"Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again..."

Location: Tampa, FL, United States

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

There's More to Squanto Then What Meats the Eye

As our eyes behold the meat this Thanksgiving let us recall the past and fill in some of the gaps. You have your Bradfords, Brewsters, Carvers and other Thanksgiving Hall of Famers. Many have heard of the critical role Squanto [1585?-1622] played in bailing out the half of the Pilgrims that didn't die that first winter of 1620-1621, using his well-honed Indian fishing and agriculture skills. There were other colorful players though that help to round out that first Thanksgiving feast. There's Gorges, Dermer, Slaney and others.

Squanto is a good central figure though. His backstory in the Thanksgiving story makes for better drama then the better known "Act III" of his life. Act III being his interaction with the Pilgrims leading to the joint (not to be confused with: Chong, Cheech and) feast with the Pilgrims and the Indians.

Squanto had been to Europe probably three times or more prior to meeting the Pilgrims. The details are a little fuzzy but most historians agree on at least two trips having been made. And they really weren't "trips," as in vacations, for it appears Squanto was probably kidnapped or bribed by Captain George Weymouth, an Englishman, leading to his first trip to Europe in 1605. It seems five Indians were taken altogether, and two of them in a brutal matter.

Weymouth worked for Sir Ferdinando Gorges, the most influential member of the Plymouth Company for New England. It's believed Gorges and his associates taught Squanto English to help him gather information for exploration and colonization purposes. Entreprenurial stuff.

In 1614 (1613?) Squanto would return to the western hemisphere on a boat captained by John Smith (of Pocahontas fame). The boat accompanying him was captained by Thomas Hunt. This was likely a business trip for Smith and Hunt as they looked to become the first Bill Gateses (see: Soft, Micro).

While Hunt went about his business he used Squanto as an interpreter. Hunt would lure 20 Patuxet Indians on board his ship and cart them off to Malaga, Spain to be auctioned at 20 pounds a piece. Squanto was among the 20. Seven Indians of the Nauset tribe were also kidnapped. These numbers may not be exact but that's what happens after nearly 400 years elapse.

Fortunately for Squanto some Christian monks were placing bids and Squanto ended up in their fellowship. He lived with them a year or two then was off to Bristol or London. In London Squanto lived with Sir John Slaney in Cornhill. Slaney was a wealthy merchant and treasurer of the Newfoundland Company. In 1617 Slaney sent Squanto to Newfoundland, probably as an interpreter, and again, to assist Slaney in his business interests. Once in Newfounland Squanto met up with one CaptainThomas Dermer. Dermer had worked for Gorges in the past. Dermer and Squanto would go back to England, perhaps at Gorges request.

In 1619 (1618?) it was back to the West again for Squanto. He sailed with Captain Dermer, landing in Monhegan (Maine). On this trip Squanto would find out that every last member of his Patuxet tribe had died while he was away (in 1616-1617) from perhaps small pox , tuberculosis or some other bird flu-type plague.

Squanto wasn't the only famous Indian leading up to the first Thanksgiving feast. There was Samoset too. He was the Indian that first approached the Pilgrims on March 16, 1621, about 4 months after they landed. He knew a few English words. Samoset was the one who told the Pilgrims about Squanto, who they would meet 6 days later on the 22nd of March. Squanto introduced the Pilgrims to Massasoit and Quadequina (not to be confused with Quadrophenia, the Who's rock opera). The Treaty of Plymouth was negotiated (1621) so that John Carver, William Bradford and the other Pilgrims could trade and coexist with Massasoit and his fellow Indians. Without Squanto this treaty might never have happened.

So in a walnut shell, that's the backstory. While Squanto appeared to be quite the pingpong ball in all this, all these trips had a purpose. Many men with competing purposes and motives were posturing to reap great personal gain in this new world. Ultimately though the influence of these bumbling, stumbling, ill-prepared (in a worldly sense) Pilgrims would out-influence Gorges, Weymouth, Hunt, Smith and the other players.

One might argue that had Thomas Hunt, and George Weymouth before him, not kidnapped Indians then the Indian-European relations might not have been so hostile. Some would argue that this anti-Native American bigotry is reason enough to make reparations to the Indians alive today or even to give the whole country back to them. (Which begs the question, "Where do we all go?").

So there you have it. God using frail, flawed, corrupt, gallant and humble men and women of various persuasion in the outworking of his plan for his created beings and creation in general. Much like what's recorded in the book of Genesis, the early days of America were sin-plagued and very imperfect. Nonetheless our past is our past and we learn from it. No one can reasonably argue against the fact that the Pilgrims survived and eventually multiplied in a climate that looked to "eat them alive."

The history of God's people is replete with egregious acts and errors in judgment. Nonetheless, God is unveiling His "history" in manifold ways and will ultimately redeem and restore that which has been contaminated and messed up since the fall in the garden. The Thanksgiving story is a small but fascinating part of His story.


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