The first Thanksgiving, Squanto, and religious freedom

Squanto was a Roman Catholic.

In 1614, he had been captured by an English party led by Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) and taken on a ship to Spain where he was to be sold as a slave. He was rescued by some Dominican friars who instructed him in the Catholic faith. He told them he wanted to return to his people in America. They helped him get to England, where he met John Slaney, who taught him English and arranged for him to get to Newfoundland. Squanto served as an interpreter between the English and the Indians and crossed the Atlantic six times.  He was never able to return to his own tribe, because they had been wiped out in a plague.

After he came to the aid of the Plymouth settlers, helping them grow their own food, he arranged for a joint harvest feast with the local Wampanoag tribe. It was this event that is the basis of our Thanksgiving holiday. So Thanksgiving was started by a Native American Catholic. Ironically, the Wampanoag tribe later took Squanto hostage because they distrusted him, and he was rescued by the English. It is possible that the Indians poisoned him, which led to his death shortly afterwards in 1622.

And then there is this other thing we never learned in school: In 1621, the year after the Puritans arrived at Plymouth, another group of English settlers arrived in Ferry, Newfoundland. The land had been granted to George Calvert, the First Baron of Baltimore. Calvert’s son, Cecilius, the Second Baron of Baltimore, was granted another chunk of the New World, which he settled in 1632. He called it Maryland. Why did England give this land to George Calvert and his son? As compensation for the fact the George Calvert had been stripped of his title of Secretary State. And why had he been stripped of his title? Because he declared that he was a Roman Catholic. Maryland (named for some woman whose name was Mary) was the first English Catholic settlement in the New World, and one of its founding principles was…freedom of religion.

 —from “The Catholic Origins of Thanksgiving

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