Tisquantum, more commonly known today as Squanto, or 'Big Bean' (c. 1580s – November 1622) was a Patuxet Native American Indian who is best known for assisting the Pilgrims after their first winter in the New World. Tisquantum's assistance to the Europeans is remarkable because he was thrice kidnapped and enslaved in Europe before returning to America to find that his entire tribe had been wiped out by a plague brought by the European explorers. Today he is remembered fondly in white American folklore, especially regarding his role in the first Thanksgiving.
His early life was likely characterized by the fishing, game hunting, subsistence farming, growing mushrooms, and wild food gathering practices typical to that time and place. The familiarity with these practices that he displayed when assisting the Pilgrims later in his life attests to this.
Soon after returning to his tribe in 1614, British Captain Thomas Hunt kidnapped Tisquantum and twenty-six other native peoples of the Nauset and Patuxet tribes. Hunt was planning to sell furs, fish, corn and captured slaves in Málaga, Spain. Hunt attempted to sell Tisquantum and a number of other Native Americans into slavery for 20 pounds apiece.
Sir Gorges, in A Brief Relation of the Discovery and Plantation of New England (London, 1622) wrote that some local friars, however, discovered what Hunt was attempting and took the remaining Indians, Tisquantum included, in order to instruct them in the Christian faith. He lived with the Friars for the next four years.
Samoset, a traveling native man from present-day Maine with some familiarity of English from the British fishermen frequenting his coast, visited them on March 16. On March 22, he returned with Tisquantum, who spoke English better than Samoset because of his extensive time in England.
Squanto, as he was called by the Pilgrims (who could not pronounce his full name), stayed with the Pilgrims from March 1621 to November 1622, assisting them in many ways. William Bradford wrote later that Squanto was a "special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations." He helped them recover from their first difficult winter by teaching them the best places to catch fish and eel. He helped them to build warmer houses. Squanto also advised the Pilgrims in their relations with the Naragansetts. He acted as an interpreter, and guided them on trading expeditions.
Realizing that the other Indians of the area feared the English settlers (especially their guns and disease), Tisquantum began extorting his native neighbors, asking for tributes to help gain English favor and threatening plagues on those he disliked. At one point he attempted to trick the Pilgrims into a show of military action by claiming an Indian conspiracy against them, but was found to be lying.
Upon learning of Tisquantum's extortion and deceit, Massasoit, the sachem of the tribe that had adopted Tisquantum, ordered the Pilgrims to turn him over to him for execution. The Pilgrims were hesitant to give up such a valuable source of local information, but by the very peace treaty that Tisquantum himself had drafted they were obliged to turn him over, and so were prepared to do so. Luckily for Tisquantum, the British ship the Fortune appeared on the horizon, delaying the exchange. Massasoit did not end up pursuing his punishement.