When cause and effect met humanity, the world changed

Jim Blasingame

As the 17th century dawned, cause-and-effect was merging two parallel universes. In the Old World, Leiden Separatists were making decisions that would put them on a circuitous journey. Meanwhile in the New World, a manchild named Tisquantum was born to the Patuxet tribe, part of the Wampanoag confederation of tribes. Both the Separatists and Tisquantum became very important to the future of mankind. But not before their lives would change and intertwine in ways not to be imagined by the inhabitants of either world. 

He was born in what is now Massachusetts, and his father named him Tisquantum. The Wampanoag, which means "eastern people," inhabited much of what became known as New England. In 1605, Captain George Weymouth thought investors would like to see real, live Indians, so he lured three of them onto his ship and took them back to England. One of the kidnapped was Tisquantum. In England, Tisquantum eventually came to live with Sir Ferdinando Gorges, a New World explorer and financier. Gorges taught Tisquantum English, and employed him to be a guide and interpreter for his sea captains.

Tisquantum -- now called Squanto -- was brought back to America in 1614, to assist in the mapping of the New England coast. But Squanto's greatest flaw -- the inability to know which Englishman to trust -- kept getting him in trouble, and incredibly, he was kidnapped again along with a couple dozen other Indians. This time Squanto was taken to Malaga, Spain to be sold.

A group of Friars discovered what was happening and took several of the Indians -- including Squanto -- from their captors in order to instruct them in Christianity. Squanto lived with the Friars until he became homesick, and in 1618 he boarded a ship bound for Newfoundland. In another twist of fate, while in Newfoundland, Squanto ran into an associate of his old friend, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who took Squanto -- willingly this time - back across the Big Water for the fifth time, and his second trip to England.

Now trilingual, Squanto was a unique resource, and Gorges once again employed his Indian friend to return to America to map the coastline that was so familiar to him. Arriving back in his home range in 1619, Squanto made the shocking discovery that during his absence, the Wampanoag people had been decimated in 1617 by an epidemic, which had also wiped out every single member of his home village.

All were colonists, but not all were Pilgrims
As Squanto was making his sixth, and last trip across the Atlantic, a group of colonists were planning their first. These plans came to fruition when on September 6, 1620, the 90-foot Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England. The Mayflower's manifest recorded the names of 110 passengers and crew, including 37 Leiden Separatists, aka, the Pilgrims.

Demographically, the Mayflower passengers were an unlikely and contentious gaggle. Though in the minority, the Pilgrims treated their fellow passengers with condescension, and actually called them "the others." But there was one common thread that bound them all together: Each had embarked on this courageous adventure to claim new prospects in the New World.

Bad news becomes good news
Landfall came for the Mayflower colonists on the 66th day at sea, November 9th, when they came ashore near the tip of what is now Cape Cod. Their first encounter with the indigenous people almost cost them dearly; they stumbled onto an Indian burial ground and were chased back to the Mayflower by the graveyard's indignant caretakers. This first contact episode must have seemed like bad luck, but as they would learn, it was a blessing in disguise. Safely back on the Mayflower and sailing on toward the main coast, the colonists created a very important document. They called it the Mayflower Compact, and we now know it to be the first set of laws established for settlers of the New World.

The next landing would be more peaceful, and on the day after Christmas, 1620, the colonists chose to establish their new life on the mainland shore of what is now Massachusetts, in a place they named Plymouth.

Cause and effect meets humanity
The first winter was cruel. By March 1621, less than half of the Mayflower contingent remained alive. But with all of their misfortune, they were about to discover something for which they would later be very thankful. On March 16th, an Indian named Samoset walked into the colonists' camp and greeted them with, "Hello, English." 

Samoset, a Monhegan sachem (leader) from what is now the state of Maine, was hunting and trading in the area. Even though he spoke some English, Samoset knew these sad-looking folks would need more help than he could give them.

Remember our trilingual, world-traveling orphan, Squanto? Well it turns out that the colonists had set up their settlement on the very spot where Squanto's village had been. Samoset brought Squanto to the colonists, and during the rest of the year he befriended and taught them how to fish, grow crops, and survive in the new land. And the rest is history.

One person making a difference
Without Samoset's initial -- and Squanto's sustained -- benevolence, it's generally accepted that the Pilgrims would probably have suffered more famine over the next year, likely resulting in the failure of the Mayflower expedition. But thanks to the humanity of these two individuals, the first harvest was bountiful, and sometime in October 1621, they decided to set aside a day to give thanks for their blessings. Squanto was invited and he brought other Indians to what became the first Thanksgiving Day in America.

Here are the cause-and-effect questions: What if Squanto had not been kidnapped and taken to live in Europe? What if he had not learned English, or ultimately, endeavored to return to his home? But more importantly, what if he and Samoset had not been of a good heart and had not befriended the people who arguably were the most important early colonial seeds in the historical harvest known as the United States?

Neither Squanto nor his new friends could have known that after almost four centuries, not just the United States, but in fact the world is still benefiting from the experiences of his life and the decision by these two individuals, Samoset and Squanto, to do good.

If the success of the Mayflower expedition was important to the ultimate settlement of America, then it takes no great leap of logic to see how an individual made a difference in the success of the United States and ultimately benefited the world.

Write this on a rock ... This week I will give thanks for Squanto: One person who chose to do good, and made a positive difference in the lives of many. If Squanto could do it, you and I can, too. Happy Thanksgiving. Go forth and do good.

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