Frank Miniter: The First Thanksgiving

Roundup: Talking About History

[Frank Miniter is the author of The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide.]

In grade school, we’re taught that the story of the First Thanksgiving illustrates the importance of teamwork and charity. That’s true, so far as it goes. But on this Thanksgiving Day, in the wake of a Tea Party’s electoral victory, it’s worth pondering the other moral of the holiday of thanks: capitalism works.

The hapless English parishioners who moved to escape religious persecution — first to the Netherlands, and then to America — didn’t actually plan to settle near Cape Cod; their original land grant was for the area around the mouth of New York’s Hudson River. But after delays and unfavorable winds, they arrived on the Mayflower in late 1620 at what would later become Plymouth, Mass. With winter on the horizon, they settled on a recently abandoned Indian village named Patuxet. (A few years before their arrival, an epidemic had killed most of the Indians then living along the Massachusetts coast.)

The good news for the Pilgrims was that the land had already been cleared for farming. The bad news was that they were undersupplied. Some 45 of the 102 emigrants died that first winter of scurvy and other illnesses associated with exposure and lack of nutrition. Nevertheless, they spent the winter building structures and preparing to farm....

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