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Thursday night I watched the PBS special on the Mayflower crossing, and was both gratified and a bit pissed that they told most of what I'm mentioning here. Pissed because I've been researching this for a couple of years, and I sort of feel scooped; gratified because they mostly came to the same conclusions I did.


Squanto (Tisquantum) was one of five youths taken near Patuxet (later Plymouth) by Captain John Weymouth in 1605. Two boys had been kidnapped, but the other three had been lured to the ship with bribes of canned peas and bread. They took it ashore to eat, but came back to return the can. Although Smith writes that Tisquantum came willingly, I doubt he knew he was being taken across the ocean instead of just in a spin around the harbor.

[Further research suggests that Tisquantum was not on that ship. The account written by Sir Fernando Gorges, who employed Cpt Weymouth, differs from that of Rosier, who was in Weymouth's crew. Both name Manida and Skettwarroes, but Tasquantum is not mentioned by Rosier. However, Samoset, a chief's son, apparently went over to England with Weymouth but returned about a year later. The ship he traveled on is not mentioned, but I think it was an ordinary fishing boat, of which there were perhaps two hundred a year making the trip to Maine. I suspect Squanto was sent to England in his place. This would explain Gorges' confusion, and why Dermer referred to Squanto as "your (Gorges') indian", which would not make sense otherwise.]

In England, the indians were turned over to Sir Fernando Gorges, who held a grant from the King to make a colony in New England. Three he kept; the other two he sent along to Chief Justice John Popham. Squanto stayed with Gorges and learned English. Gorges wanted him as both a translator and as an informant, but apparently became quite fond of the boy.

In 1614, Squanto sailed back to New England with Captain John Smith. There was a second ship in this expedition, under the command of Captain Thomas Hunt. Upon reaching America, the ships went their separate ways to explore the coast. Squanto did his part as translator and guide, and at the end of Smith's voyage was released to go home.

Captain Thomas Hunt stayed to fill the hold with fish, to make some profit on the voyage. But he found something better paying than fish. He rounded up indians to sell as slaves in Spain. He did this without authority and was later severely censured by Captain John Smith, under whose command he was supposedly under.

(Squanto's first trip was not mentioned in the TV special; apparently some historians doubt that the boy mentioned by Gorges in his memoirs is the same boy kidnapped by Hunt later. It seems to them quite a coincidence that one boy would be taken twice. But I don't see a problem. He was 16 the second time -- "hey guys, don't hide! I know all about these English!" And even though Gorges wrote his memoirs when he was elderly, they are a firsthand account and I think they should be paid heed to.)[see edit above]

Squanto was among the 27 indians Hunt captured and took to Malaga, Spain. There, some Franciscan Friars aquired him and several of the other indians. Squanto was with them for several years. (Some reports have him becoming one cleric's personal secretary during this time.) He finally got back to England and stayed with John Slaney, treasurer of the Newfoundland Company. In 1618, Squanto went to Cuper's Cove in Newfoundland, a colony about 8 years old at the time. There he met Captain John Dermer, who was exploring likely places along the coast as Sir Ferdinand Gorges's agent. Squanto returned to England with Dermer. The next year, 1619, Dermer led an expedition to New England, bringing Squanto with him.

When they arrived at Patuxet, they found the village deserted, occupied only by unburied skeletons. The entire village of perhaps 2000 people had died of disease or fled. The devastation extended throughout the region, nearly wiping out the Wampanoags. From about 15000-20000 people, disease had only left about 1000 alive.

Dermer and Squanto found some survivors in the village of Namasket, and sent word to the sachem Massasoit. He and the sachem Quadequina came to meet with them. Ultimately, Dermer sailed on to the Virginia colony, and Squanto remained in the Wampanoag village of Sawaquatok.

Massasoit was in a difficult position. He feared that the neighboring Narraganset would take advantage of their weakness and invade. So when the English finally appeared, he decided not to move them along, as he and the previous sachem had other exploratory groups, but to use them as a allies against the Narraganset. Massasoit apparently didn't completely trust Squanto, who had spent half his life with Europeans. In the months before the English arrived, Massasoit apparantly consulted with other Abnaki, and Samoset, a sachem from Damariscotta, came to visit. Samoset had learned English from the fishermen who came to fish near Monhegan Island.

It was Samoset, not Squanto, who was the first indian to greet the Mayflower Pilgrims in March of 1621. But Samoset's English was not very good, and on his third visit he brought Squanto with him. Squanto ended up staying with the English, and here is where the storybook version of "Squanto, the Pilgrim's friend" comes in.

Unfortunately, there is a final chapter to the Squanto story which is usually left unmentioned. In an apparent attempt to gain influence amongst the Wampanoag, he translated some false threats in both directions, to make it seem as though the English were under his command. His lies were found out, though. Massasoit found him guilty and sentenced him to death. His English friends protected him, but before the matter could be cleared, Squanto took sick and died in November of 1622.

It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if Hunt had not taken slaves in 1614. In 1616, a French ship was wrecked off Cape Cod. Because of the anger which remained over the kidnapping two years earlier, no rescue was attempted. The few who survived anyway were taken as servants by the indians, as partial repayment for those who had been kidnapped, and sent to different villages. There is a good chance that the epidemic, which wiped out about 90% of the native population in that area, had been brought by one of the French sailors, who died of disease not long after he was captured.

If Hunt had not been a slaver, then perhaps the French would have been welcomed as traders. Trading was basically a non-contact sport and there would have been far less contact than that created by having a sick servant living with you. Plus, the infected men would not have been dispersed through the area.

Imagine if the Mayflower had landed in a place filled with thousands of inhabitants, instead of an area more or less depopulated.


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