By Mark W. Swarbrick
Thanksgiving and Socialism
You have probably heard the story of the first Thanksgiving told the way I heard it in public school. It goes something like this:
The Pilgrims arrived in the new world ill prepared to live in the wilds of North America. They didn’t even know how to plant corn. Fortunately, the good hearted eco-conscious native Indians befriended the hapless helpless newcomers and taught them how to plant corn and fertilize it with dead fish.
Because of the Indians’ kindness they had a bountiful harvest. So, the Pilgrims invited the Indians over for a big feast to thank them for their kind help. And that, was the first Thanksgiving, a celebration to honor and thank the Indians.
That’s a nice multicultural story, but that’s all it is – a story. It is a myth fabricated for the palate and worldview of a modern humanistic culture. The real account is much more meaningful, exceedingly wonderful and instructional. Let me tell you the true story of the first Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims were a sect of the Puritans. They did not call themselves Pilgrims, but Separatists. The Separatists believed the government-affiliated Church of England still adhered to too many Catholic dogmas and needed reformation. Pilgrims, or Separatists as they were then called, took this a step further, claiming that the Church of England was still basically Catholic in doctrine and was so steeped in error that it was beyond being reformed.
The Pilgrims were particularly devout born-again Christians. They used the Geneva Bible and did not trust the modern version authorized by the government – the King James Version. To escape persecution many Pilgrims fled to Holland, but found that environment too worldly for their tastes. They dreamed of establishing a Christian society in the new world. One hundred and two of them sailed to America, on-board the Mayflower, along with sixty-two other passengers.
Their destination was Manhattan Island, which they expected to reach in about a month. It was not to be. They suffered inclement weather in route which delayed them and ran their stores low. The crossing took 66 days instead of 30. The Mayflower made landfall at the desolate and wild shoreline of what is now Cape Cod, 250 miles north of their intended destination. This was a disaster, or so it seemed, but time would reveal it was providential.
They attempted to sail south to their destination, but storms, headwinds, dangerous shoals and howling winds prevented it. The Pilgrims, after much prayer, concluded that the Almighty intended for them to build their settlement in the region chance had taken them.
Using the ship’s boat, scouts selected from their party embarked on an excursion to locate a suitable location for their settlement. After a few day’s travel they camped in a small clearing on the shore. At dawn, as they huddled around the campfire preparing breakfast, arrows rained down on them from hostile Indians. Firing their muskets, they fled back to sea in their small boat.
Before they could reach the relative safety of the ship, night fell and they found themselves tossed on a violent ocean as a vicious squall assailed them. In the stormy darkness their tiny row boat began to come apart as the wind and waves drove them towards a jagged rocky shore. When it seemed things couldn’t be worse, from out of nowhere a giant rouge wave appeared, lifted the boat high, and tossed them onto a spot of clear sandy beach, the only safe landing spot in the entire area.
They camped for the night, rested on the Sabbath, as it was now Sunday. By Monday the storm had ended and they explored the area, finding a wide protected harbor with waters deep enough for the Mayflower. On it’s shores they found the perfect spot for their new home – an abandoned Indian village, complete with running fresh water and sufficient stores of grain to help them survive. They returned to the ship and then sailed into this safe harbor and settled themselves into the empty Indian village.
They assumed that the village might belong to a nomadic tribe that would return, but they had every intention of making peace and repaying the Indians for the supplies of grain they consumed. They would learn later that a plague, most likely viral hepatitis, had wiped out all the Indians in the immediate vicinity. God had miraculously deposited them in the one place where they could build their settlement without arrows flying at them.
Here they survived. Some of them did, that is. Forty-seven of the original one hundred and two did not survive the first winter. Thirteen of the eighteen wives died. Finally, spring came, but unknown to them a large tribe of Indians, who lived some distance away, had become aware of their presence and had been observing them secretly from the forest.
One day the Pilgrims were greatly alarmed when they beheld a single lone Indian walking boldly into their camp. To their great surprise he spoke English and he said he was there to help them. God had not only placed the Pilgrims in a safe place with stored food, fresh water and a secure harbor for the ship, God had also miraculously deposited the Pilgrims in the only place on the continent where there was an English-speaking Indian.
His name was Tisquantum. The Pilgrims pronounced it “Squanto.” The Indian explained that as a boy he had been a member of the extinct tribe in whose village the Pilgrims had taken up residence. He had not died in the plague because he had been taken captive and thrust into slavery by a marauding English sea captain. Squanto was then taken to England and it was here that he learned to speak English. After nine years he obtained his freedom and was able to procure passage on a ship back to America.
While hiking along the shore to get back to his village Squanto was thinking about the joy of being once again united with his people. Unfortunately, he was spotted by a ship of Spanish marauders and was once again kidnapped and locked in the dark hold of the ship for two months. In Spain he was put up for sale as a slave along with all the other captives in the hold.
Then the time came when Sixteenth-century Pope Paul III decreed that the natives of the new world should be treated kindly. Therefore, some Spanish monks purchased Squanto in order to free him. They showered him with kindness and education. The monks helped him find passage back to America and his own people, as he so ardently desired.
Arriving back home in the new world just six months before the Pilgrims arrived, Squanto found his village empty. Everyone he knew was dead and gone. Like a ghost he lived alone in the nearby woods, forlorn, destitute and overwhelmed with sadness. Eventually he took up residence with the nearby Wampanoag tribe. Shortly after the Pilgrims arrived, the Wampanoag chief quickly saw the advantage they had gained by befriending Squanto. Squanto’s ability to speak the language of the Pilgrims would be a great asset.
During this time period, the Wampanoag had been at war with the fierce Narragansett tribe and they feared being attacked. The last thing they needed was war with Englishmen with firearms. They sent Squanto to speak to the Pilgrims and request a peace treaty. The Pilgrims signed a treaty with the Wampanoag, pledging the two groups to defend each other against any and all dangers. This maintained the peace for the life of the Pilgrims.
Squanto was fond of the Englishmen and chose to live with the Pilgrims, considering them his new family. In his travels in Europe Squanto had learned the method of using fish as fertilizer and he taught this to the Pilgrims, as well as exactly the right time to plant in that locale. He also showed them how to catch the edible eels that lived in the streams and when and how to capture the alewives, a fast swimming fish that ran up the streams at certain seasons.
Pilgrim governor William Bradford recorded in his journal that they all considered Squanto as more than a friend, but that he was “a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond their expectation.”
One-day Squanto was once again captured, this time by a band of renegade Indians passing through the area. The Pilgrims quickly assembled an armed militia and sent them on an expedition to rescue him. They were successful and Squanto was returned to his adopted Pilgrim family unharmed.
As time went on Squanto noticed the faith that the Pilgrims had in God. He sensed they had a hope and a peace that he had never seen before. He could see that these people who put their faith in Jesus had something that he didn’t have. After a year with the Pilgrims Squanto took ill and before he died he expressed his desire to be able to go to the God in heaven that the Pilgrims worshipped. He asked Governor Bradford to pray for him. Before Squanto died he made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Thanks to Squanto’s help they had made peace with the natives and had received valuable instruction on surviving off the new land. But the Pilgrims were still having problems. The Mayflower Compact, the agreement they had all signed on to, provided that they would all live under socialism. No one would own anything, but all things would be held in common. Everyone would receive the same portion regardless of how much they had contributed.
It was pure communism, and it wasn’t working out. Some became lazy and worked meagerly or not at all. No one was driven to excel, since all incentive had been taken away. Instead of it being the equal distribution of wealth, it became the equal distribution of poverty. People were dying. They were literally starving to death and resentment was growing among those who did work hard against those who did not. They were finding out that under socialism, the only thing that was really equitable was that they were all equally miserable.
After prayer and consideration, and reading in the scriptures that “he who does not work should not eat,” it was decided that God would have them abandon socialism and move to a capitalist economy. Everyone would own their own piece of land, their own home, and each would own the produce of their own labors. Governor Bradford recorded that this was wildly successful. Everyone worked hard and had abundance. 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…(even) 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…”
The economy of the Pilgrims thrived so much that they not only had a surplus of food, they opened up trading posts to trade with the Indians and profited enough to pay off their loans that were owed for their passage to America.
As the Pilgrims contemplated all that had transpired they clearly saw the benevolent hand of God in all that had happened to them. God saw to it that were prevented from going to Manhattan. When about to perish in the sea, God brought a rogue wave to wash them onto the only safe piece of shoreline where they would notice the abandoned Indian village where there was stored food.
God put them in the one place where there were no Indians close by, and also the only area in America where there was a friendly English speaking Indian in need of a new family, and where there was a tribe of Indians eager to make peace with them.
Although others meant it for evil to capture Squanto, God meant it for good, to save him from the plague that wiped out his people, so that he would live and be used of God to help the Pilgrims, and thereby, himself find salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Pilgrims saw all of this as God’s providence. They thanked God also for helping them to learn that communism was not a wise way to manage affairs and that capitalism was more sensical, scriptural and resulted in a greater abundance for all.
The Pilgrims wrote down that they considered all these events as the fortuitous, providential working of God in their behalf. Now that their new capitalist economy had resulted in a bountiful harvest, they wanted to set aside a day to give thanksgiving unto God who cared from them through all their hardships.
They invited the Wampanoag to come for a big feast and celebrate God’s wonderful mercy along with them. About ninety Indians attended, twice the number of the Pilgrims. Thanksgiving is not what they called it, rather, thanks giving is what they did. The name would come later, but what they did on that day is give thanks to Almighty God.
168 years later, October 3rd 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have…requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed…Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted…to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence…”
Signed, George Washington
And that is the real history of Thanksgiving.
There are many lessons to be gained by this true story. First socialism does not work, not then, not now, not ever. It is an unbiblical construct manufactured and promoted by godless minds. Capitalism is a scriptural way to provide bounty sufficient that good people can share with those suffering misfortune.
The other lesson to be gained is that America was founded by Christians who gave thanks to God. That is what America’s Thanksgiving holiday is supposed to be about. It all started with the Pilgrims realizing that God had used all of their trials to bring about the best good for them. They saw the hand of God in it and gave thanks to Him.
This story illustrates dramatically how God brings good out of evil. This is a theme that is also found throughout scripture. When Joseph was 2nd in command in Egypt he revealed his identity to his brothers who had sold him into slavery. They cowered in terror, but Joseph told them not to fear, saying, As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive…” (Genesis 50:20). The Apostle Paul wrote, “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28)
Have you ever faced a disaster and wondered, “God, do you even care about me? Why have you forsaken me?” We have all been there. We must remind ourselves of what the Scripture says. In this story of the first Thanksgiving, we can see how God took terrible disasters and horrendous acts by evil men, and brought good out of it all.
The Pilgrims faced one disaster after another. They could not reach their intended destination. They were hindered by a terrible storm. A warlike tribe fired arrows at them and drove them away. But God used that to bring them to the one place where they would find friends to help them and food to sustain them.
And imagine how forlorn Squanto must have felt. He had one disaster after another. Kidnapped and carried away in chains and then after many years he finally sails back to America and is almost home and he is captured and enslaved again. One can only imagine the emotions he must have felt. He did not know that if he had returned, he would have died with his tribe in the epidemic.
Finally when he gets his freedom again, he returns to find his tribe is wiped out. How forsaken he must have felt! But God used all that to use Squanto to help the Pilgrims and the peaceful Wampanoag tribe. In the end, Squanto found the Lord Jesus Christ and today he is in heaven enjoying joy and peace beyond description. Today Squanto sees clearly that God had a perfect plan for his life.
Let us remember this when we face disastrous circumstances in our lives. One day the disciples asked Jesus why a certain man was born blind. Jesus said that it was “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) Next time something bad happens consider that God is most likely up to doing something marvelous in order to display His work in our life.