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For which mercy (in time convenient) they also set apart

A Day of Thanksgiving - 1623


"By this time harvest was come, and in stead of famine now God gave them plenty, and ye face of things was changed, to ye rejoicing of ye hearts  of many, for which they blessed God.,..." Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation.

In view of our preparing for Thanksgiving it is well to think on these things: what might have been our history had the Pilgrims continued in the course laid out for them by those who financed their voyage to America?  Did you know they were coerced into using that system of government called communism?  Mr. William Hosmer tells how it came about:

The Pilgrims Free Themselves From Communism and Establish Individual Enterprise

God in His Wisdom provided the divine logic of events which caused the Pilgrims to cast aside communism and establish individual enterprise.  Before the Pilgrims could enjoy the fruits of individual enterprise, God provided them with a lesson that they might remember, "... it is He (God) which giveth thee power to get substance." (Deut. 8:18 Geneva Bible 1)

Just how do you suppose the Pilgrims became involved in communism in labor and supply?   The answer to this question is simply that this was the way in which colonization was done at this time.  In the Spring of the year 1620, the Pilgrims entered into a joint-stock enterprise with the Virginia Company of London.  They were unhappy with some of the conditions of their contract, but it was the only way, at the time, to acquire the religious liberty which they so dearly desired.  The particular condition in the contract that established a communism in labor and supply was: "That all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provision out of ye common stock & goods of ye said colony."a Let us now move on to April 1623, and see what the circumstances of the Pilgrims are through the eyes of the historian, Edward Eggleston: 

"The same system of partnership with mercenary share - holders or "adventurers" in England that had brought disaster in Virginia was tried with similar results at Plymouth, and a similar attempt at communism in labor and supply was made, this time under the most favorable conditions, among a people conscientious and bound together by strong religious enthusiasm.  It resulted, as such sinking of personal interest must ever result, in dissensions and insubordination, in unthrift and famine ...  After two years of labor in common had brought the colony more than once to the verge of ruin, Bradford had the courage and wisdom to cut the knot he could not untie.2  During the scarce springtime of 1623, he assigned all the detached persons in the colony to live with families, and then temporarily divided the ancient Indian field on which the settlement had been made among the several families in proportion to their number, leaving every household to shift for itself or suffer want.  'Any general want or suffering hath not been among them since to this day,' he writes years afterward.  In his History he draws a very clear picture of the evils of communism as he had observed them.b

Let us now look into Governor William Bradford's history Of Plimoth Plantation, and examine the picture which he so clearly draws of the evils of communism.

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 & others ancients, applauded by some of later times; that ye 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... was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort... The strong, or man of parts, had no more division of victuals & cloths, than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter ye other could; this was thought unjust...  As 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.  Upon ye point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in ye like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off ye mutual respect that should be preserved amongst them.  And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition.  Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to ye course it self.  I answer, seeing all men to have this corruption in them.  God in His wisdom saw another course fiter for them." c

 "God in His wisdom" did indeed have "another course fiter for them;" this course was not communism, but individual enterprise.  Thus established in this little Pilgrim community the first principle of American Christian economics seen in St. Paul's command to the Thessalonians, "... if there were any, which would not work, that he should not eat." (II Thes. 3:10 Geneva Bible)  But the Pilgrims also had this hope in them; the promise of St. Paul to the Philippians, "...make an end of your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you, both the will and the deed even of His good pleasure."  (Phil. 2:12,13 Geneva Bible)

But wait!  God, in His All-Knowing Wisdom, provided a lesson for our Pilgrim Fathers before they could enjoy the fruits of their individual enterprise.  Governor William Bradford's account tells us what this lesson was:

I may not here omit how, notwithstanding all their great pains & industry, and ye great hopes of a large crop, the Lord seemed to blast, & take away the same, and to threaten further & more some famine unto them, by a great drought which continued from ye 3 weeks in May, till about ye middle of July, without any rain, and with great heat (for ye most part) insomuch as ye corn began to wither away, though it was set with fish, the moisture whereof helped it much.  Yet at length it began to languish sore...  Upon which they set a part a solemn day of humiliation, to seek ye Lord by humble & fervent prayer, in this great distress.  And He was pleased to give them a gracious & speedy answer, both to their own & the Indians admiration, that lived amongst them.  For all ye morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather & very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain, with such sweet and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoicing & blessing God.  It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in abundance, as that ye earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith.  Which did so apparently revive & quicken ye decayed corn & other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made ye Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather, as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful & liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing.  For which mercy (in time convenient) they also set apart a day of thanksgiving."d

Why do you suppose God caused a famine to come upon this most faithful and courageous little band of Christians?  In His All-Knowing Wisdom, God knew that once the Principle of individual enterprise was established in this little Pilgrim community the effect would be affluence and plenty.  But God also knew, as His Word attests, that these very best of men might say in their hearts, in the midst of plenty, that "...My power, and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth." (Deut. 8:17 KJV)  Our loving but all-wise Father wanted to drive home the truth to our Pilgrim Fathers: "But remember the Lord thy God: for it is He which giveth thee power to get substance to establish His covenant which He sware unto thy fathers, as appeareth this day." (Deut. 8:18 Geneva Bible)

The conclusion of this lesson with its reward is beautifully summed up by Governor Bradford: 

By this time harvest was come, and in stead of famine now God gave them plenty, and ye face of things was changed, to ye rejoicing of ye hearts of many, for which they blessed God.  And ye effect of their particular planting was well seen, for all had, one way & other, pretty well to bring ye year about, and some of ye abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine had not been amongst them since to this day.e

And the Psalmist provides the benediction: "Our fathers trusted thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They called upon thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded." (Ps. 22:4-5 Geneva Bible)

Editor's Notes:

1. The Pilgrims brought with them the Geneva Bible of 1560 and was the Bible used for many years in this country although the King James Version had been published nine years before they left Holland in 1620.   (Back to article)

2. Gov. Bradford is here given the credit for this, however, the Pilgrims always held a council before determining anything having to do with the government of the colony, so it was the result of consultation together that those in charge decided to make the change. "At length, after much debate of things, the Governor with the advice of the chiefest amongst them, gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. Bradford, Wm., "Of Plimouth Plantation," S.E. Morrison edition, 1952, p.120. (Italics mine. Ed).  (Back to article)

Mr. Hosmers's Notes:

a. Bradford, William, Of Plimoth Plantation, as quoted in The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States of America by Verna M. Hall, Foundation for American Christian Education, San Francisco: 1966, p. 197.  (Back to article)

b. Ibid, pp. 176-177.  (Back to article)

c. Ibid, pp. 213-214.  (Back to article)

d. Ibid. p. 215.  (Back to article)

e. Ibid. p. 217.  (Back to article)

Mr. Hosmer was an antiquarian who spent many years studying America's Christian history, government and education. This article is a condensation of a paper which was published by Mr. Hosmer on November 27. 1969.

The above article by Mr. Hosmer is by courtesy of Mr. James Rose, President America's Christian History Institute.

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