Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Tisquantum aka Squanto

Tisquantum, aka Squanto

In America, we’re told the Pilgrims were aided by an English speaking “Indian” named Squanto, who taught them how to best use the land and grow crops.

How the heck did Squanto know English?

Well, some accounts have a group of Native Americans kidnapped by a Captain Weymouth for his employer, a Sir Ferdinando Gorges. A Patuxet man named Tisquantum is recorded as being among those captured, and it is suggested that Gorges taught English to those captured so he could ask about the land and people of New England to aid him in colonizing America. Later, Tisquantum was taken back to America, only to be taken prisoner by Thomas Hunt, a man who was supposed to be loading up fish and pelts to sell back in Europe. Instead, Hunt captured several local natives and brought them to Malaga, Spain to sell them as slaves. These were definitely not the orders his boss, John Smith, left him with. Franciscan monks saw Hunt trying to sell them and took custody of them to instruct them in the Christian faith.

Tisquantum made his way to England in the company of a shipbuilder, John Slaney, where he learned more English and after one unfruitful attempt finally made his way back home to New England. However, when he arrived, Tisquantum found the Patuxet were all gone, killed by a mysterious plague which had wiped out them and several other tribes in the area. The Pilgrims later settled in the now-empty land and Tisquantum got to work surveying the area, eventually settling in with the Pokanoket, the tribe which helped the Pilgrims during their harsh beginnings in New England and held the “first Thanksgiving.” He worked with the English and the Wampanoag, translating for both parties, drawing praise, awe, and suspicion from all sides. He later died of a mysterious illness, characterized by bleeding from the nose.

Reports vary as to Tisquantum’s role in the colonization of America. Was he a hero, aiding the Pilgrims in surviving their first harsh winters in New England? Was he a villain, betraying the native tribes and nations already ravaged by plague, taking advantage of their fears of European illnesses and weapons? Was he a tool, taken advantage of by colonizers who saw him as little more than a beast, sent by their god to aid them in their quest of achieving religious freedom? Was he a survivor, simply trying to make the best of a terrible situation, dealing with being sold into slavery, taken from home, the death of his people, and an imminent cultural shift looming on the horizon of New England?

Groups of people shift, overtake, collide, clash, and merge. Where they meet, individuals meet, talk, argue, love, and make decisions that can dictate how things mix, or if they don’t. When many cultures try to co-exist, the good intentions or deceptions of single individuals can make or break loyalties and change the face of a region for many generations to come. What drove Tisquantum to do the things he did? Was he simply trying to survive? Was he so distraught over the loss of his people that he would rather see it peopled by anyone, including Pilgrims? Did he simply take pity on the Pilgrims? Or did he see an opportunity, having already been to Europe and wanting to side with who he thought would come out on top?

For GMs

  • What cultures exist in the region and what are their relationships like? Symbiotic? Autonomous? Parasitic? Synergistic? Antagonistic? Opportunistic? Business only?
  • What new groups of people have shown up and how recently? How have they affected the region socially, culturally, agriculturally, etc.?
  • Who are the leaders of these groups? How do they prefer to deal with problems that arise within their population? With others? Who has the upper hand?
  • What kind of people/skills could bridge any gaps between the groups? A knowledge of language? Understanding of culture? Willingness to share information? Trade of goods? Integration of families?
  • What do the groups fear from one another? How can these fears be assuaged? Preyed upon?

Plot Hooks

  • After the population decided not to help strange individuals who settled close by, the PCs see several people sneaking off in the direction of the mystery settlement, carrying baskets of what appears to be goods. What are the people carrying? Are they in fact carrying it to the mystery settlement? If they are, why have they decided to help them? How do the PCs feel about the decision of their people as a whole and the people sneaking off in the night?
  • Dropped off on the coast of a strange land with a map and provisions, the PCs set off for previously surveyed land to deal with the locals and hopefully set up trade. However, their notes lead them to a desolate village surrounded by strange markings. The ship that will return them home won’t be back for some set amount of time. Is the area completely desolate? What other clues are in the village? What were they expecting to find in the village exactly? How does the lack of people affect their mission?
  • When the ship of a people known to prey upon the population, taking them for slaves, shows up on the horizon, the PCs are sent to destroy the ship and kill those aboard. However, when one of their people is spotted on the ship, waving a symbol of truce and asking to speak with their leader, the PCs must decide if they should carry out their orders or let the people land. Do they decide to let them land? Are the PCs alone? Who exactly is asking for an audience? What would killing this person mean if they just carried out their orders? What do they risk by letting the people on this ship get on shore?
  • The PCs are commissioned to explore a new territory and are provided with a native of the territory to act as their guide. The native is fluent in the language of the PCs and the regions they will be traveling through. What is the exact mission of the PCs? How is their relationship with the native guide? How did the guide get to their country? How did their country acquire the new territory? Does the guide know anyone from the territory they will be exploring?
  • The PCs are sent to guide strangers to another region to have an audience with another ruler among their people. Along the way, some or all of the PCs have been instructed to watch the strangers and make sure their intentions are good/what they say they are. What do the PCs find as they guide and interact with the strangers? Do the PCs all agree the strangers’ intentions are true? What have they been instructed to do if they find the strangers to be malicious? Are they suspicious going into the mission?

For PCs

  • Are you suspicious of strangers or accepting? Curious?
  • Do you tend to think of your own survival or the bigger picture? How far out can you see the effects of your actions? Whose survival and well-being do you care about the most, besides yourself?
  • Are you a good judge of character? Naive? Hopeful?
  • If you were kidnapped from your home, what would you do to try and get back? Would you try and get back?
  • Which of your skills or abilities can span the gaps of cultures?
  • If you had no family or people, who would fall back upon for support?

What say you?

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