A Further Perspective

Our Debt to Squanto

The latest fruit of archival researches.

By 11.28.13

Wikimedia Commons

Recently while visiting a center of learning (aka university) whose president asked me to leave it un-named to protect its reputation, I came across a charming and amusing scholar, Isaac Pequot Vogelkopf, a bit of an eccentric if you go by whispers in the faculty lounge but popular with his students and – I might add – an excellent tennis player, with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport’s history as well as a nigh-untouchable forehand when he is in the mood. Prof. Vogelkopf shared with me a document he says he found in his great-aunt’s attic on Nantucket. She declined to be interviewed for this article. Until I can persuade her to sit still for a chat (about her nephew as well as about the junk she has collected over the years) and, moreover, until I run this by some of the good prof’s colleagues in the American history field, I cannot vouch for – er, for anything, really. —RK

Dear and Honored Bradford Sahib,

The soul warms at the memory of the fine time we had when you called your people together to give thanks to their creator for the blessings they have received in this land which you call the new England and, in a fit of hyperbole, the new world. I laugh at that, my good friend, but it is the laugh of your brother Squanto who loves you: the new world, indeed! You know I have told you often how we, the patuxet, human beings you say in your language, have been on this earth, in this world, since the great spirit formed us out of clay (touch of salt, too). The great spirit created the earth and the mountains and the seas and the skies so many moons ago that no one can count them, which is why we do not. We know it is not new. It is old. It is old and it is good, Bradford, and I rejoice at the thought that you share my opinion and you tell your people as I do that we should remember that. We should so instruct our children. It is old and it is good and if we take care to remember this it will take care of us and our people.

Your people are small and weak now, brother, and I appreciate that you thanked me for protecting them. I appreciate too that you say that I was only the instrument of the greater power who protects them always. Just between you and me and the lamppost, I give you this f.y.i. so you can use it after I am gone, the trick is to find a man working for the wampanoag government that runs this territory and hire him to work for you, ie, cut deals with the wampa chiefs who, frankly, are not exactly Solons, you know.

I understand that your people are truculent and hate to compromise. That is why they left England. I myself rather enjoyed my time there, though I always was homesick for my squaw and my children and my parents and the spirits of my ancestors. And I missed hunting wild turkeys and fishing eel and catching oysters in the bay. It is a rich land, this, and I hope – I pray to the god you, and the friars before you, taught me is as great as our great spirit (they are the same, in my opinion, but we need not go over that question again here), I pray you will keep it this way. For I know that though your people are but a tiny band now, soon they will be fruitful. More will come from England. More will be born, though I understand now your squaws are having a hard time of it, these are rough conditions for them. And more will come from other lands if you, Bradford, can pass your vision to your sons, your vision of a land where every man has a chance and every man is free. And that, too, is why I urge you to learn the ways of the wampa and pow-wow with them, no matter how painful. Cut the deal, win some, lose some, you cannot have it all, grease a few palms, get a man to speak for you – no criticism intended of your silver tongue, brother – and get things done.

In the greater scheme of things, I assure you I agree with you brother, this greater power as you speak of him is the great spirit who watches over our peoples. I agree with you that he can protect them and he can punish them and he can be indifferent to them, although I think as you do that indifference is but another name for standing aside deliberately to show the people that action causes reaction, that ideas and deeds have consequences, that words can be as arrows and perchance they can be as balm. You and I have worked together to protect your people because we believe they will be able to build a nation on this land. This land was the land of the human beings once, my own patuxet.

Yes, though I shed tears for my people, I am sure the great spirit spared me because otherwise why would I have met you when your boat came into the bay and your people were hungry and thirsty and muttering against you and saying that you were a tyrant and a cruel law-giver and leading them to their doom in a strange desert fraught with danger and cold and windy and wet. Some chutzpah. But you and I have often said that you cannot do anything about it, people are ingrates. Did they forget so soon that the land they came from is cold and windy and wet? Why, even in a good year you are lucky in England to get in more than eight good weeks of tennis. Phooey. You would think they would apply some of the wit they use to dissert and dispute over the meanings of the words in your favorite book and figure out how to build a typee big enough to play tennis in all year round. Well, that will come, some day sooner than we think, I bet. They will find there is profit in it.

But seriously, brother, I have to tell you we cannot fail to see the hand of the great spirit. You were facing a mutiny. You were about to suffer the fate of the great navigator Captain Bligh. You stood firm before your unruly and disgruntled people and told them to get a grip and read their book and remember the words of their lord and have a little faith . You said we will build a nation. You said help will come. You said the lord does not lie to his people. You said anyway we cannot turn back because this broken down boat will never make it, certainly not in the north Atlantic in the winter.

And moreover, there I was. Ah, Bradford, my brother, how often have we laughed happily at the memory of that meeting, and rejoiced at the sign from the creator that it represented. There I was indeed, alone and naked and without a friend in the world. The entire human race had vanished. Not a single one of my patuxet was left – murdered, raped, slaughtered, enslaved by those animals the iroquois and I was all but resigned to suffer the same fate if they hunted me down before I died of thirst and starvation, which was likely since I cannot die of thirst and starvation. That is one of the advantages of being a patuxet. We know how abundant our land is in all the good things and we have never died of thirst and starvation.

Naturally I was happy to show you this, after you saved my life. Had it not been for your expert musket shot (admittedly at 10 feet) through the brain of that mohawk savage who had me by the hair and was about to slit my throat with his tomahawk, I would have been one dead redskin, brother, and no kidding. How can we not see the hand of the great spirit in the fit of temper that sent you full of anger into the woods that day, due to some perfectly moronic dispute you were having with one of your deputies on the boat (“The hull is leaking, Captain Bradford.” – “So deal with it, fool!” – “The carpenter has the runs, sir.” – “You philistine idiot, figure it out. The Lord does not save those who seek not to save themselves, ya jerk. I’m outta here. I’ll be back aboard ship in the afternoon and you better have that leak plugged or it is the lash for you.”)

You were in a combative mood and had your gun locked and loaded. And none too soon! Never did the whiff of cordite smell so good, never the zing of the ordnance sound so sweet, never did the cry of the mohawk ax-murderer bring such satisfaction. The relief was too great for me to laugh at what you said, but I often have laughed in recollecting the moment. You said, “Thou shalt not commit murder, says the Lord, and who the hell are you?”

Ah, Bradford, Bradford, for that moment alone my life has been worth living. But how happy you made me by letting me give you something in return – in return for my life! For I grasped immediately, as we gathered our bearings in that astonishing anti-climax that follows combat, even a combat of only seconds in duration, that you were in scarcely less trouble than I was. Alone, my squaws and my brothers raped and murdered, my children carried away and eaten or enslaved by savages, the truth is that I almost had reached the conclusion that the great spirit wanted us gone forever from the earth. The patuxet must have done something during my long absence. They must surely have done something wrong, to anger the great spirit so.

However, what I said to you in response to your question was: “Me injun.” And you said, “Injun?” So I said, “You white man. Me injun.” And since you seemed (uncharacteristically, as I soon found out) speechless, I added, “Yeah. You got a problem with that?” And I shall never forget the words that came from your mouth: “You know, young man, I rightly don’t think I do. Why, I daresay this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

It was. I never told you, brother Bradford, what a cool dude you are. It is not just those hats you wear, you have class. When I was kidnapped by that badass countryman of yours and sold to the Spaniards, I swore I would never again trust a white man. I rued the day I had wandered out of Massachusetts to go and take a look at what was going on in Virginia. Rumor had it that things were hopping down there. Notwithstanding some unpleasant misunderstandings at the beginning, once your man Smith and that very pretty Algonquin princess made an item, I figured it was looking good. Subdivisions, agri-business, fishing and canneries, smoked turkey franchises, the works. There was no limit on what a hard-working partnership could accomplish. But it had to be a real partnership – based on trust. There was no Francis Fukuyama back then to tell these guys that if you stab your partner in the back, trust evaporates.

But, Bradford, as you yourself have often said, the great spirit is fundamentally good notwithstanding the perplexing question of why he permits evil, and we have to accept that he works in mysterious ways. Those gangsters who sandbagged me in Virginia brought me all the way to Gibraltar and I thought I was a goner, doomed to spend my life a wretched slave for those late-model Arabs. But no – the friars saved me. The good brothers, who have been fighting like lions against Spanish mass murder in their colonies, said like no way. Squanto cannot be a slave. They had a special team on the lookout for human trafficking and they had that ship seized by the port authorities and me in the safety of their sanctuary before you could say Real Madrid. They said, “ He is our brother in Christ and his soul is precious.” They threatened to turn that English bastard over to the Inquisition and took me in. I studied Latin, the catechism, read the Quixote. Those were happy days. Padre Pablo, their top man, is a real mensch – you and he would hit it off, no question.

You and I, my brother, always agreed in private that there is something shameless and worse, dangerous, in the hatred vowed by the non-conformists toward the Roman Catholics. Face it, man, it is stupid. We cannot say this out loud because what are your people but a bunch of non-conformists who could not even get along with Cromwell for cryin’ out loud, which is like saying they can’t talk to a wall. (Who can? But you know what I mean. As to Oliver Cromwell, what a thought. I am glad you are safe and sound in my country, Brother William, because with Cromwell running the show over there, I would fear for your neck. He has it on Torquemada. Hell, he has it on Dzerzinsky.)

The Catholics saved me. I predict that in the years to come they will get a bad rap. They will be denigrated by those sanctimonious holier-than-thou’s. They will be made fun of by the envious. Their brothers will be slandered by know-nothings. I hold them in my heart. They saved me from destruction and made it possible for me to make my way to England and from there return home.

Of course, you know that part of the story, since the man who gave me a job would later figure in your plans, as he was starting up a trading venture, I think he meant to call it Plymouth Squared but you persuaded him that was too clever by half. He taught me English. I love this language. It is a blessing to be able to speak of crowns and shillings and ha’ pence and get everybody mixed up when all we really are talking about is the old wampum. He taught me to cut a shrewd deal. Never give the sucker an even break, he said, and it works out in the end because enterprise brings wealth and wealth trickles down and the aim of the game is to keep it going and not let Cromwell and those other holier-than-thou’s get their hands on the profits under the guise of “public welfare.”

Well, we got our firm going, and not a minute too soon. The old salt dropped me off at the bay with instructions to check things out while he hurried to Virginia to deliver some orders, and that is when I discovered the disaster that had struck my people. And I almost died – murdered by a savage – except for you and your sharpshooter’s skill. Just one bullet – I shall never forget.

The rest is history, although I have to admit I sometimes get the exasperated sense, which I think you share, that your people have a notion they can stand athwart history and re-invent the earth. Let us be a little humble, okay? Go ahead and build a nation. Nice homes, shopping centers, tennis courts. Speaking of which, we patuxet had a sport which we played during the warmer months of the year, and I have been meaning to teach it to you so it will not be lost. We have had so much to do just getting those dolts of yours to learn to grow corn and stay warm, I have not had time. Basically, all you need is a strong stick and a small ball. It is a wonderful game, it will bring you happiness and build your young men’s characters – young women too, if you ensure they play a softer version, because it can get strenuous.

Go forth and do all that, Brother Bradford. But your nation, do not confuse it with other nations. Look at what those savages did to my people. Look at what the Spaniard is doing in the islands and on the continent beyond – murder, rape, destruction, blinded by the lust for gold! The Spaniard is a primitive, he confuses gold for wealth, but wealth, my brother, is human beings and the enterprise they undertake when left alone to dream and build. Free men and free markets, Bradford! And trust the lord!

[A later, more thorough search of the attic led to the following, scribbled in a tiny script on the back of a Chinese laundry ticket; graphanalysis and carbon dating suggest it comes from the same hand…]

But in confidence, brother, some of those down there whom the gold mad conquistadores are killing off despite the friars’ protests, just between ourselves they are a pretty sick-o bunch, human sacrifice and all that, but do two wrongs make a right? Let us be modest. Keep your own doorstep clean. Do you think you will build others’ nations for them? Foggedaboutit, brother.

I am very ill now, Bradford, and I know you have done your best, sent me your physician who has tried his science. In confidence and no offense, he don’t know s**t from shinola but I am thankful he tried anyway. If that fellow John Harvard you mentioned goes ahead and builds a school for your people, you might politely nudge him in the right direction. He seems fixated on turning out priests, but who the hell wants them? The great spirit will take of their souls, but for the work they are called to do here, medical science men you will need to keep them well. No, I know my time is up and I am ready. I am blessed, for I will join my squaws and my brothers and my little ones in the arms of the great spirit. I just meant to remind you, last year the turkey was a little underdone. You guys are such bloodthirsty carnivores! Let it cook, there’s no rush. Take your time, have a drink. And say, the potatoes – I agree they are terrific, why I told you about them. But my advice, do not fry them. Down the road, someone will complain it makes them fat and you will have no end of trouble. It’s not worth it, the Lord has more important work for you and for your people, and their children and their children’s children.

Good luck, my brother, and God bless America!

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.