NOT UNTIL early March were there any signs of spring. William Bradford wrote: “Saturday, the 3rd of March, the wind was south; the morning misty; but towards noon, warm and fair weather. The birds sang in the woods most pleasantly. At one of the clock it thundered which was the first we heard in that country. It was of strong and great claps but short. But after an hour it rained very sadly till midnight (171).”
As soon as they could, each householder began to cultivate his smallholding with peas, beans and other seeds brought from England: “Wednesday the 7th of March. The wind was full east, cold but fair. That day some garden seeds were sown (172).”
One day in mid-March, while the men were at work on their houses, an Indian called Samoset strolled unexpectedly down the street towards the community house. “He very boldly came all alone and along the houses, straight to the rendezvous: where we intercepted him, not suffering him to go in; as undoubtedly he would, out of his boldness. He saluted us in English and bade us ‘Welcome!’ For he had learned some broken English among the Englishmen that came to fish at Monchiggon; and knew by name the most of the Captains, Commanders, and Masters that usually come [there] (173).” Monchiggon: Monhegan, off the coast of Maine.
This was the first chance the Pilgrims had to speak with an Indian in English. Samoset was not a local man: “We questioned him of many things. He was the first savage we could meet withal. He said he was not of these parts but of Morattigon, and one of the Saga-mores or Lords thereof; and had been eight months in these parts. It lying hence a day’s sail with a great wind, and five days by land.
He discoursed of the whole country and of every province and of their Sagamores and their number of men and strength (174).”
The settlers at once supplied him with food and drink: “He asked for some beer; but we gave him strong water [alcohol] and biscuit, and butter, and cheese, and pudding, and a piece of mallard: all which he liked well, and had been acquainted with such amongst the English (175).”
To the acute embarrassment of the Puritans, Samoset was stark naked except for a brief loin-cloth. “The wind beginning to rise a little we cast a horseman’s coat about him, for he was stark naked, having only a leather about his waist with a fringe about a span long or a little more. He had a bow and two arrows the one headed and the other unheaded. He was a tall straight man. The hair of his head was black, long behind, only short before, none on his face at all (176).”
Samoset told them that he belonged to a local tribe, the Masasoits, who were friendly; but that further north lived another tribe who were very hostile to the English. These were the Nausites who had attacked the third expedition in November. The tribe was “a hundred strong,” and “much incensed and provoked against the English: and about eight months ago slew three Englishmen, and two more hardly escaped by flight to Monchiggon. They were Sir Ferdinando Gorges his men as this savage told us. As he did likewise of the huggerie, that is ‘fight,’ that our discoverers had with the Nausites: and of our tools that were taken out of the woods which we willed him should be brought again, otherwise we would right ourselves (177).”
An English captain had apparently carried off some of the Nausite tribe as slaves: “These people are ill affected towards the English by reason of one Captain Thomas Hunt, a Master of a ship, who deceived the people and got them under iolour of trucking [trading] with them twenty out of this very place where we inhabit, and seven from the Nausites: and carried them away [to Spain] and sold them for slaves for £20 a man; like a wretched man that cares not what mischief he doth for his profit (178).”
Samoset also explained why New Plymouth had not been attacked by the Indians: “He told us the place where we now live is called Patuxet, and that about four years ago all the inhabitants died of an extraordinary plague; and there is neither man, woman, nor child remaining; as indeed we have found none. So as there is none to hinder our possession or to lay claim unto it (179).”
The settlers grew apprehensive when Samoset decided to spend the night with them: “All the afternoon, we spent in communication with him. We would gladly have been rid of him at night, but he was not willing to go this night. Then we thought to carry him on shipboard wherewith he was well content, and went into the shallop. But the wind was high and the water scant that it could not return back. We lodged him that night at Stephen Hopkin’s house, and watched him (180).” But Samoset apparently gave no sign of any hostile intentions.
At daybreak, however; he left to rejoin his tribe. “Saturday, in the morning, we dismissed the savage, and gave him a knife, a bracelet and a ring. He promised within a night or two to come again, and to bring with him some of the Massasoyts, our neighbours , with such beavers’ skins as they had to truck with us (181).”
Next day, Sunday 18th March, Samoset returned bringing five more Indians with him; who were “tall proper [sturdy] men. They had every man a deer’s skin on him, and the principal of them had a wild cat’s skin or such like on the one arm. They had, most of them, long hose up to–their groins close made, and above their groins to their waist another leather. They were altogether like the Irish trousers.
“They are of complexion like our English gipsies. No hair, or very little, on their faces. On their heads long hair to their shoulders, only cut before: some trussed up before with a feather, broadwise like a fan; another with a fox’s tail hanging out. These left, according to our charge given him before, their bows and arrows a quarter of a mile from our town (182).”
The Indians showed their. friendliness by dancing, not realizing that the Puritans felt it ungodly: “We gave them entertainment as we thought was fitting to them. They did eat liberally of our English victuals. They made semblance unto us of friendship and amity. They sang and danced after their manner like antics. They brought with them in a thing like a long-bow case, which the principal of them had about his waist, a little of their corn pounded to powder [parched meal] which put to a little water they eat. He had a little tobacco in ‘a bag, but none of them drank it [i.e. smoked it], but when he listed. Some of them had their faces painted black from the forehead to the chin, four or five fingers broad: others after other fashions as they liked (183).”
The Indians brought with them valuable beaver skins, but the Pilgrims refused to trade with them on the Sabbath: “They brought three or four skins, but we would not truck at all that day; but wished them to bring more and we would truck for all: which they promised within a night or two, and would leave these behind them, though we were not willing they should. And they brought us all our tools again which were taken in the woods in our men’s absence. So, because of the day, we dismissed them so soon as we could.
“The Sabbath Day, when we sent them from us, we gave every one of them some trifles; especially the principal of them. We carried [escorted] them along with our arms to the place where they left their bows and arrows. Whereat they were amazed and two of them began to slink away, but the others called them. When they took their arrows we bade them farewell, and they were glad. And so with many thanks given us they departed, with promise they would come again (184).”
Samoset again insisted on staying on with the settlers, who further rewarded him for his services to them: “But Samoset, our first acquaintance, either was sick, or feigned himself so; and would not go with them and stayed with us till Wednesday morning. Then we sent him to them to know the reason they came not, according to their words: and we gave him a hat, a pair of stockings and shoes, a shirt, and a piece of cloth to be about his waist (185).” The Puritans did not like to see him so undressed.
On the same day that Samoset went away (21st March, 1621), the Pilgrim Fathers finally took their leave of the Mayflower: “This day, with much ado, we got our Carpenter that had been long sick of the scurvy to fit our shallop, to fetch all from aboard (186).”
On the morrow, the Indians returned to announce the approach of their great chief: “Samoset came again; and Squanto, the only surviving native of Patuxet, where we now inhabit (who was one of the twenty captives that by Hunt were carried away; and had been in England, and dwelt in Cornhill (in London) with Master John Slany, a merchant; and could speak a little English) with three others. And they brought with them some few skins to truck, and some red herrings newly taken and dried, but not salted.
“And they signified unto us that their great Sagamore Masasoyt was hard by with Quadequina his brother and all their men. They could not express in English what they would; but, after an hour the King came to the top of a hill over against us [Watson’s Hill] and had in his train sixty men; that we could well behold them and they us(187).”
Since neither side would step forward, the settlers sent Winslow as their spokesman. “We were not willing to send our Governor [John Carver] to them; and they were unwilling to come to us. So Squanto went again unto him who brought word that we should send one to parley with him: which we did, which was Edward Winslow; to know his mind and to signify the mind and will of our Governor, which was to have trading and peace with him. We sent to the King a pair of knives and a copper chain with a jewel to it. To Quadequina we sent likewise a knife, and a jewel to hang in his ear. And withal a pot of strong water [spirits] a good quantity of biscuit and some butter, which were all willingly accepted (188).”
Eventually, Chief Masasoit came forward to meet the settlers, each side holding hostages for their protection: “Our messenger made a speech unto him, that King James saluted him with words of love and peace and did accept of him as his friend and ally; and that our Governor desired to see him and to truck with-‘him, and to confirm a peace with him as his next neighbour. He liked well of the speech and heard it attentively, though the interpreters did not well express it.
“After he had eaten and drunk himself and given the rest to his company, he looked upon our messenger’s sword and armour which he had on, with intimation of his desire to buy it. But on the other side our messenger showed his unwillingness to part with it. In the end, he left him in the custody of Quadequina his brother and came over the brook and some twenty men following him, leaving all their bows and arrows behind them. We kept six or seven as hostages for our messenger (189).”
The Indian chief now stepped forward to accept the hospitality of Governor John Carver: “Captain Standish and Master Allerton Williamson met the King At the brook, with half a dozen musketeers. They saluted him and he them. So on going over, the one on the one side and the other on the other, conducted him to a house then in building where we placed a green rug and three or four cushions.
“Then instantly came our Governor with drum and trumpet after him and some few musketeers. After salutations, our Governor kissing his hand, the King kissed him, and so they sat down. The Governor called for some strong water and drank to him, and he drank a great draught that made him sweat all the while after. He called for a little fresh meat which the King did eat willingly and did give his followers (190).”
The settlers were fascinated by the exotic appearance of Masasoit and his companions: “In his person, he is a very lusty man, in his best years, of an able body, grave of countenance and spare of speech. in his attire he was little or nothing differing from the rest of his followers: only in a great chain of white bone beads about his neck; and at it, behind his neck hangs a little bag of tobacco which he drank [smoked] and gave us to drink. His face was painted with a sad red like murrey [mulberry], and he oiled both head and face, that he looked greasily. All his followers likewise were in their faces, in part or in whole, painted: some black, some red, some yellow, and some white; some with crosses, and other antic works. Some had skins on them and some were naked: all strong, all men in appearance (191).”
Then both sides agreed to a treaty, which contained these terms:
“1. That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people.
“2. And if any of his did hurt to any of ours, he should send the offender that we might punish him.
“3. That if any of our tools were taken away when our people were at work, he should cause them to be restored.: and if ours did any harm to any of his we would do the like to them.
“4. If any did unjustly war against him we would aid him. If any did war against us, he should aid us.
“5. He should send to his neighbouring confederates, to certify them of this, that they might not wrong us; but might be likewise comprisedin the Conditions of Peace.
“6. That when their men came to us, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them as we should do our pieces when we came to them.
“7. Lastly, that doing thus, King James would esteem of him as his friend and ally (192).”
When all the negotiations were finished, Chief Masasoit returned to his village home at Sowams, about forty miles to the north.
One Indian, however, stayed behind with the settlers and became a valuable ally. This was Squanto. He was “their interpreter, and became a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond their expectation. He showed them how to plant their corn, where to take fish and other commodities, and guided them to unknown places, and never left them till he died (193).”
The secret of planting corn, Squanto told them, was to fertilize little hillocks with dead fish: “Afterwards they, as many as were able, began to plant their corn. In which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to eat it and after how to dress and tend it. Also he told them, except they got fish and set [manured] with it, it would come to nothing.. And he showed them that, in the middle of April, they should have store enough of fish come up the brook by which they began to build: and taught them how to take it. And [he told them] where to get other prOvisions necessary for them. All which they found true by trial and experience. Some English seed they sew as wheat and pease, but it came not to good either by the badness of the seed or lateness of the season, or both, or some other defect (194).”
Squanto also caught eels for them, leaving home at noon and returning at nightfall “with as many as he could well lift in one hand which our people were glad of. They were fat and sweet. He trod them out with his feet and so caught them with his hands without any other instrument (195).” The Pilgrims’ debt to local Indians throughout these early months was a considerable one. With limited reserves and limited local knowledge, the Colonists’ mortality would certainly have been even greater than it was.