Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The First Thanksgiving

America has long been the target of dreamers, dreaming for freedom and opportunity. History tells of of the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims, who after suffering vicious religious persecution by King James and the Church of England. Anyone who didn't recognize The Church of England and King James as the absolute civil and religious authority, and wanted to practice religious freedom, were hunted down,imprisoned, and often martyred for those beliefs.

There were a group who wouldn't bow to a belief that they didn't hold, and fled to Holland establishing a community there. After they lived in Holland for about eleven years there were around forty of them who agreed to take their chances on moving to the New World. This journey was a terrible risk, any journey at sea was perilous, they were sure to face incredible hardships throughout the journey and knowing that they would only be beginning upon their arrival if their trip was successful. However, they would be able to worship God as their beliefs led them, and by their own consciences.

On August 1st, 1620, they set sail on the Mayflower. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. While they traveled Bradford created a contract, The Mayflower Compact, that established what he believed would be fair and equal laws for all members of the new community, regardless of that member's religious beliefs. Bradford used the Bible and it's teachings as his inspiration for this compact.

The Pilgrims were completely educated and inculcated in the teachings from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Ancient Israel was their guide. The Pilgrims never doubted that their new community would work, because it's rules for governance were so familiar from their studies of their own Bibles throughout their entire lives.

On a cold, gray November day the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island. Can you imagine just finishing a long and punishing sea voyage to land on a cold New England November day, with no shelter in sight? There were no friends or family to greet them, for that matter no strangers, no baggage clerks, no warm shelters, no shelters out of the elements at all. This had to be a very sobering reminder that the sacrifices that they had made for freedom was just beginning.

That first winter was a brutal one, fully half of all the Pilgrims, including Bradford's own wife, died. They died of either starvation, illness, or exposure, some probably succumbed to the desperateness of their situation in this harsh strange forbidding land.

The first spring, as the sun warmed them, they had a chance to begin anew. Their new indigenous neighbors taught the settlers how to plant corn, how to fish for cod, and how to trap and skin wild animals for their coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims but they still struggled.

That fall, they held the first "Thanksgiving" celebrating the goodness that God had shown them. They shared this feast of thanks to God with their Indian neighbors. Too often are children are taught that Thanksgiving was to thank the Indians, that is not true, it was their devout expression of their gratitude to God for his deliverance and blessings. Remember, these people left behind their homes and all they knew to have the freedom to worship God, Thanksgiving, was to the very core of why they traveled in the first place.

To be able to afford to come to the New World, the Pilgrims has entered into a contract with merchant sponsors in London. This was common practice and how most settlements in America were first founded. Their contract with there sponsors called for everything that was produced to go into a common hold, and each member of the community would be entitled to one common share. This common ownership extended to all the land they cleared, the houses they built, everything would be held in common, a commune if you will.

After that first year Bradford realized that this communal living was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as their first brutal winter. He decided to make a courageous change. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage as they saw fit. He released the power of the free market, where each could work harder or smarter and could be rewarded accordingly.

William Bradford's own Journal tell us this story in his own words.

"The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years...that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, 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 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...that was thought injustice."

This experiment with allowing the Free Market to work instead of the more Socialistic approach worked brilliantly. It worked over 100 years before Adam Smith taught the world about Free Market Capitalism. Socialism didn't work when tried over 200 years before Karl Marx introduced it to the world. By following their Biblical training the Pilgrims stumbled on the magic economic elixir. From then on they had an abundance. Their success allowed them to pay off their debts to their London merchant sponsors early. Word came back of their great successes starting more Europeans who began what came to be known as the "Great Puritan Migration" each seeking their own freedoms of both religion and of opportunity.

From the beginning America has been a land of dreams, a land of freedom, and most importantly and at the beginning of it and interwoven into every fabric of our national foundation, the worship of God.

This Thanksgiving, we all should truly be thankful for all of God's blessings in each of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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