Your privately owned farm: The foundation for future American Thanksgivings

As of this Thanksgiving Day, only one person has reminded me of that first discovery which enabled the Plymouth Colony to survive, thrive and start America's Thanksgiving tradition:  My favorite analyst and adventurer, Jack Wheeler.

November 22, 2018   By Jerry Carlson — There may still be some American schoolkids who are taught how the Plymouth Colonists learned corn-growing from Squanto, a surviving Patuxent tribesman. Squanto had been abducted to England by a previous English expedition five years earlier, and he was the tribe's only survivor. He did show the settlers how to "set" (plant) and grow corn. William Bradford's history Of Plymouth Plantation documents the "rest of the story." Colonists escaped starvation by converting from socialism to private enterprise. The underlying truth offers a lesser-known Thanksgiving message to your family, and to all Americans. 

The original pilgrims suffered hunger and conflicts among themselves trying to live with the altruistic philosophy of holding "all things in common." William Bradford's leadership converted the continent's new settlers to private farming. The first season that was tried, each family had extra food to sell, and the roots of free enterprise began growing deep into the American countryside. 

Jack Wheeler's article posted today on To The Point News reminded me of Bradford's book. I read it several years ago and gave it to one of the entrepreneurs among our children.

Jack's website is one of the few sources I pay to read. Even without a subscription, the nearby link will take you to his site, where you can see the opening lines of his password-protected article, "The Lesson of Thanksgiving." 

The core of Jack's report today is an extended excerpt from Bradford's story of how private farming laid the groundwork for modern America's abundance.

Jack also reminds today's Americans how the siren of socialism keeps luring the lazy and uninformed down the vortex spiraling into deprivation and dictatorship. Tragic examples are plentiful today, even among wealthy and well-educated citizens like those in Venezuela and Argentina. People in several other socialist-model Latin American countries like Honduras and El Salvador are trying to escape — to America.

The Pilgrims arrived in December 1620 and endured a bitter winter, living mostly from provisions brought on the Mayflower. Fewer than half of the original Mayflower passengers survived into fall 1621. Even so, they organized that original religious event now known as Thanksgiving. For three days,  the 53 surviving Pilgrims shared food and friendship with Chief Massasoit and 90 of his men. Contemporaneous accounts indicate that the tribesmen brought at least five deer, waterfowl and possibly even turkey. But by spring 1622, the colonists were starving. 

William Bradford became America's first significant ag journalist, writing in 1647 the full history of how his colonists managed to create abundance starting in the spring of 1623. Private enterprise on the land gave rise to the real First Thanksgiving in fall 1623. Here's Bradford's original report (with some archaic spelling amended). The story picks up with 1622. 

It may be thought strange that these people should fall to these extremities in so short a time, being left competently provided when the ship [the Mayflower] left them, and had an addition by that portion of corn that was got by trade, besides much they got of the Indians where they lived, by one means and other.

It must needs be their great disorder, for they spent excessively whilst they had, or could get it. And after they began to come into wants, many sold away their clothes and bed coverings; others (so base were they) became servants to the Indians, and would cut them wood and fetch them water for a cap full of corn; others fell to plain stealing, both night and day, from the Indians, of which they grievously complained. In the end, they came to that misery that some starved and died with cold and hunger…

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 [Bradford] (with the advise of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular [plant corn on his own private land], and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before.

And so [there was] 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 then 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 they 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 communities into a common wealth, 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 labor and service did repine [complain] that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, with out any recompense.

The strong, or man of parts, had no more in amount 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, and victails, 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 them selves in the like condition, and have 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 of 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…

By the time harvest was come [fall 1623], instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had, one way and other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day [1647].