This is Thanksgiving week, and there’s more to the holiday than you know. You know about the pilgrims, the Indians, the cold winter and the corn. And then there are the things you think you know but are popular myths.
What you probably don’t know is that the very survival of the pilgrims and the birth of the holiday depended largely on one man, a native American named, Squanto. You know his name but not his story.
Thanksgiving history is complicated, especially when modern culture revises it. Counterpunch, a far-left website, urges us to remember the real meaning of Thanksgiving: “Let’s be honest. On the last Thursday of November, every year, we celebrate the beginning of a European invasion that ends with the death or relocation of millions of native people.”
There’s no question that atrocities occurred on both sides, but in the end Judeo-Christian values took root in the pioneering days of the pilgrims, made possible by a hard scrabble life that, in the beginning, involved two very different peoples. Squanto was the bridge.
His real name was Tisquantum. As a young brave in what is now Massachusetts, he learned the ways of his tribe, the Patuxets: how to fish for lobster, clear eels from the mud and make his way in the wilderness. His life was interrupted by a British shipmaster, Thomas Hunt, who deceived the Indians into friendship and then took some of the youngest as slaves to England, among them, Squanto.
An old professor once wisely reminded me, “Sometimes our disappointments are God’s appointments.” Squanto’s capture in 1608 began an amazing path that led to Spain, then London, then a long journey home to seeming tragedy.
Half a world away puritan separatists, seeking purity in their religion, separated from the Church of England. Persecution drove them to Holland where their leader, William Bradford, mapped out a plan for their future. Since persecution followed them there, Bradford a journey to the new world. So they prayed for God’s protection, guidance and provision.
After arriving in Spain, Squanto either escaped or was rescued into the care of Catholic fryers who taught him the ways of Christ and their ways of self-subsistence. He also became fluent in English and Spanish and, therefore, a valuable asset to traders seeking to profit from the native population from which he had come.
Several years passed and the fryers, learning of Squanto’s desire to return to the home from which he had been taken, devised a plan. They arranged for him to go to London where he was introduced to a businessman and ship owner named John Slaney. Recognizing Squanto’s value as an interpreter, he offered him passage to his homeland in exchange for his help in making trade deals with his people.
Meanwhile in Holland, the Separatist (Pilgrims) continued to plan their journey to the new world. Life was not easy there and they grew concerned that their children would adopt the ways of “the strangers.” Eventually Bradford combined his inherited wealth with that of two other English investors and financed the journey.
Slaney, true to his word, delivered Squanto to his homeland in 1619. On foot he returned to the very village he had left, only to find that everyone had died of smallpox. Desperate and alone, Squanto sought the company of another tribe, the Wampanoag, and lived with them for a year.
The Pilgrims’ journey on the Mayflower to the new world was catastrophic. Off course, they arrived at Cape Cod and tried to sail south to their planned destination of Virginia, but strong winds prevented them. That winter they anchored at Plymouth and formed a compact to establish Plymouth Colony. Five passengers died on the journey and forty more that first winter.
“Sometimes our disappointments are God’s appointments.”
In the spring of 1621, the Pilgrims were settled on the very spot where Squanto had lived and, as history records, out of the woods he emerged, greeting them in perfect English. The rest, as we say, is history.
3 Thanksgiving Lessons
This Thanksgiving, consider how God has appointed people and circumstances in your life. Here are three lessons from the story of Squanto
Over time, we can be thankful for even the hardest times of our lives.
God uses the most unusual people in our lives.
Your life is part of a bigger plan.
Squanto was buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown location; a fitting legacy to a holiday mired in revisionist history and cultural flux; a fitting testimony to what God does when the world isn’t watching.
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