We remember the Pilgrims mainly for their role in the First Thanksgiving, but the Pilgrim’s greatest contribution to history actually came after the feast that made them famous.
The first garden in Plymouth Rock was a communal planting of corn, beans, and squash. Every Pilgrim was expected to work in this communal garden and each would share equally in the harvest.
Following the First Thanksgiving, Governor Bradford noticed that harvests were on the decline. A few of the people were doing most of work, but everyone took an equal share of the harvest–workers and shirkers alike. The workers began to lose their enthusiasm, and crops suffered.
In April of 1623, Governor Bradford made a decision that would have profound implications on the colony. He divided the communal garden into individual plots. Each family was granted their own plot to cultivate as private farmland. They could keep or sell their harvest as they saw fit.
The harvests multiplied beyond the greatest expectations of Governor Bradford. He said he never saw families work so hard as they did on their own land. Even “the women now went willingly into the field,” he said, “and took their little ones with them to set corn”.
The Pilgrims set up trading posts throughout New England to sell their surplus. They traded with Native Americans for furs and sold produce to the waves of settlers arriving from Great Britain. Plymouth Rock prospered on the proceeds of their gardens.
This uniquely American concept of freedom flowed into every new settlement in New England, and a powerful sense of individual liberty took root in the region. It is no wonder that the revolution that created the United States began in Boston.
The American economy broke away from the feudalism, socialism, and communism of the Old World. In America, every citizen would have the freedom and opportunity to rise above his circumstances. This concept would later be called The American Dream, and it would change the world.
The Pilgrims did not pass this idea to future generations through high-blown speeches or self-serving monuments. They handed down their idea of freedom through well-tended gardens and plentiful harvests of corn, beans, and squash.