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America’s First Socialists…The Pilgrims



It is now November and we will soon be feasting on turkey, cranberries and all the trimmings.  Our thoughts will once again focus on the Pilgrims who started the tradition…sort of.  Some of it is pure fiction.  How many times have you heard it said that the Pilgrims first landed in America on Plymouth Rock?  Would it surprise you to know that the Pilgrims first landing in America was what is now known as Provincetown, on the most outward tip of Cape Cod? It’s true.  They were running out of food and water and they had to stop off for provisions before they could sail on to Plymouth.


Furthermore, they did not land on Plymouth Rock.  The story about Plymouth Rock was started many years later by someone who wasn’t even born at the time of the landing.  He claimed it was told to him by actual people who were there.  We are also told that the Pilgrims came here for freedom.  Freedom of religion and freedom in the way they lived their lives.  That, too, is a myth.  The Pilgrims were socialists in reality if not by choice.

The English sponsors of the new colony insisted that the Pilgrims build a common storehouse where food would be stored.  The Pilgrims would then get what they needed from the common stores.  What was leftover would be used to help repay their sponsors.  But those socialistic practices led to the deaths of half the colonists including the wife of the governor, William Bradford.

So, what happened?  Human nature.  Because all the necessities were distributed evenly from the common storehouse including food, clothes and other necessities.  It didn’t work.  Through the years of 1620, 1621 and 1622, the colony struggled to supply itself with food.

So, what went wrong?  The same thing that always when socialism is tried.  The young single men resented the fact that they were expected to help support the families of others, rather than reaping the rewards for their labors.  They had no incentive to work harder and produce more.  So, they didn’t.  Wives were upset because they were expected to help maintain the homes of others.

It was at this point that Governor William Bradford decided that socialism was a failed experiment.  Bradford wrote:

“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. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land.”

At this point, colonists were held to personal responsibility.  Young men worked harder in order to enrich themselves and women and children began working on the family crops.  The harvest of 1623 was good and no one starved.  Then in 1624 a severe drought hit and it threatened their crops.  They declared a day when all farming would cease and they prayed for deliverance.  That very night, it rained and continued to rain for several days.  The result were huge crop yields.

The Pilgrims were able to send and entire shipload of corn to England.  With that money, the Pilgrims were about to pay off their investors, making the colony free from outside control.

That should be what we remember about the Pilgrims for.  It is a lesson we must never forget.

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