Squanto: Interpreter, Teacher, Savior
Elizabeth married Samuel Bartlett and begat Elizabeth.
Elizabeth married Joseph Bartlett (a distant cousin) and begat Betty.
Betty married Benjamin Rider and begat Betsy.
Betsy married Nathanial Churchill and begat Lydia.
Lydia married Daniel Cook and begat Elizabeth.
Elizabeth married George William Mann and begat Lydia.
Lydia married David Barclay Adams and begat Gilbert.
Gilbert married Thurza Armelia Allen and begat Thurza.
Thurza married Cornelius McDougall and begat Shirley.
Shirley married Frederick Snyder and begat….ME!
I am a big fan of the Separatists and the Strangers and the crew of the Mayflower. Not one of these tough cookies chose to return to Mother England, even after a brutal Winter had left half of their loved ones and friends in the cold clay of the Atlantic coast. There is also no question in my mind that their survival and the perpetuation of that mission hinged upon one man, a Pawtuxet native named Tisquantum, or Squanto.
Squanto was born circa 1580 and, in 1614. As a young man he was deceived and accosted by one of John Smith’s lieutenants, Captain Thomas Hunt, along with a number of other Native Americans. The Pawtuxet, along with several other coastal tribes, participated in the fur trade with the pre-Mayflower English explorers and entrepreneurs who patrolled the New England coast. Squanto’s band believed they were going aboard Hunt’s ship to make a transaction. The trust these Natives had in the fur-traders cost them their freedom when they were trapped and forced below hatches to be taken to Malaga, Spain for the express purpose of enriching Hunt with the silver that their muscle and blood could bring. Some of the local friars in Malaga discovered the treachery of Thomas Hunt and took custody of a number of the Native Americans before they were all sold into slavery. Squanto was among those few.
As a result of the kidnappings, the relations between the English and the Nauset and Pawtuxet tribes deteriorated and hostilities raged. The Native peoples drove away the English and French ships that visited the coast and in 16 17 one of the French ships was burned and almost everyone aboard was killed. Meanwhile, Squanto and some of his friends were learning the doctrines of Christianity from the friars in Spain. Disastrously, life in the Pawtuxet and Nauset villages on the site of the future Plymouth Colony, would come to an abrupt end. A European strain of smallpox or TB spread through the population of the Pawtuxet village and, in a season, killed them all. Many of the neighboring tribes were heavily hit with the plague.
His forced relocation to Europe spared Squanto, but ignorant of the devastation which had befallen, he longed to return to his native home. He found his way from Spain to England. He was discovered and taken in by John Slaney, the treasurer of the Newfoundland Company, and began to learn the King’s English. Slaney recognized Squanto’s value as an interpreter and expert on the natural resources of North America to the Newfoundland Company. Squanto’s desire to return to his home and people was realized, or so he thought, when he sailed with his new company to Newfoundland. While in Newfoundland, Squanto met another of John Smith’s cohorts, Thomas Dermer, who employed Squanto as an interpreter and possible peacemaker to the remaining Pawtuxet and Nauset tribes with whom he hoped to re-establish trading practices. In 1619 Squanto and his employer, Captain Dermer, sailed from Newfoundland to New England to mend the broken ties between the white men and the Natives.
When they arrived at Squanto’s village there stood little more than the skeletal timbers that framed the wetus which once housed the extinct villagers. Squanto’s heart was surely broken when he saw that his longed-for home was little more than an ancestral necropolis. Simultaneous to Squanto’s return home, a three-masted “fluyt”, the Mayflower, sailed from England with her cargo of opportunity-seekers and religious agitators. These adventurers, the Strangers, and religious wanderers, the Separatists, were ill-prepared for the privations of the harsh New England coast. And the crowding and hardships aboard ship would prove lethal once they had set anchor. Even after fixing their hopes on the banks of Plymouth Harbor, the bitter season spent between the common house on shore, and below decks on the Mayflower brought infection and despair, and one half of their men, women and children perished.
In the spring of 1621 the crew of the Mayflower prepared to return to Plymouth, England. The captain offered passage to anyone who wanted to return to the civilized shores of the Motherland. Not one of the colonists chose to go home. Each soul, tested by death, despair and toil and facing a precarious future, lingered in their land of promise. But the Pilgrims were gentle townsfolk. They worked hard to raise their little community but they lacked the essential skills and knowledge they would need to farm and reap the harvest that would be required to get them through another winter. On March 16, 1621, Samoset, an ambassador for Massasoit of the Wampanoag, strolled into the town, (probably chuckling under his breath) and, in his peculiar version of English matter-of-factly welcomed the settlers to their new home. They were flabbergasted when Samoset returned six days later with Massasoit, Quadequina, a deputy to Massasoit, and Squanto, with his more refined English. Squanto became the primary mediator and interpreter for the Pilgrims. During that spring Squanto remained in Plymouth Colony and taught its inhabitants them secrets of fertilization, rotation, native plants and seeds, and of using the signs in nature to provide the optimal conditions for a bounteous harvest. Squanto had returned home, for Plymouth Colony was built partially upon the ruins of his defunct village. But his new family was a strange and grateful people, completely unlike those from whom he had been taken. Squanto was regarded by some as a savior to the Pilgrims.
The harvest season of 1621 provided a bounty beyond that which the Pilgrims themselves required. Massasoit joined the 50-some settlers along with the majority of his tribe, over 90 Native men, women and children, for a three day feast of celebration and gratitude. Their’s was a feast of Thanksgiving, friendship, and peace; a peace between the inhabitants of the coastal region and some curious religious refugees, that would last more than 50 years.
Squanto died in 1622 of either natural disease, or as some have speculated, poisoning by one of the native tribes, for having used his emissary status for personal gain. However, when Squanto knew death was imminent he asked Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony, to pray for his soul that it would enter into Heaven and find rest with the Christian God. Squanto may have sensed the significance of his death as a passageway into eternity. But he could not possibly fathom the impact that his life and service would have upon the future American nation, its survival as a fledgling republic, and the roots of its Christian heritage, that would prepare it to become the greatest nation ever to grace the face of the earth.
A life of terror, toil, loss and charity are Squanto’s legacy. His kidnapping, enslavement, alienation, acquisition of English, and yearning to return home were not random events, but rather markers in a life path designed by God to succor the people He sent to plant the tree of Liberty in the wilderness of a new world.