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The Story of Tisquantum: the Beginning

On a church altar rest: ears of corn, a plastic toy ship, and blue grid squares

Note: at the bottom of this entry, you'll find a pronunciation guide.

For this Time for All Ages, you might want to provide the following visual aids:

  • blocks, math tools, or another way to show the numbers 12,000 and 3,000. In the accompany photo, blue blocks with grids are used. However, you might use cups of rice (while the number varies wildly, you can claim about 6,000 grains of rice in one cup of dry rice)
  • a fake beaver pelt or fur hat
  • a ship
  • corn, beans, and squash

Did you know that the “first” Thanksgiving that many of us learned about in school was not actually the first Thanksgiving?

The Wampanoag* people believe that every day is a day of Thanksgiving. Who are the Wampanoag*? They're the Native Peoples who celebrated with the Pilgrims in 1621, but their ancestors lived in North America for 20,000 years before the Pilgrims got to Plymouth. Today, the Wampanoag see Thanksgiving Day, the 3rd Thursday of November, as a day of remembrance: a day to remember the struggles of their people and to honor their ancestors.

I am going to tell you the story of one of the ancestors of today’s Wampanoag people, named Tisquantum*, without whom there would have been no Thanksgiving celebration. As I tell the story, we're going to show certain items related to the story, to help us remember how important Tisquantum was to the history of North America. May his name always be remembered.

Tisquantum grew up as part of the Patuxent* tribe. He was resourceful, kind, courageous, and tenacious (which means he never gave up). He was also primarily responsible for the survival of the Pilgrims, who were Europeans and who arrived on his land in 1620. While he was growing up in the early 1600s, there were as many as 12,000 [reveal your 12,000 visual aid] native peoples living on the shore of Massachusetts and the neighboring islands.

As a young person, Tisquantum knew of the English and other white-skinned people as people with whom he could trade goods. He could hunt and kill a beaver and trade the skin to a person from a European boat for a hat, a coat or some other valuable item. So when a European trader named Thomas Hunt asked Tisquantum and his friends to come onto his ship to trade, he was not afraid. But Thomas Hunt tricked Tisquantum and his friends: he kidnapped them and sailed back to Europe, where he sold Tisquantum to Spanish monks who wanted to convert him to Christianity. Tisquantum was taken from his family and friends and everything he knew and was forced to work in a strange land and learn about a religion that was completely foreign to him. But Tisquantum did not lose hope. He somehow found his way to England and learned the English language. He returned to his homeland through a job as translator on a merchant ship to North America from England. [model/toy ship]. When he returned home, his entire tribe and family had been killed by illnesses brought to his land by European ships. When he returned home, the 12,000 people who had lived there, had become only 3,000. [3,000 visual aid]

How do you imagine Tisquantum felt coming home and finding out he was the only living member of the Patuxent Tribe? [Take a few responses.]

He might have understandably felt angry. He definitely could have turned his back on them and held a grudge against them. He certainly didn’t have to trust them, after all he had not had the best experiences with their kind up until now.

But Tisquantum did not show anger toward these new settlers. He took pity on them and helped them. In the first winter in Plymouth, nearly half of the settlers died. As winter turned to spring, Tisquantum visited them often. He spoke English which he had learned as an enslaved person in Europe. He explained to them how to plant native crops. He showed them the Wampanoag method of farming which was different from how they did things in England. The Wampanoag way of farming was quite in line with our seventh Principle: Value our home, the Earth, which we share with all living things. Tisquantum explained to the settlers that three crops must be planted together and in a particular order. First corn, then beans, then squash [demonstrate all three]. The corn stalks act as poles for the beans as they grow. The squash grows as vines around the lower part of the corn. The wide leaves of the squash cover the soil, making it difficult for weeds to grow. The beans drop nitrogen into the soil, which keeps the soil healthy and fertilizes the corn. He also showed them how to use fish as fertilizer as well.

Thanks to Tisquantum’s help, the Pilgrims learned how to survive and farm in a land very different from their own. They celebrated their successful harvest the same way they would have celebrated a harvest in their homeland, with three days of feasting, games, and parading around shooting of rifles. The Wampanoag were not invited to the feast, but came because they heard the gun shots. When they saw that the English people were not preparing for war, but celebrating, the decided to stay and join the celebration. The peaceful co-existence between the English and the Wampanoag lasted only a few seasons. That is why, for the Wampanoag who are alive today, Thanksgiving is a day of remembrance.

How would the history of North America have been different if Tisquantum did not help the English? [End with a few responses.]

We end with the words of the Wampanoag Tribal Elder Gladys Widdiss: “Every day is a day of thanksgiving to the Wampanoag... We give thanks to the dawn of the new day, at the end of the day, to the sun, to the moon, for rain for helping crops grow... There is always something to be thankful for.”

*Please practice these names carefully as a means of communicating respect for Native culture and languages.

Wampanoag - Originally Wampanoag was pronounced similar to WAWM-pah-NAW-ahg. But today, most Wampanoag people pronounce the name either whomp-a-NO-ag or WHOMP-ah-nog. The meaning of the name Wampanoag is "Easterners." (From:

Tisquantum - ti-skwon'tum

Patuxet - Puh-TUX-et

About the Author

Dayna Edwards

Dayna has a strong background in curriculum development and instruction and received her Master's in Education and Human Development from George Washington University in 2000. After working with children and youth in underserved areas for many years, she spent a few years as an entrepreneur....

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