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1911 illustration of Tisquantum ("Squanto") teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant maize.
Patuxet territory, Wampanoag Confederacy
(now Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, U.S.)
|Died||November 30, 1622
Chatham, Massachusetts Bay Colony, English America
|Known for||Helping the pilgrims during their first visit to North America|
|Religion||Christianity (converted from Patuxet North American Indigenous Religion)|
Tisquantum (died November 30, 1622), also known as Squanto, was a Patuxet man who assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter in what is now Massachusetts. He was integral to their very 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, traveling with colonists to London and back.
Squanto and Tisquantum derive from a Wampanoag word for divine rage. This was likely a name he was given as an adult. Smithsonian magazine reports:
"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 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."
Early life and enslavement
Squanto's date and year of birth are unknown but many historians list them as January 1, 1585 or January 1, 1592. He was born in a Patuxet village, 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 Squanto and five members of his tribe. He took them all with him to England. Gorges taught Squanto English and trained him as an interpreter.
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 Thomas Hunt, one of Smith's lieutenants. Hunt was planning to sell fish, corn, and captured natives in Málaga, Spain. He transported Squanto and a number of other Native Americans to Spain, where he tried to sell them into slavery for £20 a piece.
Return to North America
Some local friars discovered what Hunt was attempting, so they took Squanto and the other Native Americans to instruct them in the Catholic faith. Squanto persuaded the friars to let him try to return home. He reached London, where he lived with John Slany, a shipbuilder for whom he worked for a few years. Slany taught Squanto more English. He took Squanto to Cuper's Cove, Newfoundland in 1617. 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 Gorges and ask for permission about the trip to Squanto's homeland.
In 1619, Squanto finally 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 decimated the previous year by a plague, possibly smallpox. (In 2010 researchers published an article suggesting this had been an epidemic of leptospirosis).
Interactions with the Pilgrims
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. It is widely believed that he helped them recover from an extremely hard first winter by teaching them the native method of maize cultivation, which buried local fish (menhaden) in the soil to fertilize crops. 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 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, 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.
On his way back from a meeting to repair damaged relations between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, Squanto fell ill 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. Squanto died a few days later in 1622 in Chatham, Massachusetts. He was buried in an unmarked grave, by a tree, possibly in Plymouth's cemetery Burial Hill. Peace between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims 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."
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- Morton, T. New English Canaan, or New Canaan. London: Charles Green (1637)
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- 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; ISBN 978-0-385-72153-0
- Nash, Struggle and Survival in Colonial America, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 228-45, 1989.
- Salisbury, N. "Squanto: The Last of the Patuxets", 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Squanto.|
- Who Was Squantum?
- Modern History Sourcebook: William Bradford: from History of Plymouth Plantation, c. 1650 · Treaty with the Indians 1621
- Caleb Johnson's MayflowerHistory.com
- "Squanto". Folk Figure. Find a Grave. Oct 23, 2002. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
- Fish fertilizer: a Native North American Practice?; accessed November 26, 2014.
- Squanto: Trans-Atlantic Translator