America’s history concerning Native Americans seems to be filled with lies and death. That has not always been the case, though. There have been times that, without the assistance from the natives, settlers would not have survived. Learn here about Squanto, the Patuxet Indian that befriended the Pilgrims.
Tribe and Early Life
Squanto, who was also known as ‘Tisquantum,’ was a member of the Patuxet tribe that resided in eastern Massachusetts. The Patuxet tribe was part of the larger Wampanoag Tribe that covered much of the New England territory. He was born between 1580 and 1590 – the exact date and year is not known – in the area of present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 1614, Squanto and a few other Patuxet guided Captain John Smith as he explored the area.
After Captain Smith returned to England, he left Captain Thomas Hunt in charge. In 1615, Captain Hunt brought the Patuxet on his ship to discuss trading, but instead, they ambushed the Patuxet people that came on board. Captain Hunt, who was acting against orders from Captain Smith, took the Patuxet to Malaga, Spain, and sold them into slavery.
Life in Europe
As Captain Hunt was selling the Patuxet, a group of Spanish monks heard of what was going on and rescued Squanto and an unknown number of other Patuxet.
The monks introduced the Indians to Catholicism and helped Squanto to get out of Spain and make his way to England. While in England, Squanto learned to speak English and befriended John Slaney, who was Treasurer of the Newfoundland Company. Squanto earned employment as an interpreter and assistant for finding natural resources for the Newfoundland Company.Squanto was sent to Newfoundland, and there he worked for Governor John Mason. While in Newfoundland, Squanto met Captain Thomas Dermer who listened to Squanto’s story and decided Squanto could help him calm tensions between the English and Indians.
Squanto set off for Plymouth in 1619 with Captain Dermer.
Back in Plymouth
Back in his native land, Squanto found his tribe wiped out by smallpox. Squanto went to meet with the Pokanoket tribe while Captain Dermer went to make peace with the nearby Nauset tribe. The Nauset imprisoned Captain Dermer and killed most of his men. Squanto negotiated Captain Dermer’s release and helped him reach his ship, but Squanto stayed with the Pokanoket.
Pilgrims and Indians
The Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower at Plymouth in 1620.
In 1621 after a terrible winter and many Pilgrims dying, Squanto and the Pokanoket chief, Massasoit, went to speak to the Pilgrims. Squanto was able to negotiate peace between the Pokanoket and the Pilgrims, and later he brought peace to other tribes fearful of the Pilgrims.Squanto is most famous for teaching the Pilgrims how to use fish to help fertilize and grow corn. He also interpreted between the Pilgrims and many area tribes to trade goods.
The Pokanoket grew angry toward Squanto for trying to gain power in the tribe by claiming to other Wampanoags that he could react to an attack by foreigners more quickly and that he had the backing of the Pilgrims and their muskets. Chief Massasoit asked for Squanto to be handed over to be killed, but the Pilgrims stalled and talked the tribe into allowing him to live. He did not live long, as in 1623 he suddenly came down with a fever and a nose bleed and died. Some thought he may have contracted smallpox while others believed he was poisoned by the Pokanokets.
After you are finished, you should be able to:
- Recall who Squanto was and his place of origin
- Recite how Squanto found his way to Spain and back to the New World
- Summarize the events that led to Squanto’s interaction with the Pilgrims in Plymouth and, eventually, his death