1320) Squanto and the Pilgrims

By Chuck Colson, for:  http://www.breakpoint.org


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Bust of Squanto from Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA.


      Most of us know the story of the first Thanksgiving; at least we know the Pilgrim version.  But how many of us know the Indian viewpoint?

     No, I’m not talking about some revisionist, politically correct version of history.  I’m talking about the amazing story of the way God used an Indian named Squanto (1585-1622) as a special instrument of His providence.

     Historical accounts of Squanto’s life vary, but historians believe that around 1608, more than a decade before the Pilgrims arrived, a group of English traders sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts.  When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, the traders took them prisoner, transported them to Spain, and sold them into slavery.  It was an unimaginable horror.

     But God had an amazing plan for one of the captured Indians, a boy named Squanto.

     Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him well and taught him the Christian faith.  Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stables of a man named John Slaney.  Slaney sympathized with Squanto’s desire to return home, and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.

     It wasn’t until 1619, ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped, that a ship was found. Finally, after a decade of exile and heartbreak, Squanto was on his way home.

     But when he arrived in Massachusetts, more heartbreak awaited him.  An epidemic had wiped out Squanto’s entire village.

     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.

     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 [our] 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.”

    When Squanto lay dying of fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend “desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.”  Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims “as remembrances of his love.”

     Who but God could so miraculously convert a lonely Indian and then use him to save a struggling band of Englishmen?  It is reminiscent of the biblical story of Joseph, who was also sold into slavery, and whom God likewise used as a special instrument for good.


Genesis 50:15-21  —  When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”  So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died:  ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph:  I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’  Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

      His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

     But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.”  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.


An English Prayer of Thanks, 1625, by George Webb:

O Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards us, hast provided meate and drinke for the nourishment of our weake bodies.  Grant us peace to use them reverently, as from Thy hands, with thankful hearts:  let Thy blessing rest upon these Thy good creatures, to our comfort and sustentation:  and grant we humbly beseech Thee, good Lord, that as we doe hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our soules may earnestly long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour,  Amen.

232) Pilgrim Thanksgiving (part two)

     … (continued)  Our supply of men from you came the 9th of November, 1621, putting in at Cape Cod, some eight or ten leagues from us.  The Indians that dwell thereabout were they who were owners of the corn which we found in caves, and we are in league with them.  They sent us word there was a ship near unto them, but thought it to be a Frenchman; and indeed for ourselves we did not expect a friend so soon.  But when we perceived that she made for our bay, the governor commanded a firearm to be shot off, to call home such as were abroad at work.  Whereupon every man, yea boy, that could handle a gun, were ready, with full resolution that, if she were an enemy, we would stand in our just defense, not fearing them.  But God provided better for us than we supposed.  These came all in health, not any being sick by the way, otherwise than by sea-sickness, and so continue at this time, by the blessing of God; the good-wife Ford was delivered of a son the first night she landed, and both of them are very well.

     When we are settled and fitted for the fishing business and other trading, I doubt not but by the blessing of God the gain will give plenty to all.  In the meantime, that we have gotten we have sent by this ship; and though it be not much, yet it will witness for us that we have not been idle, considering the smallness of our number all this summer.  We hope the merchants will accept of it, and be encouraged to furnish us with things needful for further employment, which will also encourage us to put forth ourselves to the uttermost.

     Now because I expect your coming unto us, with other of our friends, whose company we much desire, I thought good to advise you of a few things needful.  Be careful to have a very good bread-room to put your biscuits in.  Let your cask for beer and water be iron-bound, if not more.  Let not your meat be dry-salted;  none can better do it than the sailors.  Let your meal be so hard trod in your cask that you shall need a hatchet to work it out with.  Trust not too much on us for corn at this time, for by reason of this last company that came, depending wholly upon us, we shall have little enough till harvest.  Build your cabins as open as you can, and bring good store of clothes and bedding with you.  Bring every man a musket or fowling-piece…  Bring juice of lemons, and take it fasting; it is of good use...  Our Indian corn, even the coarsest, makes as pleasant meat as rice; therefore spare that.  Bring paper and linseed oil for your windows, with cotton yarn for your lamps.  Let your shot be most for big fowls, and bring store of powder and shot.  I forbear further to write for the present, hoping to see you by the next return.

So I take my leave, commending you to the Lord for a safe conduct unto us.

Resting in him,
Your loving friend

Edward Winslow

Plymouth in New England this 11th of December, 1621


The Mayflower arrived in 1620.  Years later, William Bradford (1590-1657), the first governor of the colony, wrote his “History of Plymouth Plantation.”  In one passage, written in 1650, Bradford recorded the fate of those who came over on the Mayflower.  The following two paragraphs introduce and conclude Bradford’s records of those original settlers.  The original spelling and grammar has not been changed.  Even after writing of the illnesses and early deaths of so many of his fellow travelers, including his own wife, Bradford is still thankful and praises God for preserving the Plymouth Colony:

     “And seeing it hath pleased God to give me to see 30 years compleated, since these beginnings.  And that the great works of his providence are to be observed.  I have thought it not unworthy my paines, to take a view of the decreasings, & Increasings of these persons, and such change as hath pased over them, & theirs, in this thirty years…
     “…Of these 200 persons which came first over, in this first ship together; the greater halfe dyed in the general mortality; and most of them in 2 or three monthes time.  And for those which survived though some were ancient & past procreation; & others left ye place and countrie. yet of those few remaining are sprung up above 160 persons; in these 30 years.  And now living in this presente year 1650, beside many of their children which are dead and come not within this account.  And of the old stock, there are yet living this present year 1650 nere 30 persons. Let the Lord have ye praise; who is the High preserver of men.”



I Chronicles 16:8-9  —  Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Corinthians 15:56-57  —  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A GENERAL PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING from the Book of Common Prayer:
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us.  We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.

231) Pilgrim Thanksgiving (part one)

This description of the life of the Pilgrims following the landing of the Mayflower was written in a letter by pilgrim Edward Winslow (1595-1655) after a year in the new land.  During the first winter in New England, Winslow’s wife died, as did almost half of the original settlers.  Two months after his wife‘s death, Winslow married Susannah White, who had been widowed during the same period.  White was distinguished as the first white woman to give birth in New England, and their wedding was the first in the region.  Winslow, who was elected governor of the colony several times, is best known for negotiating a treaty with the Indian Chief Massasoit.  The second paragraph of this letter contains the most detailed eyewitness account we have of that first Thanksgiving.  Despite the severe hardships and many afflictions of that first year, Winslow is thankful for God’s abundant provision.


Loving and old Friend,

     …You shall understand that in this little time a few of us have been here, we have built seven dwelling-houses and four for the use of the plantation, and have made preparation for others.  We set last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas; and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings…  Our corn did prove well; and, God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown.

     Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.  They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.  At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms; many of the Indians coming among us, and among them their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

     We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very loving, and ready to please us.  We often go to them, and they come to us.  Some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them…  Yea, it has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us and love unto us, that not only the greatest king among them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have been glad to make peace with us…  So that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we, for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England.  We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us.  They are a people without any religion or knowledge of any God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, and just.

     For the temper of the air here, it agrees well with that in England; and if there be any difference at all, this is somewhat hotter in summer.  Some think it to be colder in winter; but I cannot out of experience so say. The air is very clear, and not foggy, as has been reported.  I never in my life remember a more seasonable year than we have here enjoyed; and if we have once but kine cows, horses, and sheep, I make no question but men might live as contented here as in any part of the world.  For fish and fowl, we have great abundance.  Fresh cod in the summer is but coarse meat with us.  Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer, and affords a variety of other fish.  In September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter.  We have mussels (near us)… Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will.  All the spring-time the earth sends forth naturally very good salad herbs.  Here are grapes, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, etc.; plums of three sorts, white, black, and red;…  The country needs only industrious men to employ; for it would grieve your hearts if you, as I, had seen so many miles together by goodly rivers uninhabited; and withal, to consider those parts of the world wherein you live to be greatly burdened with abundance of people.  These things I thought good to let you understand, that you might on our behalf give God thanks, who hath dealt so favorably with us…(continued)

Portrait of Plymouth Colony Governor Edward Wi...

Plymouth Colony Governor Edward Winslow


Psalm 103:1-2  —  Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 100:4-5  —  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.  For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Philippians 4:5-7  —  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up and the clouds drop down the dew:  We yield thee hearty thanks and praise for the return of seedtime and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all the other blessings of thy merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people.  And, we beseech thee, give us a just sense of these great mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before thee all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory, world without end.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer