The First Native The Pilgrims Met Asked 'Where's The Beer?'
Four months after they landed at Plymouth, with more than half of them having survived the winter, the Pilgrims met their first native of the New World. His name, they'd eventually learn, was Samoset, and he was one of the chiefs of the Abenaki, who lived in Maine. As soon as he saw them, he said, "Welcome, Englishmen!" Then he said, "So. You got any beer?"
He said this in English. Because as much as we like to think of the Pilgrims as pioneers, other people from England had come to America before, and Samoset had learned some English from them. Far from setting off to settle uncharted lands, the Pilgrims had actually bought the rights to set up a colony from the Plymouth Company, a British investment firm who already had people in the area. They only ended up starting their relatively independent colony in Massachusetts because they messed up the navigation and landed far from the spot they were aiming at.
Samoset had with him deer skins to trade for the beer he wanted, so you might say the Pilgrims were immediately accosted by a hawker hoping to sell knickknacks to tourists. Not only did he know English, but he also knew a bunch of other local Englishmen by name, so the conversation started with them catching up about mutual acquaintances. The Pilgrims didn't give him beer—they liked their beer too much to share it with strangers—but they did give him some pudding and cooked duck, which he recognized as British food.
The area they called Plymouth used to be full of people, he told them. A few years ago, however, a plague had wiped everyone out, so that was pretty convenient for the newcomers wanting some privacy. He talked to them about his own people and more about the land. Then, awkwardly, the guy just didn't leave.
The conversation had run short, the Pilgrims dropped a bunch of hints about how it was getting late, but Samoset just stayed put. Maybe you'd like to spend the night aboard our ship, they finally offered, and he liked this idea a lot, but it turned out to be too windy to paddle out to it. So then they said, "Uh, maybe you can stay at Steve's." Samoset slept in pilgrim Stephen Hopkins' house that night, then he left the next morning, taking new gifts of a knife and a ring, and saying he'd come back with friends, and beaver pelts.
A week later, he returned, with someone you've definitely heard of even if you never knew about Samoset: a Patuxet guy named Squanto.
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For more on those early encounters, check out:
White Settlers Did Not Carve America Out of the Untamed Wilderness
Squanto Wasn't Just A Savior, He Was A Saint
A Pilgrim Community Partied A Little Too Hard
Top image via Wiki Commons