyed individual initiative. Desperate, he abolished it. He distributed private plots of land among the surviving Pilgrims, encouraging them to plant early and farm as individuals, not collectively.

The results: a bountiful early harvest that saved the colonies.  After THAT  harvest the Pilgrims celebrated with a day of Thanksgiving.  

Unfortunately, William Bradford’s diaries — in which he recorded the failure of the collectivist system and the triumph of private enterprise — were lost for many years. When Thanksgiving was later made a national holiday, the present November date was chosen. And the lesson the Pilgrims so painfully learned was, alas, not made a part of the holiday.

Happily, Bradford’s diaries were later rediscovered. They’re available today in paperback. They tell the real story of Thanksgiving — how private property and individual initiative saved the Pilgrims.

This Thanksgiving season, one of the many things I’m thankful for is our free market system (imperfectly realized as it is). And I’m also grateful that there are increasing numbers of Americans who are learning the importance of free markets, and who are working to replace government coercion with marketplace cooperation here in America and around the world.

Paul Schmidt

The Plymouth Colony under the leadership of Governor William Bradford were intent on establishing a farming system different from what they knew in England. They rejected the idea of private property, because they believed it let to greed, aversion, and selfishness. They were familiar with Plato’s ideal of collectivism, in which all work was to be done in common, with the rewards of their collective efforts fairly divided among them. Not only farming was done in common, but also housekeeping and child rearing. They hopefully if wistfully believed this would lead to prosperity and brotherly love.

Their experiment in collectivism turned into a spectacular failure. Neither prosperity nor brotherly love resulted. Poverty and envy and slothfulness were the fruits of common ownership. Here is Bradford’s description of the failure of collectivism among the Pilgrims, and how a return to private property saved them from starvation:

“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 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 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.

“The strong 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 labors everything else, 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”

“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.”

Today’s Millennials are as misguided as the Pilgrims. Apparently they are unable to learn anything from the history of what collectivism and socialism has done to people in the past. Or even what it is doing to people in Venezuela today. Sadly, they may have to learn it the hard way, by their own miserable experience of it.

Or, they could read this: In Praise of Capitalism as the Engine of Freedom and Equality

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