he story of Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without Squanto, the “friendly” Indian who helped the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony survive. He taught them how to cultivate crops, which plants they could use and which they should avoid, and how to tap the native maple trees for sap.
Squanto acted as translator and negotiated pacts between the Wampanoag tribe and the English colonists. He was important to the survival of the settlers, no doubt.
But Squanto’s story is so much more interesting than what we learned in grade school.
Here are 10 truths about Squanto that you must know:
- Squanto” was not his real name, but a shortened form of Tisquantum, or Tsquantum, a name that referred to the rage of the Manitoba, the powerful spiritual element of the Native American world. Tisquantum was probably not the name he was given when he was born; it was the name he used to identify himself when he met the Pilgrims…essentially saying he was “The Wrath of God.”
- Squanto was NOT the first Native American to meet the Pilgrims. A Wampanoag Indian named Samoset who could speak a little English went into the settlement first. According to William Bradford’s diary, he told the settlers that he knew a man “whose name was Squanto, a native of this place, who had been in England and could speak better English than himself.” Samoset returned to the village a few days later with Squanto.
- Squanto had not lived on the shores of North America all his life. He had been kidnapped at least once and probably twice and made three journeys to Europe. Two forced, and one voluntary. His travels “across the pond” explain how he could speak English and act as a translator between the colonists and the Indians.
- Squanto’s agricultural prowess didn’t come from his tribe. Remember the story of Squanto teaching the Pilgrims to plant dead fish and/or fishheads near their seed mounds? Many archeologists believe that Squanto learned that agricultural practice while he was in England. He brought it back and taught it to others here on this continent.
- Squanto’s forced travels to Europe might have saved his life. During Squanto’s lifetime, 90% of the Native American coastal population of Massachusetts and Rhode Island were decimated by a fast-spreading disease.
- Squanto was the only surviving member of his village of the Patuxet people. When he returned to his homeland after his time in Europe, Squanto found that all the coastal settlements of his friends and family had died, leaving the village empty of the living and filled only with bodies.
- Squanto’s original village became hometown to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims did NOT clear the land and build huts themselves when they arrived in Massachusetts. They moved into the disease-decimated settlement of the Patuxet settlement, using whatever implements and food could be found in the remains of the village.
- Squanto was an ambitious politician. A strong personality with bilingual skills in a changing world, Squanto had political aspirations. He took his followers and split off from
- Squanto used the threat of biological warfare to gain power. Squanto wanted to overthrow Massasoit, the leader of a rival tribe. He tried to convince the followers of Massasoit that he could better protect them than their leader could because he, Squanto, understood both the Indians and the Englishmen. He told them that he knew the secrets of the white men…that the pilgrims had caches of bad stuff buried in the ground, a terrifying idea because of the disease that had already wiped out so many of the coastal communities.
- Squanto died of a fever while visiting Southern Cape Code with Massachusetts Governor, William Bradford. He was helping Bradford with an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty in 1622. He was in his 40s.
Melissa Gouty has been a writer since she could hold a pen. Author of The Magic of Ordinary, she is a former newspaper columnist, English professor, and award-winning entrepreneur. Curious about everything, she writes about history, books, marketing, gardening, and writing.