Squanto- Interpreter- Helped Pilgrims Survive
Squanto and First Thanksgiving
Most of us have heard descriptions of the First Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims. It became a tradition that most of us enjoy; we spend time with our family and eat very well indeed. I don’t know if people are aware of the amount of hunger the Pilgrims endured until they adapted to their environment enough to be able to supply their own food.
They lived close to the ocean initially, so lobster and fish were their primary food sources. Apparently there were no hunters in the group but these people were tough or they wouldn’t have survived. They kept diaries and records, the source of our information. They had no type of bread, fruit or vegetables most of the time.
The Mayflower arrived in1621, and half of the passengers died during the first rough winter. There was supposed to be a second ship sailing with them, but it had to turn back due to leakage.
Politics and money makers were a problem even back then. In the next couple of years, ships would often arrive, sometimes with few people and no food of any kind. So, the food shortage became more severe for a period of time.
Squanto was a member of the Patuxet band of the Wampanoag Indians. Squanto is remembered as an interpreter, guide and agricultural teacher. Historical accounts vary somewhat but his importance to the Pilgrims is clear. He was very significant in the survival of the people in Plymouth Colony.
Squanto was kidnapped with twenty other men by an English explorer named Thomas Hunt. The prisoners were sold into slavery in Spain, but Spanish priests rescued some of the men. Squanto ended up in England in the employ of John Slaney whose interests included exploration of the “new world”. Squanto learned to speak English.
Ultimately, John Slaney sent Squanto back to the “new world” with Captain Dermer in 1619, but an epidemic had swept through the Indian population in 1617, and virtually wiped out Squanto’s tribe. They went to search for survivors of his tribe when they ran into hostile Indians and Captain Dermer was killed. Squanto was kept as a prisoner for a period of time.
Squanto became very active with the pilgrims, introducing them to neighboring tribes which was particularly crucial. Because of his travels he was an excellent intermediary between the cultures.
The colonist were able to establish vital trade relationships. Squanto taught them to plant vegetables and to fertilize. They were able to secure seeds for corn, barley, and other vegetables, plus supplies necessary to New England. They sent animal pelts to England to repay investments and buy English goods.
The first Thanksgiving was a feast in 1622, consisting of various fowl and 5 deer and lasted for three days as recorded in Edward Winslow’s account. Most of these facts came from “Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691” written by Eugene Aubrey Stratton. The word Thanksgiving was not used in Winslow’s description as the word more commonly meant a day of fasting and prayer. Regardless, it seems a suitable term for our holiday with our families today.
There was some controversy in Squanto’s life, as he attempted to increase his status with the English and alarming neighboring Native American tribes that colonists kept a plague (may have meant gunpowder) buried underground that could be released at any time. The Massasoit Indians were incensed and demanded his death but the Pilgrims protected him from their vengeance.
However, Squanto fell ill and died in Nov. 1623, when he was guiding an expedition with William Bradford to get corn from Cape Cod Indians for yet another group who had arrived unprepared for survival. William Bradford declared that Squanto was a “Special instrument sent of God for their good.” The strong pilgrims survived and flourished as we now know.
Pilgrims and Indians
Survival is Difficult for Pilgrims
I don’t think I would have tried to make that trip across the Atlantic in the Mayflower, and I know I wouldn’t have liked living in such squalid conditions. I was amazing when I toured the Mayflower as to how small it was and yet they had so many passengers.
The pilgrims had it very tough and friendly Indians made their transition much easier. Squanto certainly helped them as an interpreter, plus in many other capacities. His role is well documented in American history.
© 2009 Pamela Oglesby
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