Miracle of How Private Property Saved Plymouth

A well-meaning debate about the relative value of capitalism versus socialism is ongoing in this country. But few know the details of what happened in the spring of 1622 in Plymouth Colony that determined America’s financial direction. William Bradford was elected governor on the death of the first governor. A young man in his 30s, Bradford was left to make decisions that would impact the success of the small colony.

Ships at Sunset
Ships at Sunset

One issue was how to get more food supplies. New colonists arrived by the dozens, but none brought supplies. And Bradford was ordered by the man back in England who had funded the expedition, to feed and house any new arrivals without  additional support forthcoming. Most of these latter arrivals would eventually move north toward what would become Boston. They would compete for the animal skins that would be sent to England to pay the colony’s debt.

Living through two dire years, Bradford felt sure that one problem with their inadequate food harvest was inherent in the system that required all to work for the general good. With no incentive to earn more than an allotted share, some worked less while others worked more. To remedy that, Bradford made a radical decision. He gave each household a few shares of private property to plant as they saw fit. Here in his own words, complete with old English spelling, was the result:

“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 the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente.”*

Bradford set the financial principle that would define America down through the centuries. Times have changed, but people have not. Free enterprise offers incentives that free handouts never could.

*To learn more about the Pilgrims read:
William Bradford: Plymouth’s Faithful Pilgrim, by Gary D. Schmidt, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1999


Miracle at Plymouth

The plans of those aboard the Mayflower were thwarted repeatedly. A sister vessel leaked so badly they had to turn back soon after setting sail from England. The Pilgrims had to regroup and restock leaving behind people and resources. Their charter was for what is now New York, but they hit land north of Cape Cod in what is Massachusetts. Instead of arriving in summer, they arrived late in the fall. Those familiar with New England weather patterns will realize the seriousness of this mistake.

Explorations on shore revealed evidence of a native population. Would those they called Indians attack the Pilgrims? Especially since they took the stock of Indian seed corn found buried in a sand dune. The Pilgrim’s had few supplies left by the time they arrived – they needed seed to plant if they survived until spring.

The Pilgrim men debated what to do next. No one wanted to chance going out to sea in November to locate their charter land. They would have to plant a colony here. But where?

They investigated an island in Cape Code harbor. Finally they ventured on shore and up the hill above the bay. What they found were the remnants of an Indian village – land cleared, fields ready to plant. But no sign of recent activity. Did they dare build here? Did they really have another choice in November with winter blowing in?

The men reassembled on-board the Mayflower and wrote a compact for governing their colony. They elected a governor. They prayed for protection and guidance.


And they moved on shore. It was now too late for the Mayflower to leave, so the crew would help to build seven cabins and all the souls moved in to survive the winter. Only half of the Pilgrim population lived…the other half dying of scurvy and sickness. But when spring arrived, the group had survived. And the Mayflower sailed back to England.

One day an Indian named Samoset, who spoke broken English, came into their camp. He left returning with Squanto who spoke English well. Squanto’s own story was of capture, prisoner in England, and escape back to this shore. Here he learned that his tribe the Pawtuxets, had been wiped out by a European disease. The tribe had lived on this very spot – now called Plymouth*. The surrounding tribes left the area vacant for fear of catching the disease, too.

That is why it was ready and prepared for the Pilgrims when they arrived – in the wrong place, at the wrong time – but depending on a miracle from their God.

Location and Time:  Plymouth, MA 1620
Type of Miracle: provision, guidance.

*To learn more about the Pilgrims read:
William Bradford: Plymouth’s Faithful Pilgrim, by Gary D. Schmidt, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1999