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1911 illustration of Tisquantum ("Squanto") teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant maize.
Born Tisquantam
(1585-11-15)November 15, 1585
Patuxet territory, Wampanoag Confederacy
(now Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, U.S.)
Died November 30, 1622 (age 37)
Chatham, Massachusetts Bay Colony, English America
Nationality Patuxet tribe
Known for Helping the pilgrims during their first visit to North America

Tisquantum (January 1, 1585 – November 30, 1622), also known as Squanto, was the Native American who assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter in the New World and was integral to their survival. He was a member of the Patuxet tribe, a tributary of the Wampanoag Confederacy. During his lifetime, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean six times.


Squanto and Tisquantum derive from a Wampanoag word for divine rage. Smithsonian reports that:

More than likely Tisquantum was not the name he was given at birth. In that part of the Northeast, tisquantum referred to rage, especially the rage of manitou, the world-suffusing spiritual power at the heart of coastal Indians’ religious beliefs. When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had stuck out his hand and said, Hello, I’m the Wrath of God.[1]

Early life and enslavement[edit]

Squanto's exact date of birth is unknown but many historians list it as January 1, 1585 or January 1, 1592. He was born somewhere in the vicinity of present day Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 1605, Captain George Weymouth, who was exploring the New England coastline for Sir Ferdinando Gorges, owner of the Plymouth Company captured five members of Squanto's tribe, and took them along with Squanto/Tisquantum to England, where Gorges taught him English and trained him to be a guide and interpreter.[2]

Squanto returned to New England in 1614 with an expedition led by Captain John Smith. On his way back to Patuxet, Squanto was abducted by Englishman Thomas Hunt, one of Smith's lieutenants. Hunt was planning to sell fish, corn, and captured natives in Málaga, Spain. There, Hunt attempted to sell Squanto and a number of other Native Americans into slavery in Spain for £20 apiece.[3]

Return to North America[edit]

Some local friars discovered what Hunt was attempting and took the remaining Native Americans — Squanto included — in order to instruct them in the Catholic faith.[4] Squanto convinced the friars to let him try to return home. He managed to get to London, where he lived with John Slany, a shipbuilder for whom he worked for a few years. Slany apparently taught Squanto more English. He took Squanto to Cuper's Cove, Newfoundland in 1617.[5] To get to New England, Squanto tried to take part in an expedition to that part of the North American east coast, but Thomas Dermer sent him back to London in 1618 to meet Sir Ferdinando Gorges and ask for permission about the trip to Squanto’s homeland.[6] At last in 1619 Squanto returned to his homeland aboard John Smith’s ship, having joined an exploratory expedition along the New England coast, led by Captain Dermer. He soon discovered that the Patuxet, as well as a majority of coastal New England tribes (mostly Wampanoag and Massachusett), had been exterminated the year before by a plague,[7] possibly smallpox (although it has recently been postulated as having been leptospirosis).[8] Native Americans had no natural immunity to European infectious diseases and were isolated from the effects of natural selection that affected Europe through various epidemics.

Interactions with the Pilgrims[edit]

On March 22, 1621 the Abenaki sagamore, Samoset, who was visiting Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, introduced Squanto to the Plymouth colonists near the site of his former village.[2] It is a popular myth that he helped them recover from an extremely hard first winter by teaching them the native method of maize cultivation. The legend claimed a method that used local fish (menhaden) to fertilize crops. He is commonly thought to have taught the colonists how to catch the menhaden necessary to fertilize maize in the native fashion along with the methods by which they could catch fish and other local wildlife for food.

In 1621 Squanto was the guide and translator for settlers Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow as they traveled upland on a diplomatic mission to the Wampanoag sachem, known today as Massasoit. In a subsequent mission for Governor William Bradford that summer, Squanto was captured by Wampanoag while gathering intelligence on the renegade sagamore, Corbitant, at the village of Nemasket (site of present-day Middleborough, Massachusetts.) Myles Standish led a ten-man team of settlers from Plymouth to rescue Squanto if he was alive or, if he had been killed, to avenge him. He was found alive and well. He was welcomed back by the Pilgrims at Plymouth, where he continued in his vital role as assistant to the colony.

Although he worked at alliances, Massasoit, the sachem who first appointed Squanto as liaison to the Pilgrims, nevertheless did not trust him in the tribe's dealings with the settlers. He assigned Hobomok (whose name may have been a pseudonym, as it meant "mischievous"), to watch over Squanto and act as a second representative.[9]


On his way back from a meeting to repair damaged relations between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, Squanto became sick with a fever. He began bleeding from the nose. Some historians have speculated that he was poisoned by the Wampanoag because they believed he had been disloyal to the sachem.[10] Squanto died a few days later in 1622 in Chatham, Massachusetts. He was buried in an unmarked grave, possibly in Plymouth's cemetery Burial Hill.[11] Peace between the two groups lasted for another fifty years.

Governor William Bradford, in Bradford's History of the English Settlement, wrote regarding Squanto's death:

Here [Manamoick Bay] Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman's God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.

His name lives on in place names in Massachusetts' South Shore, most notably in the neighborhood of Squantum in Quincy.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Mann, Charles C. "Native Intelligence". Smithsonian. Retrieved Nov 30, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Squanto", Biography
  3. ^ "Squanto". Roots Web. Retrieved Nov 30, 2009. 
  4. ^ Sir Ferdinando Gorges, A Brief Relation of the Discovery and Plantation of New England (London: 1622)
  5. ^ 1491. Mann, Charles C.
  6. ^ Kinnicutt, L. N. (1914–1915). "Plymouth settlement and Tisquantum". Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc. XLVIII: 103–18. 
  7. ^ Alan Axlerod, Little-known Wars of Great and Lasting Impact, p.101
  8. ^ Marr JS, Cathey JT. New hypothesis for cause of an epidemic among Native Americans, New England, 1616–1619. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2010 Feb. doi:10.3201/eid1602.090276
  9. ^ Continental Drift (November 29, 2006). "Squanto". Retrieved May 10, 2012. 
  10. ^ Philbrick, Nathaniel: Mayflower, p. 138. Viking, 2006.
  11. ^ Neely, Kirk H. (July 13, 2009). "First Americans: Tisquantum". Retrieved May 10, 2012. 

Primary sources[edit]

  • Bradford, W. Governor William Bradford's Letter Book. Boston: Applewood, 2002 (reprint from 1906).
  • Bradford, W. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–1647. New York: Modern Library 1981 (1856).[1]
  • Gorges, Ferdinand. "A Briefe Relation of the Discovery and Plantation of New England," in Baxter 1890, I:203-40 (1622).
  • Morton, T. New English Canaan, or New Canaan. London: Charles Green, 1637.
  • Winslow, E. Good Newes from New-England: or A True Relation of Things Very Remarkable at the Plantation of Plimoth in New-England. London: William Bladen and John Bellamie, 1624

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Cell, G.T. "The Newfoundland Company: A Study of Subscribers to a Colonizing Venture", William & Mary Quarterly (WMQ) 22:611-25, 1965.
  • Deetz, J. and P.S. Deetz. The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony. New York: Random House, 2000.
  • Mann, Charles. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, New York: Random House, 2005.
  • Nash, Struggle and Survival in Colonial America, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 228-45, 1989.
  • Salisbury, N. "Squanto: The Last of the Patuxets," in D.G. Sweet and G.B. Nash, Struggle and Survival in Colonial America, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 228-45, 1989.
  • Salisbury, N. Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500–1643. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro Massachusetts 1669–1905, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906.

External links[edit]