Jenny EriksonThis is the third of a three-part series on Thankfulness for the Pilgrimage to America. Read the first part Thank You, Pilgrims, for Religious Freedom, and the second part Thank You, Pilgrims, for Democracy.
When the Pilgrims first arrived in America, it was cold -- really, really cold. We’re talking Massachusetts-in-winter-cold, because, well, it was Massachusetts in winter.
They did not fare well that first winter, and almost half of them died.
Once spring came, the Mayflower and her crew departed, and the settlers began to build a community. The men built things and worked the land, and the women did chores and minded the children. They lived a communal life, with everyone working together for the good of the group. In other words, they were socialists.
Since they were good-natured and amiable people, they made friends with the natives, particularly Samoset and Squanto. Both men spoke English, so they were able to tell the Pilgrims about the area, and give them helpful tips on farming the land. After the first harvest, they shot some turkeys and had themselves a multicultural feast of Thanksgiving, beginning a tradition that we continue to this day.
Despite their friendly relationship with the Native Americans and their desire to build a democratic society free from religious oppression, the Pilgrims continued to struggle those first few years. By 1623, the tiny Plymouth colony was on the brink of collapse.
The Governor, William Bradford, knew that drastic measures needed to be taken to ensure the survival of the Pilgrims. He abandoned the communal lifestyle and instead gave each individual or family a plot of land they could call their own, to work as they saw fit. They were instructed to farm as much as they liked, and anything not consumed by the family could be sold for other goods and services provided by their neighbors.
Private property rights and capitalism in America was born. William Bradford wrote in his journal about the profound and immediate effect on morale and prosperity that his new system brought to Plymouth:
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, 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.
William Bradford understood basic human nature. He understood that people desire to reap the benefits of their labor, to see their tasks and toils come into fruition. How much sweeter is that reward which we earn ourselves than the one handed to us for participation? Bradford knew that pride of ownership would encourage the people to work the land, and work the land they did.
The next harvest saw a surplus of corn.
Without the Pilgrims and their ‘radical’ new society that ensured religious freedom, demanded equal justice for all, and valued personal property rights, America might have died before it even began. I am thankful to the Pilgrims and their part in establishing the greatest, most productive, most charitable nation in history.