You’ve no doubt heard the well-known story of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But did you know that what you’ve heard is drastically inaccurate?
According to the writings of William Bradford, the colony’s first governor, the hardships and near-starvation of the entire population occurred because the colonists turned their backs on capitalism. They believed the old lie that an economy based on the concept of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” can actually work. They instituted a socialist system, and found out that socialism causes disaster:
The harvest of 1623 was different. Suddenly, “instead of famine now God gave them plenty,” Bradford wrote, “and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” Thereafter, he wrote, “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.” In fact, in 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn.
After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, “they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop.” They began to question their form of economic organization.
This had required that “all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, “all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.” A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take out only what he needed.
This “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were starving. Bradford writes that “young men that are most able and fit for labor and service” complained about being forced to “spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children.” Also, “the strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak.” So the young and strong refused to work and the total amount of food produced was never adequate.
To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of famines.
For more on the lessons the pilgrims learned, see this piece by Rick Williams, Jr.