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Monday, 07 November 2016 17:00

TISQUANTUM: A New Tale from the Old World

Written by David Stocker
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David Stocker – NSFA Staff Editor 

Thanksgiving evokes harvest gratitude just before winter. Yet the myth of Thanksgiving that we tell is rife with inaccuracies and omissions that have endured for 400 years. The story of a Wompanoag, Tisquantum (Squanto), in 1614, gives us a more honest look at our American colonial roots.

Squanto was captured into slavery by agents of a venture capitalist aristocrat, an associate of the founders of the Plymouth Bay Colony, North America’s first corporation. The English and French were racing to offer land grants to soldier-settler enterprises in the New World. For as the newly minted King James Bible (1614) promised:

Ask of me and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. – Psalms 2:8

Squanto was taken to England and paraded before the royalty of Europe as an exotic advertisement for his master’s plan to develop a “New England” using enslaved Indians. Circulating in London, Squanto might actually have heard the words of Shakespeare’s despairing Merchant of Venice, written a few years earlier.

Hath not a Jew eyes?
Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions;
fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons,
subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?

Over a 14 year period, twice Squanto escaped, trying to return home, but was betrayed and sent back to his European master. It is likely Squanto learned Spanish and world history from monks during two years of hiding in Spain. Imagine a red-skinned man traveling secretly across Europe trying to find passage to return to his home.

Squanto’s exploitation proved beneficial for his aristocratic owner, but by the time he returned to Plymouth 14 years later, his tribe had perished from small pox. He was rejected by the sickly remnants of his people as a collaborator and died alone, perhaps poisoned, an extraordinary victim of the North American genocide. Yet Squanto was spared the fate of Indian insurgents in the centuries to come. When they resisted the relentless settler machine, they were exterminated.

In 1637, on orders of William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth Colony, hundreds of Pequot men, women, and children were entrapped in their village that was then burned to the ground.

Whosoever resisteth the power of God shall receive to themselves damnation. – Romans 13:2

In 1970, Frank James, a Wamsutta descendant of Tisquantum’s lineage, was asked to speak at a public commemoration. When the organizers previewed his speech, he was summarily dis-invited. He had said,

You, who have inherited this place, if you can hear me, you must work towards a more humane world where men and women and nature are once again important; where the values of honor, truth, and the common good prevail.

Tisquantum’s story does not support the dominant mythology of empire. America’s true legacy is not found in the quaint stories manufactured by Disney storytellers. Manifest destiny required fairy tales of pacified indians and grateful slaves to mask the horror of genocide.

We think things are better now, but the Black Lives Matter movement reminds us otherwise. The emblems and mascots of our settler legacy endure in the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins. More people watch the “Indians” play in the World Series than pay attention to the recurring theft of indigenous land and impending ecological disaster at Standing Rock.

Our remembrance of Thanksgiving is upside down. The first act of starving Pilgrims was to plunder the winter stores of their Pequot neighbors. If unaware of our own history, we will wander without guidance or benefit of knowing who we are. Remembering, we can become more compassionate and alert.

Peace to All on Thanksgiving.



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