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Tisquantum (better known as Squanto) (c. 1580s – November 1622) was a Patuxetmarker Native American who assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter in the New World and was integral to their survival. The Patuxet tribemarker was a tributary of the Wampanoag Confederacy.


Tisquantum first came in contact with English explorers in 1605, when he and other Patuxet: Manida, Skidwarres/Skettawarroes, Nahanada/Dehanada, and Assacumet, were captured by the party of George Weymouth. Exploring present-day Mainemarker, Weymouth thought to take indigenous people back to England to show his sponsor as proof of his work. He returned with the Patuxet and turned them over to Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Tisquantum is believed to have been taught English to serve as a translator in New Englandmarker. In 1612 he returned to North America with Captain John Smith, who after some service time released him to return to his village.

On his way back to the Patuxet in 1614, Tisquantum was kidnapped by another Englishman, Thomas Hunt. Hunt was one of John Smith's lieutenants. Hunt was planning to sell fish, corn, and captured natives in Málaga, Spainmarker. There Hunt attempted to sell Tisquantum and a number of other Native Americans into slavery in Spain for £20 apiece.

Some local friars discovered what Hunt was attempting and took the remaining Native Americans — Tisquantum included — in order to instruct them in the Christian faith. Tisquantum convinced the friars to let him try to return home. He managed to get to Londonmarker, where he lived with and worked for a few years with John Slany, a shipbuilder who apparently taught Tisquantum more English. Slany took Tisquantum with him when he sailed to Cuper's Cove, Newfoundlandmarker. To get to New England, Tisquantum tried to take part in an expedition to that part of the North American east coast. When that plan fell through, he returned to Englandmarker in 1618.

At last in 1619 Tisquantum returned to his homeland, having joined an exploratory expedition along the New England coast. He soon discovered that the Patuxetmarker, as well as a majority of coastal New England tribes (mostly Wampanoag and Massachusett), had been decimated the year before by an epidemic plague, possibly smallpox. Native Americans had no natural immunity to European infectious diseases.

Tisquantum finally settled with Pilgrims at the site of his former village, which the English named Plymouthmarker. He helped them recover from an extremely hard first winter by teaching them techniques to increase food production: by fertilizing crops. He also showed them the best places to catch fish and eels. He was critical to their survival.

In 1621, Squanto was the guide and translator for settlers Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow as they traveled upland on a diplomatic mission to the Wampanoag sachem, known today as Massasoit. In a subsequent mission for Governor William Bradford that summer, Squanto was captured by Wampanoag while gathering intelligence on the renegade sagamore, Corbitant, at the village of Nemasket (site of present-day Middleboroughmarker, Massachusetts.) Myles Standish led a ten-man team of settlers from Plymouth to rescue Squanto if he was alive or, if he had been killed, to avenge him. Squanto was found alive and well. He was welcomed back by the Pilgrims at Plymouth, where he continued in his vital role as assistant to the colony.

Although he worked at alliances, Squanto ended up distrusted by both the English and the Wampanoag. Massasoit, the sachem who first appointed Tisquantum as liaison to the Pilgrims, nevertheless did not trust him in the tribe's dealings with the settlers. He assigned Hobamok (whose name may have been a pseudonym, as it meant "mischievous"), to watch over Tisquantum and act as a second representative.

On his way back from a meeting to repair damaged relations between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, Tisquantum became sick with a fever. Historians speculate that he was poisoned by the Wampanoag because they believed he had been disloyal to the sachem. Peace between the two groups lasted for another fifty years. Squanto died a few days later in 1622 in Chatham, Massachusettsmarker. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Plymouth's Burial Hill cemetery.

Governor William Bradford, in Bradford's History of the English Settlement, wrote regarding Tisquantum's death:
Here [Manamoick Bay] Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman's God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.


Primary Sources

  • Bradford, W. Governor William Bradford's Letter Book. Boston: Applewood, 2002 (reprint from 1906).
  • Bradford, W. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647. New York: Modern Library 1981 (1856).[1]
  • Gorges, Ferdinand. "A Briefe Relation of the Discovery and Plantation of New England," in Baxter 1890, I:203-40 (1622).
  • Morton, T. New English Canaan, or New Canaan. London: Charles Green, 1637.
  • Winslow, E. Good Newes from New-England: or A True Relation of Things Very Remarkable at the Plantation of Plimoth in New-England. London: William Bladen and John Bellamie, 1624

Secondary Sources

  • Cell, G.T. "The Newfoundland Company: A Study of Subscribers to a Colonizing Venture", William & Mary Quarterly (WMQ) 22:611-25, 1965.
  • Deetz, J. and P.S. Deetz. The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony. New York: Random House, 2000.
  • Mann, Charles. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, New York: Random House, 2005.
  • Nash, Struggle and Survival in Colonial America, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 228-45, 1989.
  • Salisbury, N. "Squanto: The Last of the Patuxets," in D.G. Sweet and G.B. Nash, Struggle and Survival in Colonial America, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 228-45, 1989.
  • Salisbury, N. Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500-1643. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro Massachusetts 1669-1905, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906.

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