Higher Rock Education - Economics Blog

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is a time when most of us give "Thanks" for what matters most. Family, friends, food, our country, and our God. Most of us give thanks every day. Perhaps we say "Thank you" to a kind stranger, or a customer. I take so much for granted, but Thanksgiving gives me pause to consider just how blessed I am.

Days set aside to remember our history and give "Thanks" have been celebrated for thousands of years by many nations. Jews express gratitude for their deliverance from slavery every year on Passover. Exodus 23:16 instructs the Israelites to observe the Feast of the Harvest by giving their first fruits. "Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of you labors from the field." (NASB)

Canada celebrates Thanksgiving the second Monday of October. Visit the web site below to see how and why several other countries celebrate Thanksgiving.

How Seven Other Nations Celebrate Thanksgiving

America's first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrims.

I can't imagine how hard it must have been for the Pilgrims! They had just endured 66 days in cramped and unsanitary quarters on the Mayflower, only to land at the wrong place. A storm had blown them off course and they arrived in Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. They had arrived in their new home. Only one person had died during the crossing. I would imagine almost all of the passengers gave "Thanks" when they arrived.

The Mayflower landed in Provincetown. Shortly after arriving, a search party set out to find an appropriate place to establish a colony. They located an abandoned Wampanoag village where they found some buried corn seed. I am sure they gave "Thanks" for the seed. Eventually they settled near a harbor in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Almost immediately they would be tested. The winter was harsh. There was no shelter. They saw a few Native Americans. Were they friendly? Fortunately the ship provided shelter until some huts could be built. By the end of the first winter only 50 out of the initial 102 had survived. It was not until April 1621 that enough homes were built to enable the Mayflower to leave.

Their intended destination was at the mouth of the Hudson River, where New York City is today. King James I of England had granted them permission to settle there. It was too late in the year to travel south, so the Pilgrims chose to remain in Plymouth. Technically they did not have a government, so they wrote the Mayflower Compact (see page 110). All 47 of the adult men signed. It provided a base for our Constitution. The majority ruled and a Governor and Council were appointed.

In April 1621 the Pilgrims met Squanto, a Native American who spoke English. He introduced them to the Wampanoag tribe. Squanto had originally been part of the Pawtuxet tribe, but he was captured by Captain Weymouth who took him to England where he learned English. He acted as an interpreter and guide for John Smith, only to be captured by Thomas Hunt and sold into slavery. He escaped and returned to his homeland where he learned he was a man without a tribe. Most of his tribe had died of small pox. He lived with the Wampanoags. Bradford gave thanks and referred to him as a gift from God because of his help in teaching the Pilgrims how to farm and mediating between the Wampanoag people. By August 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest and invited the Wampanoag tribe for three days of celebration. The Wampanoags brought deer. Other food probably included mussels, lobster, bass, fowl, (which could have been turkey but was more likely duck and geese). Side dishes may have included corn (but prepared as corn meal, not corn on the cob), squash, onions, lettuce, spinach, beans, and peas. Blueberries and grapes were common in the area.

I imagine that in the beginning everyone chipped in and helped each other. Perhaps this is why the initial economy was communal. For the first seven years they were to work the fields together. This was part of their agreement with Thomas Weston, a wealthy English iron merchant who financed the trip in return for furs, lumber and other goods that could be shipped back to England. Each person was to enjoy the harvest equally and work for the common good. It did not work out well. Many starved. William Bradford wrote:

For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imploymet that would have been to their beneflte and comforte. For ye yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails and cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter y e other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and [97] equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, andc., with ye meaner and yonger sorte, thought it some indignite and disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, andc., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it. Upon ye poynte all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought themselves in ye like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongest men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of ye mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none objecte this is men's corruption, and nothing to ye course it selfe. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fiter for them.
Bradford's History "Of Plimoth Plantation" PP 163, 164

Economists believe the best way to assess how people will respond to economic policies is to consider their incentives. In Plymouth, the Pilgrims probably had the best of intentions. They understood that survival depended on working together. However, as time passed human nature led some to not work as hard. Many of the hard working probably resented sharing an equal amount of the harvest with the less industrious. I would imagine that arguments ensued and families squabbled – not a very healthy environment for such a small community.

Eventually the leaders decided to allow residents to tend their own gardens. Each man was assigned a parcel of land where they could grow their own food. It worked. Production rose. Wives and children joined the men in working their gardens. Production increased largely because of the change in incentives.

All this whille no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length, after much debate of things, the Govr (with y e advise of ye cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves; in all other things to goe on in ye generall way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcell of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance), and ranged all boys and youth under some familie. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means ye Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into ye feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression. Bradford's History "Of Plimoth Plantation" P 162

To understand more about the importance of incentives in our economy visit our free lesson Fundamental Economic Assumptions. The lesson includes: a video, interactive exercises, a scripture lesson, and some review questions.

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