Monday, June 14, 2010


Most of us know the story of the first Thanksgiving - at least, we know the Pilgrim version. But how many of us know the Indian viewpoint? It centers around a Native American named Squanto

Historical accounts of Squanto's life vary, but historians believe that around 1608 - more than a decade before the Pilgrims landed in the New World - a group of English traders, led by a Captain Hunt, sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts. When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, Hunt took them prisoner, transported them to Spain, and sold them into slavery. One of the captured Indians was a boy named Squanto.

The church, in its opposition to slavery, would purchase slaves, educate them, and set them free. Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him well and taught him the Christian faith - Squanto was probably the first Native American to read and write English, or any language. Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stable of a man named John Slaney. Slaney sympathized with Squanto's desire to return home, and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.

It wasn't until 1619-ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped - that a ship was found. Finally, after a decade of exile and heartbreak, Squanto was on his way home.

But when he arrived in Massachusetts, more heartbreak awaited him. An epidemic had wiped out Squanto's entire village.

We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto's mind. He had returned home, only to find his loved ones dead. He dwelt utterly alone in the wilderness: no friends, no family.

But Squanto lived on, and soon found a new community: a shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto's people. Squanto went to meet them, greeting the startled Pilgrims in English.

According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto "became a special instrument sent of God for [our] good ... He showed [us] how to plant [our] corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities ... and was also [our] pilot to bring [us] to unknown places for [our] profit, and never left [us] till he died." Squanto literally saved the lives of the settlers, and they provided him with a community. How amazed the Englishmen were, to find an "Indian" who spoke and even read their language!

Long afterward, when Squanto lay dying of a fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend "desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him ..." Squanto bequeathed his possessions to his English friends "as remembrances of his love." He had adopted them as his new community, and they had adopted him as their guide.