Nearly 400 years ago, the Pilgrims departed on the famous Mayflower from the city of Plymouth, England. Over two months later, they spotted land and made anchor in Cape Cod. However, the pilgrims suffered from a miserable voyage, and were not suited to the harsh landscape of the New World. The ill-prepared Pilgrims surely would have perished if not for the help of one Catholic American Indian.
“Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; serve the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful song. Know that the LORD is God, he made us, we belong to him, we are his people, the flock he shepherds. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name; good indeed is the LORD, His mercy endures forever, his faithfulness lasts through every generation.” – Captain Christopher Jones of the Mayflower led the pilgrims in reciting Psalm 100 upon the first sighting of land
Most everyone has learned and knows the traditional folktale of the inaugural Thanksgiving celebration in America. The Pilgrims arrived on Plymouth Rock and one day an American Indian walked out the woods. They were taught how to grow corn, where to fish, and at the end of year celebrated their first harvest together. But what most people don’t know is that Puritan Pilgrims fleeing from Anglican England found their savior in the unlikeliest of places – a baptized Catholic.
While his true name was Tisquantum, the American Indian that aided the Pilgrims is better known as Squanto. Little is known about his early life other than he was born around the year 1580 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. When his Patuxet tribe came into contact with some of the earliest English explorers in 1614, he was captured along with others of his tribe by John Smith (of Pocahontas fame). The original intention of Smith was to sell them into slavery in Spain. However, a group of Franciscan Friars discovered the plot and acquired the capture American Indians. The friars received Squanto, where he was catechized and baptized into the Catholic Faith.
Freed from potential slavery by the Friars, Squanto traveled to England in hopes of finding passage back to his home in Plymouth. There he worked in the shipyards and became fluent in English. Five years after being captured, he eventually was able to return on a ship captained by none other than John Smith.
When Squanto arrived, he found his Patuxet tribe was wiped out from disease. He joined a Wampanoag tribe, and was introduced to the Pilgrims by them in 1620. For the pilgrims, an American Indian who knew fluent English, was familiar with English culture, and knew how to survive in the New World was a God-send.
With his help, the Pilgrims were able to thrive, not perish. He became an integral part of their community and was liked by all. In fact, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth colony thought of him as a great friend both personally and to the colony. When Squanto suddenly died just a year later, he wrote in his personal journal:
“Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman’s God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.”