Image: Public Domain. The German Kali Works, New York - Bricker, Garland Armor. The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School. New York: Macmillan, 1911. Page 112
By Joseph Morgan
Tisquantum was the name of the Patuxet brave who helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter in the New World. He is better known by his nickname, Squanto. His people, the Patuxet, were a band of the larger Wampanoag tribe who lived along the coast in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, and they spoke an Algonquian dialect. Historians place his birth around 1580. Squanto is best known for his work as a guide and interpreter for early settlers in Southern New England. His advice and assistance were integral to the survival of early Pilgrims, including the Mayflower Pilgrims.
Almost very little is known about Squanto's early years. It is believed that the band Squanto was born into contained more than 2,000 people at one point. However, written records of Patuxet are non-existent. What is known is that the Patuxets were completely wiped out by a plague. Sometime before that occurred, Squanto was kidnapped and taken to England. Some have argued this happened as early as 1605, with Squanto returing to his homeland in 1614, only to be kidnapped again that same year by Thomas Hunt and sold as a slave in Spain.
Whether or not he was England before, it is certain that he made his way there after 1614 when he was taken to England by Spanish friars who had freed him from his slavery. From England, he took a job with John Slaney, who sent him to Newfoundland in 1617. There, Squanto met explorer Thomas Dermer and eventually traveled with him back to North America. Squanto finally returned to his homeland in 1619, only to find his village empty. The Patuxets and many other bands of the Wampanoags had been devastated in 1617, by an unknown disease. Finding no survivors of his people, he eventually returned to work with Dermer, who was engaging in skirmishes with indigenous populations.
Squanto's time in England equipped him with a unique set of skills. Unlike most other indigenous peoples, could speak English, which allowed him to act as a liaison between settlers and native tribes. He interpreted conversations and served as a guide for the settlers. Some tribes did not appreciate the fact that he was helping the English. This caused problems for Squanto. In fact, he was actually being held as captive by Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag tribe, when the Pilgrims arrived. Eventually, he obtained his freedom with the Pilgrims.
When the Pilgrim band of Separatists and “strangers” arrived in 1620, Squanto convinced Massasoit to ally the surviving Wampanoag tribe. Such an alliance would help the Wampanoag fend off the threat of the Narragansett, an enemy tribe that hadn't been devastated by the disease. After the Pilgrims suffered their first winter in 1620, and their number had been dwindled, Massasoit decided to follow Squanto's advice. Using Squanto as translator, Massasoit signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims.
Squanto is credited with teaching the English settlers to teach them to fish, hunt, and cultivate corn and use natural resources. His guidance helped them survive their first year. Squanto was also instrumental when it came to skirmishes with some of the other indigenous peoples in the area. The Pilgrims and the Wampanoags weren't exactly friends. They were wary allies. The Pilgrims saw the natives as uncivilized savages, while the native Americans saw Europeans as short, weak, and smelly, and suspicious. Despite their antagonism, both groups needed each other to survive. The Pilgrims were desperate to avoid starvation and aggression from hostile Native American tribes; the Wampanoags were desperate for guns to defend from the more powerful Narragansetts.
This was the context of the first Thanksgiving. Having survived their first winter, and received their first harvest with the help of Squanto, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoags to a feast. On the feast day, Massasoit showed up with 90 men, which caused the Pilgrims to fear all their food stores would be eaten. However, the natives brought food of their own, namely five, full-dressed deer, and other things. Many of them also carried weapons! Since the armed Wampanoags outnumbered the Pilgrims almost 2-1, you can bet the feast was pretty awkward. The first Thanksgiving lasted three days, and when it was over, the two parties left on friendly, if not brotherly terms.
Squanto remained with the Pilgrims until his death, since they were living in his homeland but also, it was a means to avoid captivity under Massasoit. He died in November of 1622. At the time of his death, he was serving as a guide for William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth settlement. Bradford wrote that Squanto grew sick with fever and died several days later. It is believed that Squanto was buried in the village of Chatham Port, but this detail, like many of the details of Squanto's life, may or may not be true.
Sources, Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford and, A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England by Edward Winslow.