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.