Continental drift

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Tisquantum (better known as Squanto) (c. 1580s – November 1622) was one of two Native American Indians (Samoset being the other) that assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter in the New World. He was a member of the Patuxet tribe, a subtribe of the Wampanoag Confederacy. The name Tisquantum, roughly meaning "Rage of the Manitou" in the local dialect, was most likely not his given name and may have been adopted for his dealings with the Pilgrims. The spelling of the name as Squanto came into widespread use in children's textbooks during the 1870s, possibly as a mnemonic aid.

Of the Europeans with whom Tisquantum initially came into contact, he said in later years, "When I first saw them I thought they were seaborn savages".

Tisquantum was kidnapped and taken by George Weymouth in 1605, according to the memoirs of Ferdinando Gorges. According to Gorges, Tisquantum worked in England for nine years before returning to the New World on John Smith's 1613 voyage.

Soon after returning to his tribe in 1614, Tisquantum was kidnapped by another Englishman, Thomas Hunt. Hunt was one of John Smith's lieutenants. Hunt was planning to sell fish and captured slaves in Málaga, Spain. Hunt attempted to sell Tisquantum and a number of other Native Americans into slavery for £20 apiece.

Sir Ferdinando Gorges, in A Brief Relation of the Discovery and Plantation of New England(London, 1622) wrote that some local friars, however, discovered what Hunt was attempting and took the remaining Indians, Tisquantum included, in order to instruct them in the Christian faith. Eventually, Tisquantum escaped to London, living with a John Slany for a few years, and then went to Cuper's Cove, Newfoundland. Attempting to avoid the walk from Newfoundland to his home village, Tisquantum tried to take part in an expedition to that part of the North American east coast. He returned to England in 1618, however, when that plan fell through.

He returned once more to his homeland in 1619, making his way with an exploratory expedition along the New England coast. He was soon to discover that his tribe, as well as a majority of coastal New England tribes, had been decimated the year before by a plague, possibly smallpox .

Tisquantum finally settled with the Pilgrims and helped them recover from their first difficult winter by teaching them to increase their food production by fertilizing their crops, and by directing them to the best places to catch fish and eels.

Whatever Tisquantum's motives, he ended up distrusted by both the English and the Native people. Massasoit, the sachem who originally appointed Tisquantum a diplomat to the Pilgrims, did not trust him before the tribe's dealing with the pilgrims (as is evidenced by the assignment of Hobamok, whose name may also have been a pseudonym as it referred to the "root of all evil," to watch over Tisquantum and act as a second representative), and certainly not after.

It was on his way back from a meeting to repair the damaged relations between the natives and the Pilgrims that Tisquantum became sick with a fever. He died a few days later, but his legacy remained relatively untarnished as peace between the two groups lasted for another fifty years.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The History of Tisquantum

In 1605, Captain George Weymouth led an expedition on behalf of some merchants in England, to look at the resources of North America, particularly the Canadian and New England areas. He sailed down the coast of Maine into Massachusetts, where he stopped. Thinking his financial backers in England would be interested in seeing some Indians, he decided to bring some back with him. They kidnapped two Indians in a very brutal manner, writing "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". He had gotten three other Indians to take back to England as well, but he used bribery with them: "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 presently and 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." That Indian was most likely Tisquantum.
Brought into England, Tisquantum lived with Sir Ferdinando Gorges, whose Plymouth Company had a lot of financial possibilities to exploit in the New World. Gorges kept Squanto, taught him some English, and eventually hired him to be a guide and interpreter for his sea captains who were exploring the New England coasts.
In 1614, he was brought back to America, assisting some of Gorges men in the mapping of the New England coast. John Smith, after he was done mapping the Cape Cod region, left in charge a fellow captain by the name of Thomas Hunt, to trade with the Indians a little more. Once Smith had sailed off, however, Hunt promptly tricked twenty Nausets and seven Patuxets into coming on board his ship to trade--and then kidnapped them. Tisquantum, probably on board to act as an interpreter for the trades, was one of those captured. They were bound, and sailed to Malaga, Spain, where Hunt tried to sell them for slaves at £20 apiece. Some local Friars, however, discovered what was happening and took the remaining Indians from Hunt in order to instruct them in the Chirstian faith, thus "disappointing this unworthy fellow of the hopes of gain he conceived to make by this new & devilish project".4
Tisquantum lived with the Friars until 1618 when he boarded a ship of Bristol headed for Newfoundland. When Tisquantum arrived in Newfoundland, however, he was recognized by Captain Thomas Dermer who happened to be there, and who had worked in the past for Sir Ferdinando Gorges.
Thomas Dermer wrote a letter to Sir Ferdinando Gorges, stating he had found "his Indian" in Newfoundland and asked what he should do with him. Dermer brought Tisquantum back to Gorges. While in England, Gorges apparently boarded Tisquantum with Sir John Slainey, treasurer of the Newfoundland Company. After working out the details, Gorges organized a trip to send both Dermer and Tisquantum to explore the natural resources and to re-initiate trade with the Indians along the New England coast who had been angry with the English after Hunt had kidnapped members of their tribes. At the end of the expedition, Tisquantum would be returned to his home at Patuxet.
Dermer and Tisquantum thus became very closely associated with one another. They worked together mapping the resources of the New England coast. When they arrived at Patuxet in 1619, Dermer and Tisquantum soon found out that the entire Patuxet tribe had been wiped out in a plague in 1617. Squanto was the only Patuxet left alive, so he moved in with a neighboring tribe that lived at Pokanoket--the home of Wampanoag sachem Massasoit. Dermer continued on, and while at Cape Cod, he and his crew were attacked by Nausets, and Dermer was taken hostage. Squanto heard about the incident, and came to his friend's aid, and negotiated his safe release. Dermer would later be attacked by Indians near Martha's Vineyard, and would die of his wounds after reaching Virginia.
Just little more than a year after Tisquantum was returned to his homeland, the Pilgrims arrived--in November 1620. After the Pilgrim explorers checked out all of the surrounding regions, they finally decided to settle at Plymouth in late December. Little did they know that just a couple years ago, Plymouth had been center of the Patuxet tribe.
Two months after settling at Plymouth, an Indian visiting from Maine, by the name of Samoset, walked right into the middle of the Colony which was being built, and welcomed the Pilgrims in English. Somewhat fearful and somewhat astounded, the Pilgrims and Samoset talked all day and night. After Samoset had led several tradings with the Pilgrims, he told the Wampanoag living at Pokanoket that the Pilgrims wanted to make a peace with them. Massasoit sent Tisquantum to be interpreter, and on March 22, 1621, the Pilgrims met Squanto for the first time. That day, Squanto negotiated a peace treaty between Massasoit and the Wampanoag, and John Carver and the Pilgrims. It essentially stated that the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims would not harm each other, and they became a military alliance as well, such that if one were attacked, the other would come to the aid.
Tisquantum lived out the rest of his life in the Plymouth Colony. He befriended the Pilgrims, and taught them how to manure their corn, where to catch fish and eels, and acted as their interpreter and guide. Without Squanto's help, the Pilgrims would probably have had severe famine over the next year, and would have lived in constant fear of their Indian neighbors--Indians who were actually quite peaceful, but who had been rightfully angered by the cruel treatment they received from many English ship captains like Thomas Hunt.
Tisquantum did not help the Pilgrims solely because he was a nice and caring individual. By late 1621 he was using his position with the Pilgrims for his own gain--threatening many Indians that if they did not do as he told them, he would have the Pilgrims "release the plague" against them. As with all humans, "power corrupts". When Massasoit learned that Tisquantum was abusing his position to steal power, he demanded Squanto be turned over to him to be executed. The Pilgrims were required to turn Squanto over, according to the peace treaty they had signed with one another. But the Pilgrims felt they needed Squanto's services, so they stalled--until an English ship came onto the horizon, and distracted everyone's attention for awhile.
But in November 1622, while on a trading expedition to the Massachusetts Indians, Tisquantum came down with Indian fever, his nose began to bleed, and he died. Governor William Bradford, perhaps Squanto's closest friend and associate among the Pilgrims, wrote the following about his sudden death:

Thursday, June 02, 2005


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