‘Instead of Famine, Now God Gave Them Plenty’: The True Story of Thanksgiving We Need to Retell in 2020

The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us and the year 2020 has so far yielded a course of events remarkable in their extensive impact on our lives. From our health, our livelihoods, our politics, and our culture, the tumult has affected most parts of our lives. From social strife, Pandemic Panic, the economy, and historic political battles and culture wars, 2020 has been surreal.

As such, we owe it to ourselves more than ever this Thanksgiving to focus on the real reasons to be thankful. To surround ourselves with loved ones and ground ourselves in the self-evident truths that facilitate our blessings. In a time of moral strain, Marxists and masks should only reinforce our appreciation for and honoring of the core ideas that sparked the first Thanksgivings and underpin out national ethos — family and individual liberty. We owe ourselves a celebration of the true story of thanksgiving.

Historical first hand accounts of the Pilgrims’s first Thanksgivings celebrated by those in Plymouth Colony represent the moral underpinnings of the American idea. In giving thanks this holiday it is instructive to consider that this distinctly American sense for individual liberty and self-governance might not have been, were it not for family.

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Two very distinct paths existed for America in those early days of discovery: Plymouth Plantation or Jamestown. In one sense it can be reduced to family and freedom versus the State and it’s authority.

(How readily does that same dichotomy apply to 2020?)

The Pilgrims of Plymouth, who were fleeing religious persecution and State Church dogma to spread the word of God, contrast sharply with the first permanent English colony in Jamestown, which was driven by the State and the Church of England. The pioneers in Plymouth experienced an epiphany in recognizing the truth of man’s nature that led to enshrining individual liberties. State interests in Jamestown enforced a socialist scheme that nearly led to it’s ruin.

We should be thankful the Pilgrims’ is the history we celebrate. We’ve learned in 2020 that many wish we didn’t.

Unfortunately, the factual accounts of those first Thanksgivings and the reasons for them have been replaced with a simplistic narrative that obscures and warps the ‘reason for the season,’ as so often happens. It’s an innocuous vestige of the same anti-American Woke political movements running wild today. Luckily the sources are available to reclaim the purposely hidden historical perspective. The accounts also serve, an an age in which the nuclear family is under attack by critical theorists, to reinforce an appreciation for the role family played as an integral part of shaping the American idea.

From the outset, the Pilgrims were committed to religious freedom. The group had become rebels when its leaders insisted that they did not need the dictations of the Church of England, only the Bible, to live by God’s laws. They were well read, inquisitive and found the State’s authority over their faith and their families to be anathema. The falling out with the Church of England resulted in their first pilgrimage to establish a community in Leiden, Netherlands.

William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote of the Pilgrims’ (the Reformers) cause in his diaries:

“The one side [the Reformers] laboured to have ye right worship of God & discipline of Christ established in ye church, according to ye simplicitie of ye gospell, without the mixture of mens inventions, and to have & to be ruled by ye laws of Gods word, dispensed in those offices, & by those officers of Pastors, Teachers, & Elders, &c. according to ye Scripturs.

The other partie [the Church of England], though under many colours & pretences, endevored to have ye episcopall dignitie (affter ye popish maner) with their large power & jurisdiction still retained; with all those courts, cannons, & ceremonies, togeather with all such livings, revenues, & subordinate officers, with other such means as formerly upheld their antichristian greatnes, and enabled them with lordly & tyranous power to persecute ye poore servants of God.”

Remember, Jamestown is officially founded years before by the Crown and the Church of England with all their dictatorial trappings. This is literally what the Pilgrims are later escaping with their families in their first voyage to Holland. After a while in the Netherlands, though, the Pilgrims’ arrangements for safe co-existence were beginning to fall apart and plans for the fateful trip to the New World begin to take shape.

As opposed to the mostly male excursions of conquest to the New World, the Pilgrims’ voyage was different in that it was made up entirely of families — meaning lots of women and children on a two months long transatlantic voyage. It was an incredible commitment and risk, but they were confident they honored God with their quest for liberty.

Whereas the ships heading for Jamestown years earlier may have been filled with supplies to find gold, the Pilgrims dedicated precious space aboard the Mayflower to books. They brought over 400 books, a veritable library in that time. Bradford references Plato when describing the ‘vanity of that conceit’ of holding property collectively (socialism). It was with their families that they discussed such philosophy, challenged ideas, and worked toward a more perfect understanding of God’s creation.

It was the freedom to live as families, by their own faith, that made standing against the mighty Church of England worth it; that made the dangerous crossing of an ocean worth it.

Bradford was one of those Pilgrims that made the fearful voyage across an angry sea in 1620, hoping to find Virginia, but instead being forced by weather to what is now known as Massachusetts. Arriving during a harsh New England winter, the settlers were already at an incredible disadvantage.

Bradford kept extensive diaries, later discovered, in which he documented the harrowing experiences of the Plymouth Colony over those first few years and spelled out exactly what the Pilgrims were so thankful for in those first Thanksgivings.

After mighty struggle, it was an epiphany for which they gave thanks, Bradford said; and now, as then, it holds the secret to solving our ills and multiplying our blessings.

According to Bradford, there was an even more sinister force than a harsh winter threatening the survival of the diseased, and hungry Pilgrims – collectivism. The investors that financed the Mayflower’s expedition contracted that all property and profit obtained from the venture was to be held communally. All land, crop harvests, trade profits, etc., would be held collectively. The financiers thought, foolishly, that this was the best way to maximize their return on investment.

The results were disastrous. Bradford recounts in his diary that under the common stock system the young healthy men began to resent the mothers with children that did nothing to set corn, but ate just the same. After all, a person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take only what he needed. Some of those young men figured they too would lay back and take ‘according to need’ – the production of crops and other resources withered on the vine.

“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 Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth 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 labour 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 clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. […]”

During two years of death and starvation and delays in resupplies from England, the only thanks given was thanks to God that they were still alive despite their wretched condition. While their “bellies were filled” during a thanksgiving feast, it was only briefly, for they had but little. So in early 1623 Bradford set out to make a change, for with out abolishing this immoral system he knew they would not survive.

“So they 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. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that way trust to themselves […]”

Bradford and other colony leaders abandoned the failing system of socialism they had contracted, and instead began to implement a system of private property. The American idea was sparked.

“And so assigned every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. 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 Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, 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. […]”

In a land of plenty, with wild game, fruits, resources, and fertile land surrounding them, a communal system yielded laziness, resentment, and starvation. Bradford’s decision to change that system brought it more in line with human nature and laid the foundation that made these truths self-evident to Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson.

To Bradford, the superiority of these truths was a revelation from God, following the struggles of a system that discounted Man’s nature. The results were emblematic of the new system’s virtue.

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.”

It was after this epiphany that the Pilgrims produced so much that they invited the friendly Native Americans to join them in their overflowing feast of Thanksgiving. Giving thanks to God for showing them a more virtuous system. It was this divine understanding of Man’s nature that allowed their families to prosper.

In fact, in 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn. And so the growth in production continued on, on the premise of capitalism and private property and Individualism, until the founding of the United States of America – the most prosperous nation ever.

As with those first years, America’s story has not been without struggle. While this year has reminded us that such struggle can come quickly, and last long, the revelations the Pilgrims experienced teach us that all obstacles — natural or man-made — can be overcome by leaving free men and women to live and grow with their families as God intended.

So whether you break COVID mandates to gather the family around the dinner table to give thanks this year, or arrange a virtual feast, be sure to give thanks for the American idea that was learned, in hard lessons, by the settlers of Plymouth (and Jamestown before it).

Dispel the popular myth and tell your family and friends the real story of Thanksgiving, using Bradford’s own words. Strive to protect the principles that make that story so special, and which are under such direct attack some 400 years later.

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