IN MID-NOVEMBER, Bradford received word from the Indians on Cape Cod that a ship had appeared at Provincetown Harbor. It had been just eight months since the departure of the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims were not yet expecting a supply ship from the Merchant Adventurers. It was immediately feared that the ship was from France, a country that had already exhibited a jealous hostility toward earlier English attempts to colonize the New World. The vessel might be part of a French expeditionary force come from Canada to snuff out the rival settlement in its infancy.
For more than a week, the ship lingered inexplicably at the tip of Cape Cod. Then, at the end of November, a lookout atop Fort Hill sighted a sail making for Plymouth Harbor. Many of the men were out working in the surrounding countryside. They must be called back immediately. A cannon was fired, and the tiny settlement was filled with excitement as men rushed in from all directions and Standish assembled them into a fighting force. Soon, in the words of Edward Winslow, “every man, yea, boy that could handle a gun were ready, with full resolution, that if [the ship] were an enemy, we would stand in our just defense.”
To their amazement and delight, it proved to be an English ship: the Fortune, about a third the size of the Mayflower, sent by the Merchant Adventurers with thirty-seven passengers aboard. In an instant, the size of the colony had almost doubled.
The Pilgrims learned that while they had been gripped by fear of the French, those aboard the Fortune had been paralyzed by fears of their own. Just as the Pilgrims had, almost exactly a year earlier, stared in shock and amazement at the barren coast of Provincetown Harbor, so had these sea-weary passengers been terrified by their first glimpse of the New World. The returning Mayflower had delivered word to London that the survivors of the first winter had managed to establish the beginnings of a viable settlement. But what the passengers aboard the Fortune saw gave them reason to think otherwise. It was difficult to believe that anyone could be still alive in this sterile and featureless land. Only after the ship’s master had promised to take them to Virginia if the Plymouth settlement had met disaster did they leave Provincetown Harbor.
It was a tremendous relief for passengers and Pilgrims alike to discover that, for now at least, all seemed well. Everyone aboard the Fortune was in good health, and almost immediately after coming ashore, Martha Ford gave birth to a son, John. There were a large number of Strangers among the passengers, many of them single men who undoubtedly looked with distress at the noticeable lack of young women among the Pilgrims. With the arrival of the Fortune, there would be a total of sixty-six men in the colony and just sixteen women. For every eligible female, there were six eligible men. For young girls such as fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Tilley, nineteen-year-old Priscilla Mullins, and fourteen-year-old Mary Chilton (all of them orphans), the mounting pressure to marry must have been intense, especially since the new arrivals tended to be, in Bradford’s words, “lusty young men, and many of them wild enough.” Adding to the potential volatility of the mix was the fact there was no place to put them all. Bradford had no choice but to divide them up among the preexisting seven houses and four public buildings, some of which must have become virtual male dormitories.
But the biggest problem created by the arrival of the Fortune had to do with food. Weston had failed to provide the passengers aboard the Fortune with any provisions for the settlement. Instead of strengthening their situation, the addition of thirty-seven more mouths to feed at the onset of winter had put them in a difficult, if not disastrous, position. Bradford calculated that even if they cut their daily rations in half, their current store of corn would last only another six months. After a year of relentless toil and hardship, they faced yet another winter without enough food. “[B]ut they bore it patiently,” Bradford wrote, “under hope of [future] supply.”
There were some familiar faces aboard the Fortune. The Brewsters welcomed their eldest son, Jonathan, a thirty-seven-year-old ribbon weaver, whom they hadn’t seen in almost a year and a half. Others from Leiden included Philip de la Noye, whose French surname was eventually anglicized to Delano and whose descendants included future U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The newly remarried Edward Winslow greeted his twenty-four-year-old brother John. There was also Thomas Prence, the twenty-one-year-old son of a Gloucestershire carriage maker, who soon became one of the leading members of the settlement.
The most notable new arrival was Robert Cushman, whose chest pains aboard the ill-fated Speedwell had convinced him to remain in England during the summer of 1620. Cushman had negotiated the agreement with Thomas Weston and the Merchant Adventurers that Bradford and the others had refused to honor in Southampton. It was now time, Cushman told them, to sign the controversial agreement. “We…have been very chargeable to many of our loving friends…,” Cushman tactfully exhorted them in a sermon entitled “The Sin of Self-Love” delivered in the common house. “[B]efore we think of gathering riches,” Cushman admonished, “we must even in conscience think of requiting their charge” by paying the Merchant Adventurers back in goods. Cushman also presented the Pilgrims with a new patent secured from the Council for New England.
Unfortunately, from Cushman’s perspective, Weston had insisted on writing a letter. Addressed to the now deceased Governor Carver, the letter took the Pilgrims to task for not having loaded the Mayflower with goods. “I know your weakness was the cause of it,” Weston wrote, “and I believe more weakness of judgment than weakness of hands. A quarter of the time you spent in discoursing, arguing and consulting would have done much more.” Bradford was justifiably outraged by Weston’s accusation, apparently based on some letters that had made their way back to England on the Mayflower. Bradford acknowledged that the Merchant Adventurers had, so far, nothing to show for their investment. But their potential losses were only financial; Governor Carver had worked himself to death that spring, and “the loss of his and many other industrious men’s lives cannot be valued at any price.”
Despite his criticisms, Weston claimed to be one of the few financial backers the Pilgrims could still count on. “I promise you,” he wrote, “I will never quit the business, though all the other Adventurers should.” Only after Cushman assured them that Weston was a man to be trusted did Bradford and the others reluctantly sign the agreement.
Over the next two weeks, they loaded the Fortune with beaver skins, sassafras, and clapboards made of split oak (much smaller than modern clapboards, they were used for making barrel staves instead of siding houses). Valued at around £500, the cargo came close to cutting their debt in half. Certainly this would go a long way toward restoring the Merchant Adventurers’ confidence in the financial viability of the settlement.
On December 13, 1621, after a stay of just two weeks, the Fortune was on her way back to London. Cushman returned with her, leaving his fourteen-year-old son Thomas in Bradford’s care. In addition to Bradford’s letter to Weston, Cushman was given a manuscript account of the Pilgrims’ first thirteen months in America that was published the following year and is known today as Mourt’s [an apparent corruption of the editor George Morton’s last name] Relation. Written by Bradford and Edward Winslow, the small book ends with Winslow’s rhapsodic account of the First Thanksgiving and the abundance of the New World. Just days after the Fortune ’s departure, the Pilgrims had reason to regret Winslow’s overly optimistic view of life in Plymouth.
The Pilgrims soon began to realize that their alliance with the Pokanokets had created serious problems with the far more powerful Narragansetts. The previous summer, Bradford had exchanged what he felt were positive and hopeful messages with the Narragansett sachem, Canonicus. Since then, however, Canonicus had grown increasingly jealous of the Pokanoket-Plymouth alliance. The Narragansetts, it was rumored, were preparing to attack the English settlement.
Toward the end of November a Narragansett messenger arrived at the settlement, looking for Squanto. He had a mysterious object from Canonicus in his hands. When he learned that the interpreter was away, he “seemed rather to be glad than sorry,” and hurriedly handed over what the Pilgrims soon realized was a bundle of arrows wrapped in the skin of a rattlesnake.
It was a most inauspicious offering to be sure, and when Squanto returned to Plymouth, he assured them that the arrows were “no better than a challenge.” Bradford responded by pouring gunpowder and bullets into the snake skin and sending it back to Canonicus. This appeared to have the desired effect. “[I]t was no small terror to the savage king,” Winslow reported, “insomuch as he would not once touch the powder and shot, or suffer it to stay in his house or country.” The powder-stuffed snake skin was passed like a hot potato from village to village until it finally made its way back to Plymouth.
Despite their show of defiance, the Pilgrims were deeply troubled by the Narragansett threat. Their little village was, they realized, wide open to attack. Their cumbersome muskets took an agonizingly long time to reload. Their great guns might pose a threat to a ship attempting to enter Plymouth Harbor but were of little use in repelling a large number of Native warriors, especially if they attacked at night. Bradford, doubtless at Standish’s urging, decided they must “impale” the town—build an eight-foot-high wall of wood around the entire settlement. If they were to include the cannon platform atop Fort Hill and their dozen or so houses on Cole’s Hill below it, the wall had to be at least 2,700 feet—more than a half mile—in length. Hundreds, if not thousands, of trees must be felled, their trunks stripped of branches and chopped or sawed to the proper length, then set deep into the ground. The tree trunks, or pales, of the fort must be set so tightly together that a man could not possibly fit through the gaps between them. In addition, Standish insisted that they must construct three protruding gates, known as flankers, that would also serve as defensive shooting platforms.
By any measure, it was a gargantuan task, but for a workforce of fewer than fifty men living on starvation rations it was almost inconceivable. The vast majority of the new arrivals were Strangers, and even though they tended to be young and strong, they were less likely to answer to a leadership dominated by Separatists when called upon to help with such an awesome labor.
The differences between the newcomers and Leideners quickly came to a head on December 25. For the Pilgrims, Christmas was a day just like any other; for most of the Strangers from the Fortune, on the other hand, it was a religious holiday, and they informed Bradford that it was “against their consciences” to work on Christmas. Bradford begrudgingly gave them the day off and led the rest of the men out for the usual day’s work. But when they returned at noon, they found the once placid streets of Plymouth in a state of joyous bedlam. The Strangers were playing games, including stool ball, a cricketlike game popular in the west of England. This was typical of how most Englishmen spent Christmas, but this was not the way the members of a pious Puritan community were to conduct themselves. Bradford proceeded to confiscate the gamesters’ balls and bats. It was not fair, he insisted, that some played while others worked. If they wanted to spend Christmas praying quietly at home, that was fine by him; “but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets.”
Writing about this confrontation years later, Bradford claimed it was “rather of mirth than of weight.” And yet, for a young governor who must confront not only the challenges presented by a hostile Native nation but a growing divide among his own people, it was a crucial incident. It was now clear that no matter how it was done in England, Plymouth played by its own, God-ordained rules, and everyone—Separatist or Anglican—was expected to conform.
It seems never to have occurred to the Pilgrims that this was just the kind of intolerant attitude that had forced them to leave England. For them, it was not a question of liberty and freedom—those concepts, so near and dear to their descendants in the following century, were completely alien to their worldview—but rather a question of right and wrong. As far as they were concerned, King James and his bishops were wrong, and they were right, and as long as they had the ability to live as the Bible dictated, they would do so.
The Pilgrims had come to the New World to live and worship as they pleased. But with a growing contingent of Strangers in their midst, what had seemed like such a pure and straightforward goal when they were planning this endeavor back in Leiden had become more complicated.
For many of the new arrivals, it was all quite astonishing. Bradford had declared it illegal to follow the customs of their mother country. In the years ahead, the growing rift between Saints and Strangers led to the metamorphosis of the colony. For now they had more important things to worry about than whether or not it was right to play stool ball on Christmas Day. The Narragansetts were threatening, and they had a wall to build.
It took them a little more than a month to impale the town. The chopping and sawing was backbreaking, time-consuming work made all the more difficult by their equipment. Their English axes were quite different from the tools that evolved in America over the following century. Narrow and poorly balanced, an English felling ax wobbled with each stroke and required much more strength than the axes the Pilgrims’ descendants came to know.
Without oxen to help them drag the tree trunks in from the forest, they were forced to lug the ten-to twelve-foot lengths of timber by hand. They dug a two-to three-foot-deep trench, first using picks to break through the frozen topsoil and then, in all likelihood, a large hoelike tool (similar to what was recently uncovered by archaeologists at Jamestown) to dig a trench that was deep and wide enough to accommodate the butt ends of the pales. Adding to their difficulties was the lack of food. Some of the laborers grew so faint with hunger that they were seen to stagger on their way back to the settlement after a day’s work.
By March, it was complete: a massive, sap-dripping, bark-peeling boundary between them and the surrounding forest. A new sense of order and control had been willed upon the wilderness. Plymouth was now an entity, a circumscribed place, its streets and houses darkened by the shadows of its margins. It was quite shiplike in many ways. Plymouth was like a huge Mayflower run aground on the shores of New England, her bow resting atop Fort Hill, her stern edging toward the harbor and the outflow of Town Brook. By impaling the town, the Pilgrims had made it clear that they intended to remain there for a very long time.
Miles Standish developed a manpower plan to go with the new fortress. The men were divided into four companies, each with its own commander, and were assigned positions and duties in the event of an attack. There was also a plan in the event fire should break out. Most of the men would work to put out the conflagration, but a group was assigned to stand on guard in case the Indians attempted to use the fire as a diversion prior to an attack. Standish drilled the men regularly and set up contingency plans if he should be away from the settlement during an attack. They were now ready to reestablish contact with the rest of the world.
They had long since planned to visit the Massachusetts to the north to trade for furs. But as they prepared the shallop to depart, Hobbamock, the Pokanoket pniese who had led the midnight raid on Nemasket the summer before and who had been living with the Pilgrims throughout the winter, asked to speak with Bradford and Standish. Hobbamock had heard that the Massachusetts had joined in league with the Narragansetts and were planning to attack Standish and the trading party. With Standish eliminated, the Narragansetts would then fall upon the settlement. Even more disturbing, Hobbamock insisted that Squanto was in on the plot. According to Hobbamock, all that winter, while the Pilgrims had been preoccupied with their wall, Squanto had been meeting secretly with Indians throughout the region.
Without letting Squanto know of Hobbamock’s claims, Standish and Bradford met with several other leading members of the community to discuss what to do next. As they all knew, they could not simply “mew up ourselves in our new-enclosed town.” They were running out of food. If they were to trade for more corn, they must venture beyond their own settlement. Up until this point, they had, in Winslow’s words, “ever manifested undaunted courage and resolution” when it came to their relations with the Indians. They must forge ahead, knowing, as always, that God was on their side. Standish must depart immediately for his trading mission with the Massachusetts and betray no signs of knowing about a possible Massachusett-Narragansett alliance.
Left unresolved was how to treat Hobbamock’s accusations concerning Squanto. As had become obvious to all of them, a rift of jealousy had developed between the two Indians. It was quite possible that Hobbamock had misrepresented Squanto’s involvement in the conspiracy, if indeed a conspiracy existed at all. Bradford and Squanto had developed a strong relationship over the last year, while Standish and Hobbamock—both warriors by inclination and training—had also become close. Rather than bring Squanto to task, it was decided to use the rivalry between the two Indians to their advantage. “[T]he governor seemed to countenance the one,” Bradford wrote, “the Captain the other, by which they had better intelligence, and made them both more diligent.”
Neither Bradford nor Winslow ever wrote about it, but by their second year in America they knew enough of the Indians’ spiritual beliefs to realize that the two Indians they had come to rely on most closely, Squanto and Hobbamock, were both named for the Native spirit whom the Pilgrims equated with the devil. It was more than a little ironic. They had come to America to serve God as best they knew how, and they were now dependent on two Indians named Satan.
In April, Standish and ten men, accompanied by both Squanto and Hobbamock, departed in the shallop for Massachusetts. A few hours later, an Indian who was a member of Squanto’s family appeared outside the gates of town. His face was bloody, and he had apparently been running for a long time. He kept looking behind him as if those who had been chasing him might appear at any moment. He shouted out that he had come from Nemasket and he had frightening news. The Narragansetts had teamed up with the Pokanokets for an assault on Plymouth. Being a member of Squanto’s family, he had spoken in the Pilgrims’ defense and had, as a consequence, received a blow to the head. The enemy might be on their doorstep at any moment.
It was a strange, alarming, and confusing performance. It was difficult to believe that Massasoit had joined with the Narragansetts against them. The circumstances of this Indian’s arrival at Plymouth were suspiciously similar to Hobbamock’s escape from Corbitant back in August, which had resulted in a raid on Nemasket. The timing was also suspect. The Indian had arrived just after Standish and company had left for Massachusetts. Without their military leader to protect them, the Pilgrims were especially vulnerable. Indeed, the Indian’s sudden appearance seemed calculated to elicit a rash and possibly disastrous response on their part.
Given Hobbamock’s recent claims concerning Squanto, there was ample reason to suspect that the interpreter was behind all this. But why was Squanto attempting to get them to attack Massasoit? Bradford immediately ordered that the cannons be fired as a warning signal. It was probably too late to recall Standish, but it was important that anyone working in the countryside return to the safety of town.
As it turned out, Standish was in earshot of the signal. Soon after the shallop rounded the Gurnet at the northern edge of the harbor mouth, the wind had deserted him and his men. When the cannons fired, they were anchored off the Gurnet, preparing to take down their mast and sails and start to row. Upon hearing the signal, they immediately turned back for town—something Squanto, who was in fact the central conspirator behind the unfolding drama, had never anticipated.
Upon returning to the settlement, Hobbamock angrily insisted that the claims of Squanto’s relatives were all lies. Being a pniese, he was certain he would have been consulted by Massasoit if the sachem had been planning some kind of attack. Bradford “should do well,” Hobbamock insisted, “to continue his affections” toward Massasoit. So as not to create any unnecessary suspicion, it was decided to send Hobbamock’s wife to Pokanoket, where she could determine whether there was any truth to the claims of Squanto’s relative.
As Hobbamock had predicted, all was peace at Pokanoket. Inevitably, Hobbamock’s wife revealed the reason behind her visit to Massasoit, who was outraged to learn that Squanto had attempted to turn the Pilgrims against him. The sachem offered his assurances to Bradford that he would certainly warn him of any possible threats to Plymouth if they should ever arise.
Over the next few weeks, it became increasingly clear that Squanto had been laboring long and hard to overthrow Massasoit as the Pokanokets’ supreme sachem. All winter he had been conducting a kind of covert psychological warfare on villages throughout the region. The Pilgrims, he claimed, possessed the plague, and they were about to unleash it at will. However, if a village sent him sufficient tribute, he assured them that he could convince the Pilgrims to relent. Gradually, more and more Indians began to look to Squanto rather than Massasoit for protection. Squanto had hoped the false alarm raised by his family member might prompt the Pilgrims to attack Massasoit. In the confusion that ensued, Squanto would emerge as New England’s preeminent Native leader.
It was a bold, risky, and outrageous plan, but it was conduct perfectly becoming an aspiring sachem. Rather than accept the decimation of Patuxet as a fait accompli, he had secretly striven to resuscitate his and his family’s fortunes by playing the English against the Pokanokets in a nervy game of brinksmanship. For Squanto, it had all been about honor, “which he loved as his life,” Winslow wrote, “and preferred before his peace.” In just a year, he had gone from being Massasoit’s prisoner to being one of his chief rivals. But his ambitions, it now seemed, had gotten the better of him.
Under the terms of the treaty drawn up the previous year, Bradford must turn Squanto over to Massasoit for punishment. But Bradford could not bear the thought of being without his interpreter despite his clear treachery. His attachment to Squanto appears to have gone well beyond the need for an Indian who could speak both languages. Squanto had become part of the Plymouth community about the same time that Bradford had become governor. The two seem to have bonded in a deep, almost spiritual way, and Bradford was willing to risk the wrath of the supreme sachem of the Pokanokets if it meant keeping Squanto as his interpreter.
In May, Massasoit appeared at Plymouth and was “much offended and enraged” against Squanto. The traitor must die. Bradford attempted to pacify the sachem, but not long after he returned to Pokanoket, Massasoit sent a messenger insisting that Squanto be put to death immediately. While acknowledging that Squanto deserved to die, Bradford stubbornly insisted that his interpreter was vital to the welfare of the plantation and could therefore not be executed. Within a day of leaving for Pokanoket, Massasoit’s messenger was back again, this time with several warriors. In keeping with their own customs, they had brought their sachem’s knife and had been instructed to return to Pokanoket with Squanto’s head and hands. They even offered to pay off the governor with some furs.
Bradford refused the payment, but did agree to send for Squanto. Even though he knew he was about to face his potential executioners, the interpreter valiantly appeared before Bradford and the emissaries from Pokanoket. None of this was his fault, he insisted. It was Hobbamock who was “the author and worker of his overthrow.” In the end Squanto knew he had no choice but to submit to whatever the governor thought was right. Bradford seemed on the verge of turning him over to Massasoit’s men when a boat appeared off the Gurnet. He would not surrender Squanto, the governor informed the Pokanokets, until he could determine the nationality of the boat. If it was French, they might be on the verge of attack.
But Massasoit’s men refused to play along. “[B]eing mad with rage,” Winslow reported, “and impatient at delay, they departed in great heat.” Squanto had lived to see another day.
It was a shallop from an English fishing vessel hired by Thomas Weston, the Merchant Adventurer who had pledged his undying loyalty to the Pilgrim cause in an earlier letter. In the months ahead, Bradford learned that all those promises were “but wind.” Not only had Weston abandoned them, he was now their competitor. Weston had secured a patent for his own settlement and had the temerity to expect the Pilgrims to host his sixty or so settlers as their leaders searched for a settlement site. He communicated this information in a series of “tedious and impertinent” letters that Bradford concealed from everyone but his most trusted associates.
Even though Weston had betrayed them, Bradford felt compelled to offer his men the requested hospitality. They proved to be young ruffians who made the already unstable mix of Leideners and Strangers even more combustible. The settlement had been on half rations before the addition of all these men; now it was on the edge of starvation. With the arrival of spring, fish became plentiful, but the Pilgrims were farmers not fishermen, and though the surrounding waters seethed with cod, bluefish, and striped bass, they were unable to catch enough to feed themselves. In desperation, they sought shellfish in the mudflats of Plymouth Harbor and planted their corn. But as the young plants began to grow, Weston’s men, who pretended to assist them in the fields, took to gobbling up the immature cornstalks and ruined the crop.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, Bradford learned that the Fortune, the ship they had loaded with clapboards in the fall, had been seized by the French just before she arrived in England. They had lost everything. The voyage that was to have turned a significant profit had put them even deeper in the hole. “I pray you be not discouraged,” Robert Cushman wrote, “but gather up yourself, to go through these difficulties cheerfully and with courage in that place wherein God hath set you, until the day of refreshing come.”
Then they received a different sort of letter. To the northeast, off the coast of modern Maine, the codfishing season was in full swing. Between three hundred and four hundred vessels were gathered off that rocky, fogbound coast, and a master of one of the ships had taken it upon himself to write the Pilgrims concerning some disturbing developments at Jamestown. That spring, the Indians had massacred 347 English colonists—more than four times the total population of Plymouth. “Happy is he,” the codfisherman wrote, “whom other men’s harms doth make to beware.”
As it so happened, the Pilgrims’ relations with the Indians were at a new low. Thanks to Squanto’s machinations and Bradford’s reluctance to punish his interpreter, they could no longer count on the support of their former allies the Pokanokets. Recognizing that the English were newly vulnerable, the Massachusetts and Narragansetts were said to be planning an assault on Plymouth.
Bradford decided that the wall was not enough. If they should become the victims of a Jamestown-like attack, they needed a heavily reinforced structure that was large enough to accommodate all of them. They needed a fort. Perched atop the hill overlooking the town, it might very well provide the means of their deliverance. Even though food supplies were still low, the inhabitants launched into the work with a will. It was hoped that the mere presence of this imposing, well-defended structure would be enough to discourage future Indian attacks.
But as the work progressed, many of the settlers began to lose their enthusiasm for the project. Given the nebulousness of the Indian threat, it was difficult to justify the expenditure of so much time and effort—especially given their lack of food. The question of how much of a society’s resources should be dedicated to security persists to this day. What amazed Edward Winslow during the summer and fall of 1622 was how “reasonable men [will be led] to reason against their own safety.”
If they were to have any hope of completing the fort, they needed more provisions. Even though they lived on the edge of one of the world’s great fishing grounds, the Pilgrims were without the skills and the equipment required to take advantage of it. They could, however, look to the fishermen assembled to the east as a possible provisioning source. Winslow headed out in the shallop on an emergency mission to Maine, where he succeeded in securing some desperately needed food.
With the approach of winter, the fort was nearing completion, and Weston’s men had settled at Wessagussett, about twenty-two miles to the north in modern Weymouth. Taking their cue from the Pilgrims, the men at Wessagussett immediately began building a fort of their own. Due to the depredations of Weston’s crew, the Pilgrims’ corn crop had been disastrously insufficient. Wessagussett was in even more desperate need of food. That fall, it was decided, the two settlements would band together in search of provisions and take Wessagussett’s thirty-ton vessel, the Swan, on a trading voyage to the south of Cape Cod.
Standish was to lead the expedition, but in November the normally vigorous captain was struck by a debilitating fever. Bradford decided to go in his stead with Squanto as his guide and interpreter. Since his downfall in May, Squanto had done his best to win back the confidence of both Bradford and Massasoit. Winslow claimed that by the time the Swan departed from Plymouth, he had secured a “peace” with the Pokanoket sachem. It is difficult to imagine the circumstances under which the disgraced interpreter could have regained Massasoit’s trust. But whatever the sachem’s true disposition toward him may have been, Squanto, at least, was under the impression that all was once again right with the world. It was now safe for him to venture beyond Plymouth.
In order to sail to the south of Cape Cod, they must negotiate the same shoals that had almost wrecked the Mayflower two years before. Squanto claimed that he had done just that not once but twice—with the Englishman Thomas Dermer and a Frenchman. But once in the waters off modern Chatham, Bradford was gripped by a sickening sense of déjà vu. They were surrounded by breakers, and the Swan ’s master “saw no hope of passage.” They bore up and headed for shore, toward what is called today Pleasant Bay but was then known as Manamoyick, where Squanto said they might spend the night. Using their shallop to scout ahead of them, they followed a narrow and crooked channel and soon had the Swan safely anchored in the harbor.
That evening Bradford and Squanto went ashore to speak with the local Indians. Only after the Manamoyicks had hidden away most of their goods and provisions were they willing to entertain the two in their wigwams. It took some convincing, but eventually they agreed to trade. Over the next few days, with Squanto’s help, Bradford secured eight hogsheads of corn and beans.
Just before they were about to leave for a second attempt at crossing the breakers, Squanto suddenly fell ill. Bradford described it as an “Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose (which the Indians take for a symptom of death).” Within a few days, Squanto—the Indian whom Bradford valued so highly that he had put the entire plantation at risk rather than see him killed—was dead. Bradford claimed Squanto asked him “to pray for him that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in Heaven; and bequeathed sundry of his things to sundry of his English friends as remembrances of his love.” For Bradford, it was yet another terrible personal and professional loss. With Dorothy, Governor Carver, and now Squanto dead, he must once again regroup and find a way to continue on.
Bradford assumed that his trusted interpreter had died of natural causes. But he may have been the victim of an assassination plot masterminded by Massasoit. Although difficult to document, there were several suspected poisonings of high-ranking Indians in New England during the seventeenth century. That Squanto, who had survived the infectious streets of London, should suddenly fall prey to disease on Cape Cod is highly unlikely. Massasoit’s supposed reconciliation with the interpreter may have been only a ruse. Years later, his son was accused of ordering the secret execution of yet another Indian interpreter.
Squanto might have been guilty of clandestinely following his own agenda, but he had the diplomatic instincts of a leader. Sachem-like, he had attempted to outwit and outmaneuver his more powerful rivals. He had put Bradford in a most difficult and dangerous position, and yet to the end, the Plymouth governor insisted that the interpreter had been “a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.”
It remained to be seen whether Massasoit still held Squanto’s machinations against the Pilgrims. A year ago, there had been nothing but trust and friendship between Plymouth and the Pokanokets. Now there was uncertainty and lingering bitterness.
Without Squanto to guide them, the Pilgrims must look to Hobbamock—a warrior of unfailing loyalty to both Massasoit and Miles Standish. Negotiation and cunning had had their day. In the perilous months ahead, a brutal darkness would fall across New England.