Thanksgiving – The History Behind the History

As an incessant student of history, I often discover gems that have been omitted from historSilhouette fedoray books. Since this is Thanksgiving week, we often think about the Mayflower pilgrims and the challenges they faced almost four hundred years ago.
The plight of those pilgrims began long before they landed at Plymouth Rock. King James, who was notorious for re-organizing the Church of England for his own convenience, was out to persecute any individual or church who went against his desires. A number of devoted believers immigrated to Holland in hopes of establishing a Christian community. However, about forty of these Christians were still not happy with the situation and decided to take the dangerous journey across the ocean, where they believed they could openly worship God and, perhaps, create a better life.
So, on August 1, 1620, 102 passengers, including William Bradford and the forty Christians, left the comforts of European civilization for the vast unknown of the New World. During the voyage, Bradford drew up a contract—the Mayflower Compact—for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. The new society would be ruled by majority and based on equal ownership of all supplies.
The Mayflower finally dropped anchor on November 11, 1620. The ship was supposed to have landed in Virginia, but due to a storm it missed its mark and landed in Massachusetts. The first winter devastated the travelers, who were already weakened by the seven week crossing. By spring, only 46 of the original 102 travelers were still alive.
Most of us know the next part of the story—the part where many of the pilgrims died and how Squanto, an English-speaking Indian, lived with the pilgrims for several months. And how the Wampanoag Indians taught the settlers how to fish, plant vegetables, and skin beaver for coats, among other survival skills.
However, what you may not know is that the pilgrims who survived that first difficult year learned something else important, something that somehow got left out of history books. The survivors discovered that equal ownership—equal distribution of food and supplies— wasn’t working. On paper, it sounded good. Everyone worked for the common good of all. All the land was owned by the community, all the crops were owned by the community, all of everything was owned by the community. It sounded like it should’ve been a utopian society. But in actual practice, it just didn’t work. They nearly starved and no one prospered. Eventually, the hard workers resented that others sat idle yet had the same benefits.
Bradford, now the governor of the colony, verbalized what the community had learned—no matter how industrious a man was, he had no incentive to work harder than anyone else.
Bradford devised a new plan. Instead of the community at-large owning the land and everything on the land, he divided into it sections and assigned a section to each family. Instead of the results of their labor going into a common area to be shared by all, they would retain their own goods.
The new landowners became very industrious. Soon they were bartering among themselves and with the Indians. Their output soared.
By the autumn of 1621, the harvest was so bountiful that the colonists called for a feast. And you know the rest of that story.
Do you have any “stories behind the story” you’d like to share? I’m always eager to hear the history that doesn’t make it into the text books.
Whether you do or you don’t, I hope you enjoy an abundant Thanksgiving.

10 Thoughts on “Thanksgiving – The History Behind the History

  1. Joan Edmonds on November 28, 2017 at 11:15 am said:

    Thanks for your Thanksgiving story. I do remember quite a bit. My 9th grade history teacher really got us into this era. Fascinating.
    On my mother’s side of the family the Dutch ship De Bonte Koe (The Spotted Cow) set sail on April 15th, 1660 from Amsterdam with soldiers, settlers and supplies for the Dutch colonies along the Hudson in North America. Of the 18 soldiers on board only Pieter Pieterzen, progenitor of the Ostrander family in America and a cadet int the army of the Dutch republic, was accompanied by his wife and children. Two months later the ship arrived off Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch colonial capital at the tip of Manhattan Island, and shortly afterward the Pieter Pieterzen family was among the 70 or so settlers at the farming community called Esopus, about 90 miles upriver on the Hudson.

    • Don Kesterson on November 28, 2017 at 12:01 pm said:

      So you could join the DAR. Have you? If you haven’t with that heritage you should strongly consider.

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  4. Thanks for finally writing about > Thanksgiving – The History Behind the
    History | Don Kesterson < Liked it!

  5. First off I would like to say excellent blog!
    I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
    I’ve had a tough time clearing my mind in getting
    my ideas out there. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like
    the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!

    • kestersond on December 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm said:

      Well, my mentors have taught me two critical things: First, have a focus statement. One sentence that is the theme of your manuscript/short story. Second, make an outline of your project beginning to end. Build your story off your outline. Obviously it is easy to edit and you don’t end up wasting words/time. Okay, it will minimize that not stop it. Naturally, there will still be that time that you feel was lost on your project. Use your 10 to 15 minutes that you are on the run to get started, get your free flowing ideas down on paper, then go back to your outline. Good luck, hope I have helped.

  6. Joan Edmonds on November 27, 2013 at 8:25 am said:

    Very interesting. I never heard of Wlm. Bradford + 40
    Keep the stories coming.

  7. very nice don…continue

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