Plagued by a deadly virus, toiling to jumpstart an economy in tatters and longing for a return to normalcy, the case could be made that giving up and starting over would be the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the hardship and impossible odds, the pilgrims of the Plymouth colony in 1620 stuck it out, and in doing so, laid the foundation for a nation that would grow to become the wealthiest, most abundant place on earth.
Even though 400 years has passed since those English settlers landed in a strange place in hopes of creating a better life, the lessons they learned are still relevant, and the humility, hope and gratitude they showed has become the source of a treasured national holiday.
The Mayflower landing was marked with its own U.S. Mint Coin this year. As we celebrate this COVID-crimped quadricentennial of the original Thanksgiving, PYMNTS has put together its own commemorative list of four other things you might not have known about money and Pilgrims.
The Pilgrims Were Deeply Leveraged
In order to rent a ship, pay the crew and fill it with supplies, the Pilgrims needed money. But because they were largely poor and unskilled, their choice of lenders — and borrowing terms — were understandably quite bad.
Although the group was able to secure the funding they needed from wealthy merchant adventurer Thomas Weston in London, the expectations surrounding a return on investment proved to be poorly thought out and overly ambitious. As it turns out, settling in a new continent is a long-term proposition that was going to face years of unprofitability and unforeseen setbacks.
In the case of the pilgrims, and the joint stock agreement they signed on to, their debt turned out to be more like a 30-year mortgage rather than a short-term line of credit.
The Pilgrims Reinvented Themselves
When the Mayflower set sail from England in September of 1620, there were 102 passengers, about 30 crew members, a few tons of cargo and a handful of animals on board. Their business plan was to establish a self-governed agrarian community that would send a portion of its riches back to investors in England.
But as history would reveal, the first winter cut their numbers in half, and left those lucky enough to survive malnourished and depressed. In addition, it was soon discovered that the effort required to meet their most basic survival needs left little time for the beaver trapping and fishing that was going to finance their debt. Realizing this, and with the help of the native Wampanoags who had a 15,000-year head start in the area, the Pilgrims were able to exploit new means of commerce, such as timber, corn and beads, that proved to be better sources of revenue.
The Pilgrims Were Dealmakers
Call it good luck or simply a basic instinct to survive, but the Pilgrims’ ability to connect with and learn from the native Wampanoag is the stuff of legend, thanks in large part to the miraculous bilingualism of Samoset, Squanto and Massasoit.
While the Pilgrims had more advanced tools and guns, they were able to negotiate terms with the local tribes to provide them with everything from recipes to herbal remedies and even security. To call these early deals lifechanging would not be an understatement, since the messages sent back to England asking for additional supplies were not well received and took years to fulfill.
The Pilgrims Sought Skilled Labor
After sending desperate pleas for more supplies and assistance after their first deadly winter, the Pilgrims’ fledgling colony and fragile existence was burdened with the responsibility of providing food and shelter for another three dozen settlers, many of whom were unable to contribute towards improving the health and well-being of society.
As much as this was a mission predicated on the pursuit of religious freedom, the first governor and leadership in Plymouth quickly learned the value of adding carpenters, skilled laborers and other craftsmen to help their settlement thrive.
A letter from Gov. William Bradford in 1626 that renegotiated the Pilgrims’ debt made no secret about the types of people he wanted to help the colony survive including “heads of families, and single young men of ability that could discreetly govern themselves and their affairs so as to be helpful to the commonwealth. Men of strength that could help with defense and the carrying on of business.”