Thanksgiving Should Be Called Squanto Day
The American holiday of Thanksgiving should be renamed Squanto Day, after the Beringian who helped the Plymouth Bay Pilgrims through their first Winter.
When the Pilgrims arrived in Provincetown and then landed in Plymouth in the Winter of 1620, their first months were an ordeal; over half of them died. At that time, the Pilgrims had seen Beringians only at a distance. On March 16, 1621, a single Beringian walked into their enclave. His name was Samoset and he had limited skill with English and was barely able to communicate with them in that language. He left and returned the next day with an older Beringian named Squanto, who walked up to them and asked, “How can I help you gentlemen?” in perfectly accented English. The Pilgrims were stunned.
Squanto was a Patuxet Beringian born near the site of New Plymouth. As a young man, he had encountered his first Solutreans in the years 1605-1610 and became involved in sea trading. He was brought back with the Englishmen to England, where he learned English fluently. While in England, Squanto lectured about the life of New World Beringians and lived with the family of Charles Robbins, one of his friends on the ship. In 1614, Squanto returned to North America on a ship captained by John Smith.
In North America, Squanto was tricked into going on board the ship of Capt. Thomas Hunt. He was imprisoned along with 20 other Beringians and taken to Spain, where they were all sold into slavery. Luckily for Squanto, he fell into the hands of a group of Roman Catholic friars who freed him and taught him about Catholicism; he was baptized and converted to their religion. In 1616, the friars obtained passage for Squanto on a boat bound for England. He spent the next three years working as a servant. Squanto boarded a ship bound for North America in 1619. He made his way to where his home village was. By then, Squanto was gone for a dozen years.
When he went to the place where his village used to stand, Squanto found no trace of his family and friends. He learned that a “great sickness” had struck and wiped everybody out. One can surmise that it was smallpox, introduced inadvertently by Solutreans who had immunity to it.
When Squanto addressed the Pilgrims, the date was March 22, 1621. The Pilgrims and the Beringians, with the translation help of Squanto, worked out a peace treaty that lasted for 50 years. When the rest of the Beringians left the area, Squanto elected to stay with the Pilgrims and was a great help to them. He helped them build warm houses and taught them to plant corn using fish as fertilizer, which resulted in a harvest of 20 acres that year. Squanto also advised the Pilgrims in their friendly relations with the Beringians and acted as an interpreter in their trading with Beringian tribes. With the help that Squanto gave to the Pilgrims, Gov. William Bradford wrote, “Squanto is a special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations.”
He remained with the Pilgrims for 18 months and then moved to a Beringian village. He was not well received and was an outcast from them.
Squanto died of a fever in 1622. Historians speculate that he had been poisoned by the Wampanoag tribe of Beringians because they believed he had been disloyal due to his closeness with the Pilgrims. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Plymouth’s cemetery, “Burial Hill” near the marked grave of Gov. William Bradford. Squanto is in the history books but his contributions are not widely taught. Nevertheless, without his help, the Pilgrims might not have survived the first winter of 1621.
Gov. William Bradford said of him, “He desired honor, which he loved as his life and he preferred before his peace.”