Grandchildren on Thanksgiving Day

Thank Tisquantum for Thanksgiving

Before you carve into that turkey, pause to thank God for Tisquantum. You may have heard of him as Squanto. That’s his Anglicized name. Tisquantum was a member of the Patuxet tribe that lived in what is today Massachusetts. By whatever name you may know him, you probably do not know what a significant part he played in the traditional Thanksgiving story about the Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting together in the fall of 1621.

After Christopher Columbus encountered the Americas other European captains regularly explored the bays and inlets along the North American shoreline. They were in search of resources to haul home and trade for profits. With visions of wealth and prosperity filling their heads, they crisscrossed the turbulent Atlantic seas often.

Expanding International Trade

Captain John Smith was one of those captains. He is best known for being rescued by Pocahontas, but he also explored the New England area. He hoped to establish a fishing export business there. When he finished his explorations in 1614 he appointed Captain Thomas Hunt to negotiate a trade agreement with the Native Americans. Captain Hunt did that, but he also kidnapped twenty-four young Patuxets and Nausets to take home as slaves. Tisquantum was one of them.

Tisquantum and the others made their cross-Atlantic journey in the hold of Captain Hunt’s ship. Hunt sold several of the men as slaves in Spain. A group of Friars found Hunt’s business plan repugnant. They bought the freedom of some of the men, including Tisquantum.

Somehow Tisquantum made his way to England. There he met and lived with John Slaney, Treasurer of the Newfoundland Company. The Newfoundland Company had established a colony in the New World in 1610. Slaney saw the advantage of a bi-lingual person to help facilitate trade deals in the New World. He sent Tisquantum back across the Atlantic to serve as an interpreter for the Newfoundland Company.

Home Not So Sweet Home

In Newfoundland Tisquantum met Captain Thomas Dermer. Dermer wanted to get in on the lucrative beaver pelt business evolving in today’s Massachusetts area. However after Hunt kidnapped those twenty-four Natives things got tense. Dermer took Tisquantum with him in 1619 to help ease relations.

During the years Tisquantum was detained in Europe, some form of plague introduced by European explorers wiped out his entire village. He alone survived. He migrated to where the Wampanoag Confederation lived, near where the Mayflower would end its long voyage the following year.

Networking Seventeenth Century Style

The Mayflower arrived in Cape Cod November 1620. Because it was winter, passengers and crew slept on the ship until March. One day shortly after they moved onto land Native-American Samoset came to meet them. He had learned a little English from European traders, so, much to the English immigrants’ surprise, he greeted them in their own language. He soon introduced them to Tisquantum, who in turn introduced them to Chief Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag Confederation. Tisquantum helped the two parties negotiate a peace treaty and establish trading relations.

Tisquantum soon became a regular visitor among the English, teaching them how to hunt for eels and plant crops. His help as an interpreter made negotiations with influential Native leaders much easier.

Had Tisquantum not come along with his bi-lingual skills the Mayflower story might have had a very different ending. It’s likely we wouldn’t know any more about the Mayflower passengers than we do about hundreds of anonymous Europeans who died trying to establish colonies in the New World. Thanks to Tisquantum, enough Pilgrims survived to host that famous fall feast and we get to enjoy our annual Thanksgiving Day traditions. I’ve often told my grandchildren they represent the whole story. Their genetic heritage includes English, German, Irish, Spanish, and Native American.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

Some of the information for this blog is from Caleb Johnson’s website:

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