Squanto’s Story

Part 2 of The Revealed Ministries’ Thanksgiving Series

Thanksgiving is a time of year to count our blessings. In a materialistic society which is focused on success and social media comparison games, it’s easy to focus on conditional thanksgiving. It’s not too difficult to be thankful as I climb into my new memory foam mattress at the end of a long day. But, how does one maintain a thankful perspective in the midst of social injustice, hardship and what may seem to be a badly dealt hand of life?

The circumstances our fore-fathers lived through, with an attitude of thankfulness and resolve to overcome, give us reason to pause and reflect. When we look back in history, with a birds-eye view, we can see the work of the Lord, and his providence as it plays out over an entire life time of someone like Squanto, who suffered much and overcame. When Squanto was a young brave and kidnapped from his homeland, he did not know that his misfortune would become salvation for a group of 100 refugees and their descendants. He couldn’t have imagined all the little school children who would color his picture and hear an incredibly shortened and watered-down version of his story. If you have 5 minutes to read on, you will hear of the divine intervention that saved Squanto’s life, and how his years of oppression gave birth to years of mediation between two people groups. While you probably did not hear of these detailed stories in school, I have taken these excerpts from the person journals and correspondence of pilgrims William Bradford, Edward Winslow and even some extra insights from the writings of Captain John Smith of Jamestown. You will see from these writings, not only Squanto’s role in the first Thanksgiving, but his fun-loving, prankster personality that kept relationships with the native peoples and the Plymouth Colony full of laughter.

Most of us know that Squanto spoke English and taught the Pilgrims to plant corn. What many do not know is how he came to learn English. Squanto’s story, begins when he was unjustly captured, along with several other braves from his tribe, by Captain Thomas Hunt. John Smith of Jamestown gives this account, interestingly enough, since he was an associate of Captain Hunt.


Sold as a slave like Joseph

Desiring to start a New England colony, Captain John Smith asked Captain Hunt to stay behind in the Massachusetts bay area to establish trade with the Natives. Instead, Captain Hunt sparked intense hostility by attacking and kidnapping several of the young braves. He took Squanto — known by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe as “Tisquantum” — and sold him into slavery. We can only imagine the confusion and utter terror that Squanto and the other braves experienced.  What was it like to be ripped from one’s homeland by strangers who do not speak your language and who dress oddly and eat unusual food? This is not the first time that such a story of slavery to redemption has graced the pages of history. I want to briefly take an aside, because we need to remember that even in the middle of evil, God still works out his plan for a person’s life that is greater than the temporary pain that is felt in a trial.

In Genesis, Joseph experienced this when his own brothers sold him into slavery. He suffered for over a decade in slavery and subsequently prison, when wrongly accused of attempted rape by Potiphar’s — his master’s — wife. However, he kept his heart set on The Lord in the middle of the excruciating emotional and physical pain. At the end of Genesis, we see God’s plan begin to take shape. Finally, all the stress, sacrifice, wasted years and pain begin to make sense, as Joseph is vindicated by The Lord.  His prophetic dreams that he had as a young man came true before his eyes. Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers ultimately resulted in their salvation and the saving of the entire known world at the time. Here is what he declared to his brothers when they realized that the boy they sold into slavery was now the Egyptian leader they were cowering before: 

Genesis 45:4 “Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” “

What Captain Hunt intended for evil, God used to save Squanto’s life and ultimately the entire Plymouth Colony. And in perspective, the Pilgrims were the first group of people in North America to establish a democratic contract through the Mayflower Compact. Their impact on democracy in North America was foundational to our country’s freedom.

When Squanto arrived in Europe, he was purchased by monks who taught him to speak English. The monks also taught him about Jesus. Squanto learned that all white people were not like the evil slave traders who had captured him and had also killed many other of his friends and acquaintances. Squanto worked for a nice family as a stable boy in England for 5 years. But after some time he made it back home to find his Patuxet tribe in New England.

Squanto arrived in 1619, just a year before the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod. When he returned, he was distressed to find that all of his tribe had died of a terrible plague. He found solace in the household of Massasoit, the head Sachem — or chief — over all the smaller tribes in the greater area. The land Squanto grew up on was abandoned, due to superstition over the great plague that had wiped out the Patuxet tribe. This is the very acreage that the Mayflower came upon in the snowy, cold December of 1620. The Mayflower tried to sail down the Hudson River, to get out of the bay area, but strong headwinds kept providentially pushing her precious cargo back to Cape Cod.

Sensing that the providence of God was encouraging them to stay here, the Pilgrims finally decided to drop anchor and explore this very area where the Patuxet had previously lived.  

In the spring, after a long hard winter where the Pilgrims buried 2-3 people daily in shallow graves at night to avoid the indians — what they called the native peoples — knowing how weak and small their party was growing, an indian named Samoset visited the Pilgrims. After the most heartbreaking and trying time of their lives, where they lost most of the mothers, many children and some of the men, the fledgling band of pilgrims were about to have a breakthrough of hope! Much to their surprise, this tall, strong native man spoke English! Samoset had learned a few phrases from English fur traders up north. He spent the night at Plymouth Colony, and they kept a quiet watch over him. He promised to come the next day with a native who spoke better English than he.

From Of Plymouth Plantation by Governor William Bradford:

But, about the 16th of March, an indian came boldly amongst them, and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand, but marveled at it. At length, they could tell by discourse with him that he was not of these parts, but belonged to the Eastern parts, where some English ships came to fish, with whom he was acquainted and could name sundry of them (many of them), amongst whom he had gotten his language. 

He became profitable (or helpful) to them by acquainting them with many things concerning the state of the country, in the East parts where he lived…..His name was Samoset. He told them also of another indian by the name of Squanto, a native of the place who had been in England and could speak better English than himself. 

Samoset left with many gifts from the English and returned shortly afterwards with Chief Massasoit and Squanto. The Pilgrims honored the great Chief Massasoit by blowing a trumpet for him, shooting off rounds and giving him many gifts. The Pilgrims made a peace treaty with Massasoit. They agreed on 6 points to keep respect between the two groups. This peace lasted for 50 years amongst the tribes and the settlers of Plymouth colony.

Squanto — a special gift from God

“After these things he (Massasoit) returned to his place called Sowams, some 40 miles from this place. But Squanto continued with them, and was their interpreter, and was a special instrument sent from God for their good beyond their expectation. He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to take them to unknown places to their profit (benefit). He never left them until he died. 

He was a native of this place and hardly any left alive besides himself. He was carried away with diverse others by one Hunt, a master of a ship, who thought to sell them as slaves in Spain, but he got away for England and was entertained by a merchant in London and employed to Newfoundland and other parts and lastly was brought hither to these parts by Mr. Dermer.”

Squanto saved Governor William Bradford’s life by defending him against other tribes who were still angry because of former English explorers and traders who murdered and kidnapped many braves. Bradford said that “Squanto entreated hard for me.”

Squanto the prankster

Squanto was known for his pranks and slightly manipulative sense of humor. Once, when an indian stole beads and goods from Captain Miles Standish, the pilgrims went at once to discuss the issue with Chief Massasoit. The Sachem was very upset with the responsible party and required restitution for the theft. After the tribe punished the responsible party, Squanto told the chief that he must greet the pilgrims with a salute that involved licking his hand. It is told here quite humorously by Edward Winslow. (Winslow was the main emissary, almost ambassador, as you would say, to the Native Peoples. This excerpt is from Good News from New England, a letter Winslow wrote home to his close friends and family.) 

At their return, Captain Standish being recovered and in health, took another shallop, and went with them to the come, which they found in, safety as they left it: also they mended the other shallop, and got all their come aboard the ship. This was in January, as I take it, it being very cold and stormy, insomuch as (the harbor being none of the best) they were constrained to cut both the shallops from the ships stern, and so lost them both a second time. But the storm being over, and seeking out, they found them both, not having received any great hurt. Whilest they were at Nauset, having the occasion, to lie on the shore, laying their shallop in a Creek not far from them, an Indian came into the same, and stole certain Beads, scissors, and other trifles out of the same, which when the Captain missed, he took certain of his company with him, and went to the Sachem, telling him what had happened, and requiring the same again, or the party that stole them, (who was known to certain of the Indians) or else he would revenge it on them before his departure, and so took leave for that night being late, refusing whatsoever kindness they offered; On the morrow, the Sachem came to their rendezvous, accompanied with many men, in a stately manner, who saluting the Captain in this wise; He thrust out his tongue, that one might see the root thereof, and therewith licked his hand from the wrist to the fingers end, withal bowing the knee, striving to imitate the English gesture, being instructed therein formerly by Tisquantum: his men did the like, but in so rude and savage a manner, as our men could scarce forbear to break out in open laughter. After salutation, he delivered the Beads, and other things, to the Captain, saying, he had much beaten the party for doing it, causing the women to make bread, and bring them, according to their desire, seeming to be very sorry for the fact, but glad to be reconciled. So they departed, and came home in safety; where the come was equally divided, as before.

Squanto also took advantage of his position as William Bradford’s interpreter to leverage his influence over the Wampanoag, as well as the Pilgrims. He was known to use tactics that the Pilgrims were not happy with. They, of course did not approve of tall tales or deception. Whether this was another joke of Squanto’s or a manipulation, we can now chuckle at it. This is also an excerpt from Edward Winslow’s Good News from New England.

Here let me not omit one notable (though wicked) practice of this Tisquantum, who to the end he might possess his Countrymen with the greater fear of us, and so consequently of himself, told them we had the plague buried in our storehouse, which at our pleasure we could send forth to what place or people we would, and destroy them therewith, though we stirred not from home. Being upon the fore-named brabbles sent for by the Governor to this place, where Hobomok was and some other of us, the ground being broke in the midst of the house, (hereunder certain barrels of powder were buried, though unknown to him) Hobomok asked him what it meant? To whom he readily answered; That was the place wherein the plague was buried, whereof he formerly told him and others. After this Hobomok asked one of our people, whether such a thing were, and whether we had such command of it ? Who answered no; But the God of the English had it in store, and could send it at his pleasure to the instruction of his and our enemies.

 Squanto’s Deathbed Conversion

Page 252 Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

In this place, Squanto fell sick of an Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose (which the indians take as a symptom of death), and within a few days, died there; desiring the Governor to pray for him, that he may go to the Englishman’s God in heaven, and bequeathed sundry (many) of his things to sundry of his English friends, as remembrance of his love, in whom they had a great loss. 

We will never know fully Squanto’s true thoughts and feelings concerning what he lived through, but we know how he was cared for by his friends. Through their pens, we can read a story of redemption in Squanto’s life. We certainly do know that God redeemed the years that were stolen from him. He was greatly loved by the Pilgrims who even rescued him on at least one occasion, returning the many favors he had bestowed upon him. Ultimately, he came to Christ fulfilling the scripture that every tribe and tongue will come to Christ. In heaven some day, perhaps you and I can ask him personally some more details concerning his great journey and his role in rescuing Plymouth Colony. Would he ever know how famous he would become? Would he ever see the true circle of life that came back around after his horrific kidnapping? We can never know for sure, but we certainly can honor his life and thank God for his providence in our lives.

To end today’s reading, we will end with a beautiful excerpt from Winslow’s letter home concerning the land, the first Thanksgiving and their relationship with the Native Peoples.

Edward Winslow’s account of The First Thanksgiving and his description of the loving relationship the pilgrims had with the Native Peoples:

We set the last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas, and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings or rather shads, which we have in great abundance, and take with great ease at our doors.  Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown, they came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom; our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us: we often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them; the occasions and relations whereof you shall understand by our general and more full declaration of such things as are worth the noting, yea, it hath pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto us, that not only the greatest king amongst them called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have either made suit unto us, or been glad of any occasion to make peace with us, so that seven of them at once have sent their messengers to us to that end, yea, an Fle at sea, which we never saw hath also together with the former yielded willingly to be under the protection, and subjects to our sovereign Lord King James, so that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood, as in the highways in England, we entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us.

Read the full account from Edward Winslow here at Mayflowerhistory.com. Good News From New England

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