The Tea Party sees Thanksgiving as a morality tale about finding salvation in Capitalism. The Pilgrims were failed Socialists who turned to Capitalism for survival. Only after foregoing communal ownership of property and allowing private ownership did the colony prosper. (Communism could also have been used, but socialism is the bogey meme du jour.)
The actual historical details are much more interesting than the Tea Party myth.
The Pilgrims formed a start-up and the Merchants and Adventurers of London were their venture capitalists. The Merchants would put up the cash for the supplies and the trip to the New World and the colonists would put up the labor. They signed a seven-year contract in which all land, livestock, lumber, furs, and other trade goods were held in partnership. At the end of the seven year period, the company was to be dissolved and the assets distributed. The Pilgrims were more like shareholders in a corporation than socialists.
Interestingly, only one Pilgrim died on the 66-day voyage. This is attributed to the fact that the Mayflower had never carried passengers, she was a “sweet ship.” Seepage from previous wine cargos had impregnated the ship’s timbers and acted like a disinfectant.
The Mayflower landed in November of 1620 and the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621. The colony’s governor, William Bradford, abolished the communal land arrangement and gave each household a parcel of land, in 1623. It seems unlikely that a colony in the grips of a famine, caused by evils of communal property ownership, would host a three-day feast. The prospects of a famine would come the following year with a devastating summer drought and the seasonal migration of fish and fowl.
Agriculture did become more profitable in following years, in part due to improved cultivation techniques of corn, a crop for which the colonists had no experience, and in part due to the increase in each individual’s exertion on their privately held land.
Two attempts to make payments to the investors were met with pirates, who captured the ships bringing back furs and timber. The investors, fearing a total loss of their investment, settled with the Pilgrims for £1800 after an investment of nearly £7000.
-David Drumm (Nal)