It seems only fitting to have Tisquantum, known as Squanto, as my VIP for Thanksgiving week because he was there for the first Thanksgiving. The story of Squanto helping the Pilgrims was one of my favorite childhood stories.
Squanto was born about 1585 in Massachusetts. He was one of the last living members of the Patuxet Indian Tribe because he was in England when his village was annihilated by an infectious epidemic.
Six years before the Mayflower’s landing, in 1614 Squanto was abducted by an English adventurer, Thomas Hunt, who came to Patuxet as part of a commercial fishing and trading venture commanded by Captain John Smith. After Smith left for England with his cargo, Hunt, who was to take his dried fish cargo to Spain, kidnapped 27 Natives, including Squanto, and sailed to Spain to sell them into slavery. How Squanto escaped from Spain to England is not known, but when in England Squanto lived with a merchant involved in the project to exploit and settle Newfoundland. He eventually was sent there, where he met an associate of John Smith, Thomas Dermer, who was acting for the London merchants involved in settling New England. In 1619 Dermer brought Squanto to his native village, which he found to be destroyed by an epidemic. After intervening in a dispute between Dermer and Cape Code Natives, Squanto evidently went to live with the Pokanoket, some say as a prisoner. No records exist of his activities from that time until his famous encounter with the Mayflower settlement in 1621.
Squanto is famous because he was the liaison between the Native Americans in the New England area and the settlers from the Mayflower, who built their settlement upon the ruins of Squanto’s former summer village. Squanto lived with the settlers for 20 months and served as their translator, guide and advisor. In particular, he is known for showing them how to plant, fertilize, and grow native crops. He also introduced them to the fur trade, which helped them to pay their debts to their financial backers in London.
Squanto was a great help to the Pilgrims in numerous ways. His ability to speak English was helpful in teaching the newcomers the ways of the New World. He was an important part of the reason for the settlers’ survival during their first two years in America.
Squanto died on November 30, 1622, in Chatham, Massachusetts, and was buried at Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts.