On November 21, 1620, the Pilgrims were a new people in a new land. Winter was approaching and they had little time to prepare. After 66 days at sea, they stepped out into a rocky, cold and inhospitable land. The Pilgrims had barely survived their first winter and were unsure of how they would make it through the spring of 1621. Then, came Squanto.
Squanto, also called Tisquantum, was a Pawtuxet brave who was born in the Plymouth Bay region in the late 1500s. Squanto’s tribe, the Pawtuxet, was part of the larger Wampanoag community. Wampanoag meant People of the First Light.
Europeans were not strangers to this young Pawtuxet brave. When Squanto was a young man European explorers began to visit his people, searching for opportunities to trade. When Squanto was about sixteen years old, in 1605 and 1606, even more explorers, English and French, including John Smith of Jamestown fame, came to Massachusetts. Although Smith initially warred with the Wampanoag, he later they made peace with them and Squanto helped him in his travels. Smith returned to England and left Captain Thomas Hunt in charge. It was Thomas, in 1615, which lured Squanto and other braves from his tribe on their ship, and kidnapped them.
Squanto was taken to Spain and Thomas attempted to sell him into slavery. The Pawtuxet brave was eventually rescued by Spanish friars. He journeyed to England where he came to the attention of English explorer, John Slaney, who was interested in the New World. Squanto learned English and helped translate for those Englishmen, who encountered Native Americans in the New World. Almost five years after he was kidnapped, in 1619, Squanto returned to his Plymouth Bay village. However, he was not greeted by friends or family because his entire village died from disease. He turned to the other Wampanoags.
When the Pilgrims arrived in the New World and survived the winter, the Chief of the Wampanoags, Massasoit, sent Samoset, a member of his tribe who spoke English, to investigate the Europeans intentions. After some talk, Squanto was sent to assist them.
Squanto lived with the Pilgrims and taught them how to grow and catch food. Many school children are told the story of how Squanto showed the Pilgrim farmers how to plant corn in the rocky soil. Squanto also taught the Pilgrims how to find edible native foods, such as berries and nuts. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to hunt deer, bears and turkeys and how to catch fish using nets.
Through Squanto efforts the Pilgrims had a wonderful harvest in the fall of 1621. In celebration, the Pilgrims invited their Wampanoag friends to feast with them. Similar to the Wampanoag celebration called Nikkommo, the Pilgrims offered their own Thanksgiving feast.
Squanto did more than help the Pilgrims find and grow food. Through his efforts, the Pilgrims and local tribes entered into peace treaties. He interpreted for both sides when it came to trading for furs and other matters.
Squanto, although at times he was distrusted by Native Americans and the new settlers, was very important to the Pilgrims. In 1622, Squanto died. On writing about Squanto’s death in his History of the English Settlement, Governor William Bradford wrote, that Squanto’s death was a great loss.
A brave, an interpreter, an explorer and a teacher, Squanto helped save the surviving Pilgrims and their colony. In doing so, Squanto served as a bridge between two cultures and ultimately two worlds.