Squanto’s (also known as Tisquantum) exact date of birth is unknown but many historians list it as January 1, 1585 or January 1, 1592. He was born somewhere in the vicinity of present day Plymouth, Massachusetts.
In 1605, Captain George Weymouth who was exploring the New England coastline for…
And the name “Tisquantum” means, loosely, “demon from Hell,” or “your most terrible nightmare.”
It’s more interesting to imagine the mythical first thanksgiving from Tisquantum’s point of view. Here is a man, finally returned from being held captive and shipped to Europe, making his way home after years of absence to find his and all neighboring villages deserted, with the townsfolk all having died or fled.
He speaks English and French after years in both countries, trying to work his way back home, and sees these English as new villagers to enlist in his circle of influence.
They are living off the grain stores in his former town—without them they would have already starved. So the warrior teaches the settlers all he knows of farming, techniques he learned in a French monastery of course, to help them stay alive.
He acts to build power and to consolidate it. European settlers have landed in several places for decades, and even though there aren’t many, he knows the natives are outnumbered. He is also smart enough to understand their rivalries with the French and others, and knows how to make deals.
He’s portrayed as some naive welcoming native, but he was nothing of the sort. He quickly summarized the situation of his devastated hometown and immediately acted in the best way he can to gain power.
One thing that’s difficult to imagine is that he could recognize the selfless Squanto we learn about in elementary school as anything other than an insult.
What Tisquantum saw on his return stunned him. From southern Maine to Narragansett Bay, the coast was empty—“utterly void,” Dermer reported. What had once been a line of busy communities was now a mass of tumbledown homes and untended fields overrun by blackberries. Scattered among the houses and fields were skeletons bleached by the sun. Gradually Dermer’s crew realized they were sailing along the border of a cemetery 200 miles long and 40 miles deep. Patuxet had been hit with special force. Not a single person remained.
Looking for his kinsfolk, Tisquantum led Dermer on a melancholy march inland. The settlements they passed lay empty to the sky but full of untended dead. Finally, Tisquantum’s party encountered some survivors, a handful of families in a shattered village. These people sent for Massasoit, who appeared, Dermer wrote, “with a guard of fiftie armed men”—and a captive French sailor, a survivor of the Cape Cod shipwreck. Massasoit told Tisquantum what had happened.
One of the shipwrecked French sailors had learned enough Massachusett to inform his captors before dying that God would destroy them for their misdeeds. The Nauset scoffed at the threat. But the Europeans carried a disease, and they bequeathed it to their jailers. Based on accounts of the symptoms, the epidemic was probably of viral hepatitis, likely spread by contaminated food, according to a study by Arthur E. Spiess, of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and Bruce D. Spiess, of the Medical College of Virginia. The Indians “died in heapes as they lay in their houses,” the merchant Thomas Morton observed. In their panic, the recently infected fled from the dying, unknowingly carrying the disease with them to neighboring communities. Behind them the dead were “left for crows, kites, and vermin to prey upon.” Beginning in 1616, the pestilence took at least three years to exhaust itself and killed up to 90 percent of the people in coastal New England.
Massasoit had directly ruled a community of several thousand people and held sway over a confederation of as many as 20,000. Now his group was reduced to 60 people and the entire confederation to fewer than a 1,000. Both the Indians and the Pilgrims believed that sickness reflected the will of celestial forces. The Wampanoag, wrote Salisbury, the Smith historian, came to the obvious conclusion: “their deities had allied against them.”
Similarly, Governor Bradford is said to have attributed the plague to “the good hand of God,” which “favored our beginnings” by “sweeping away great multitudes of the natives…that he might make room for us.” Indeed, more than 50 of the first colonial villages in New England were located on Indian communities emptied by disease. The epidemic, Gorges said, left the land “without any [people] to disturb or appease our free and peaceable possession thereof, from when we may justly conclude, that GOD made the way toe effect his work.”
Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”
“Yet people who really don’t care are rarely vulnerable to burn out. Psychopaths don’t burn out. There are no burned out tyrants or dictators. Only people who do care can get to this place of numbness. We burn out not because we don’t care, but because we don’t grieve. We burn out because we have allowed our hearts to become so filled with loss that we have no room left to care.”—Rachel Naomi Remen M.D, Kitchen Table of Wisdom (via surbeat)
Earlier this year, astronaut Chris Hadfield blew our minds with the most epic cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” ever performed. Now, he’s gone and done himself up Bowie-style for the cover of Maclean’s, and it is the definition of perfection.