Squanto, a contraction of the name Tisquantum, “door or entrance,” was a member of the Patuxet tribe who was recorded as having been kidnapped by Captain George Weymouth in 1605, and was among 27 (some say 24) Indians later taken to Málaga, Spain and sold into slavery by Captain Thomas Hunt. Squanto eventually escaped and made his way to England; from there he made his way to America in 1618-1619 with the help of John Slanie. Other versions claim that he was brought directly to England, and became the protégé of a merchant, Sir Fernando Gorges, who was interested in finding out as much as he could concerning the new lands across the sea. In any event, he spent some 14 years, which involved two round trips to Europe, before returning to his homeland, where he found to his dismay that his tribe had been virtually wiped out by a plague in 1617—probably yellow fever or some similar disease—introduced by European explorers.
During his years away from home he became fluent in English. With no tribe of his own, Squanto became associated with the Wampanoag people, and became an interpreter for their chief, Massasoit, the dominant leader of the region, in meetings with the Pilgrims. On March 21, 1621, Squanto arranged an initial conference which had far-reaching effects; one of the Plymouth colony’s early governors, William Bradford, wrote, “Squanto continued with them, 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.”
Some Indians were suspicious of Squanto’s friendship with the colonists. Having no tribe of his own, it was thought, he might be in collusion with them against the other Indians. It was generally suspected that he was trying to usurp the power of Massasoit, and at one time the latter demanded that the English turn Squanto over to him as a prisoner. Governor Bradford refused, sensing the importance of the latter as an interpreter. During this period of personal attack, Caunbitant, a local chief, allied himself with the Narragansetts to force Massasoit out, and also to drive out the hated English from the land. Squanto learned of this effort and intended to warn the English; he was captured by Caunbitant but was rescued by Captain Miles Standish, and the plot never succeeded. But there did seem to be every indication that Squanto hoped in some way to replace Massasoit as the great sachem of the region.
With the arrival of more colonists, the problem of food became more critical. In the fall of 1622 it was decided to sail one of the ships, the Swan, around Cape Cod and into Narragansett Bay to barter with the Indians of that area for food. Squanto volunteered his services as pilot and interpreter, since he had made the trip twice before. Bad weather forced the expedition to seek the safety of what is now Chatham Harbor on the Cape, where Squanto introduced the English to the local Indians. Ample provisions for the coming winter were secured, but as the Swan was preparing to leave, Squanto fell “sick of an Indian fever,” and died in November or early December 1622.
Squanto was long remembered, and deservedly so, by the residents of Plymouth Colony for his invaluable help in getting them through their first difficult years in the New World. While there is no doubt that he could be charged with having played “both ends against the middle” in his efforts to make himself an important person in colonial life, there is no evidence that he was maliciously, nor indeed, evilly guilty of anything beyond inordinate ambition.
Source: Great North American Indians by Frederick J. Duckstander