The Native American Who Saved the Pilgrims

Jeff Glennon

Many of us are familiar with the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, but have you heard of Squanto, the Patuxet Native American from Cape Cod Bay that saved the Pilgrims from disease and disaster?

Squanto was a young man when, in 1614, he was abducted by Spanish conquistadors. He was forcefully taken by ship back to Spain. It is not known how long he was in Spain, but it is known that he managed to escape his captors. Once free, he made his way to England, where he found work.

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In England, Squanto worked with a shipbuilder and learned the English language and European ways of living. He became known as an enterprising individual by using his knowledge of the New World to help aid explorer’s expeditions. After several years, he signed on as an interpreter for an exploratory voyage to Newfoundland.

After the long voyage (it could take anywhere from six to 14 weeks to make it across the Atlantic), Squanto finally was reunited with his homeland. When he reached Cape Cod Bay, however, he found out his tribe had been wiped out completely by disease. He became the last Patuxet.

He was working with British explorers when he encountered the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They had arrived the year before, but the bitter winter and foreign land ravaged their group – nearly two thirds of the Pilgrims had died from disease and starvation.

It was then that Squanto stepped in and shared his knowledge yet again – this time, equipping the Pilgrims with the tools they needed to survive. He taught them the ways of his land, teaching them how to farm, how to build proper shelter, and how to keep livestock.

In their second season, the Pilgrims had a bountiful harvest, and celebrated their success with a feast of Thanksgiving. Squanto and other Native Americans worked together with the Pilgrims and Europeans for several years. Sadly, Squanto also died of disease only three years later. His age is not known, but he was likely in his 30s or 40s. Considered by some to be the first diplomat between the Native Americans and the colonists, he should be remembered as a brilliant, cunning, and compassionate individual.

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