The Red Friends of the Pilgrims

ALL the while the pestilence raged through the dreadful first Winter at Plymouth, the Pilgrims were haunted by strange, invisible neighbors, who forever lurked in the shadows. They could see the smoke curling up from the camps of the Indians. Some iron tools they left out overnight were gone in the morning. As they burned their dead, they had the uncanny feeling that spying eyes were upon them, and they bid the graves to conceal their loss, which left them with only 21 men. Even as they gathered for worship, they shouldered arms and marched to meeting three abreast.

After exactly three months of that strain on their nerves, the Pilgrims were astounded to see coming out of the woods and walking down the one street of their log village, a tall, straight Indian, naked except for a fringe above his waist. As he boldly advanced among them they marveled to hear him greet them: "Much welcome, Englishmen! Much welcome, Englishmen!"

The amazing visitor was Samoset, who had learned a few English words from fishermen on the coast of Maine. The wonder grew when soon he came again, bringing with him his great sachem, Massasoit, pipe of peace in his outstretched hand.

The Indians, too, had been ravaged by death in a plague that swept the Massachusetts Coast in 1616-1617, and the Plymouth tribe stood in dire need of friends to protect it from the Narragansetts at the south. While feasting voraciously and sweating out the strong waters of Plymouth, which he gulped down in mighty drafts, Massasoit concluded an offensive and defensive alliance with the colony. It was the first of thousands of treaties that were to be made between white men and red. Unlike most of the rest, it was not made only to be broken, but was faithfully kept as long as the makers of it lived.

Massasoit's interpreter in the negotiation of that treaty not only could speak English volubly; he had seen more of England than almost any of the English rustics at Plymouth. With 23 others, this Squanto had been kidnaped by Capt Hunt nearly seven years before, and on the very shore of Plymouth Harbor! Sold into slavery in Spain, he had obtained his freedom, made his way to London and finally to Newfoundland, whence he was brought back to Plymouth by an English sea rover. In his absence pestilence had carried away all his tribe and there was not a kinsman or a friend to welcome him to his desolate home.

The Pilgrims were finding that the accumulated wisdom of Europe could not solve for them the riddles of a new world, where a red barbarian like Squanto was wiser than they. They adopted this waif of the forest and became his apt pupils in the art of making shift in the wilderness. He piloted them in their coasting voyages and guided them in their expeditions by land. He coached them in their relations with his people, and he initiated them in the fur trade that became the salvation of the colony.

The few colonists at Plymouth, unaided and alone, hardly could have grappled with the problems of existence in such an alien land. There was not a fisherman among them, nor a woodsman, nor a hunter. The hooks and nets they brought were unsuited for catching cod, and the English wheat they sowed came to nothing.

"We are all to learn and none to teach," a Pilgrim truly said. Squanto became the teacher of the baffled whites. By instructing them to catch alewives in Town Brook and place them as fertilizer in each hill of corn, he assured them their first crop. Here is the story of the forever memorable ingathering that first Autumn in Plymouth:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, so that we might, after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. . . . And beside water fowl there was great store of wild turkeys."
Nor did Plymouth, in its rejoicing, forget its neighbors. Massasoit and 90 of his warriors were bidden to that feast, which gave us our Thanksgiving Day.

Naturally the 100 percent Americans did not like to see the native born mixing up with the foreigners at Plymouth. A sachem in the vicinity of Middleboro reckoned that the English would "lose their tongue" if they lost their red guide and emissary, and he took Squanto captive. But he released him on the demand of an armed expedition under the lead of Capt Myles Standish.

Massasoit's alliance with the white strangers also provoked the anger of the Narragansetts in southern Massachusetts and in Rhode Island. A messenger from that powerful Nation ran into Plymouth one day in 1622 and cast down at Gov Bradford's door a bundle of arrows, tied in a snake's skin. Although the Pilgrims were reduced to a corporal's guard, they calculated that no soft answer would be likely to turn away the wrath of their challenger. They sent back the skin—but stuffed with bullets! That ended the correspondence.

The Capt Dermer who brought Squanto back to Plymouth reported to England: "I would that the first plantation might be here seated." By a strange chance, it was so seated, and only four months afterward. By an even stranger chance, Squanto was there to heap coals of fire on the head of the race that had sold him into bondage.

Well may the Pilgrims have seen in this Indian "a special instrument sent of God for their good." To them he remained loyal in life and loyal in death, which occurred after two years of useful service, when he died in the hope of going to "the Englishman's God in Heaven."

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Oct 26, 1927, p. 18