Tisquantum (November 15, 1585 - November 30, 1622), also known as Squanto, was a Patuxet man who assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter in what is now Massachusetts. He was integral to their very survival. He was a member of the Patuxet tribe, a tributary of the Wampanoag Confederacy. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean six times, traveling with colonists to London and back.


Squanto and Tisquantum are derived from a Wampanoag word for divine rage. This was likely a name that he was given as an adult. Smithsonian magazine reports:

More than likely Tisquantum was not the name he was given at birth. In that part of the Northeast, tisquantum referred to rage, especially 'the world-suffusing spiritual power' at the heart of coastal Indians' religious beliefs. When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had stuck out his hand and said, "Hello, I'm the Wrath of God."[3]

Early life and enslavement

Squanto's date of birth is unknown, but many historians list it as January 1, 1585, or January 1, 1592. He was born in a Patuxet village, somewhere in the vicinity of present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts.

According to most popular accounts, Captain George Weymouth was exploring the New England coastline for Thomas Arundell and Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton in 1605. He captured Squanto and four others and brought them back to England. Weymouth landed in Plymouth and delivered three of his captives, including Squanto, to Ferdinando Gorges, governor of the fort at Plymouth. Gorges taught Squanto English so that he might serve as an interpreter on future voyages.[4]

Squanto returned to New England in 1614 with an expedition led by Captain John Smith. On his way back to Patuxet, he was abducted by Thomas Hunt, one of Smith's lieutenants. Hunt was planning to sell fish, corn, and captured natives in Málaga, Spain. He transported Squanto and a number of other Native Americans to Spain, where he tried to sell them into slavery for £20 apiece. [5] Franciscan friars discovered what Hunt was attempting, so they took Squanto and the other Native Americans to safety. The Friars instructed them in the Catholic faith.

Squanto persuaded the friars to let him try to return home. He reached London, where he lived with John Slany, a shipbuilder for whom he worked for a few years. Slany taught him more English. He took Squanto to Cuper's Cove, Newfoundland in 1617. To get to New England, Squanto tried to take part in an expedition to that part of the North American east coast, but Thomas Dermer sent him back to London in 1618 to meet Gorges and ask for permission.

In 1619, Squanto finally returned to his homeland aboard John Smith's ship, having joined an exploratory expedition along the New England coast led by Captain Dermer. He soon discovered that the Patuxets and a majority of coastal New England tribes (mostly Wampanoags and Massachusetts) had been decimated the previous year by a plague, possibly smallpox. In 2010, researchers published an article suggesting that this had been an epidemic of leptospirosis.[9]

Interactions with the Pilgrims

Abenaki sagamore Samoset was visiting Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, and he introduced Squanto to the Plymouth colonists near the site of his former village.[4] He helped them recover from an extremely hard first winter by teaching them the native method of maize cultivation, which buried local fish (menhaden) in the soil to fertilize crops. In 1621, Squanto was the guide and translator for settlers Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow as they traveled upland on a diplomatic mission to the Wampanoag sachem, known today as Massasoit.

In a subsequent mission for Governor William Bradford that summer, Squanto was captured by Wampanoags while gathering intelligence on the renegade sagamore Corbitant at the village of Nemasket (site of present-day Middleborough, Massachusetts).[2] Myles Standish led a ten-man team of settlers from Plymouth to rescue Squanto if he was alive or, if he had been killed, to avenge him. He was found alive and welcomed back by the Pilgrims at Plymouth, where he continued in his vital role as assistant to the colony.

Squanto worked at building alliances, but Massasoit did not trust him in the tribe's dealings with the settlers (even though Massasoit was the sachem who first appointed Squanto as liaison to the Pilgrims). He assigned Hobomok[2] to watch over Squanto. On his way back from a meeting to repair damaged relations between the Wampanoags and Pilgrims, Squanto fell ill with a fever and began bleeding from the nose. Some historians have speculated that he was poisoned by the Wampanoags because they believed that he had been disloyal to the sachem.[2] Squanto died a few days later in 1622 in Chatham, Massachusetts. He was buried at Burial Hill in Chathamport, at the head of Ryder's Cove. A marker on the front lawn of the Nickerson Genealogical Research Center on Orleans Rd (Route 28) in Chatham explains the area where he is buried. Peace between the Wampanoags and Pilgrims lasted for another fifty years.

Governor William Bradford wrote regarding Squanto's death in Bradford's History of the English Settlement:

Here [Manamoick Bay] 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.


His name lives on in place names in Massachusetts' South Shore, most notably in the neighborhood of Squantum, Quincy, Massachusetts.