Pilgrim Topgraders

Happy Thanksgiving!  How’s this for an idea:  If the Pilgrims had not been Topgraders, had they not elected an A Player leader, their Plymouth Colony would have failed and the Dutch, French, or Spanish would have taken over the New World.  No America.  No Thanksgiving.  Think about that this week as you enjoy your turkey dinner!

It was doubtful the Pilgrims would survive even the first year.  The Mayflower landed at Cape Cod in 1620, the winter was terrible, half the Pilgrims died of diseases within months, and the sister ship to the Mayflower leaked and couldn’t cross the Atlantic, so many supplies never made it.  The Pilgrims struggled to build houses, and as they were trying to survive in this frigid land, scary natives were taking pot shots at them.  The Mayflower captain, Chris Jones, decided to hang around, expecting the Pilgrims to give up and ask him to take them home.

Where does Topgrading come in?  The first Governor of Plymouth Colony died, and the first elected official on our soil was William Bradford (my grandfather 11 generations back).  Topgrading hiring managers of course pick A Players, and in a democracy the “pickers” are the citizens; they are the “hiring manager.”

So, was Bradford an A Player?  Get this:  William Bradford was elected Governor 31 times, and the few years he declined to accept the job, he was the de facto leader anyway.  Through the A Player leadership of Bradford, the Pilgrims survived, had that famous first Thanksgiving, and made friends with the natives, but the important point is this:  European nations wanted to colonize the New World and many settlements failed. Because the Pilgrims succeeded, hundreds of thousands of Brits followed, and that’s why we are an English-speaking nation.

William Bradford might deserve to be called Grandfather of America or America’s first A Player leader.  Other than being in charge when the Pilgrims survived the first years and opened the door to hundreds of Brits, what qualified him as an A Player?  How’s this for a resume:

Established Democracy in the New World.  Contributed to the Mayflower Compact (historically compared to Magna Carta).  Executed the Compact in a colony John Quincy Adams called the modern world’s first successful democracy.  Laid foundation for future Constitution of the United States of America.

Introduced Capitalism to the New World.  Started with a socialist system, which stifled initiative and threatened to destroy the colony.  Privatized state agriculture, permitting each farmer to work for individual profit; “gross national product” of Plymouth immediately soared.  This economic paradigm permeated New England, helped inspire the Revolutionary War, and has become firmly entrenched in the U.S.A.

Assured Separation of Church and State.  Despite deep religious foundation, protected the individual liberty by requiring civil, not religious, marriage.  As Governor, did not permit simultaneous office holding in church and political organizations.

Introduced “Town Meetings.”  As Governor, insisted on rule by consent of the governed.  Town Meeting format continues, almost 400 years later.

Created Thanksgiving.  Celebrated successful harvest with what became a national holiday.

Built Plymouth into a Secure, Stable Community.  Started with “nothing,” and grew Plymouth to 24 towns.  Paid off debt to English backers, and retired with Plymouth economically, politically, and militarily sound.

Okay, you might say, Bradford appears to have been an A Player, but of the 50 survivors of that horrible first winter, were there any other A Players?  Yes.  You’d have to be a descendant or history buff to appreciate the quality of Bradford’s team, but women and men named Winslow, Brewster, Standish, and others deserve credit for Pilgrim success.  The title of this short article is Pilgrim Topgraders, plural, and they did more than just keep electing Bradford Governor.  Bradford led by conducting our nation’s first Town Meetings, where the citizens could vote to decide just about anything.  But historians note that time and time again the citizens deferred to Bradford and his team of A Players.


My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!

Every school child sings Samuel F. Smith’s poignant refrains, connecting liberty, sacrifice of life, and freedom to the Pilgrims’ pride. In a world that knew only feudalism, Bradford owned all Plymouth’s land, but did not become a dictator; he gave to all citizens equal shares of his land.  There is not a hint of values other than democratic values from William Bradford.  He wrote,

Thus, out of small beginnings greater things have been produced, and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled has shone to many, in some ways to our whole nation.

Published November 19, 2013

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