Even though the trans-Atlantic journey of the pilgrims was filled with many dangers, the first winter they spent in the New World might have been even more difficult. To heighten their sense of isolation the local Indians observed the new arrivals from a safe distance and remained out of sight until the following spring.
One of the biggest surprises to the struggling pilgrims of Plymouth was the presence of a local Indian, who stunned the new settlers the following March by boldly walking into the settlement wearing nothing more than a breechcloth. Then he greeted the settlers with the words, “Welcome Englishmen”.
This Indian was named Samoset and he lived farther north, but just happened to be in the area visiting his friend, Massassoit, the local Wampanoag leader. According to the Biographical Dictionary, Samoset’s first request was for beer, which must have surprised the European visitors even more.
Samoset’s original home was on Monhegan Island, a rocky outcrop of land that is situated 10 miles off the coast of Maine in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. It is here that Samoset acquired his limited understanding of English and a taste for beer. These ironic aspects of 17th century living came from the English fisherman, who frequented Monhegan in their pursuit of the abundant codfish.
Several days later Samoset returned to the Pilgrim outpost with Squanto, a local Massachusetts Indian, who could handle the English language much better than either Samoset or Massassoit. In fact, Squanto had already visited Europe, courtesy of a few slave traders, who had captured the local Indian, while sailing along the coast of North America. From that point on, Squanto became the main interpreter between the colonists and the local Indians. Together Squanto and Samoset proved to be an invaluable asset to the English colonists, for it is doubtful that they would have survived long without their presence.
Not only did Samoset and Squanto help the Indians with building shelter, acquiring wild fish and game and planting seeds of corn, squash and beans, but most importantly, they also brokered a treaty with the local Wampanoags through Massassoit. This was made possible due to a recent smallpox outbreak, which had killed off the local village, leaving the Plymouth area devoid of any Native settlement.
Ironically, Squanto succumbed to the virulent disease shortly after the arrival of the pilgrims, but Samoset lived another 30 years dying at the ripe old age of 63.
Today a Maine resort and golf course bears the chief’s name. By chance, it is located close to his childhood home of Monhegan Island, in the coastal town of Rockland.