From the Pulpit: Squanto, a man of faith in a time of need

(This is a reprint of a sermon from 2009. Though Thanksgiving is a couple weeks away, I thought it fitting to have it published again this week.)

In many of our schools today, a politicized version of the first Thanksgiving is taught. The story’s intent is to cast the Pilgrims as oppressors and the Native Americans as victims. As usual, the liberal elite of academia feel the need to re-write history where it suits them! In a country where ‘there is no absolute truth’ and ‘all beliefs are equal’ is taught at every level of schooling, there is little understanding of the gospel message.

The natural result of preaching the gospel is the conversion of unbelievers. The Holy Spirit gives glory to Jesus and those who are drawn by God the Father are converted! For a professed Christian to say that ‘there are many ways to heaven’ is to deny the gospel and the core teachings of Jesus Himself! “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6). If you have not been taught that, if your church denies that, you need to remove yourself from that church and its false teachers!

From Richard Johnson:

So that you can read for yourself what the Pilgrim Fathers believed and what they intended for their new colony, here is the entire text of the Mayflower Compact: “In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.”

One cannot read the Mayflower Compact without understanding the primary purpose of the colony. “For the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian Faith” Could the colonists’ intentions be stated any plainer? I believe that it was the faith expressed by these 12 words that enabled the Pilgrims to survive and eventually thrive.

The words of the Mayflower Compact challenge those who would remove all traces of the faith that molded our nation and shaped its laws from our history books, and ban its expression from the public arena. The bold proclamation of faith found in this important document does not fit the narrative of the revisionists that would remove God and faith in God from our history books.

With the rule of law established through the ratification of the Compact, the Pilgrims began their search for a permanent home. Hoping to find a place with a fresh water stream, they found one with four streamsand land already cleared for planting. It was November when they landed at Plymouth. More than half the colonists died during the cold winter months. That anyone survived that first winter was a miracle. Another miracle walked out of the woods and into the lives of the Pilgrims in the spring of 1621. His name was Squanto.

(Richard Johnson is the executive director of Christian Formation Ministries. For information, e-mail

Now, let us continue with the historical facts:

The Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock on December 11th, 1620. Their first winter was harsh, bleak and devastating. At the beginning of the following fall, they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower. But there was bounty of harvest in 1621. And the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast – including 91 Indians who had helped the Pilgrims survive their first year in a way of teaching them cooking.

The (abridged!) Story of Squanto

Squanto was a Native American who learned the English language while working as a guide. He was later captured by Spanish slavers. He was freed by monks who bought him out of slavery. “Estas libre! You are free.” Squanto looked into the clear eyes of this man of God. Though he knew no Spanish, he understood. Over the next few weeks he pieced it together. Their love for Jesus had prompted these Christian brothers to buy Indian slaves and teach them the Christian faith. As the monks nursed him back to health, Squanto began to love this Jesus, too.

Yet he longed for home. The Indian used his command of English to find a fishing boat headed for London, where he rejoined his explorer friends. Again, Squanto became a guide for explorations of the New World. Years passed. The day finally came when he saw the familiar coastlands of home. Once more he was granted permission to go ashore.

No one greeted Squanto at the beach. He ran to his village. The bark-covered round-houses were empty. Not even a dog barked. Graves outside the village told the story. Samoset, his friend from a neighboring tribe, could bring little comfort. “A white man’s sickness struck your people. One week, all dead. Many villages lie silent like Patuxet.”

Squanto’s emptiness overwhelmed him. Parents, brothers, sisters, forever gone. He wandered the forests for weeks in his grief. Finally he went to live with his friend Samoset. One cold December morning, six months after he returned, Squanto watched the white sails of a ship grow on the stormy horizon. This time he hid as the men came ashore. Their clothes looked different from those worn by sailors and the fancy English officers he had seen on other ships. Broad hats and great black capes shielded them from the biting wind. He could glimpse white caps and long dresses of women aboard the ship anchored in the bay. Often he saw children playing on deck. As green leaves came to clothe barren trees, the settlers began to build houses on the very place where his village had stood. Day after day Squanto watched intently, never seen.

Samoset urged him to meet these settlers. A cry went up as the Indians strode into the settlement. Men grabbed for their muskets. The Native Americans lifted their hands in greeting. “My name is Squanto. This is Samoset. We come in peace.” The settlers were astounded. An Indian who spoke clear English? The Pilgrims lowered their muskets and invited the Indians to share their meager food.

The sun had set by the time Samoset got up to leave, but Squanto hesitated. Many of the settlers had already died from disease and winter’s bitter cold. There was little food. Yet they weren’t giving up. He thought of his old village’s battle with death. “You go,” Squanto told his friend in their Indian tongue, “I’m staying. This is my home, my village. These will be my new people.”

Squanto turned to the leaders. “May I stay with you? I can help you. I know where you can find foods in the forest.”

The white men studied the Indian carefully. Could he be trusted? Still, the struggling colony was in no position to refuse help. “Yes. Please stay.”

That spring and summer Squanto proved his worth many times over. He led them to brooks alive with herring beginning their spring migration upstream. He showed the settlers how to fish with traps. He taught them where to stalk game in the forest. The children learned what berries they could pick for their families. Twenty acres of corn grew tall after Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to plant fish with the native corn seeds from a local tribe.

Once, a hostile tribe captured Squanto. “If he is killed,” shouted their chief, “the English have lost their tongue.” A small Pilgrim force arrived just in time, firing their muskets in the air. The terrified chief released his captive and fled. Squanto repaid the Pilgrims’ favor. His bargaining skills kept neighboring tribes from attacking the small Plymouth colony.

In the fall the Pilgrims planned a feast to celebrate God’s merciful help. Squanto was sent to invite friendly Chief Massasoit and his braves. They gathered around tables spread with venison, roast duck and goose, turkeys, shellfish, bread, and vegetables, with woodland fruits and berries for dessert. Before they ate, the Pilgrim men removed their wide-brimmed hats and Indians stood reverently as the governor led them in solemn prayer.

“Thank You, great God, for the bounty You have supplied to us. Thank You for protecting us in hardship and meeting all our needs. . . .” Towards the end of the long prayer, Squanto was startled to hear his own name. “And thank You for bringing to us the Indian Squanto, your own special instrument to save us from hunger and help us to establish our colony in this new land.” Squanto stood proudly. It was a day to remember.

Two years passed. Squanto lay mortally ill, struck by a raging fever while scouting east of Plymouth. He turned over in his mind the events of his strange life. It almost seemed that a plan had led him. The first time he was captured he learned English. The second time, he was freed by gentle Christians who taught him to trust in Jesus. And though his own people had died of sickness, God had sent him to a new people who built their colony where his old village once stood.

Pilgrim leader William Bradford knelt at his bedside. “Pray for me, Governor,” the Indian whispered, “that I might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.” Squanto breathed his last November 1622, gone from the New World, but entering a heavenly one.

The feast was more of a traditional English Harvest Festival than a true “Thanksgiving.” It lasted three days. Governor William Bradford sent “four men fowling” after wild ducks and geese. It is not certain that wild turkey was part of their feast. However, it is certain that they had venison. The term “turkey” was used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl. However, turkey became the traditional dish of Thanksgiving.

This autumn feast was never repeated, though, so it can’t be called the beginning of a tradition, nor was it termed by the colonists or “Pilgrims” a Thanksgiving Feast. In fact, to these devoutly religious people, a day of thanksgiving was a day of prayer and fasting, and would have been held any time that they felt an extra day of thanks was called for. Nevertheless, the 1621 feast has become a model that we think of for our own Thanksgiving celebration. Ours is a great nation under Godand for that most of all, I am thankful. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)