Historical accounts of Squanto’s life vary, but historians believe that around 1608; more than a decade before the Pilgrims landed in the New World; a group of English traders, led by a Captain Hunt, sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts. When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, Hunt took them prisoner, transported them to Malaga, Spain, and sold them into slavery. But God had an amazing plan for one of the captured Indians; a twelve year old boy named Squanto.
Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him with kindness and taught him the Christian faith. We assume his friar friend granted him freedom because Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stable of a man named John Slaney, who sympathized with Squanto’s desire to return home, and promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.
After another long five years, in approximately 1619--ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped--a merchant ship was located that was going back to the New World. Eventually, the ship sailed down the Maine coast and took Squanto to where his Patuxet village had been. But Squanto discovered that everyone in the village had died, probably from a smallpox epidemic brought by the earlier English colonists. For a time Squanto lived with a neighboring tribe, but he eventually went to live in the woods by himself.
We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto’s mind. Why had God allowed him to return home, against all odds, only to find his loved ones dead? A year later, the answer came. A shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto’s people. Squanto went to meet them, greeting the startled Pilgrims in English!
From the perspective of the Pilgrims who arrived at what they called Plymouth in 1620, we need to remember that their first year had been a devastating nightmare. Half of their members had died from sickness and starvation, they were thousands of miles away from home, and they were surely questioning God. Suddenly, out of the woods walks an Indian speaking the King's English. Because Squanto had grown up there, he could teach them the best places to find lobsters, how to plant corn by burying kernels along with a fish for fertilizer, and how to find and catch eels in the muddy streams. Truly, Squanto was a godsend to the Pilgrims.
According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God for our good . . . He showed us how to plant corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities . . . and was also our pilot to bring us to unknown places for our profit, and never left us till he died.”
Governor Bradford compared Squanto to Joseph in the Bible. Joseph had been taken from his home and sold as a slave, but God had a plan. Through Joseph, God was able to save many people from starvation. What man had intended for evil God intended for good.
In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims decided to set aside a time to thank God for His merciful blessings. They invited Squanto and other braves from Samoset's tribe who showed up carrying deer, wild turkeys, and many vegetables. Truly God had miraculously woven together the wandering lives of a lonely Patuxet brave and struggling band of English Pilgrims in such a way that would bless the whole world for centuries to come.
The moment that stood out the most in the Pilgrims' memories of that first Thanksgiving was William Brewster's prayer as they began the festival. They had so much for which to thank God: for providing all their needs-and His provision of Squanto, their teacher, guide, and friend that was to see them through those critical early winters.
By the end of the 19th century, Thanksgiving Day had become an institution throughout New England. It was officially proclaimed as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday in November, it was changed by an act of Congress in 1941 to the fourth Thursday of that month.
In 1622, as Squanto lay mortally ill with fever, the Pilgrim leader William Bradford knelt at his bedside. According to Bradford’s diary, Squanto asked him to “pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.” Squanto died November 1622, having bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims “as remembrances of his love.”
Who but God could so miraculously weave together the lives of a lonely Indian and a struggling band of Englishmen? Squanto’s life story is remarkable, and we ought to make sure our children and grandchildren learn about it. While you’re enjoying turkey and pumpkin pie this season, share with your kids the Indian side of the Thanksgiving story.Tell them about Squanto, the “special instrument sent of God”, who changed the course of American history.
1. Chuck Missler, "The First Thanksgiving," Koinonia House, November 1997
2. Charles Colson, "The Story of Squanto," Christian Worldview Journal, 29 October 2009
3. Eric Metaxas, Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999).