The Catholic Connection to Thanksgiving: Squanto
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
In April of 1614, seven years before the arrival of the Pilgrims, the English lured a well-known Wampanoag — Tisquantum, who was called Squanto by the English — and 20 other Wampanoag men onto a ship with the intention of selling them into slavery in Malaga, Spain. It was Captain Thomas Hunt (a lieutenant for Captain John Smith) who was in command of this capture and who took Squanto and his fellow Indians into slavery. 
For six agonizing weeks, Squanto and his childhood friends lay bound in chains in the darkness and filth of the ship’s hold as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Rocking in the waves and battered by storms, he endured hunger and thirst, vomited from seasickness, and left behind everything he once knew.
Squanto emerged from darkness into the blinding Mediterranean sun. His English captors hauled him to Malaga’s slave market. Squanto was most likely destined for one of the surrounding sugar plantations, into which foreign slaves regularly disappeared.
Spanish friars, witnessing the sale of the Wampanoag, intervened. They purchased Squanto and the rest to save them from slavery and, in their minds, to save their souls. The Spanish clergy were the first opponents of conquest and slavery in the early 1500s. These Priests sought to evangelize the Natives and Africans and to bring them to new life in Christ. It was a high priority for the Friars, and they had been doing so for over a century.
After his baptism in the Catholic Church, Squanto felt God wanted him to return to his native land. Since the Spanish were at war with the English, the monks needed to raise funds to send Squanto overland to the Netherlands to secure passage on a ship to North America. His was an unprecedented seven-year journey home. During these years he began to work for the explorer Captain Thomas Dermer. After touching down in Maine in 1619, Dermer sailed with Squanto and five or six other men south toward Patuxet. It was there that Squanto would receive the greatest shock of his life, as he learned that his village, Patuxet (Plymouth) had been wiped out by the smallpox epidemic of 1616. The village was found totally abandoned, with skeletons littering the ground.
Thomas Morton, a colonist, would later write of the matter in his Manners and Customs of the Indians (1637):
“The hand of God fell heavily upon them, with such a mortal stroke that they died on heaps as they lay in their houses; and the living, that were able to shift for themselves, would run away and let them die, and let their carcasses lie above the ground without burial. For in a place where many inhabited, there had been but one left to live to tell what became of the rest; the living being (as it seems) not able to bury the dead, they were left for crows, kites and vermin to prey upon...”