© Duane A. Cline 2001
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Squanto has captured the imagination of a great many writers over the years. This Indian may have been the subject of more literary speculation than any of his contemporaries. Yet, the facts of his life are anything but certain. No one historical source gives the complete story of Squanto's life, which means it must be pieced together from a wide variety of historical accounts. At various times, this Indian has been called Tisquantum, Squantum and Squanto.
The name Tisquantum made its first appearance in historical records in 1605. In March of that year, Capt. George Weymouth, an Englishman, set out on a voyage to explore the coasts of Penobscot, Maine and Massachussets. He was sent by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who had hopes of settling colonists in that region.
[NOTE: In 1596 Sir Ferdinando Gorges was commissioned "captain and keeper" of the castle and fort at Plymouth, England. In 1603, on the accession of James I, he was suspended from his post at Plymouth, but was restored in the same year and continued to serve as "governor" of the forts and island at Plymouth until 1629. About 1605 he became interested in the New World with special attention to the New England area.]
Capt. Weymouth had instructions to look at the resources of North America, particularly the Canadian and New England areas, and to gather information for some merchant adventurers in England who were members of the Newfoundland Company.
While in the New England region, Capt. Weymouth had his men capture several Indians, thinking his financial backers in England would be interested in seeing some natives from the region. Capt. Weymouth had his men kidnap two Indians in a very brutal manner. Weymouth wrote, "we used little delay, but suddenly laid hands upon them. . .For they were strong and so naked as our best hold was by their long hair on their heads." Then he kidnapped three more Indians to take back to England, but he used bribery with them: In his account we are told "...we gave them a can of peas and bread, which they carried to the shore to eat. But one of them brought back our can and presently staid aboard with the other two; for he being young, of a ready capacity, and one we most desired to bring with us into England, had received exceeding kind usage at our hands, and was therefore much delighted in our company."
The names of the five Indians captured by Weymouth's men were Manida, Skidwarres/Skettawarroes, Nahanada/Dehanada, Assacumet and Tisquantum. Here we find the first mention of Tisquantum, which was probably the Squanto who became such an important figure in the Pilgrim story. Capt. Weymouth returned to England in late July, 1605, with the five Indians he had captured, and presented them to Sir Ferdinando Gorges.
[NOTE: From all available accounts, it would appear Sir Ferdinando Gorges and his associates treated the five Indians well and returned them to their native homes. Of the five Indians Capt. Weymouth took back to Sir Ferdinando Gorges, we know of two who were returned early to their homeland for their names are recorded in the accounts of voyages made under Gorges' sponsorship.
In 1606 a ship under the command of Capt. Thomas Hanham, assisted by Capt. Martin Pring, visited the region of the Kennebec River in what is now Maine. They brought with them the Indian Nahanada. We learn more of Nahanada from the accounts of Capt. George Popham and Capt. Raleigh Gilbert in 1607 when they visited the same region and brought with them the Indian Skidwarres, to whom they refer as "our Indian."
During the 1607 exploration of the region, Skidwarres led the Englishmen to the summer dwelling place of Nahanada, who was chief of a group of some one hundred Indians (men, women and children). When Skidwarres explained the Englishmen had come in peace, Nahanada came forward and embraced the visitors. Over the next few weeks Nahanada and his people visited and parleyed with the Englishmen as they established their fort at Sagadahoc on the Kennebec River.]
Historical records between the years 1605 to 1614 do not reveal what was occurring in Squanto's life. We can only speculate on the basis of information which has come down to us concerning the interests and activities of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and his associates, such as Sir John Popham and Capt. John Smith, during that period of time.
On October 30, 1605, Sir John Zouche and Capt. George Weymouth entered into an agreement for setting a private plantation in northern Virginia (New England). Under the leadership of Sir John Popham there was a strong movement against private plantations and in favor of public plantations by large incorporated companies: Popham's influence prevailed. As we shall see, Popham had some plans of his own for the region.
In 1606 Gorges became a member of the newly formed Plymouth Company for New England, becoming its most influential member. He labored zealously for the founding of Sir John Popham's Colony at the mouth of the Kennebec River (then known as the Sagadahoc) in 1607. For several years following the failure of that enterprise in 1608, Gorges continued to fit out ships for fishing, trading and exploring with colonization uppermost in his mind.
It is assumed that Gorges and his associates taught Squanto (and perhaps the other Indians) English so he could question them and learn of their native lands. Gorges wanted information about names of tribes, chiefs, parties to tribal wars, who would ally with whom when trouble threatened, harbors, fishing, animals for skins, rivers, what foods the Indians grew, and which crops might be grown by English settlers.
To that end, Squanto was trained to be a guide and interpreter for the sea captains who were exploring the New England coasts. It is possible Squanto accompanied some of the expeditions to New England prior to 1614. If so, we have no specific references.
By 1614 Capt. John Smith had entered the employ of Marmaduke Rawden and his associates, Capt. George Langham, Master John Bulley, and Master William Skelton. These men were not members of the Plymouth Company. They were simply merchant adventurers who were seeking financial gain. Their stated objective was whaling, although one can wonder since Rawden was a cloth worker with side interests in wine and sugar, and Skelton was a merchant adventurer interested in cloth.
Squanto met Capt. John Smith through some uncertain connections (probably contacts with the Newfoundland Company or the Plymouth Company for New England), and was promised a return to his people at Pautuxet (now Plymouth, MA). The "fleet" of two ships left the Downs on 3/13 March 1614 with Capt. Smith in charge of one ship, and Capt. Thomas Hunt in command of the other. Squanto was a passenger on Smith's ship.
The crew totaled forty-five men and boys, and the final plan was to "make trials of a mine of gold and copper," as well as "to take whales." ("Gold" may have been the catch word Capt. Hunt used in stirring an interest on the part of the four merchant adventurers who were financing the voyage.) If they failed in these, Smith and his company were to save the cost of the voyage in any way they could—perhaps with fish and furs.
The lack of expertise among the "whalers" aboard soon became evident, and Capt. Smith realized that fish and furs were their only way to save them from financial failure. Smith left about thirty-five men with half a dozen locally built fishing boats to keep fishing, while he set out with eight or nine men in one small boat to range the coast. There is some evidence that Squanto was with Smith. While the men were fishing, Smith began to explore and map the region. Smith then explored southward where he visited the Cape Cod region and landed Squanto at Patuxet which was his native home.
Then Smith turned northeastward, intent on completing a cargo. Capt. Hunt remained behind to cure a load of dried fish. He was under instructions to sail for England as soon as he had loaded his cargo of fish and traded for a cargo of beaver skins with the Indians. Apparently, Squanto had remained with Hunt as an interpreter. Through the promise of trade, Hunt lured a number of Indians aboard and they were promptly captured and bound. Squanto was among the twenty Patuxets kidnapped. Squanto, himself, confirmed the fact that he was one of several Indians who were kidnapped by Capt. Thomas Hunt and sold into slavery in the year 1614. The story is also confirmed by statements found in Sir Ferdinando Gorges' report: A Brief Relation of the Discovery and Planatation of New England. Seven of the Nauset were also kidnapped, thus incensing the warlike Nauset tribe of Cape Cod.
The captives were carried off to Malaga, Spain, where Hunt tried to sell them as slaves at 20 pounds each. Some of the local monks discovered what was happening and took the remaining Indians from Hunt in order "to instruct them in the Christian faith." thus "disappointing this unworthy fellow of the hopes of gain he conceived to make by this new and devilish plot."
Apparently, Squanto had lived with the monks a year or two when he attached himself to an Englishman who was traveling back to Bristol or London.
While in London, Squanto met and lived with Sir John Slaney in Cornhill. Sir John Slaney was a wealthy merchant and Treasurer of the Newfoundland Company. In 1617 John Slaney sent Squanto to Newfoundland, probably as an interpreter and guide on one of the expeditions. There he was recognized by Capt. Thomas Dermer who had worked for Sir Ferdinando Gorges in the past. Capt. Dermer wrote a letter to Gorges, stating he had found "his Indian" in Newfoundland and asked what he should do with him. The reply must have been a request for Squanto's return because Dermer took Squanto back to England.
Once again, Sir Ferdinando Gorges organized an expedition to explore the natural resources of New England. On that voyage Capt. Dermer and Squanto were to explore the natural resources of New England and to re-initiate trade with the Indians along that coast. At the end of this expedition, Squanto was to be returned to his home at Patuxet.
In 1619 Squanto sailed with Capt. Dermer, landing at Monhegan, one of the more important fishing stations in Maine waters. There, Samoset was taken on board. Together they set sail southward and dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor about one year before the Pilgrims arrived. Squanto found that every man, woman and child at his home of Patuxet had been wiped out by the plague since he had visited in 1614. Squanto was the only Patuxet known to be alive.
[NOTE: Before the Great Plague of 1616-17 had finally run its course, it killed between one-third to perhaps as much as eighty per cent of the Indians of southern New England, located between Narragansett Bay and the Penobscot River. The disease has never been identified. "The savages died like rotten sheep, and their bodies before and after death were exceedingly yellow." Europeans were apparently immune to the plague's ravages, and not all tribes in the area were affected by the Great Plague, as the Massachusetts tribe to the north of the Patuxets seems to have escaped unscathed.]
Later, Samoset would confirm the destructive effects of the plague on Patuxet. He told the Pilgrims how the Patuxets had been hostile to white men and had been wiped out just four years before. As a result, the Indians believed the area to be haunted by evil spirits. Therefore, no one remained at the site to contest the land when the Pilgrims decided to settle there.
Capt. Thomas Dermer and Squanto worked together mapping resources of the New England coast. Squanto was the Indian interpreter during Capt. Dermer's excursion into Pokanoket Country (now Bristol, RI). Since his own people were gone, Squanto decided to remain with the Pokanokets—where Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation, resided.
Capt. Dermer continued on to Cape Cod, where he and his crew were attacked by the Nausets who had become extremely rebellious due to the capture of some of their men by the infamous Capt. Thomas Hunt. Dermer and his men were attacked, captured and taken hostage.
When word of Dermer's capture reached Squanto he went to his friend's aid and negotiated his safe release. Later Dermer was attacked by the natives living near Martha's Vineyard. Although he and one other member of his group escaped, Dermer was seriously injured and later died in Virginia—possibly of the wounds he suffered at Capowak.
A little more than a year after Squanto returned to his homeland, a shipload of English families arrived on the Mayflower and settled at Patuxet which had once been occupied by Squanto's people.
On Samoset's third visit to Plymouth, on March 22, 1621, he brought along the Indian called Squanto, who spoke better English than he.
Squanto carved a prominent place for himself in the history of the early settlement of New England, becoming a valuable assistant, guide, interpreter and ambassador of sorts for the early settlers, whom he served from the time of his appearance until his death two years later. He befriended the Pilgrims and taught them how to plant Indian corn, where to catch fish and eels, where to find the best berries and nuts, and many other things which would insure the successful establishment of the new colony.
During the month of August in the year 1621, while the Indian Hobbomock and Squanto were visiting friends at Nemasket they were attacked by Chief Corbitant, sagamore of the Mattapoinset and Pocasset Tribes. Hobbomock managed to escape and (having last seen Squanto struggling for his life at the hands of Corbitant) ran fifteen miles to Plymouth where he rallied Miles Standish and his army, who speedily set out for Nemasket to "rescue him if he were alive or to punish Corbitant if he had been killed."
Upon arriving at Nemasket, the English learned that Squanto was alive and had been threatened only. His assailant had run away into the woods toward his own country at Mattapoinset (now Gardiner's Neck near Swansea, MA). Corbitant later appeared before the English at Plymouth in September, 1621, to make amends for his conduct.
We know Squanto acted as guide on many of their expeditions and explorations. On September 28, 1621, he was the Pilgrim's guide when a group of them left under the leadership of Miles Standish for a trip to Boston Harbor, then known as Massachusetts Bay; "to discover and view that bay and trade with ye natives. . . .partly to see the country, partly to make peace with them, and partly to procure their trucke, or barter."
In June 1622 the young Pilgrim lad, John Billington, became lost. When Massasoit was contacted for help in the search that followed, he sent an Indian named Tokamahamon to go along with Squanto to serve as guides to the search party and serve as interpreters. On 11/21 June a group of Pilgims set out for Nauset territory. With the assistance of Squanto and Tokamahamon, friendly relations with the Nausets were established and the boy was recovered.
Squanto did not help the Pilgrims solely because of his caring. By late 1621 he was using his position with the Pilgrims for his own good. As Squanto traveled about the region, he spoke English, and his fellow Indians accepted his pronouncements on the ways of the white man as authoritative. Squanto was well aware of the great fear the Indians had of the plague, and his prestige grew as he spread the story that the English had buried the plague in barrels under their storehouse. Squanto warned the Indians that if they did not do as he told them, he would have the Pilgrims release the plague. The fear was reinforced by the fact that the Pilgrims stored their gunpowder underground in this manner. Squanto told them the Pilgrims would release the plague if they were unhappy with their relations with the Indians. Of course, his stature in the Indian community grew immensely—as did the Indians' fear and respect of the Pilgrims. When the Pilgrims learned of this, they said they had no such power, and added, "But the God of the English had it in store and could send it at His pleasure, to the destruction of his and our enemies." With this uncertain reply, the Indians remained in awe of the Pilgrims.
A few months after this episode, the Indian Hobbomok (who had taken permanent residence at Plymouth) confided to the settlers that he had heard rumors indicating the Massachusett and Narragansett Federations were endeavoring to secure the Wampanoag's assistance in plotting against the English. He cautioned the settlers against leaving for a proposed exploration, since the Indians intended to take advantage of Miles Standish's absence and strike at the settlers. He said he had received word that Squanto was in sympathy with the plotters. As a result of this information, the Governor decided to send both Squanto and Hobbomock along on board the shallop. Hardly had the group set sail, than an Indian messenger appeared on the scene bringing news confirming Hobbomok's intelligence, and the boat was recalled. The Indian messenger said it was believed that all of Massasoit's people were planning to participate in the Massachusett/Narragansett scheme.
Hobbomok vehemently objected to this intelligence, saying he was certain his Sachem would not become involved in such action without first consulting his council, of which Hobbomok was a Panseis and a Sagamore. As proof of his contention, Hobbomok dispatched his wife to Sowams country, where she privately learned all was quiet, and Massasoit was not involved in any such conspiracy.
Massasoit finally received word of this rumor of conspiracy and was so greatly shocked that he personally appeared at Plymouth to clear himself of all the rumored charges. When Squanto was formally accused of participating in spreading this rumor of conspiracy, he offered no denial and placed himself at the mercy of Governor Bradford and, having a "friend in court," was spared punishment. Learning that Squanto assisted in spreading the rumor, Massasoit requested Governor Bradford to forfeit Squanto to his jurisdiction in accordance with the Pilgrim/Wampanoag Treaty. This was denied by the Governor because he knew, according to Indian law, Squanto would be put to death as a traitor. After repeated entreaties by Massasoit for Squanto's custody, the demands were finally dropped.
Both Squanto and Hobbomock were residents at Plymouth until their deaths. Along with Massasoit, they were of great value to the colonisits during their early struggles for survival.
After the Pilgrims learned of Squanto's ambition, they seem to have taken advantage of his jealousy toward Hobbomok in order to gain better services from both Indians—playing one against the other. Governor Bradford appears to have depended on Squanto while Standish trusted Hobbomock.
In early January, 1623, the Pilgrims were again searching for corn to see them through the winter because the second corn harvest had been disappointing. Fort-building had caused neglect of the crop, and much of the meager harvest had been stolen. With Squanto as guide, pilot and interpreter, Bradford led a trading expedition around Cape Cod in order to trade with the now friendly Nausets for corn and beans. They were eventually successful in procuring the food which helped them through another hungry winter, but at a tragic cost and an irreplaceable loss.
In November 1623, while on a trading expedition to the Massachusetts Indians, Squanto came down with Indian fever. Squanto died suddenly, "attended with bleeding much at the nose." Before his death, Squanto talked with Governor Bradford and asked him "to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in heaven, and bequeathed sundry of his things to sundry of his English friends as remembrances of his love, of whom they had a great loss."
Bradford's appreciation of Squanto was expressed in his history, Of Plimoth Plantation, when he says: ". . .Squanto continued with them (the Pilgrims) and was their interpreter and was a special instrument sent of 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 bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died."
Last modified February 26, 2001
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