Saturday, December 7, 2019

Tisquantum And Plymouth Colony’s Survival

Depiction of the Thanksgiving storyPawtuxet Wampanoag Tisquantum‘s story begins during the summer of 1605, when British sailors, under the command of Captain George Weymouth, commissioned by a colonial entrepreneur Sir Ferdinando Gorges, kidnapped him, along with four other Native American boys, and brought them to England.

In his diary, Capt. 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.”

Once in England, Tisquantum remained in Weymouth’s custody. And it’s assumed that Weymouth taught the boy to speak English. For reasons unknown, Weymouth called him by an abbreviation of his true name. ‘Squanto’, as he came to be known, shared his knowledge of the ‘new world’ and, when a fleet of two ships returned to the coast of Massachusetts in 1614, served as an interpreter under the command of Captains John Smith and Thomas Hunt.

He served his Captains honorably, but was betrayed by Hunt, who had his men kidnap some twenty young Pawtuxets and seven Nausets. They were taken to Malaga, Spain, where Hunt attempted to sell them, and Tisquantum, into slavery. Many were sold before Hunt was foiled by a group of Franciscan monks, who took custody of those that remained, in order to, according to a report by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, “instruct them in the Christian faith, disappointing this unworthy fellow of the hopes of gain he conceived to make by this new and devilish plot.”

The kidnappings infuriated Native People living along the New England coast. Their anger culminated in the burning of a French ship in 1617. Much of the crew was killed and, by some accounts, the Nauset enslaved the others.

Around the same time, the monks were visited by an Englishman who took Tisquantum back to England, where he was placed with Sir John Slaney, a wealthy merchant.  Slaney had Tisquantum accompany him as a guide and translator on an expedition to Newfoundland. There, Tisquantum was recognized by Captain Thomas Dermer, who wrote to Gorges, affirming that he had “found Gorges’ Indian.”

Capt. Dermer took Tisquantum back to England once more, where Gorges, in hopes of renewing trade with the Pawtuxet and Nauset tribes, arranged for an expedition back to Pawtuxet, where Tisquantum would be allowed to remain.

When they dropped anchor in 1619 Tisquantum learned that a plague, introduced by European explorers (most likely smallpox, tuberculosis, yellow fever, or a combination thereof), had taken the lives of as many as 90% of the indigenous people of Southern New England.

Tisquantum lived among the remaining Massasoit Wampanoag until late March of 1621, when he learned from Samoset, an Abenaki sagamore, of immigrants establishing a colony on the site where his village once stood. Tisquantum set out to meet with them.

That spring and summer, he assisted them in their negotiations with native leaders. But it was, perhaps, through his horticultural skills and knowledge of the region’s natural resources that he proved himself indispensable to the immigrants’ survival.

Depiction of the Thanksgiving storyThey planted wheat they’d brought from England, but it didn’t grow. So Tisquantum taught them how to propagate corn from seed provided by native friends, and how to increase their food production by utilizing the remains of fish as fertilizer, for their crops. He showed them where to find edible berries and other wild edible fruit, and how they could be cultivated. He led them to areas of the forest abundant with game, and to brooks, ponds, bays, and coastal areas teeming with fish.

Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation, that “He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities. Squanto continued with them, was their interpreter, and was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.”

engraving of William BradfordIn the fall of 1622, Tisquantum negotiated with the Native People living at what is now Chatham Harbor for provisions needed to get newly-arriving immigrants through the oncoming winter. But upon leaving, Bradford wrote, “Squanto fell sick of Indian fever.” Within a few days, he was dead.

Bradford also wrote that Tisquantum, before he died, asked the Governor to “pray for him that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in Heaven” and that certain possessions be bequeathed as gifts to his English friends, who considered his death “a great loss.”

If one of your ancestors was aboard the Mayflower, it’s more than likely that you wouldn’t be here today, if not for Tisquantum.

Read part one of Tisquantum’s story HERE.

Illustrations, from above: a 1911 illustration of Tisquantum teaching Plymouth colonists to plant corn with fish (from The Teaching of Agriculture in the High School); a depiction of the Thanksgiving story from Young Folks History of the United States, published in 1903; and an engraving of William Bradford based on a portrait miniature in the possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

One Response

  1. Boreas says:

    Great article!

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