The Pilgrims arrived in the New World in 1620. Before they had chosen a suitable site for their settlement, it was late in December. On Christmas Day, the first work party went on shore. Houses were built, and streets were laid out.
The winter was an ordeal for the Pilgrims. Over half of them died before spring arrived.
The Pilgrims had seen Indians only at a distance. On March 16, however, a single Indian walked into the town. His name was Samoset, and he was able to speak English. His skill with the language was limited, and the Pilgrims had difficulty understanding him. Samoset left, but he returned the next day with an older Indian whose name was Squanto.
This Indian had been in England and spoke the language with more skill than Samoset. Squanto’s story was remarkable.
He was a Patuxet Indian. He had been born in a village which used to be located near the site of New Plymouth. As a young man, he encountered his first white men there. The year was approximately 1605-1610, and the men had come on a trading ship.
Squanto spent some time with them, learning their language and helping them in their dealings with other Indians. They treated him well, even giving him clothes to wear. When they were ready to leave, they invited him along–back to England. He agreed, even though his mother begged him not to go.
In England he lived with the family of Charles Robbins, one of his friends on the ship. For a while, he was part of an “Indian exhibit” on a London stage.
Squanto soon became homesick, and his friend did his best to find a way for him to return to America. Finally Robbins contacted Captain John Smith who was planning another voyage to the New World. Smith agreed to take Squanto along. The year was 1614 when Smith’s expedition sailed. There were two ships: one commanded by Smith and the other in charge of Capt. Thomas Hunt. Squanto was to help Smith for a short time, and then he would return to his village.
When the ships reached America, they separated. Squanto traveled with Smith, interpreting when Indians were encountered. Finally, Smith gave him permission to travel to his home.
On his way, Squanto encountered Hunt; and he was tricked into going on board his ship. There he was imprisoned along with 20 other young Indians. All of them were taken to Spain, where they were sold as slaves.
Luckily for Squanto, he fell into the hands of a group of friars at a Catholic monastery. After they freed him, they taught him about their religion. They were so convincing that he became a Christian. Next, they obtained passage on a ship so he could leave Spain. It was returning to England; the year was probably 1616.
From this point on, Squanto’s one aim was to do whatever was necessary to survive his ordeal so that he could return to his people.
He spent three years in England, working as a servant in the home of John Slanie. Still hoping to find a way home, Squanto asked Slanie to help. Even though his family was sorry to see Squanto go, Slanie located a ship captain who was making a voyage to the New World.
It was 1619 when Squanto again arrived in North America. He interpreted for the captain in his dealings with local Indians but was finally allowed to begin his journey home. He’d been gone for approximately 10-12 years.
When he went to the place where his village should have been, Squanto found no trace of his family and friends. He learned that recently a “Great Sickness” had struck his people. Every one of them had died. He had crossed the Atlantic Ocean four times, only to be terribly disappointed. He was the last of his tribe. Squanto was invited to live in a nearby Wampanoag village. The chief was named Massasoit.
Squanto lived there until the Indians heard about the white men who were building a town near the place where his tribe’s village used to stand. When Samoset came back from his visit to the newcomers, he asked Squanto to accompany him when he returned. The date was March 22, 1621.
The two spoke to the settlers for a while, and then Chief Massasoit came in for a meeting. The Pilgrims and Indians worked out an agreement that would allow the two groups to exist peacefully. This treaty was in effect for over 50 years. None of the Pilgrims was ever hurt by an Indian.
When the rest of the Indians left New Plymouth, Squanto decided to stay with the Pilgrims. Their food supply was rapidly being consumed. William Bradford wrote later that Squanto was a ” … special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations …”
Squanto was of great help to the Pilgrims. He helped them build warm houses, an improvement over those in which they had lived during the first winter.
He taught them when to plant their corn crop: they watched the leaves on the trees–when they were the size of a squirrel’s ears, corn should be planted.
Then he showed them how to plant the corn. Into a hill, they were to put several seeds along with a fish for fertilizer to help the corn grow rapidly. Without his help, there would not have been 20 acres of corn produced that year. Later he taught the women how to cook the corn.
Squanto also advised the Pilgrims in their relations with the Indians. He helped them make friends, acted as interpreter, guided them on trading expeditions, and gave advice on bargaining with the natives.
Squanto remained with the Pilgrims for about 18 months. When he returned to the Wampanoag village, he tried to challenge Massasoit for leadership of the tribe. He was unsuccessful; all he managed to do was anger most of the members. After this, he was considered to be the enemy of the Wampanoag.
Squanto died from a fever in 1622. He is still remembered and honored, nearly 400 years later. If Squanto had not been there to help out, perhaps none of the Pilgrims would have survived. Without his help at New Plymouth, their story might have ended in a different way.
In saving the English families, Squanto found a new family and a new tribe to live for. One of the Pilgrims said this about Squanto:
” … He desired honor, which he loved as his life and preferred before his peace …”