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Jody Bachelder grew up on the Pemaquid peninsula and is the author of a forthcoming biography of Samoset.
I applaud Emily Burnham for her March 16 article bringing attention to Samoset, who made contact with the English settlers at Plymouth 400 years ago. How wonderful that he is finally getting his due! As a writer currently finishing a biography of Samoset, I believe I can add a few details to the story.
Samoset was a Wawenock from the Pemaquid area. He told the colonists at Patuxet (now Plymouth, Massachusetts) that he was from Monhegan, knowing they would recognize the name because it was a popular destination for European fishermen. He learned English from the fishermen and probably met Tisquantum ( Squanto) at Monhegan, who was there at least twice.
Samoset’s life before and after the famous meeting at Plymouth was both rich and tragic. He was born into a world still untouched by colonization, and died on land that he could no longer call his own. Samoset personally survived trauma and the threat of death again and again, through war, epidemics, a possible kidnapping attempt, a pirate attack, a deadly hurricane, as well as numerous conflicts and — yes — the famous walk into Plymouth Plantation, which was probably a much more risky venture than we knew.
He appears only a few times in the historical record, and yet when we look more closely his footprint was truly widespread. When five of his kinsmen were kidnapped and taken to England, he was there. When English adventurers tried and failed to start the Popham Colony in Phippsburg, he was there. When some of the most famous explorers of the age sailed the region’s coast, he was there. When the Wampanoag needed an envoy to make contact with the Plymouth colonists, he was there again.
After helping facilitate the meeting and treaty at Plymouth, Samoset returned to Pemaquid where he settled into a decades-long friendship with English colonists. Pemaquid became an important international trading center and lay at the border between English and French colonies, which required careful diplomatic handling. Samoset appeared several more times in the public record on land deeds, though his concept of “selling” land was probably far different from ours. Throughout his life he kept the peace between his own people and the Europeans, and was respected by all.
To be sure, Samoset lived at a momentous time in our history, as a witness, a participant, and a leader. Thank you for honoring him.