You Don’t Know Squat About Squanto

The First Thanksgiving

You know the story they told you in Kindergarten about the  First Thanksgiving? The Pilgrims were thankful they survived their first year in America so they threw a big party. They invited as their guest of honor a helpful Native American named Squanto. He taught them how to grow their crops and they all lived happily ever after. Aside from this, I’m guessing you don’t know squat about Squanto.

This story isn’t a complete a bunch of hooey, but there’s a whole lot they left out.

The Real Story

Squanto was a real person, but that wasn’t his real name. His name was Tisquantum and he was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe that lived in the area for 10,000 years before the white folks arrived.

Typical American white people, the Pilgrims couldn’t pronounce his name correctly and called him Squanto instead. He was a hero for helping them survive the winter, but he was a far more complex and shady guy than they led us to believe in Kindergarten.

Squanto did teach the Pilgrims to tap trees for sap, to plant Indian Corn, and to use fish to fertilize their crops. This, according to Wikipedia, is what he looked like:


See the hole in the ground where he’s placing the fish? This is the New World’s first recorded life hack. Over half the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth perished from hunger and disease their first winter. Squanto taught them the life skills they needed to survive.

The Dark Stuff

Squanto first encountered the English in 1614. They kidnapped him and sailed him back to England as a slave. They taught him English so he could serve as an interpreter for future expeditions.

He returned to New England with Captain John Smith (Pocahontas’ boyfriend – no, not Elizabeth Warren, the real Pocahontas) when one of Smith’s men kidnapped him again. This time he was sailed to Spain and sold into slavery. Luckily for him, some Franciscan Friars freed him and taught him to be a good Catholic.

He returned again to the New World, then back to England, then yet again to New England on yet another expedition with John Smith. All told, Squanto crossed the Atlantic six times, and was kidnapped several times by the English and once by his own tribe .

He finally made it home, but found that a plague had wiped out his entire family. Most likely spread by his good friends the Pilgrims. Welcome to America.

Meanwhile, his own people tried to kill him. They thought he was selling them out, or at least playing both sides against each other for his own gain. Miles Standish and the colonists mounted an expedition to rescue him, and he spent the rest of his days in service to them. He died the following year of “Indian Fever” at the age 42. What a life.

Now You Know Squat About Squanto

This amazing man took advantage of the collision of two competing cultures. He was talented and smart. Smart enough to learn the language and become an invaluable interpreter, guide, mediator and America’s first cultural liaison.

So it came to pass that in 1621 the Pilgrims had an abundant harvest and thrived. Feeling magnanimous and thankful, they created our first national holiday, which we all celebrated today.

400 years later we created Black Friday, so the rest of us settlers, feeling magnanimous and thankful, could line up at Walmart and trample each other over cheap DVD players and flat panel TVs.

All thanks to Squanto. He should be so proud…


2 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Squat About Squanto”

  1. I chuckle at your ending line. A great reminder to not squander thanks for materialism and a reminder of what others endured so that we can appreciate what we have. Happy Thanksgiving.

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