Squanto: A Special Instrument of God

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20

“He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” – Psalm 111:5

Squanto was an American Indian of the Patuxant tribe who significantly helped the Pilgrims during the first two years of their settlement in New England. Without the timely help of Squanto (or Tisquantum), it is doubtful whether the frail Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth would have survived the second winter. The deep personal friendship between Squanto and the Pilgrims is noteworthy, in that from the first day that he met them he never left them. How could it have been possible for an English-speaking, God-fearing, lonely-hearted Indian to emerge out of the dense forests of New England to assist the starving Pilgrims? Here are the fascinating details of Squanto’s story.

Fifteen years prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims, Squanto was voluntarily taken to England in 1605 by Captain George Weymouth. While there he was favorably exposed to English ways, the English language, and the Christian Gospel. Nine years later, in 1614, he returned to his kinsmen as part of an exploratory expedition led by Captain John Smith. A few days after his happy reunion with his family Squanto was lured aboard an English ship and kidnapped, along with many other Indians throughout Cape Cod Bay, by a deceitful English sea captain, Thomas Hunt. Squanto and the other unfortunate captives were sold at the slave market in Malaga, Spain. In God’s good providence he was purchased by some benevolent monks who eventually released him so that he could return home to the New World. He determined to make his way to England, which was familiar to him, and after successfully doing so he worked for several years as a domestic servant for the wealthy merchant, John Slanie. In time he was able to secure passage to America with a friendly sea captain, Thomas Dermer, who set him off in New England just six months before the Mayflower dropped anchor in Plymouth Bay.

Once he returned to his own land, Squanto found to his dismay that all of his tribe had been killed by a mysterious and unstoppable plague. No one from his entire village remained alive, so that Squanto became known as “the last Patuxant”. Lonely and forlorn, he sought refuge amongst the Wampanoags, a nearby Indian tribe led by Chief Massasoit. He also became friendly with another Indian who served as a guide to the English by the name of Samoset. When the Pilgrims finally landed after a very rough sea voyage in December 1620, they unwittingly established their colony near, or perhaps on, the same site as Squanto’s Indian village. This unknown fact protected the Pilgrims from hostile and superstitious Indians who would not come near the former village of the unfortunate Patuxant tribe. The pioneering Pilgrims quickly erected a sturdy squat common house for defense on the top of the nearest hill, and a short row of small rustic cabins in which several crowded families lived. It was not a comfortable country hamlet, but the Pilgrims insisted that, “It is not with us as with other men whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause (us) to wish (ourselves) at home again”. They were made of sterner stuff.

The first winter was an exceedingly difficult time for the Pilgrims. Out of the 102 initial settlers, exactlyone half died from sickness before those disease-ridden months were completely over. The dead were buried at night in unmarked graves so that any Indians lurking in the forests would not see how small their company had actually become. If it were not for the enduring presence of the Mayflowerwith its extra supplies and the sacrificial efforts of several of the more stout Pilgrims in caring for the sick, the number of dead would surely have been greater. But the winter finally gave way to the spring and having survived their snowy ordeal, the Pilgrims launched into the planting season with hopeful optimism. However, the barren rocky soil in Plymouth proved to be very different from the productive fields of England and the fertile gardens of Holland. Beyond that, much of the seed for planting had been consumed during the desperate days of winter. Some additional “means” would have to be found to bring about a successful crop. The “means” that God provided was not a newly arrived ship crammed with abundant supplies, but a lonely Indian brave who longed to find a new home, a new family, and a new purpose for his life.

Squanto made his appearance in the rough-hewn village of Plymouth at the encouragement of his friend Samoset. It was said of Squanto that he knew the King’s English and the streets of London far better than his Pilgrim friends. He also knew all of the Indian ways that would be such a great help to the Pilgrims in their desperate hour. At just the right time God brought this unexpected deliverer upon the scene. Immediately, Squanto started educating the Pilgrims about how to fish, fertilize and plant corn, catch freshwater eels with their bare hands, and store food Indian-style. His most important role was in serving as an interpreter for the English in negotiating a pact of non-aggression and mutual defense with Chief Massasoit of the Wanpanoags. Without the timely provision of Squanto’s assistance it is doubtful that such a permanent peace could have been negotiated. This peace treaty remained in effect for over fifty years. He was called by the Indians “the tongue of the Englishmen”. But, Governor William Bradford affectionately referred to him as, “a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond their expectation.” Squanto had in God’s providence not only discovered a new home for himself built upon the ruins of his old village, but he had also adopted the Pilgrims as a replacement for his deceased Indian family.

It would be a complete mischaracterization to portray Squanto as one who never had any further troubles in his brief life. He struggled with a deep-seated jealousy when Hobomok, an official representative of Chief Massasoit, came to live in Plymouth. Evidently, Squanto enjoyed having a special relationship with the Pilgrims and was reluctant to share this unique privilege with others. Even the level-headed Massasoit grew irritated and angry with Squanto’s intrigues at one point and demanded his death. Yet, Governor Bradford’s intercession for him prevented this rash deed from being carried out. Squanto also sought to gain an unhealthy advantage over his fellow Indians by asserting that the Pilgrims kept the “dreaded plague” under a plank in the common house. It was intimated that he could command them to cast it upon those whom he disliked. Thus he gained an elevated position amongst the local Indians for a short time, but in the end all of these ill-conceived schemes back-fired upon him and he was discovered.

It must be remembered that over-all Squanto was well-liked within the colony at Plymouth and proved to be a trusted and faithful friend to the Pilgrims throughout his entire life. Moreover, Squanto generously helped the Pilgrims in a sacrificial manner when they were most needy and destitute. Here was a man who truly laid down his life on behalf of his friends (John 15:13). What the wicked English sea captain meant for evil, God used for good, so that Squanto actually became a deliverer to the Pilgrims in their time of trouble (cf. Genesis 50:20). For without the assistance of Squanto, there very likely would have been no day of thanksgiving in November 1621 because there would have been too little food to warrant having a harvest celebration. Though, in God’s good providence there was an abundance of food and the celebration that became known as Thanksgiving took place. In the end, Squanto lived out the remainder of his life with the Pilgrims in Governor Bradford’s own home in the very center of Plymouth. He was a welcome member of the extended Bradford family all his days. His demise came rather unexpectedly while Squanto and others were on a necessary food-buying mission to the Indian tribes of Cape Cod during the winter of 1622. He endured a short bout with fever and finally gave way to illness following a few days of suffering. After bequeathing his few possessions as “remembrances of love” to various Pilgrims, his final words were spoken to Governor Bradford. He simply requested “ye Governor to pray for him, that he might goe to ye Englishman’s God in heaven.” Let us remember the true and faithful promise, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.” (Revelation 14:13).

Sources for Further Study:

Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Settlement, San Antonio, TX: Vision Forum Ministries & Mantle Ministries, 1988.
Brown, John, The Pilgrim Fathers of New England and their Puritan Successors, London, England: The Religious Tract Society, 1895.
Carpenter, Edmund J., The Mayflower Pilgrims, Arlington Heights, IL: Christian Liberty Press, n.d.
Foster, Marshall, and Swanson, Mary-Elaine, The American Covenant: The Untold Story (rev. ed.), Santa Barbara, CA: co-published by The Foundation For Christian Self- Government (1981), and The Mayflower Institute (1983).
Jehle, Paul, Plymouth in the Words of Her Founders, San Antonio, Texas, Vision Forum Ministries, 2002.
Schmidt, Gary D., William Bradford:Plymouth’s Faithful Pilgrim, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999.
Willison, George F., Saints and Strangers, New York, NY: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1945.

Copyright November 2005. Rev. Marcus Serven, Th. M.
Used by Permission. All Rights Reserved.

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