The Pilgrim’s politically incorrect story of survival

Posted By | November 29, 2019 6:07 am

Language of Liberty – By Karen Lees

Relatively few public school students remain who remember the true story of the Pilgrim’s first few perilous years in Plymouth Colony. The historic record was at one time a valuable part of American education. Essential lessons were learned from the failure of our nation’s first disastrous experiment with communism. The first settlers’ failure actually cemented the establishment of free market principles in the new world as the far superior economic system.

The politically correct narrative in today’s American history textbooks simply do not support the facts, so the truth has dwindled into obscurity over the many years of revision. As J.R.R. Tolkien commented in Lord of the Rings, “History became legend. Legend became myth. [And after many years it] passed out of all knowledge.”

American public school students are led to believe a false narrative that goes something like this: That first Thanksgiving of 1621, the Pilgrims nearly starved to death in their new home because they were incompetent farmers and hunters. The following spring, the kindly local Indians showed them how to plant crops and hunt wild game. When the next harvest season came around, their crops were so bountiful that the Pilgrims held a celebration to thank the Indians for saving their lives.

Aside from being factually inaccurate, this revision of history leaves out some important information essential to understanding principles of liberty and the deadly folly of socialism.

Plymouth Colony, founded in 1620, was governed by a pre-determined social contract. The original charter, mandated by the investors who financed the Pilgrim’s endeavor, called for a system of communal property and labor. This system was the popular prevailing political theory at the time in Europe and Britain.

Jerry Bowyer writes, “The charter of the Plymouth Colony reflected the most up-to-date economic, philosophical and religious thinking of the early 17th century. Plato was in vogue then, and Plato believed in central planning by intellectuals in the context of communal property, centralized state education, state centralized cultural offerings and communal family structure.”

An English writer described the devastation, which existed as recently as 1844 when his nation experimented with communism: “Full one third of our population [the UK] subsist entirely, or rather starve, upon potatoes alone, another third have, in addition to this edible, oaten or inferior wheaten bread, with one or two meals of fat pork, or the refuse of the shambles [slaughterhouses], per week; while a considerable majority of the re­maining third seldom are able to procure an ample daily supply of good butcher’s meat or obtain the luxury of poultry from year to year…On the continent of Europe, population is still in a worse condition…”

Human nature being what it is, the communal system lacks the essential built-in motivation to work. Principles of the free market system cannot be thwarted without devastating economic consequences. As old as mankind is the truth “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

Founder of the Plymouth Colony, Governor William Bradford, recorded in his diary “Of Plymouth Plantation” that the people had been known for their “virtue and hard work”, but under the communal system, became “lazy and unproductive.” It’s no wonder. All incentive to work had been removed.

After two and a half years, with more than half of the Pilgrim population taken by starvation and disease, the decision was made to ditch the charter promoting the system of communism and opt for a system where each should keep the fruits of their own labor.

William Bradford then wrote, “…[N]o supply was heard of, neither knew 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…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)…This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then other ways would have been by any means ye 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 ye 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.”

As a result of applying a principle of liberty, grounded in the natural right to private property – to keep the fruits of one’s own labor – the remaining Pilgrims not only survived, but thrived. Thus, the iconic first Thanksgiving of 1623 was celebrated with a feast, giving thanks to God for their prosperity, which has endured as an American tradition for more than 400 years.

To set the historic record straight, the Indians and Pilgrims aided each other to their mutual benefit. They celebrated together, all giving thanks to God for their blessings. But it was a principle of liberty essential to a free society that saved the Pilgrim’s lives.

Bradford concluded, “The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men, proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, — that the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.”

The Language of Liberty series is an outreach project of the Center for Self Governance, a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in principles of liberty. The views expressed by the authors are their own and may not reflect the views of CSG.  

comments » 2

  1. Comment by Donald Holman

    December 2, 2019 at 7:42 am

    Great job of correcting and explaining the true history of the Thanksgiving celebration! It is due in no small part to the efforts of yourself, and the organization you (literally) serve with, that the truths of not just this moment in history, but many others, are kept alive. One way to change the character of a nation is to change their founding principals, and the character of their founders. It is no accident that this present generation can find only criticism for our forefathers. I doubt they would want their own lives or the lives of those they love judged in such a harsh fashion! While our founders were not saints, it is a miracle that our founding documents are so well written that they have stood the test of the centuries. Their character reflects the character of the men that wrote them, seeking only to provide the most fair and just way to order a society and to share power equally. Thank you for your efforts to push back against the efforts of those present day imperfect men and women, who claim perfection should be the mark for a man’s life to be exalted. The men and women that built this nation were true heroes that risked everything they had to found this country and bequeath to us the prosperity we presently enjoy. Thanks again for helping to remind us of these wonderful people, and their life and death struggles to establish this country!

  2. Comment by Eartha

    December 2, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Can we also blame their fundamentalist evangelical beliefs?

The comments are closed.

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