Happy Thanksgiving from G.W. Mitchell Construction
The story of the Pilgrims begins in the early part of the seventeenth century. The Church of England under King James was persecuting anybody and everybody who did not recognize its absolute civil and spiritual authority. The government was God, the government was the religion, the government was the church. Those who challenged that, those who believed strongly in freedom of worship, were hunted down, imprisoned and sometimes executed for their religious beliefs in 1600s England.
A group of separatists first fled to Holland, and they established a community there. After 11 years, persecution was catching up with them in Holland, and 40 of them agreed to make the journey to what was then called the New World, where they knew they would certainly face hardships. But the promise was that they could live and worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. So, August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. There were 102 passengers, including 40 Pilgrims. The 40 Pilgrims were led by a man named William Bradford.
On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, the Mayflower Compact. It called for just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Where did the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Mayflower Compact come from? These were religious people. They came from the Bible. The Pilgrims were people that were completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. Because of the biblical precedents in Scripture, they didn’t doubt their experiment would work.
They were people with incredible faith. The journey to the New World was long and it was arduous. When they landed in New England in November, according to Bradford’s journal, they found a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. No friends to greet them. Rocks and coastline. No houses. There were no hotels, no inns, and the sacrifices they had made for freedom was just beginning.
During the first winter, half of them died, including William Bradford’s own wife, of either starvation, sickness, or exposure. When spring finally came, Native Americans, did indeed teach the settlers how to plant corn, how to fish for cod, skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, but they didn’t prosper. Not yet.
To make the journey to the new world, the Pilgrims had merchant sponsors. The reason for the original contract that the Pilgrims all signed aboard the Mayflower was to establish a common purse to pay back the sponsors. They didn’t have any money. These sponsors were in Holland and London and they had to be repaid.
That contract called for everything the Pilgrims produced to go into a common store, a single bank account. Each member of the community was entitled to an equal share of the gross. This was fair. This was equal. All the land they cleared, the houses they built, they belonged to the community as well.
Nobody owned anything. Everything was owned by the community and everybody had equal share to all of it. They were going to distribute it equally. All the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community. Now, William Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this wasn’t working. They weren’t making any money to pay off the sponsors. Since everybody got an equal share no matter what, there were some lazy sloths. Yes, some of the original Pilgrims just sat around and did nothing all day while the others picked up the slack.
Bradford saw this wasn’t going to work. Essentially, they tore up that first contract which, although they didn’t know it, was socialism. They created a new community based on what we would call capitalism today. The more you produced, the more you got to keep. The harder you worked, the greater were the fruits of your labors. If you wanted a larger home than somebody else, and you could afford to build it, you did and didn’t have to share it.
This change unleashed everything, and the Pilgrims became an economic concern. They experienced economic plenty far greater than they had under the previous Mayflower Compact arrangement. Bradford writes about all of this in his journal, and it is for this that the original Pilgrims gave thanks to God for helping them to survive and thrive in a place none had ever been.
The great Pilgrim migration occurred because of the overwhelming success of growing their community. The word of what the Pilgrims had done spread. The ships going back and forth from the New World to England and Europe spread the news of this newfound prosperity of this New World, new opportunities, religious freedom and other freedoms that had been created after the arrival of the Pilgrims. They set up free enterprise where the fruits of your labor determined what you got, what you had, and what you were able to do. It was so successful, and that’s what they gave thanks for.
These were deeply religious people. They were giving thanks for having been shown the light, the word spread, and that began the Great Puritan Migration. That’s when the flood of European arrivals began, after the success of the original Plymouth colony.
This was the story that George Washington had in mind when he gave the Thanksgiving proclamation on October 3rd, 1789.
By the President of the United States of America – a Proclamation
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
Also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.