Artist's rendition of Squanto
Most people could recount the basic story of the first Thanksgiving: the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth rock, the Native Americans taught them to grow food, and they gathered together for a feast of thanksgiving.
Most versions of the story leave out the key role played by an English-speaking Catholic Native American named Squanto and the influence the Franciscans had on his life.
In the early 17th century, Squanto’s tribe came in contact with some of the earliest English colonist in the Americas. He was captured and taught English so he could serve as an interpreter. But in 1614, as he was being transported by John Smith (of Pocahontas fame), one of Smith’s lieutenants, Thomas Hunt, kidnapped him.
Hunt took Squanto to Spain to sell him as a slave. But some Franciscan friars saw what was happening and saved Squanto. The Franciscans taught Squanto the Catholic faith and baptized him.
In 1619, Squanto was finally able to return home on a ship led by John Smith. Tragically, upon arrival he discovered that most of his tribe had died of a plague the year before.
It was almost as though God had prepared him perfectly for what happened next: just a year later in 1620, the Pilgrims arrived. They were English Calvinists who were seeking to build a new religious community apart from the Church of England. Little did they know that they would end up being saved by a Catholic!
The Pilgrims had little food and were unprepared for survival in the Americas. Squanto, who spoke great English and had a lot of experience with English culture, reached out to help, teaching them how to grow food in the new landscape. It must have seemed like a miracle to the Pilgrims!
He befriended the Pilgrims and became an important part of their community. At one point, Squanto was kidnapped by another tribe and a team of Pilgrims saved him.
Unfortunately, less than two years after the landing of the Pilgrims, Squanto became sick and died suddenly.
As we gather today with friends and family, let us remember the many blessings God has given us, great and small, and pray together a prayer of thanksgiving written by St. Francis of Assisi:
St. Francis of Assisi's Prayer of Thanksgiving
You are holy, Lord, the only God,
and Your deeds are wonderful.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the Most High.
You are Almighty.
You, Holy Father are King of heaven and earth.
You are Three and One, Lord God, all Good.
You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love. You are wisdom.
You are humility. You are endurance.
You are rest. You are peace.
You are joy and gladness.
You are justice and moderation.
You are all our riches, and You suffice for us.
You are beauty.
You are gentleness.
You are our protector.
You are our guardian and defender.
You are our courage. You are our haven and our hope.
You are our faith, our great consolation.
You are our eternal life, Great and Wonderful Lord,
God Almighty, Merciful Saviour.