Published on February 28, 2013 by Amy
The Patuxet are an extinct Native American band of the Wampanoag tribal confederation. They lived primarily in and around the area of what has since been settled as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
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The Patuxet were wiped out by a series of plagues that decimated the indigenous peoples of southeastern New England in the second decade of the 17th century. The epidemics which swept across New England and the Canadian Maritimes between 1614 and 1620 were especially devastating to the Wampanoag and neighboring Massachuset, with mortality reaching 100% in many mainland villages. When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, all the Patuxet except Squanto had died. The plagues have been attributed variously to smallpox, leptospirosis, and other diseases.
Some European expedition captains were known to increase profits by capturing natives to sell as slaves. Such was the case when Thomas Hunt kidnapped several Wampanoag in 1614 and later sold them in Spain. One of his captives, a Patuxet named Tisquantum, anglicized as Squanto, was purchased by Spanish friars who then freed him and instructed him in the Christian faith. After he gained his freedom, Squanto was able to work his way to England and signed on as an interpreter for a British expedition to Newfoundland. From there Squanto went back to his home, only to discover that, in his absence, epidemics had killed everyone in his village.
Squanto succumbed to “Indian fever” himself in November 1622. With his death, the Patuxet people passed into history.
Before he died, Squanto was to become instrumental in the foundation of the colony of English settlers at Plymouth.
Samoset, a Pemaquid (Abenaki) sachem from Maine introduced himself to the Pilgrims upon their arrival in 1620. Shortly thereafter, he introduced Squanto (presumably because Squanto spoke better English) to the Pilgrims, who were now living at the site of Squanto’s old village. From that point onward, Squanto devoted himself to helping the Pilgrims. Whatever his motivations, with great kindness and patience, he taught the English the skills they needed to survive.
Although Samoset appears to have been important in establishing initial relations with the Pilgrims, Squanto was undoubtedly the main benefactor towards the Pilgrim’s survival. In addition, he also served as an intermediary between the Pilgrims and Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag (original name Ousamequin or “Yellow Feather”). As such, he was instrumental in the friendship treaty that the two signed, allowing the settlers to occupy the area around the old Patuxet village. Massasoit would honor this treaty until his death in 1661.
In the fall of 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. Not only did the event take place on the historic site of the Patuxet villages, but Squanto’s involvement as an intermediary during the friendship treaty with Massasoit led to the joint feast between the Pilgrims and Wampanoags. This harvest feast was a celebration of the first successful harvest together.