"Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." —Psalm 100:4-5
Thanksgiving, as introduced by European explorers and settlers in the "New World," was a time set aside specifically for the purpose of giving thanks to our Creator for His manifold blessings.
The earliest record of a thanksgiving in America is 1541 by Spanish explorer Coronado at Palo Duro Canyon in what is now Texas. French Protestant colonists at Charlesfort (now Parris Island, South Carolina) held a thanksgiving service in 1564. In 1607, the Jamestown settlers held thanksgiving at Cape Henry, Virginia, and there are many other records of such hallowed observances. The first call for an annual Thanksgiving was at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, in 1619, when Captain John Woodlief and 38 settlers aboard the ship Margaret, proclaimed, "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacion in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
But the contemporary celebration of Thanksgiving across our nation has its roots in the first "harvest feast" celebrated in 1621 by religious refugees, Pilgrims, who established the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, in the year 1620. According to the fact that most history books following the War Between the States were written by Northern historians, it is that iconic event which is most directly associated with the current traditions for our national Day of Thanksgiving.
The Pilgirms Who were these "freedom men," and how did they eventually blaze the path of true liberty?
They were "separatists" who later came to be known as the "Pilgrims," -- Calvinist Protestants, most under the leadership of pastor John Robinson, church elder William Brewster, and William Bradford. They rejected the institutional Church of England, believing that worshipping God must originate freely in the individual soul, without coercion.
Suffering [religious] persecution and imprisonment in England for their beliefs, these separatists fled to Holland in 1608. There, they found spiritual liberty in the midst of a disjointed economy that failed to provide adequate compensation for their labors, and a dissolute, degraded, corrupt culture that tempted their children to stray from faith. Determined to protect their families from such spiritual and cultural degradation, the Pilgrims returned to Plymouth, England, where they arranged for passage to the New World.
On September 6th, 1620, aboard a 100 foot ship named Mayflower, 102 Pilgrims and 30 crew members departed for America, a place that offered the promise of both civil and religious liberty. Among those in command of the expedition were Christopher Martin, designated by the Merchant Adventurers to act as Governor, and Myles Standish, who would be the colony's military leader.
After an arduous eight week journey, on November 11 they dropped anchor at Provincetown Harbor off the coast of what is now Massachusetts.
On 11 December 1620, prior to disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they signed theMayflower Compact, America's original document of civil government. It was the first to introduce self-government, and the foundation on which the Declaration of Independenceand the Constitution were built. Plymouth Colony's Governor, William Bradford, described the Compact as "a combination ... that when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them."
The First Harvest Thanksgiving Feast
Upon making landfall, the Pilgrims conducted a prayer service and quickly turned to building shelters. They committed all their belongings to a "comone wealth." Under harrowing conditions, the colonists persisted through prayer and hard work, but the Winter of 1621 was devastating and only 53 of the original party survived. William Bradford wrote, "of these one hundred persons who came over in this first ship together, the greatest half died in the general mortality, and most of them in two or three months' time."
However, with the help of the indigenous "Indians" in the region, the summer of 1621 was productive as recorded by Bradford in his diary: "They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion."
In addition to their regular expressions of reverence and thanksgiving to God, by the Autumn of 1621 the surviving 53 Pilgrims had enough produce to hold a three day "harvest feast." That feast was described in the journal of Edward Winslow: "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
The Pilgrims endured another harsh winter, but had put up enough stores to survive.
The Collectivist Plantation Plan
Endeavoring to improve the production at Plymouth Plantation for its second growing season in 1622, Governor Bradford implemented a collectivist policy, and noted that to increase production, he allotted each family a plot of land, and mandated that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means" must be forfeited to a common storehouse in order that "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock."
In theory, their Governor thought the colony would thrive because each family would receive equal share of produce without regard to their contribution. Unfortunately, then as always, collectivism only works in theory, and the new policy almost destroyed the Plymouth settlement. Indeed, collectivism is antithetical to human nature, and destined to fail, as Plato's student Aristotle observed in 350 BC: "That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it." But to this day, many still fail to grasp the "tragedy of the commons."
After abysmal results in 1622, Bradford realized that his collectivist plan had undermined the incentive to produce. He wrote, "The failure of that experiment of communal service ... the taking away of private property, and the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth ... was found to breed much confusion and discontent; and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit.... For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men's wives and children, without any recompense.... The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice. The aged and graver men, who were ranked and equalized in labor, food, clothes, etc., with the humbler and younger ones, thought it some indignity and disrespect to them."
The women "who were obliged to do service for other men, such as cooking, washing their clothes, etc., they considered it a kind of slavery, and many husbands would not brook it...."
"If all were to share alike, and all were to do alike," wrote Bradford, "then all were on an equality throughout, and one was as good as another; and so, if it did not actually abolish those very relations which God himself has set among men, it did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved amongst them. Let none argue that this is due to human failing, rather than to this communistic plan of life in itself...."
The Free Enterprise Plan
Responding to the failed economic plantation plan, the Colony leaders "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," Bradford recorded in his journal. "At length after much debate of things, (I) (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."
They decided to trade their collectivist plan for a free market approach, and in 1623, Bradford wrote, "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 other means the Governor or any other could use. ... Women went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn. Instead of famine now God gave them plenty and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. ... Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day."
Property ownership and families freely laboring on their own behalf replaced the "common store," but only after their ill-advised experiment with communism nearly wiped out the entire settlement.
The Colony celebrated a much greater Harvest and Thanksgiving Day in 1623 as called for by Bradford's proclamation:
"In asmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."
After the Pilgrims were given liberty and incentive to be industrious, the Colony thrived, and by 1624, production was so abundant that the Colony exported corn back to England. For generations since, to the extent men have been set at perfect liberty to establish free enterprise, to produce goods and services without having profits seized for redistribution, our nation has thrived.
The Pilgrims' Christian Legacy of Liberty
William Bradford wrote of the Pilgrims' objectives to share the Gospel of Jesus: "Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work."
Having broken ground for religious Liberty, in the 20 years following the establishment of Plymouth Plantation, more than 25,000 men, women and children followed them to the New World, seeking first and foremost, religious Liberty. Over the next two hundred years, millions of seekers would follow, forming the bedrock of our nation.
The establishment of religious Liberty was tantamount in our Declaration of Independenceassertion, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
That eternal truth is the basis for the First Amendment of our Constitution's Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The Father of our Country, George Washington, wrote, "To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian. The signal Instances of providential Goodness which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labours with complete Success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of Gratitude and Piety to the Supreme Author of all Good."
In 1789, after adopting the Bill of Rights to our Constitution, among the first official acts of Congress was approving a motion for proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving, recommending that citizens gather together and give thanks to God for their new nation's blessings.
The first Thanksgiving Day designated by the United States of America was proclaimed by George Washington on October 3, 1789.
Thanksgiving celebrations were irregularly proclaimed in the years that followed until the War Between the States. After 1863, presidents issued annual proclamations of Thanksgiving.Norman Rockwell, 1943
In 1941, with World War II on the horizon, the Senate and House approved the fourth Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanksgiving, perpetuating the observance annually.
Thanksgiving and our Legacy of Liberty
Appropriately crediting the Pilgrims for chartering the path of American freedom, President Ronald Reagan made frequent reference to John Winthrop's "shining city upon a hill." As Reagan explained, "The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free."
Closing his farewell address in 1989, President Reagan asked, "And how stands the city on this winter night?"
Contemplating our Legacy of Liberty this Thanksgiving, more than two decades after President Reagan left office, how stands the city on our watch?
Source: The Patriot Post
Enjoy this short film describing the values our country was founded upon and how important it is to preserve these freedoms in order to maintain the founding principles those who fled persection sought in America.
We are the last great hope and if we lose these freedoms, nobody has anywhere with such opportunities left to turn.
Liberty once lost is gone forever~John Adams
I hope you enjoyed this historical insight and will share it with others as we celebrate Thanksgiving weekend.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, give thanks for your family and good health, but most of all be thankful for this great country and the freedoms we have been endowed by our Creator. No government or man shall take any of our inalieanble rights away, we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without the government infringing on those rights. Those who are willing to give up freedom for security/dependence will end up with neither.[paraphrased of Benjamin Franklin]
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