Thanksgiving – A tale of providence, covenant, and gratitude.
I imagine those of you who venture to read this writing will ask yourself, “why is Jon writing an article on Thanksgiving, what’s to understand? Isn’t it just a bunch of fat Americans eating turkey and watching football?” Well, yes, that is what it has devolved into; for some. I’m writing this article dear reader, because I think Thanksgiving is an excellent holiday, the history behind Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims is fascinating, and there are many lessons and themes that Plebs can appreciate. The history of the celebration and the sentiment behind it are meaningful, there’s a lot to take in. I also feel many of us can associate with the characters in this tale. After all, the subjects of all eras of history are people, just like you or me. Within this historical mosaic, lie layers of human complexities and I find it rewarding to explore those complexities. Thanksgiving isn’t just a time for folks to eat, go around the dinner table, and give thanks for their blessings; it’s a reflection of gratitude amidst adversity, where individuals from divergent backgrounds can find common ground in survival and mutual aid. Oh and the food is good too, nothing brings together people like a good meal.
Who are the Pilgrims?
The Pilgrims were from a small village in England called Scrooby. They practiced an Idiosyncratic form of Calvinist Christianity. Their version of Christianity often attacked the centralized nature of the Church of England. They frequently petitioned Queen Elizabeth for reform within the Church. When King James took the throne, he was far less tolerant of having the church question by the group, who wanted separation of the state from church. The grouped never numbered more than 1,000. In writing this article, I’m often reminded of the Bitcoin community, we too are a very small band. I hope we could have an impact on this world like the pilgrims did. I hope that we can be as resolved and faithful to our cause as this group of separatists.
The heat that the King James regime put on groups like the separatists was more than they cared to bear. Religious dissidents of all sorts faced oppression and retribution from state mandated doctrines set by King James. The separatists fled to Leiden, Holland. Holland having recently been emancipated from Spanish rule and boasted an environment of tolerance.
While in the Netherlands, the group printed religious writings and smuggled them back into England, remaining a pain in the crown. UNGOVERNABLE. The separatists lived well amongst the Dutch. They enjoyed tolerance and the freedom to worship as they chose. But the Pilgrims (not what they called themselves) didn’t want their children to become Dutch and stray from their way of life. As a side, I think it’s interesting that an Englishman, a Dutchman, and an American, have all gotten together to team up on projects like Ungovernable Misfits, BitBuyBit, and Pleb Miner Monthly, just food for thought. The group made a deal with the Crown that they would travel to America to practice feely. 104 embarked on the journey.
The separatists had arranged a patent on establishing a settlement in the Virginia Province in the new world. This is not the state of Virginia in its dimensions today, the province at that time stretched from the 34th Parallel in Southern North Carolina to the 45th Parallel near the current day New York/Quebec border.
The journey took 66 days, twice as long as the time planned. The passengers of the Mayflower endured terrible conditions. 4-foot-high ceilings where only children could stand. Buckets of vomit and human waste sloshed in the areas below deck. Illness, fever, and dysentery plagued the passengers.
The company planned on settling in the Hudson River Valley, at the mouth of the Hudson River, the site of current day Manhattan. The separatists felt comfortable, settling there because the Dutch were the main inhabitants of the area and they lived amongst the Dutch for years. Back then the Dutch inhabitants of Manhattan were called the “FurRunners”.
The voyage was beset with Atlantic storms. A large beam on the ship broke, sending thousands of gallons into the steerage area and threatened to sink the craft. The storms were so terrible the passengers were forced to stay below deck for much of the journey. The captain nearly made the decision to turn the ship around and return to England. The awful storms blew the voyagers off course, north, by 250 miles. They made sight of land November 9, 1620.
Once in the harbor of Cape Cod, The Pilgrims first happened upon an area in the North Easter tip of Cape Cod. It took the crew of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims weeks just to repair the small craft they used for exploration of this kind. While looking for a place to land in the turbulent seas, the small craft was thrust to shore by a wave and safely landed on the only spot one could land amongst the rock-strewn beachhead. As the scouting party explored the coastline there, they discover, a shipwreck, few signs of life, but miraculously a cash of corn and seed they desperately needed. They promised amongst themselves they would repay the rightful owners of the stores, but it’s unlikely they ever did. The region was considered less than habitable by the locals who went inland during the winter months, but stored food there for their return in spring.
The next day the settlers sailed down the to the southeast portion of Cape Cod to an area now called First Encounter Beach. That night they were happened upon by a group of Indians and a short, bloodless conflict ensued. Perhaps the Indians were testing the strength of the settlers, now the settlers had proof there were people who inhabited in this area. The following day the travel to the western edge of the Cape Cod harbor to an area marked on their maps called Plymouth. After a month of searching for an area to settle, on December 12, 1620, the Pilgrims decided upon that area to settle.
Credits to LC
As they waded ashore, they found human remains strewn across the beach. The remains of the previous inhabitants, the Pawtuxet. In 1616, a plague wiped out the local population, Historians have always assumed it was smallpox, but it has been recently theorized that it was perhaps an outbreak of viral hepatitis. 95% of the population is said to have been taken. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the Pilgrims that they sought “a land so barbarous and so abandoned by the world that they might yet be permitted to live there, in their manner and pray to God in freedom” This along with many other of their experiences indicated to them that it was the Lord’s work not their own choices that guided their path. They somehow stumbled upon the ideal location for their purposes, and they ardently believed for HIS. Rather than viewing the natives as victims of divine wrath, the separatists may have seen themselves as the beneficiaries of special protection. Though they were terribly cold and hungry they did not despair. They were deposited by winds, waves, and errant navigation 250 miles from their original destination and they still concluded that a higher power had brought them precisely to the right place.
When they finally disembark as a group, fever was rampant, they were already nearly starving, there was no opportunity to plant, scurvy and vitamin D deficiencies abound. They as miserable as could be, yet they set about their mission and began building shelter to survive the winter. They managed, though 47 out of the original 102 died that winter.
The Mayflower Compact
The Mayflower compact were the governing documents for the separatists. The Compact was a basic covenantal idea of freedom. You agree to do something, I agree to do something, a way to achieve unity. The compact was a rather unique for the time and place. Democracy and equal rights for all are a new phenomenon in an age where rights are allocated according to social status. Not only rights, but responsibilities are written down in a social contract which considers the many different groups living in the colony. Puritans wanted to have everything written down, because they wanted to know what was expected of them, including the system of government. They needed defined: how elections were to take place, who would have the right to vote, the conditions of the voting rights of the individuals, how the laws were going to be formed, and what’s expected in terms of people’s relationship to their laws and government. That’s what made the compact such a critical thing. It was a constitution, a primitive one, but nevertheless, unique in the new world. We in the Meshtadel had had extensive conversations on governance. One of them took about 2 hours and we were no closer to consensus than we were when we first began. Imagine this, this Pilgrims just spent a few months in the steerage of a ship, rough seas, filthy stinking conditions, they’re blown hundreds of miles off course, they land in an area they know little about, are left with no choice but to settle there as it’s too dangerous to sail down to the Hudson River Valley. They relegate themselves to settling where they’ve landed and they stop to take the time to make a covenant amongst themselves and with God to govern themselves and hold themselves accountable to their agreement before they disembark to their new enclave. That shows intense character and resolve. I wonder if under the same conditions we would be able to achieve the same or even close to it.
An excerpt from the Mayflower Compact “Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith, and the honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another; covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic”
Do You Have Bread and Beer?
Spring of 1621 must have come as a miraculous gift to the Pilgrims. As described before, the Pilgrims now numbered only 47. March 16, 1621 the village was visited by an unusual site. A tall, lean Indian happened upon the village. His message to the weary Pilgrims, “Welcome Englishmen! Welcome Englishmen! Do you have bread and beer?” The visitor’s name was Samoset. He claimed to have learned English from cod fisherman whom he had encounters with. He wasn’t there purely of his own volition, this meeting was no happenstance. Samoset served Massasoit, the chief or sachem of the local tribe of Wampanoag, who was nearby. Samoset spent the day with the Pilgrims, eating their food, “biscuit and butter and cheese and pudding and a piece of mallard, all of which he liked well” and spoke with the Pilgrims into the night. Samoset explained that the location the pilgrims occupied had been an important village of the Pawtuxet. He explained that “all inhabitants died of an extraordinary plague and there is neither man woman nor child remaining as indeed we have found none so as there is none to hinder our possession or to lay claim unto it.” The next morning the pilgrims sent Samoset on his way with a knife, a bracelet, and a ring to encourage him to move along. He assured them that he would return within a few days.
As Samoset promised a few days later he returned with another Indian that he described in glowing terms. The second visitor’s name was Tisquantum or as the English pronounced it “Squanto”. Squanto described himself as the sole survivor of the Patuxent band. His story is one of the most fascinating in the Thanksgiving tale. Squanto was kidnapped at 12 and brought to London by a marauding sea captain in 1605. Somehow gaining his freedom, he returned in 1614 only to be kidnapped again. He sailed for 2 months when his captors docked in Malaga Spain. There the slavers sold Indians for $3,000 each, but Spanish monks took the rest for a much lower price. The Catholic Church had taken a stance on enslaving inhabitants of the new world.
The Monks healed them and preached the word of God to them. The Monks helped him return to England where he stayed with a merchant’s family for a few years and finally managed to return to the area just 6 months before the pilgrims landed. When Squanto did return to the Pawtuxet band he found his people wiped out by plague. For the next fewmonths he lived alone until he earned the trust of Massasoit.
All during this meeting the chief of the Wampanoag, Massasoit was nearby during the in case things went awry, but he wanted friendship and an alliance with the pilgrims and their weapons to fend off the Narragansett people. Initially Massasoit intended the relationship to be one of convenience. The pilgrims had technology that he wanted. To the pilgrims, the Wampanoag were a welcome ally. After establishing relations, they made a formal treaty that lasted for more than 15 years.
Squanto stayed with the community he showed them how to catch eels and alewives.
Squanto showed them how to plant corn in mounds, 5 kernels/ 3 fish. It’s likely he learned this practice in Europe as there’s little to no historical evidence that shows the Indians planted corn in this manner, but the areas in Europe were Squanto stayed did. Perhaps they found the only Indian on the continent that knew this method of planting. Beyond the fish fertilizer method, he also taught them of the method of companion planting or intercropping called the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash. The corn grows tall, the legumes fix nitrogen into the soil and the squash grows low to the ground and is shaded by the beans and corn and limits weed growth. Three sisters planting is an often-discussed method of intercropping in the Meshtadel. Meshtadelian, Moizen, calls it Milpas. William Bradford said of Squanto that “he was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation”.
There’s little doubt that without the intervention of Massasoit and the gift that was Squanto’s knowledge; the Pilgrims were unlikely to survive beyond that first summer and fall. Although upon their arrival in the new world they intended to fish were they to land at the mouth of the Hudson River as intended, though they didn’t know how to fish. Neither were they farmers. Perhaps it’s possible in their extreme faith they succumb to hubris, thinking that God would provide for all, but HE did, and they were humbled and thankful. The Pilgrims didn’t call that meal thanksgiving, normally thanksgiving to them would be a time of fasting and prayer, not feasting. Sometime, late October 1621 the Wampanoag people under the leadership of their sachem Massasoit and the pilgrims under the leadership of William Bradford celebrated a feast in honor of their friendship and cooperation. The locals brought 90 warriors and five deer. For 3 days the English and Wampanoag feasted. As well as the venison provided by Massasoit; cod, shellfish, eel, vegetables, nuts, fruits, and of course, corn were consumed. As well as, yes you guessed it, wild turkey.
Puritan – Austrian Economists (Not a real term, just tongue-in-cheek)
Something about the Pilgrims that has always fascinated me, as I think it would fascinate anyone who believes in free market economics it the fact that the Pilgrims initially tried a more communal approach to the distributions of the fruits of their labor. The failures of Communism are nothing new to those who study Austrian Economics, it doesn’t work. After a time, William Bradford realized the fallacy of collectivism or as what economists call “The Tragedy of the Commons.” In 1623 William Bradford wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation “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, 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, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. 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; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
Happily, Ever After?
That’s it that’s the story of the Pilgrims and their first thanksgiving. And they all lived happily ever after, right? Well of course not. Human history is never so tidy. We are vastly complex creatures as individuals; throw us all together into a society and you exponentially increase the level of complexity of human interaction, thrust vastly different civilizations together and that exponential increase in complexity would make the last 400 something difficulty adjustments look like kindergarten math by comparison.
The Puritan separatists are the good guys? How about William Bradford? He helped lead his people to the new world or as they described at the time, “the Dawn Land”. He guided them in establishing a functional community and kept peace with the local population for many years. The Wampanoag sachem Massasoit, he must be the good guy in this tale as the peace between the separatists and the Wampanoag lasted as long as he did, the treaty not breaking until he passed in 1661 at the age of 80. Ah, yes, clearly Tisquantum must be our protagonist, he was the peacemaker between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims, he helped the separatists to grow corn and thrive after that first winter, he built a solid friendship with the Pilgrims, surely, he’s the hero of the story. Perhaps it’s Samoset, after all he just wanted beer and bread, but turns out he was a sachem in his own right and more than just a visitor who eats all of your food and has to be bribed to leave.
History is often presented to us through story, rather than discussion and I could go on and on describing the flaws of each one of our characters. Squanto for instance was a savior to the pilgrims but treacherous according to Massasoit. Basic storytelling, the kind that can be wrapped up in the max amount time that is the average human attention span can never tell the whole story. Yes, let’s button up and package this tale to consumed and scant be thought of again. Historical figures and events are either romanticized or vilified. There are often no heroes, no villains, protagonists, or antagonists, just people, flawed at times, good in others, who attempt to make it through their short time on this earth the best way they know how. The truth is, all the above-mentioned historical figures are people, same as you or I.
The events of and the subsequent celebration of the first thanksgiving were proclaimed by George Washington.Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789
In 1827 Sarah Josepeha Hale launched a campaign to make Thanksgiving an official holiday and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln did such in hopes of healing the wounds of the nation with his Proclamation of Thanksgiving.
Again, why did I tell the story of Thanksgiving? Well, I am a huge proponent of stopping, pausing, giving thanks to a higher power, humbling yourself, and being thankful for the gifts we receive every day. Additionally, many Bitcoiners celebrate the Gunpowder treason and the 5th of November as some form of informal holiday. I was very glad to see Ben Gunn’s historically accurate depiction of the Gunpowder Treason event. If you haven’t, please read the article here. I’ve never understood why Bitcoin Plebs see this as an event or a person (Guy Faux) that they can associate with. Do Plebs really identify with a Catholic plot to blow up English parliament? I sure don’t. But I do often dream of creating a new compact with members of the Meshtadel. One in which we humble ourselves to a higher power but maintain our individual liberties and private property rights. Does the parallel match up perfectly? Hell no! That’s laughable. If any of us were to read Calvinists Puritan writings, I’m sure we’d disagree completely with many of their interpretations of Christianity. We would though, be cohesively against the Church of and King of England, at just about any time. The point I’m trying to make here about Thanksgiving is that it’s universal and worth celebrating. To close, what am I thankful for? My relationship with the Lord. Sarah, of course, and our three wonderful children. I’m thankful for The Pleb Miner Mafia. I am thankful for the Meshtadel. And I’m thankful to Max and Mr. Crown, for letting me play in their sandbox.