The Story of Thanksgiving: Artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris



The Story of Thanksgiving





The story of Thanksgiving conjures up all kinds of images in our minds.  The painting above depicts one artist's rendition.  Looking at the background, middleground, and foreground of the image we see a confluence of historical figures, cultural exchange, and unknowns.  


Artist
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930)

Title
The First Thanksgiving

Date
ca. between 1912 and 1915

Medium
Oil on canvas


"The Mayflower carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. On the journey, Bradford set up an agreement, a contract, that established just and equal laws for all members of the new community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. These ideas Were expressed in the Mayflower Compact came from the Bible.  The Pilgrims were a people completely steeped in the lessons of the Old and New Testaments. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work. This was no pleasure cruise, friends. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford's detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them. There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims -- including Bradford's own wife -- died of either starvation, sickness, or exposure. 

When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats. Life improved for the Pilgrims, they did not yet prosper! The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well.  They were collectivists! Now, Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives. 

He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus turning loose the power of the marketplace. ...And what happened? It didn't work! What Bradford and his community found was that the most creative and industrious people had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else, unless they could utilize the power of personal motivation!  The Pilgrims decided early on to scrap it permanently. What Bradford wrote about this social experiment "'The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years...that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing -- as if they were wiser than God'". 

"'For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense...that was thought injustice.'" That was thought injustice. "Do you hear what he was saying, ladies and gentlemen? The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So what did Bradford's community try next? They unharnessed the power of good old free enterprise. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result?" 'This had very good success,' wrote Bradford, "for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been." In no time, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves. ... So they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians.

 The profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London. And the success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the 'Great Puritan Migration.' So the Pilgrims decided to thank God for all of their good fortune.  And that's Thanksgiving.  Do what you can to be happy, and especially do what you can to be thankful, because in this country you have more reasons than you've ever stopped to consider." 





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Credit:  http://www.ethiopianreview.com/, www.rushlimbaugh.com



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