Thoughts on Plymouth, Squanto, and Thanksgiving

Overview: Neddal Ayad is a writer and photographer, based in Newfoundland, Canada. My family and I enjoyed meeting Neddal over Columbus Day weekend, in Plymouth, MA, where he was researching Squanto, as part of the Cupids 400 project. Neddal’s mother, Margaret Ayad of Baccalieu Consulting, is a friend of mine from Twitter. She coordinated my family’s meeting with her son, after I expressed a common appreciation for history and education, which she brings together so wonderfully in her online resource, Squantum.  

Peg’s Note: The following guest post, by Neddal Ayad, is part of an ongoing series here, which celebrates stories of those who live with abundance. The connection of Squanto, the Pilgrims, and the first Thanksgiving to this “Live with Abundance” series, may at first seem not so direct, as the connection to previous guest posts in this series.

The more I reflect, though, the more I realize there is no better metaphor for living abundantly, than the hospitality the Native Americans showed toward the Pilgrims, the gratitude the Pilgrims expressed for their blessings, and the resilience of both Native Americans and Pilgrims alike, given what the author below aptly notes, as their respective isolation and dislocation.

In the post below, Ayad portrays Squanto, who reportedly taught the Pilgrims how to fish in the New World, as a moving and fascinating protagonist, who even today, captures the essence of endurance, and helps us move across cultures.

Here are Neddal’s thoughts and pictures on Plymouth, Squanto, and Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Holiday

Most people in English-speaking parts of North America have at least a passing familiarity with the story of the First American Thanksgiving.  Growing up in Newfoundland off the east coast of Canada, I picked up the story in bits and pieces from school, from movies and television, from trips to the US. In fact, I think we may have covered American Thanksgiving in more detail, than the Canadian version.

And by detail, I mean that growing up, I knew that Thanksgiving (American style) involved parades, football, and turkey.  Oh yeah, and there was something about Pilgrims and a friendly Indian named Squanto, and corn, and turkey……. and that to Americans, it was a really big deal.

Canadian Thanksgiving, on the other hand, seemed like a non-event.  There was turkey and a day off from school, but it seemed very much like a random holiday.  I hate to admit it, but I still don’t know the provenance of the Canadian holiday.  Ask me about Guy Fawkes’ Day (November  5th), and I can lay out an essay. Ask me why Thanksgiving in Canada is the 2nd Monday in October, and you’ll get a blank look and an apology.

  

Tie Between Plymouth and Cupers Cove (Cupids)

Where is all this going?  This year, around Canadian Thanksgiving, I was in Plymouth, Massachusetts researching Squanto (aka Squantum, Tisquantum, Tasquantum) – a major player in Thanksgiving, US edition.  I was there because prior to his encounter with the Pilgrims, Squanto spent time in the English colony of Cupids (Cupers Cove), located in the south-eastern portion of Newfoundland.  During 1617 -1618 when he lived in Cupids, by some accounts, he learned how to use fish as fertilizer, something he would go on to teach the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

How he came to be in Cupids is long and involved and is covered in detail here: Squantum.  Little is known about what Squanto did in Cupids or even why he was sent there in the first place.  There is some speculation that John Slaney, a merchant with whom he lived in London, may have sent him to the colony as a go-between to help establish trade between the colonists and the Beothuk, who inhabited nearby Trinity Bay.  Regardless, Squanto wanted to return to his own home and his own people.  In 1618, the adventurer Thomas Dermer agreed to take him back to the eastern seaboard of the United States.  (See Squantum.)

Squanto: a Warrior Shaman?

I should mention that much has been made of Squanto’s resilience – he survived slavery, he adapted to living in Spain, England, and Cupers Cove, and eventually to living as a kind of exile amongst the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation.  One theory for his endurance is that he may have been a pneise, a warrior shaman who in Massachuset society advised and protected the sachem or chief – something akin to the secret service but with more intense training (see Charles Mann’s 1492 – Amazon Books ).  In fact, the name “Squanto” has religious overtones in Massachuset society; it translates to something close to “the wrath of God.”

All this must have served him well when he first returned to Southern Massachusetts.  In the five or so years from the time he was captured by Thomas Hunt in 1614 and his return with Thomas Dermer in 1619, close to 90% of the natives in the region had died due to an outbreak of what experts believe was viral hepatitis.  Squanto’s entire village was decimated, along with most of the Massachuset Confederation.  Dermer’s account of the voyage sounds like a trip through a nightmare.  They found village after village abandoned, or worse, filled with corpses.  Eventually, they encountered a handful of survivors who brought them Massasoit, the sachem of the Wampanoag Massachuset, which sets the stage for Squanto’s meeting with the Pilgrims.

Isolation and Dislocation

The town of Cupids is about 15 minutes from where I live in Newfoundland.  The plantation site has been excavated extensively by Bill Gilbert, who is chief archaeologist with the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation. ( See Baccalieu Digs Website.) I visited the dig site shortly before travelling to Plymouth, and shortly after returning.  One thought that struck me was that in comparison to Plymouth, Cupids must have seemed quite bleak.  Newfoundland landscape is known for its break starkness, very rocky, mainly coniferous trees, cliffs, and rough seas.  There is a beauty in the starkness that is almost impossible to describe, but to Squanto who grew up with his family and his people in the area which is now Plymouth, with its lush deciduous forests and low coves and beaches, living in Cupids must have been miserable.

While I was in Plymouth, I could not shake a feeling of heaviness; sadness is perhaps a better word.  Plymouth itself is a pretty town, and the area around it is beautiful.  But it was difficult to lose Thomas Dermer’s description of all the abandoned and decimated villages. Plymouth was once Patuxet, which was Squanto’s birthplace and one of the native villages obliterated by disease.  And in travelling around the town, I was thinking about exile and how Squanto may have shared the Pilgrims’ sense of isolation and dislocation in the New World, since they, like him, had left everything they knew behind.  Heavy, as I said.

The photos were taken at the Wampanoag Homesite on the Plymouth Plantation.  The clothing and activities would be similar to those that Squanto knew, growing up in his village of Patuxet.

Related Links

Baccalieu Digs A Website of the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation

Cupids 400  Official Website for the Celebration of Canada’s First English Colony

Indian New England 1524-1674: A Compendium of Eyewitness Accounts of Native American Life (Heritage of New England Series)  Ronald D. Carr, ed. (Description on Amazon)

SquantumA Baccalieu Consulting Website

Thomas C. Mann, 1492.  (Description on Amazon)

William Bradford and Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation.  Version from  Google Books.

About This Blog: Copyright Information

Contacting the Author: Content for a Convergent World – Peg Mulligan’s Blog

Please contact the author Neddal Ayad directly, at for any rights to republishing this post. Peg Mulligan’s blog is protected by its own copyright, but I give any appropriate rights back to guest bloggers, for posts they may have authored, but which were hosted at this blog.

1 thought on “Thoughts on Plymouth, Squanto, and Thanksgiving

  1. Thank you for publishing the article, especially on Thanksgiving Day. The ties between the New England States and Atlantic Canada have always been strong. My uncle lived in Portand, Maine; and my aunt lived in Boston, Mass. The Pilgrim Fathers on their travels stopped at Renews and Cupers Cove (Cupids) in Newfoundland.

    And then there is Squantum or Squanto.

    I believe Squanto represents the strength of the human spirit, surviving under unimaginable circumstances and as you pointed out, offering so much help and knowledge to the Pilgrim Fathers who were “strangers in a strange land.”

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