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The Catholic Indian Who Saved the Protestant Pilgrims from Starving

The story of Squanto, the Indian who saved the Pilgrims, is quite remarkable. But it is more remarkable than you know.

One day an Indian walked out of the woods of New England, befriended the Pilgrims, and taught them where to fish, how to plant corn, and otherwise saved them from perishing.

What is not well known is that Squanto was a Christian, though the kind of Christian the Pilgrims would have profoundly opposed, in fact, the kind of Christian far worse than the Anglicans from whom the Pilgrims first fled. Squanto was a baptized Catholic.

In 1614, Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame captured a number of Indians with the intent of selling them into slavery. Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, was among them. A group of Franciscan Friars intervened. The Friars very well could have bought the Indians from Smith, but the record is unclear how the Friars rescued Squanto from what might have been a far more brutal life.

The Friars baptized Squanto and catechized him into the Catholic faith. And what is clear is Squanto became a freeman and he traveled to England where he worked in the shipyards, becoming fluent in English.

When he returned to New England, he discovered his tribe had been decimated by disease. He was a man alone who one day walked out of the woods and met the Pilgrims. They were shocked to meet an Indian who not only spoke perfect English but who had been in England even more recently than they had.

The Pilgrims had left England because they refused an order of the Anglican King James I to conform to the outwardly Catholic usages in the Church of England, including robes, candles, and bowing the head at the name of Christ. So, it is quite remarkable that the Indian who walked out of the woods that day in 1621 and taught the how to survive was worse than an Anglican, he was a baptized Catholic.

As to the myths of this being the first Thanksgiving; actually the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in what is now the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 when Spanish settlers and Indians feasted and the Catholic mass was celebrated.

The second Thanksgiving on American soil occurred thirty-three years later in Texas, when Spanish explorer Don Juan de Onate asked for a mass of Thanksgiving when he claimed the land north of the Rio Grande for the King of Spain.

Virginians also claim a Thanksgiving that predates the Pilgrims. Theirs took place on the Berkley Plantation on December 4, 1619

As for the Pilgrims who wrote the history and got the credit for Thanksgiving, they were a persnickety bunch. It is said they even hated Christmas, refused to celebrate it because it was too Catholic.

Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse

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