- (d. 1622)
- William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Nanepashemet
- Plimoth Patuxet Museums Collections
Tisquantum is a complex historical figure. According to William Bradford, in 1614 “he was carried away with diverse others [from Patuxet and Nauset] by one Hunt a master of a ship, who thought to sell them for slaves in Spain, but he got away for England and was entertained by a merchant in London and employed in Newfoundland and other parts, and lastly brought hither into these parts, by one Mr. Dermer, a gentleman employed by Sir Ferdinando Gorges and others, for discovery, and other designs in these parts.”1While living with John Slanie, Tisquantum likely learned to speak English and observed English customs. After a five-year absence, Tisquantum arrived in Patuxet to deserted wetuash (homes) and overgrown cornfields - evidence of the devastating epidemics that swept through Wampanoag and other Indigenous homelands. Nanepashemet contextualized Tisquantum’s life in an era of global exchange, including the kidnapping and enslavement of Indigenous people from their homelands, and European colonization. Nanepashemet used his unique voice, his lived experience, and his extensive historical research to portray Tisquantum as a man using skills gained from adversity to create a place for himself in a changing world.
From Mourt’s Relation (1622)
“...Samoset came again, and Squanto the only native of Patuxet, where we now inhabit, who was one of the twenty Captives that by [Thomas] Hunt were carried away, and had been in England, & dwelt in Cornhill with master John Slanie a Merchant, and could speak a little English, with three others, and they brought with them some few skins to truck, and some red herrings…” 2
From William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation
“After these things [the concluding of the articles of peace], he[Ousamequin] returned to his place called Sowams, some 40 mile[sic] from this place, but Squanto continued with them, and was their interpreter, and was a special instrument, sent of God for their good beyond their expectation, he directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died. He was a native of this place, and scarce any left besides himself…
Afterwards, they (as many as were able) began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it; Also he told them except they got fish & set with it (in these old grounds) it would come to nothing, and he showed them that in the middle of April, they should have store enough, come up the brook, by which they began to build, and taught them how to take it; and where to get other provisions necessary for them. All which they found true by trial & experience. Some English seed they sew, as wheat and pease, but it came not to good; either by the badness of the seed, or lateness of the season, or both; or some other defect.”3
From William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation
“[In 1622], Squanto sought his own ends, and played his own game, by putting the Indians in fear, and drawing gifts from them; to enrich himself, making them believe he could stir up war against whom he would, and make peace for whom he would; yea he made them believe [the English] kept the plague buried in the ground, and could send it amongst whom they would; which did much terrify the Indians, and made them depend more on him, and seek more to him than to Massasoit. Which procured him envy, and he like to have cost him his life; for after, the discovery of his practices Massasoit sought [Tisquantum’s death] both privately and openly; which caused him to stick close to the English, and never durst go from them till he died.”4
From Good News from New England (1624)
“At our return [from trade with the Massachusett] we found Massasoit at the Plantation; who made his seeming just apology for all former matters of accusation, being much offended and enraged against Tisquantum; whom the Governor pacified as much as he could for the present. But not long after his departure, [Massasoit] sent a messenger to the Governor, entreating him to give way to the death of Tisquantum, who had so much abused him. But the Governor answered, although [Tisquatum] had deserved to die, both in respect of him and us, yet for our sakes he desired he would spare him; and the rather, because without him he knew not well how to understand himself or any other the Indians. With this answer, the messenger returned, but came again not long after accompanied by Massasoit, their master, as being one of his subjects, whom, by our first Articles of Peace, we could not retain…according to their manner, their sachem had sent his own knife, and them therewith, to cut off [Tisquantum’s] head and hands, and bring them to [Massasoit.]”5
FromNanepashemet’sLife ofSquanto (c. 1995)
“To most Americans, ‘Squanto’ is considered a hero because he helped the Pilgrims plant corn. His story is more of an American myth, usually full of errors and half truths, which only serves to make the history of the colony of New Plymouth look heroic. However, he was a real man, not simply the ‘special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation” as [Plymouth Colony Governor] William Bradford called him. Tisquantum lived in a time of great change for the Wampanoag… his knowledge of the English was probably greater than any of his people. Like most people, he used his knowledge to better his life…to the Wampanoag of modern times, Tisquantum represents the kind of collaboration between some natives and colonizers which brought about hard times and near destruction of the Native people and their way of life. He is often looked upon as an anti-hero due to his plotting against Massasoit, the sachem of Pokanoket. As William Bradford wrote, ‘Squanto sought his owne ends, and plaid his owne game.’ Edward Winslow of Plymouth Colony commented, ‘Thus by degrees we began to discover Tisquantum, whose ends were only to make himself great in the eyes of his countrymen, by means of his nearness and favor with us; not caring who fell, so he stood.’”6
Mourt's RelationView PDF
“...Samoset came again, and Squanto the only native of Patuxet, where we now inhabit, who was one of the twenty Captives that by [Thomas] Hunt were carried away, and had been in England, & dwelt in Cornhill with master John Slanie a Merchant, and could speak a little English, with three others, and they brought with them some few skins to truck, and some red herrings…”
Podcast host Hilary Goodnow and Brown University's Dr. Linford Fisher explore the "spectrum of unfreedom" and the evolution of native enslavement across the 17th century through 3 historic characters: Tisquantum (Squanto), the son of Metacomet (King Philip), and Tituba.
Who took Tisquantum away from his homelands? What happened to him once he arrived in Europe?
How would you feel if you were taken away from your homelands by force?
What experiences did Tisquantum have in common with the English?
What roles did Tisquantum play in his relationship with the English colonists? How did those relationships change over time?
How did Squanto’s actions impact the agreement between Pokanoket and Plymouth? Do you agree with how Ousamequin and Bradford responded? What would you have done differently?
What does it mean to say someone is a “special instrument”?
The English believed Tisquantum was sent to them by God to help them succeed. What does this tell us about English views about colonization?
Where might have Tisquantum learned how to plant corn? Who else might have had valuable knowledge and insights to instruct the English farmers?
What does Tisquantum say is the problem with the soil? According to him, how can the English improve the soil so their crops will thrive?
Popular culture has often called Tisquantum “last of the Patuxets.” Do the primary sources in this section agree with one another? Why do you think this is so?
- 1 William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation. (Boston: Conserved and digitized by the State Library of Massachusetts, 2014). 58
- 2Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth ed. Dwight Heath (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1963), 5
- 3 William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation. (Boston: Conserved and digitized by the State Library of Massachusetts, 2014). 61
- 4 William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation. (Boston: Conserved and digitized by the State Library of Massachusetts, 2014). 71
- 5 Edward Winslow, Good News from New England (1624) (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books), pg. 14-15
- 6 Nanepashemet, Life of Squanto. Unpublished manuscript. (1995) Plimoth Patuxet Museums Nanepashemet Archives.