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Was There a Credit Union at the First Thanksgiving?

A Thanksgiving meal on a table

The short answer is no, of course not. The first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621, which was 150 years before the creation of the first credit unions. However, the Pilgrims did believe in many of the principles that would come to define the credit union movement that swept the globe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Pilgrims wanted to work together as a community

The Pilgrims were united by a sense of community and togetherness. Convinced they couldn’t maintain the values that mattered most to them if they stayed in England, they risked it all to cross the ocean, hoping to build better lives for their families.

Unsatisfied with a financial system that took away their power

Traveling to the New World was a difficult and expensive task. The group would need to pay a crew, save enough food and supplies for the journey, and pay all sorts of taxes and fees. In order to come up with enough money to make the trip, they couldn’t just get preapproved for a loan online. There was no “preapproved” or “online”, or even financial institutions.

Instead, loan decisions at that time were made by the King or a few incredibly wealthy individuals. In today’s context, it would be like trying to get a small loan to start a business from millionaire business tycoons or the owner of your nearest NFL team. The Pilgrims were denied a charter for a new colony by King James I, so they had no choice but to seek out the wealthiest individual they could find. In their case, they secured a loan from Thomas Weston to pay for the trip.

So how did they secure the loan to head to the New World? It was pretty ugly—the terms of the loan were seven years of indentured servitude. They wouldn’t make any profit or own any land for seven years, at the end of which half of the land would revert to Weston and the company to whom he sold shares in the Mayflower voyage.

The Start of Credit Unions

Fast forward a couple hundred years, as drought ravaged parts of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Few banks were willing to extend loans to farmers who were unlikely able to repay the debts. Of course, that meant that the drought quickly turned into a famine, as farmers who had no food to sell and no capital to buy seeds had little chance to make money, which meant they had no opportunity to grow food for their communities.

The first credit unions extended loans to the farmers, saving their communities from starvation. Suddenly, people realized that they didn’t have to be powerless in the face of super-rich individuals who didn’t have their best interests at heart.

Credit Unions Today

The first Thanksgiving feast was a celebration of the credit union spirit. Credit unions believe that if we work together, we’ll all be better off.

Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union is made up of members and employees who live in our local community. We don’t answer to shareholders, we answer to our members. We exist to serve our community and we’re thankful to do good work for the people we know and love. We’re thankful that somewhere in our history, we all chose to come together and help each other.

To learn more about Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union visit our website.

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