When the Pilgrims left Holland aboard the Mayflower, heading toward the Atlantic coast of America in search of religious freedom, they embarked on a sea voyage marked by danger, misfortune, disappointment and a continuous struggle for survival. Forced to leave sister ship Speedwell behind with its much-needed provisions and burdened with the Speedwell’s passengers in addition to their own, they faced alone the North Atlantic, famous for its awful winter weather and mountainous seas. By the time they reached their destination of Plymouth, situated on the northwest edge of Cape Cod south of Boston in what is now the State of Massachusetts, they were already enfeebled by the rigors of the voyage and short of life-sustaining provisions. The date of their arrival was November 21, 1620 – the middle of a harsh, frigid Northeast winter.


Knowing nothing of the hunting and farming techniques that enabled the natives of this new land to survive, and constructing shelters inadequate to the task of staving off the constant, biting cold, they quickly began to fall sick and die of exposure, compounded by their near-starvation. Yet throughout this ordeal they remained faithful and warm-hearted to their Christian God.


The death rate from scurvy and pneumonia climbed from one to two, and then to three every day. By the middle of the next spring, thirteen of eighteen wives had died; only three families survived without suffering a dead member. Nearly half of their number had died. Yet their faith and love of God failed to be shaken. Nevertheless, as they welcomed the return of Spring, they also knew that they remained on the very edge of survival, a dark understanding thrust into their cold and hungry faces by their inability to obtain food from this strange new land. They prayed fervently to God for His aid.


Unknown to them, God had set in motion their rescue fifteen years before.


Another person had arrived near their colony just six months before the Pilgrims had arrived. He was a Native American named Tisquantum, or Squanto for short. He was a member of the Patuxet tribe, known for its savage, deadly hatred of whites for the abuses the tribe had suffered at the hands of earlier Englishmen who had come to fish these shores. Fifteen years had passed since Squanto had last seen his relatives. He was taken from them in 1605 when he had been abducted and carried off to Europe.


Accounts differ as to what happened to Squanto after his arrival in Europe. One story has him arriving in England, learning the language, and returning to New England, only to be abducted again and carried back off to Europe, this time to Malaga, Spain. There he was bought at a slave auction by kindly monks, who taught him their language and about their Christian God. Later, he went by ship to London, where he was able to obtain passage a second time to New England. Another story has him first being carried off to Malaga and being taken in directly by the monks. Several years thereafter, he managed to get to London, from where he sailed back to New England.


Whatever the version, Squanto arrived back in New England after a lengthy absence just before the arrival of the Pilgrims and equipped with a love of God and a fluent understanding of the English language.


When he came back to his Patuxet home, he was devastated to see that the village no longer existed. It had been wiped out four years earlier by a vicious disease that had claimed the lives of everyone in the village. But he had come back with a friend, an Algonquin chief from Maine. Samoset, ever the wanderer, had a fondness for travel and was given to hitching rides on the ships of Englishmen whom he’d befriended.


Squanto lived alone with his grief for a time, but when the Europeans arrived, Samoset decided to visit them. It was mid-March, and Samoset saw how bad their lot was. Walking into the poverty-stricken village, his first word to them was “Welcome!” His next words were “Have you any beer?” The Pilgrims gaped open-mouthed in astonishment over his command of their language.


The next week he dragged Squanto back with him in an attempt to get him out of his funk. Perhaps at that point he may have recalled the Spanish monks’ words of comfort to him over the pain and abuses he had suffered at the hands of Europeans. As he had questioned the motive of a God who would have let him be kidnapped, they had reassured him that God loved him and knew all the trials Squanto had been subjected to. They promised that if Squanto trusted in Him, God would use his suffering in ways beyond his imagination.


Like the Biblical Joseph, who had emerged from his own undeserved suffering to become through the Hand of God the second most powerful man in Egypt that he might save those who had wrongfully mistreated him, Squanto saw an opportunity in the Pilgrims’ squalor. Adopting them as his own family, he set about to teach them how to survive in America.


Under Squanto’s tutelage, the Pilgrims emerged from want to abundance. That fall they held a feast in thanksgiving to God for blessing them, including the valuable things that Squanto taught them as the living answer to their prayers. They invited the local tribes to join them, and the Native Americans joined in with the transplanted Europeans in praising God for His benevolent love.

Published by Art Perkins