What Happened To Squanto?

It’s the Thanksgiving season here in the US, and my son’s preschool is doing what most of them do:  telling the traditional story of the First Thanksgiving. My son’s sitting in his car seat in the back of the car, telling me that Squabto was nice, and that he helped the Pilgrims (or as he pronounces it, “Pillbims”) when they were hungry, and generally telling me what a great guy he was. The mist ringing endorsement was when he declared “Squanto was really nice. If I meet him, I’ll give him a hug!”

High praise indeed, from a five-year-old.

Now, I’m currently reading Germs, Guns, and Steel, and my wife’s undergraduate degree is Anthropology with a concentration in Native American Studies, and mine is History (and Conputer Science). So I’m trying to negotiate the horrors of what happened (and was done) to the Native Americans, being honest with him about things, and still not dropping heavy concepts like “genocide” on him. Mostly by sticking to making impressed noises as he tells his story. But then he hits me with The Question:

“Daddy, what happened to Squanto?”

Beats me. It’s been decades since I’ve thought about that story. Heck, for all I know, he’s a myth. So, as is my wont, I turn to the Internet.

First off, he’s real.  Which was probably a safe assumption, but you never know. His actual name was Tisquantum, and he was born in the Wampanoag Confederation, sometime around 1580.  He learned English by getting captured to be sold into slavery multiple times, finally making it home in 1619 to find out that most of his people had been wiped out by disease.  A year later, he met the Ouritans and made history.

What happened next?  Well, a few things.  He was the official Puritan interpreter when they negotiated peace with the Wampanoag. Then, in 1622, he contracted something called “Indian Fever” and died.

So, yeah. Probably not a story to lay on a five-year-old. Happy Thanksgiving!

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