Six years before the Mayflower landed in Plymouth in 1620 quite a different kind of transatlantic voyage landed 27 Wampanoag men in Malaga, Spain.
Those men, taken against their will from Patuxet and Nasuet in the summer of 1614, were not on a pilgrimage but their journey would foreshadow the Pilgrim landing and settlement of Plymouth Colony by virtue of who was taken, where they were taken from and the one who returned.
The story of Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, who remarkably welcomed the Pilgrims in their own language is often re-told. It begins in the spring of 1621 almost as if the “friendly Indian” dropped out of the sky to become an invaluable emissary between the settlers and the Wampanoag.
It is documented that Squanto was among 20 men taken from Patuxet in 1614, along with another seven men from Nasuet. After being enslaved, he learnt to speak English while living as a captive exotic servant in London.
From the 27 men, Squanto was the only one to return to his home town of Patuxet in 1619, only to discover his family and village had been virtually wiped out by a plague. The graveyard of his people became Plymouth Colony.
While it was by far not the first occasion of human trafficking conducted by European explorers to the New World, the capture of Squanto and his fellow tribesmen would forever alter the course of history for people on two continents.
Instances of taking Native people against their will were logged in graphic detail by mariners like James Rosier who explored what is now the coast of Maine with Capt. George Weymouth in 1605. In his diary Rosier explained the means and motivation for such acts and justified the capture of Native men as a rescue from the wilderness for the purpose of conversion to Christianity. Rosier shamelessly described the enticing of two Native men with a box of peas.
“we used little delay, but suddenly laid hands upon them. And it was as much as five or six of us could do to get them . . . For they were strong and so naked as our best hold was by their long hair on their heads . . .”
A century earlier in 1502 an English company of merchant explorers from Bristol returned to London from Newfoundland with three Native men clothed in “beasty skins” and speaking in a strange language. The report published in The Great Chronicle of London indicates that at least two of the men survived assimilation and were seen two years later in Westminster dressed in the attire of Englishmen, however unable to utter one word.
By the summer of 1614 the Wampanoag certainly knew to be wary of English vessels. However it is possible that a visit from the culturally sensitive and tolerant Captain John Smith just prior to the kidnappings may have given the Wampanoag a false sense of security. Smith led the 1614 exploration of New England with a primary mission to discover locations suitable to host a colony similar to the one he helped establish in Jamestown.
When Smith departed to return to England he left Hunt with instruction to trade fish for furs with the Wampanoag. Instead Hunt traded Smith’s good will for personal profit capturing the men from Patuxet and Nauset.
Hunt then set sail for Malaga, Spain where he attempted to sell them as slaves at an auction interrupted by an order of religious monks. It is assumed Squanto was among those spared by the monks.
If the Jamestown experience with the Powhatan, and having his life spared by Pocahontas, taught Smith anything he certainly understood offenses against the indigenous people to be counterproductive to colonization. But by the time Smith learned of Hunt’s devious act the Wampanoag were left devastated and Smith’s cross-cultural diplomacy squandered.
In his account of the New England voyage published in 1616, Smith made clear his disappointment in Hunt.
“Notwithstanding after my departure, he abused the Savages where he came, and betrayed twenty and seven of these poore innocent soules, which he sold in Spaine for slaves, to move their hate against our Nation, as well as to cause my proceedings to be so much more difficult.”
Smith characterized his relationship with Hunt as a test of wills. Ultimately he acknowledged the appointment of Hunt to his fleet was deeply regrettable. The primary reason Smith cited for being unable to return to New England in 1615 as planned was deception.