The Story of the First Thanksgiving


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This is a re-post from last year.  I could think of nothing better to write, other than to wish all of you a Happy and “grope free” Thanksgiving!

I heard  this story years ago, so I thought I’d post it.

The official story has the pilgrims boarding the Mayflower, coming to America and establishing the Plymouth colony in the winter of 1620-21. This first winter is hard, and half the colonists die. But the survivors are hard working and tenacious, and they learn new farming techniques from the Indians. The harvest of 1621 is bountiful. The Pilgrims hold a celebration, and give thanks to God. They are grateful for the wonderful new abundant land He has given them.

The official story then has the Pilgrims living more or less happily ever after, each year repeating the first Thanksgiving. Other early colonies also have hard times at first, but they soon prosper and adopt the annual tradition of giving thanks for this prosperous new land called America.

The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.

In his ‘History of Plymouth Plantation,’ the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years, because they refused to work in the fields. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” The crops were small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”

In the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622, “all had their hungry bellies filled,” but only briefly. The prevailing condition during those years was not the abundance the official story claims, it was famine and death. The first “Thanksgiving” was not so much a celebration as it was the last meal of condemned men.

But in subsequent years something changes. 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.

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What happened?

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.

Many early groups of colonists set up socialist states, all with the same terrible results. At Jamestown, established in 1607, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived, less than half would survive their first twelve months in America. Most of the work was being done by only one-fifth of the men, the other four-fifths choosing to be parasites. In the winter of 1609-10, called “The Starving Time,” the population fell from five-hundred to sixty.

Then the Jamestown colony was converted to a free market, and the results were every bit as dramatic as those at Plymouth. In 1614, Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch there was “plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure.” He said that when the socialist system had prevailed, “we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”

Happy Thanksgiving all.  Thanks for all of your comments and encouragement.


  • Good post!! I hope you and yours have a terrific and blessed Thanksgiving.

    • Thanks Teresa. Same to you and yours.

  • Don

    This post is excellent, Matt.

    When asked about this story of the first experiment with socialism on US soil, President Obama is quoted as saying, “The difference between back then and now is, you got me.”

    • Thanks Don. I really couldn’t think of anything better. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, my friend.

      • Don

        Happy Turkey Day, Matt!

  • Great post. I had no idea about the socialism aspect. I’ve always maintained that socialism has failed wherever it has been tried, and I can still make that claim.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Indeed sir. Socialism should be the universal symbol of failure. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Have a safe, peaceful and great Thanksgiving with whoever you are blessed to be with Matt.

    • Same to you Randy.

  • Thanks for sharing the story and inspiration of the first Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, Matt.

    • Thank you Larry, and have a great Thanksgiving.

  • Great post, and I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving with your family!

  • Great stuff, Matt.

    This is a story that needs to be heard every single Thanksgiving. Too many people don’t know it and even fewer understand the message.

    Also, have a rad Thanksgiving Matt. Thanks for all the support and encouragement this year.

    • Thanks KS. And I have to thank you for your support and many links.

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  • Happy Thanksgiving, Matt!

    • Same you TCL.

  • Jim

    I have to concur with KS. This story of how it really was should be told at the dinner table every Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing, Matt. Have a great Thanksgiving.


    • I agree Jim, thanks for the comment, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  • Great post, Matt, even if it was from last year. 😛 Socialism didn’t work for the pilgrims either.

    Have a great and grope-free Thanksgiving yourself.

    PS- I wonder how long before airlines will start CHARGING for the grope???

  • Between Don and I, we did so many holiday posts that we didn’t need to change too much. That, and this one is a good story that needs to be told again and again.

  • That was a very interesting story Matt. I knew that they set up an early form of socialism but I didn’t know the results. Thanks for the info. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving my friend.

    • Thank you John. Have a good Thanksgiving.

  • ew-3

    To add a bit to the history, in the spring of 1621, the Pilgrims sent boats up to Damariscove Island, in what is now Maine, to beg for assistance. The fishermen were generous to the Pilgrims. Without their help the Pilgrims would likely not have survived.
    In what could be considered insight to how the fishermen perceived the Pilgrims when they went back in 1622 the fishermen said no.

    • Thanks for the additional insight ew-3. Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Thanks for a great story as always and the best to you and thanks for all of your support.

    • No problem Bunkerville, and same to you!

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