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The Truth of Thanksgiving


Dr. Jay Worth Allen

There is too much squawking these days about the Decline of the Thanksgiving Holiday.  Macy’s Parade ratings are down, the fan base is shrinking, and even the Democratic Party says radical changes are needed to keep the Show alive.

Many alarming statistics are cited to show that Thanksgiving, as we know it, is withering away right in front of our eyes.

But none of this is true.  It is a landslide of gibberish, dutifully parroted by News Media Talking-Heads.

So who cares?  Somebody has to fill all those holes in the widely cursed 24-hour news cycle.  We live in faster and faster Times.  Big news that only 200 years ago took nine weeks to cross the Atlantic, now travels everywhere in the world at the speed of light, and gossip travels even faster.

Any geek with a cheap computer can log on to the World Wide Web and spread terrifying rumors about Anthrax bombs exploding in Birmingham or, state as fact, that half the population of the 1620 Pilgrims would have been killed by brown fog of Ague Fever that blew in on a vagrant wind from Mongolia, if the Indians hadn’t stepped in to save them . . . And no American High School History Teacher would doubt for an instant that these things might not be true.  That is the wonderful perversity of News Gossip in the 21st Century.  Nothing is impossible to believe . . . except maybe the truth.

So what’s the Truth of Thanksgiving?1

On March 24, 1603, James 1, the only son of Mary Queen of Scots became King of England.  Not long after, the Church of England, by rule of their New King, began persecuting anyone and everyone who didn’t recognize The Crown’s absolute civil and spiritual authority.  Anyone who challenged the King’s ecclesiastical authority and anyone who believed strongly in everyone’s Individual Freedom to worship God as they choose, were hunted down, imprisoned, and off-times executed for their beliefs.  So a group of God-fearing Pilgrims decided to make tracks to Holland and established their own unshackled Christian community.

After a decade or so, forty of these Pilgrim Mercenaries resolved to make the touch-and-go trip to the New World, where they could hopefully, without loss of life-and-limb, live and worship God as they pleased.  So on August 1, 1620, the forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford, along with 80 other passengers, set sail on the goodly ship Mayflower.  During the pilgrimage, Bradford wrote-up an agreement, a Compact, that could, and would establish just and equal laws for all members of the New-World Colony, irrespective of their religious beliefs.  Smart thinker, Bradford.  Now you may ask, “Where did Brother William get these revolutionary ideas penned in his Mayflower Compact?”  The Christian Bible of course.  The Pilgrims were infused in the Holy-writings of both Testaments.  God wrote them.  They believed them.  And that was that.  The Bible was Bradford’s template for his Mayflower Compact2.  And he never doubted that his pilot study would work.

When the Pilgrims landed in New England on a nippy November morn, they found, “A cold, barren, desolate wilderness,” Bradford wrote in his journal.  No friends.  No food.  No shelter.  No Holiday Inns.  And this was just beginning.  During the first winter, half the Pilgrims (including Bradford’s wife) died of starvation, sickness and exposure.  When Spring finally came, the New-World Natives taught the Pilgrims how to plant crops, fish, hunt and the most advisable method for skinning a Beaver to fabricate fashionable frontier duds.

For a year or so, the Pilgrims lived in a world that seemed, at first, like some contrived fantasy.  It was obvious from the beginning, their reality bore little resemblance to what they had imagined - but there was a certain pleasure in sharing the community they were creating.  This, of course, is where most modern American history lessons end.  Thanksgiving is spelled-out in many Textbooks as a holiday for which the Pilgrims thanked their Indian friends for saving their lives, rather than as a devout expression of gratitude grounded in the tradition of their Faith.

So what have Modern Historians omitted?

First off, the original contract the Pilgrims had with their London merchant-sponsors (the guys who paid for their Mayflower trip) called for everything the community produced to go into a common storehouse, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share of whatever was produced.  This was the original “Share the Wealth” ploy.

All the land they cleared, the houses they built, the produce they grew, belonged to the community.  Everything had to be distributed equally.  Nobody owned anything.  No personal property.  No individualism.  Everyone had a share.  The Colony was kith-n-kin to a Hippie Commune - without the LSD and free-love, of course.  And it was a dismal failure.  This kind of environmental, feel-good structure never works.  But the Colony did learn a valuable lesson:  the most creative and industrious people have no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they can utilize personal motivation - personal gain.  The most able young men complained that they were working for other men’s wives and children without any recompense . . . that was thought unjust.  Why should you work for other people when you can’t work for yourself?  What’s the point?  The Pilgrims found that people can not be expected to do their best work without incentive.

William Bradford, who was governor of the colony, made a bold move.  He began assigning plots of land to each family to work, manage, and hopefully profit from.  He, in a nut-shell, turned loose the power of the Free Marketplace.  He set at liberty free enterprise by invoking the principle of private property.  Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and was permitted to market their own crops and products.  And the Colony prospered.  “This had very good success,” wrote Bradford, “for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”  Long before Karl Marx was a sparkle in his father’s eye, the Pilgrims had given socialism a trial-run, and figured out:  it don’t work!  Their experiment with socialism failed, so they scraped it permanently.

What Bradford wrote in his journal about their social experiment is true American History:  “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.”

In due course Trading Posts were set up and home-grown commodities were exchanged with their New World Neighbors.  The profits from this Private Economic System allowed each member of the Colony to pay off their debts to the Merchants in London.  As the success of the Plymouth settlement reached Europe, more trailblazing English Protestants began arriving and kicked-off what came to be known as the “Great Puritan Migration.”

So the real story of Thanksgiving is William Bradford’s Pilgrims giving thanks to God for His mercy, faithfulness, and guidance.  And their bounty was shared.  The Pilgrims and the New-World Natives did sit down and they did have Thanksgiving dinner - maybe it was turkey.  But one thing’s for sure, it was not the New-World Natives (the Indians) who saved the day.  It was the Lord, and the Pilgrims’ faith in Him who never fails.


1.  See:  Pilgrim Hall for excerpts of William Bradford's Journal, details of the first Thanksgiving by those who were there, and much more.    (back to text)

2.  See:  The Mayflower Compact     (back to text)


The Truth of Thanksgiving
Article published:  25 November 2010 on Freed In Christ! blogsite.
Article published:  25 November 2010 in The County Journal.

© 1998-2012 dr. jay & miss diana ministries, inc.  all rights reserved


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