[Every year at Thanksgiving-time I resurrect a column written by a fellow teacher, Kent Dillon, about the real reason we celebrate this holiday. It is a story no longer told in the textbooks because it is thoroughly unPC, and undermines the idea that government is the solver of all problems. We were teachers, as well as part of the crew, at The Flint School, a private, academic boarding school aboard two large sailing ships, and we used the world as a campus. Kent wrote this for the students’ parents 45 years ago, so they would know what their children were learning and experiencing.

Thanksgiving Day was a special day aboard the ships and we actively celebrated it as the birth of private property and the demise of collectivism. Our celebration wasn’t one of sleeping in or playing games with each other. We celebrated by working a specific task until completed, and then, when tired and hungry, we sat down to a huge feast of fresh cooked turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and shared camaraderie.

Even now in 2015, I can tell you that those Thanksgiving Day dinners of turkey, pies, and all the trimmings, after a day of meaningful labor, are still the tastiest I have ever eaten. ]

Thanksgiving Celebrated as the Birthday of Free Enterprise

By Kent Dillon

The celebration of Thanksgiving is a celebration of plenty and appreciation of the abundance that has characterized the free enterprise, individualistic, capitalistic systems of the US. This why America grew into the most productive, highest standard of living area in the world. The Pilgrims had arrived in what is now Provincetown, Mass., on November 11, 1620, but it was late in December before they finally settled in Plymouth. In the words of Gov. Bradford,

that which was most sad and lamentable was, that in 2 or 3 months time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases, so as there died sometimes 2 or 3 of a day, in the aforesaid time; that of 100 and odd persons, scarce 50 remained.

They spent their first winter building houses so that they could move off the Mayflower and by March all settlers had left the ship.

Scurvy and fever had taken their toll, as by then 15 of 18 wives had died as well as 19 of 29 hired men and servants and half of the 30 sailors. When the Mayflower departed she left 23 children and 27 adults behind, but not one Pilgrim returned to England.

The Pilgrims had placed all their food and provisions in what they called the “common store” which was set up on the socialist principle of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

As spring came they began to farm and by October took in their first harvest which went to the common store. It was a time to be thankful for their very survival. They had spent 67 days on the Atlantic with 132 people aboard a ship that was 128 ft. long, and survived to establish themselves and reap a harvest.

In November of 1621 the ship Fortune arrived with more than 30 new settlers, mostly young men. They apparently brought “not so much as a bisket-cake” with them, thus providing another drain on the common store for the coming winter. The future looked bleak as food supplies ran out and the “planned socialist” community began to starve again. The common store was practiced for a second year. The harvest was poor in spite of the added manpower and the colonists starved in the ensuing winter dramatically demonstrating once again that collective ownership in a socialist economy was unworkable and could not keep them alive.

Richard Grant in The Incredible Bread Machine writes,

The experience of the first Plymouth colony provides eloquent testimony to the unworkability of collective ownership of property. In his history of the Plymouth colony Governor Bradford described how the Pilgrims farmed the land in common, with the produce going into a common storehouse. For two years the Pilgrims faithfully practiced communal ownership of the means of production. And for two years nearly starved to death, rationed at times to “but a quarter of a pound of bread a day to each person.” Governor Bradford wrote that “famine must still ensue the next year also if not some way prevented.” He described how the colonists finally decided to introduce the institution of private property:

“[The colonists] began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. [In 1623] after much debate of things, the Gov. (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set down every man for his own … and to trust themselves … so assigned to every family a parcel of land. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Gov. or any other could use, … and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

Reflecting on the experience of the previous two years, Bradford goes on to describe the folly of communal ownership:

“The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; — that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the 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. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and cloths, than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice…”

The Colonists learned about “the wave of the future” the hard way. However, once having discovered the principle of private property, the results were dramatic. Bradford continues:

“By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And in the effect of their particular [private] planting was well seen, for all had, one way and other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others.”

The Jamestown colony in Virginia had similar experiences as they started under the same rules:

  1.  They were to own nothing.
  2.  They were to receive only as much food and clothing as they needed.
  3.  Everything that the men secured from trade or produced from the land had to go into the common storehouse.

Of the 104 men that started the Jamestown colony in 1607 only 38 survived the first year and even those had to be marched to the fields “to the beat of a drum” simply to grow food to keep them alive in the next year. Captain John Smith writes after the common store concept was abandoned:

When our people were fed out of the common store, and labored jointly together, glad was he could slip from his labor, or slumber over his task he cared not how, nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true pains in a week, as now for themselves they will do in a day. … We reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty, as now three or four do provide for themselves.

The Thanksgiving we celebrate is for the success of the Pilgrims after establishing property rights and free enterprise as that event laid the foundation for the growth of America.

Were our Pilgrim and Jamestown colony forefathers to wake up from the dead and look at the graduated taxation (from each according to his ability) and welfare programs (to each according to his need) we have today they might offer us a lesson in history by simply quoting Goethe, “Those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to relive them.”

No longer do the textbooks mention the effects of the common store and the continued starvation until the system of free enterprise and private property was established. Don’t you wonder why the idea of the Great American Experiment is a forgotten concept? And why the writings of de Tocqueville are a “forgotten analysis” in today’s education? As Americana moves into the “planned socialist economy,” those who have moved our country in that direction have made sure that the early lessons of the “police state” force needed to maintain Jamestown’s social plan (Captain John Smith’s guns) and of the starvation and death that resulted from the lack of motivation inspired by the “common storehouse” have been eliminated from our children’s instruction.

Thanksgiving isn’t just a break from work, a time to stuff ourselves with turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie, it is a time to remember the true significance of the holiday, and pass on the lessons from our forefathers to our children who won’t learn these lessons in school, and thus must learn them elsewhere.


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