Squanto, Samoset, and Massasoit

Squanto and Samoset are best known to people as the Indians who helped the Pilgrims survive those tough times. Samoset introduced and Squanto functioned as their interpreter to Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe. They are all interwoven into the story that is know as The First Thanksgiving. The history of these men:

Squanto, or Tisquantum, was born as a member of the Pawtuxet tribe (a subtribe of the Wampanoag Confederacy) in the area of Massachustts-Rhode Island. He may or may not have been taken and brought to England by a George Weymouth in 1605 (there is some question to this) where he would have learned some English. It is known, however, that in 1614-15, he was captured with a group of other Indians by a Thomas Hunt, who took them to Málaga, Spain and sold into slavery.

Squanto had been paid for by a group of monks, who obviously attempted to "civilize" him and bring him to Christianity. In general, he was well-treated. He eventually gained his freedom and managed to get himself hired as an interpreter on a British voyage to Newfoundland. From there, he was able to return to his village in 1619.

Unfortunately for him, that was all there was: the village. The entire tribe had died from what was probably smallpox epidemics while he was away (there may have been a few survivors who were absorbed into other tribes). He left and lived with another Wampanoag group.

Meanwhile, 11 November 1620, a group of Europeans, trying to find a new place to live in order to escape religious persecution (and in turn exclude any from their new "home" that were of a religion differing from theirs) anchored near Cape Cod and landed a small party. The group was looking for food and found it (unknowingly) in a Nauset graveyard (baskets of cornmaize—had been left by the graves for the deceased). Nauset warriors chased them away and the pilgrims moved on. They eventually settled at the site of where the Patuxet village had been. The first winter was harsh and food scarce. At least half of the group died.

Enter the next Indian into the story. Samoset, an Abnaki sachem from the Maine area, who was hunting near the settlement. He had something in common with Squanto as, over the early years of European contact, up to 75% of the Abnakis were wiped out due to epidemics (a similar percentage of the Wampanoag tribes died that way as well). He had learned some English from a fishermen and walked into the Plymouth and greeted the suffering pilgrims with "Hello, Englishmen."

On his third visit, 22 March 1621, he brought Squanto and introduced him to the colonists. (Following those first few years, Samoset disappears from history.) Squanto befriended the pilgrims and helped them by teaching them to survive (in account after account of the English in the early years of New World colonization, one theme seems to recur: they seem to have had no skill at self-sufficiency and without the help they got from Indians would probably not have managed to survive). Due to his knowledge of English, they made him an interpreter and emissary.

Samoset introduced the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit (Woosamaquin or "Yellow Feather") to the pilgrims later that month. Due to death by disease and war with other tribes, the Wampanoag were a greatly weakened people. The Naragansett, because they mostly lived on islands in the bay named after them, had escaped many of the epidemics and had become the most powerful tribal group in the area. The Wampanoag were forced to pay them tribute. They hoped to gain from relations with the British and escape the yoke of the dominant tribe.

A treaty was arranged between them. In it, it promised:

1. That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people.
2. And if any of his did hurt to any of ours, he should send the offender, that we might punish him.
3. That if any of our tools were taken away when our people were at work, he should cause them to be restored; and if ours did any harm to any of his, we would do the like to them.
4. If any did unjustly war against him, we would aid him; if any did war against us, he should aid us.
5. He should send to his neighbor confederates, to certify them of this, that they might not wrong us, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.
6. That when their men came to us, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them, as we should do our pieces when we came to them.

Lastly, that doing thus, King James would esteem of him as his friend and ally.

The Wampanoag also gave them permission to occupy 12,000 acres of the tribes land (it is thought that he was unaware of what it meant for the English to "own" the land since he would have been used to the Indian idea of "sharing" land). That land became Plymouth plantation.

Massasoit never broke the treaty and at the next harvest, he and some 90 of his people brought five deer and food and celebrated for three days with the colonists (the first Thanksgiving—the pilgrims never celebrated another).

Later, in 1622, Massasoit found out that Squanto had been planning to seize power away from him and make the pilgrims think the sachem was unreliable and untrustworthy. Angered, he demanded Squanto to be turned over to him (probably for execution). Before anything could happen, Squanto got sick and died of fever while acting as a scout outside of the colony. According to William Bradford (governor of Plymouth for 30 years), Squanto asked on his deathbed for him to "pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in heaven."

Massasoit became very ill in 1623 and nearly died. He recovered and was able to reveal a plot by the Massachusett to attack Wessagusett Colony. The military leader of Plymouth colony, Miles Standish, with the help of Massasoit and some of his people, was able to avert the attack.

He had a long life and died in 1656.

(Sources: www.britannica.com, www.billpetro.com/HolidayHistory/hol/squanto.html, www.totlatsga.org/wampa.html, www.dickshovel.com, www.rootsweb.com/~mosmd/samoset.htm, members.aol.com/calebj/massasoit.html, members.aol.com/calebj/treaty_massasoit.html)

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