CHATHAM – About a century ago, Chatham’s town historian William Smith wrote, “No more graceful act could be performed by the grateful descendants of the Pilgrims than to erect… at Chatham a simple monument to this unhonored, but most deserving, friend and protector of their forefathers.”
Smith was referring to Squanto (also known as Tisquantum), perhaps the most famous Native American to greet the Pilgrims. Squanto died under mysterious circumstances, most likely at Jackknife Cove in Chatham in 1622, roughly 40 years before William and Anne (Busby) Nickerson established their homestead behind the current-day campus of the Nickerson Family Association (NFA) at 1107 Orleans Rd. (Route 28) in Chathamport.
This Saturday, Oct. 28, the NFA will dedicate a new plaque to commemorate Squanto, fulfilling Smith’s dream. Representatives from Provincetown 400 and Plymouth 400—two groups planning commemorations of the landing of the Mayflower in 1620—as well as the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants have been invited to the ceremony.
“The Squanto plaque was created in preparation for 2020 and the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower Pilgrims,” says the NFA’s Ron Nickerson, who has served as the catalyst behind the plaque. “Many Nickersons are Pilgrim descendants and we wanted to recognize Squanto’s role in helping the Pilgrims survive.”
The plaque was designed by Chatham Selectman Shareen Davis and uses as its backdrop a watercolor by Ginny Nickerson of Chatham. The painting depicts three historical times: “the Wading Place” Wampanoag Village on Muddy Creek; the early settlers’ deforestation of the Nickerson Neck area; and the present day, Ginny Nickerson says.
In 2012, when Chatham celebrated the 300th anniversary of its incorporation, several historic sites, including the NFA, were given recognition plaques. One plaque was created for the local Native Americans. Because William Nickerson was the first English settler in Monomoit in the 1660s, the front lawn of the NFA was selected as the most appropriate spot for this plaque. The new plaque, which highlights moments in Squanto’s life, is currently under wraps not far from the Native American plaque. Also, about 15 or so years ago the Chatham Historical Society moved its Squanto stone from the lawn of the Atwood House Museum to the lawn of the NFA. The stone proclaims that Squanto died “within gunshot” of the stone. The new plaque is also near the Squanto stone.
Born into the Patuxet tribe in about 1585, Squanto led a remarkable life, traveling for five years in Spain, England and Newfoundland after being captured as a slave near Plymouth in 1614. When he returned home in about 1619 his tribe had been decimated by disease.
As he had learned to speak English, he acted as a liaison between the natives and Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower. During the Pilgrims’ first winter and spring he taught the newcomers to catch eels and to grow corn by fertilizing the poor soil with dried herring and shad and thereby helped them to survive. Yet Squanto’s life was not without controversy, moving as he did between two peoples.
In November 1622 Squanto traveled with Gov. Bradford from Plymouth to Chatham, then known as Monomoit, on a mission to trade with the Monomoyicks for eight hogsheads of corn and beans. Their sloop, the Swan, anchored in Pleasant Bay, most likely at Jackknife Cove, about a quarter of a mile from the Nickerson homestead site. The trip was a success but just before departure Squanto fell ill and soon died.
The Squanto plaque commemoration will begin at 1 p.m. at the Nickerson Family Association compound on Route 28 in Chathamport. After the event corn bread from the Chatham Filling Station Diner and apple cider will be served in the Caleb Nickerson Homestead. All are welcome.