SQUANTUM - REFLECTION ON HIS LIFE
Was Squantum a hero to the English adventurers and colonists or was he a selfish person who was attempting to bring power and glory to himself? Was Squantum an aid or a traitor to the Indian people? The answers are difficult because these judgments must be made within each individual's mind. In addition, there are many facts about his life that will most probably never be known for sure.
As an individual he had a unique combination of skills which have assured him a place in the European settlement of the New World.
Whether for good or for ill, Squantum brought the ability to be a bridge between two cultures and two languages. His adventures abroad (from his first captivity in England, to his escape from slavery in Spain, to his time in the Newfoundland colony, to his return to London, and finally his return to America as a guide in the employ of Sir Ferinando Gorges) had taught him well the ways of the Europeans. His Indian heritage gave him the ability to understand and interpret Indian culture.
- The time that he spent in Newfoundland showed him how the settlers there adaped to the different climate, crop growing conditions, and other conditions in the New World.
- In addition, it seems possible that he spent time exploring the North American coast with British and French adventurers in the period after he returned from Malaga in Spain. Although there do not appear to be specific accounts of this part of his life, he is referred to having "twice passed within the Shoals of Cape Cod, both with the English and the French." His ability as a pilot enabled him to held the colonists travel and trade.
Unfortunately, the loss of his own community and the fact that the English never accepted him as an equal ensured that he was part of neither of the two cultures. He was a man without a people and a man without a home.
Why did he stay with the Pilgrims?
We can never know the answer to this question, but his life history suggests a variety of reasons. He had been taken from his home as a young adolescent and had spent fourteen formative years of his life in English culture. The members of his own community were all dead from the plague and he had been living in Massasoit's community as a captive, having been brought there by Epenow. Perhaps, he felt closer ties with the English after all those years.
Perhaps he looked upon staying with the Pilgrims as a way to return to the land of his ancestors. In the course of history, the importance of ties to the land of ones ancestors has been demonstrated through all cultures and all periods of time.
Squantum's Place in British Settlement
- Squantum's importance in the settlement of the American colonies cannot be overestimated. He served as a guide to adventurers such as Captain Thomas Dermer.
- Before he even met the Pilgrims, he first paved the way for understanding by telling Massasoit about the homeland of the English and bringing to his attention that the English could be strong allies in overcoming the control of the Narragansett sachem, Canonicus.
- Next he negotiated the impasse when Massasoit would not go to the Pilgrims and their governor would not come to him.
- Finally he interpreted for both sides and helped them to establish a treaty that lasted for 50 years. (A period much longer than most important treaties, even among people coming from the same culture, speaking the same language.)
- The colonists needed to learn new ways for a New World. Squantum was able to help them, not only because of his knowledge of the area and Indian customs, but also because of his knowledge of the solutions that English had devised in the Colony in Cupids.
- Squantum's importance to the Pilgrims was enormous, and it can be said that they would not have survived without his help. It was Squantum who taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He brought them deer meat and beaver skins. He explained how to dig and cook clams.He showed them how to build Indian-style houses. He also assisted them with their farming. He taught them how to cultivate corn and other new vegetables. He taught them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and fish in each mound; this was similar to the way the English colonists in Newfoundland fertilized their vegetables. The decaying fish fertilized the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops with the corn including wheat and barley. (The Pilgrims used the word "corn" to describe any grain, such as wheat, rye, barley, and oats. They used the term Indian corn or turkey wheat when speaking of what we now call corn or maize.)
- During late 1621 and 1622 he served as a pilot and interpreter and helped the Pilgrims to make trading expeditions to other parts of New England. He negotiated other peace treaties for them, even when he was dying he made an important contact with the sachem of Manamoick and his people on his final voyage to the Cape Cod area.
Was he serving his own interests by his activities?
Was he being a traitor to Indian people by helping the Pilgrims?
Each individual must answer those questions for himself or herself.
Willian Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth, who knew exactly Squantum's worth, expresses his opinion when he says:
"…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. 1