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Samoset (l. 1590-1653 CE, also given as Somerset) was the Abenaki Native American who first approached the English settlers of Plymouth Colony (later known as pilgrims) in friendship, introducing them to natives Squanto (l. 1585-1622 CE) and Massasoit (l. 1581-1661 CE) who would help save and sustain the colony. He was a sagamore (chief) of the Eastern Abenaki, who was either visiting Massasoit or had been taken prisoner by him sometime before the Mayflower landed off the coast of modern-day Massachusetts in November 1620 CE. Massasoit chose him to make first contact with the pilgrims in March of 1621 CE, and he has been recognized since as instrumental in bringing the Native Americans of the Wampanoag Confederacy and English colonists of Plymouth together in a compact which would remain unbroken for the next 50 years.

Samoset's visit to Plymouth and the resultant peace treaty with the Wampanoag Confederacy under Massasoit is given in two of the primary documents of the early years of the settlement, Mourt's Relation, written by William Bradford (l. 1590-1657 CE) and Edward Winslow (l. 1595-1655 CE) and Of Plymouth Plantation by Bradford, though Samoset is also referenced by their contemporary Thomas Morton (l. 1579-1647 CE) who provides the only report that he was a prisoner of Massasoit.

All that is known of Samoset comes from these works except for a passing mention by the explorer Captain Christopher Levett (l. 1586-1630 CE), who met Samoset in 1624 CE at present-day Portland, Maine, and considered it an honor based on Samoset's role in helping to sustain Plymouth Colony in 1621 CE. Later works either drew faithfully on these or departed from them to present Samoset as an “untrustworthy Indian” who only pretended friendship for personal gain or access to the colonists' women. The most notable example of this type of work is the 1808 CE melodrama The Pilgrims or The Landing of Our Forefathers at Plymouth Rock (author unknown) in which Samoset is cast as the villain attempting to abduct the virginal colonist Juliana. The play has no basis in reality, and Samoset, as Levett's report demonstrates, was highly regarded by other English and European colonists following his appearance in Mourt's Relation, published in 1622 CE.

He is supposed to have died in 1653 CE in his home region of present-day Maine and is remembered for his part in the survival of the Plymouth Colony. He is regularly depicted in pageants and other commemorative events in the United States annually in November around the time of the holiday of Thanksgiving which draws inspiration from the Plymouth Colony's first harvest feast in the fall of 1621 CE.

Native American & English Interaction Pre-1620 CE

European explorers began visiting North America to map it shortly after Christopher Columbus (l. 1451-1506 CE) established colonies for Spain in the Caribbean in 1492 CE. In 1524 CE, the Florentine seaman and explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano (l. 1485-1528 CE) mapped the entire eastern seaboard of North America and provided the first map of the region later known as New England. The English came late to the colonization efforts, only finally establishing a successful colony at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 CE.

Samoset would later tell the pilgrims he had learned English from the traders, knew the captains by name, & was on good terms with them.

English ships went up the coast, however, to explore trade possibilities in the north – between the regions claimed by France and the Netherlands – and established temporary settlements for fishing and hunting. Samoset would later tell the pilgrims he had learned English from these traders, knew the captains by name, and was on good terms with them, perhaps as a way of establishing trust with the newcomers.

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Not every of the Native Americans of the region enjoyed this kind of relationship with the English, however. Native Americans who approached European ships at the invitation of trade were as often kidnapped and sold into slavery as dealt with honestly. The most famous example of this is the case of the Nauset sachem (chief) Epenow who was kidnapped by one Captain Harlow in 1610 CE from his native island of Capawe (modern-day Martha's Vineyard) and put on display as a “Wonder of the New World” for three years in London.

Epenow learned English while in captivity and let “slip” tantalizing tidbits regarding a gold mine on his old island which could make any man rich who cared to return. He was sent back to North America aboard a ship commanded by one Nicholas Hobson in 1614 CE to lead the crew to the mine. Once arrived, however, he leaped overboard, covered in his escape by a hail of arrows from members of his tribe in waiting canoes whom he had already prepared, and the ship sailed back for England with nothing in its hold.

Epenow became the primary source for information on the English, warning all the other natives of the region not to trust them until Squanto – who had also been kidnapped and taken to Europe – made his way back home in 1619 CE. The Nauset tribe had experienced further outrages after Epenow had been taken as a number of them had been kidnapped by one Thomas Hunt in 1614 CE.

Mayflower Arrival & First Encounter

The pilgrims, at first, did nothing to improve relations as, lacking supplies, they stole corn and other provisions from the Nauset while they were exploring the area between November-December 1620 CE. The Nauset responded by attacking a landing party in early December, an event recorded by Bradford as the First Encounter, in which no one on either side was injured, but the message the pilgrims received was that they should expect no help from the Native Americans.

Bradford and Winslow both note how, during the first winter of 1620-1621 CE, the Native Americans were more felt than seen, “skulking about” in the woods surrounding the site where they were building their settlement. The Mayflower, with its cannon, remained anchored off the coast, and Captain Myles Standish (l. 1584-1656 CE) built a stockade, so no further attacks were made but neither were there any overtures of friendship.

Massasoit's Decision

Between December 1620 and March 1621 CE, 50% of the passengers and crew of the Mayflower died of disease, malnutrition, or other causes. They were supposed to have landed in Virginia and were unprepared for the harsh New England winter, and with so many of them sick, building the settlement progressed slowly. While the new arrivals struggled to survive, Massasoit considered what to do about them. Unlike the earlier ships, which had come, plundered, and left, this one had brought a group who clearly intended to stay. As he would later tell Bradford, his first impulse was to drive them from the land, and he tried to accomplish this through repeated powwows in which his chief shamans called on the spirits of the land for signs and assistance in his cause. The spirits did not respond, however, leading Massasoit to consider that they intended another purpose for the immigrants.

Squanto seems to have been regarded with suspicion by Massasoit & so Samoset was chosen to approach the colonists first.

Massasoit was the leader of the vast Wampanoag Confederacy, a loose union of many different tribes, which had been the most powerful political and military force in the region before European diseases had killed many of them between c. 1610-1618 CE. Massasoit had lost so many people that he was now subject to paying tribute to the more powerful Narragansett tribe who, living further inland, had not been affected by the plague.

Since the spirits had offered no help in driving off the immigrants, Massasoit seems to have reasoned, perhaps they had been sent to help him regain his former stature and put the Narragansett and Massachusetts tribe in their places. He needed an emissary, however, and had two likely candidates – Samoset and Squanto – who both spoke English and had experience with Europeans.

Squanto had been taken in by Massasoit in 1620 CE after he had returned with Captain Thomas Dermer in 1619 CE. Dermer and his men were attacked (Dermer later dying from his wounds) while Squanto remained with Massasoit's tribe of the Pokanoket. He seems to have been regarded with suspicion by Massasoit as well as his right-hand man and chief warrior Hobbamock (d. 1643 CE) and so Samoset was chosen to approach the colonists first.

Samoset's Visit

What Samoset was doing at Massasoit's village of Sowams in March 1621 CE is unclear. Bradford and Winslow both say that Samoset told them he came from the region of Morattiggon (modern-day Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine). Thomas Morton, the liberal lawyer and writer who would later become the enemy of the Plymouth Colony and include scathing critiques of their religious intolerance, hypocrisy, and colonization efforts in his New English Canaan (published c. 1637 CE) claims he was a prisoner of Massasoit and agreed to undertake the mission in return for his freedom:

[Massasoit instructed] this savage how to behave himself in the treaty of peace and, the more to give him encouragement to adventure his person amongst these new-come inhabitants, which was a thing he durst not himself attempt without security or hostage, promised that savage freedom, who had been detained there as their captive; which offer he accepted and accordingly came to the Planters, saluting them with welcome in the English phrase. (Book III. ch. 1)

Bradford and Winslow make no mention of this but simply describe the first visit. Mourt's Relation, which predates Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation both in composition and publication, gives the initial account:

Whilst we were busied hereabouts, we were interrupted again for there presented himself a savage, which caused an alarm. He very boldly came all alone and along the houses straight to the rendezvous [where weapons and cannon were], where we intercepted him, not suffering him to go in, as undoubtedly he would, out of his boldness. He saluted us in English and bade us welcome, for he had learned some broken English among the Englishmen that came to fish at Monchiggon and knew by name the most of the captains, commanders, and masters that usually come. He was a man free in speech, so far as he could express his mind, and of a seemly carriage. We questioned him of many things; he was the first savage we could meet withal. He said he was not of these parts but of Morattiggon, and one of the sagamores or lords thereof and had been eight months in these parts, it lying hence a day's sail with a great wind and five days by land. (51)

Samoset carried a bow with two arrows – one with a head (tip) and one without; symbols of either war or peace – one of which he seems to have been supposed to have left with the colonists. Bradford and Winslow describe him as tall, his hair cut short in the front but flowing long in the back, and naked except for a strip of leather around his waist and a fringe of animal hide, about nine inches long, falling from the strip at the front.

He told them all about the land they were in, how they were settled on the site of the former Patuxet tribe who had died of disease, and about Massasoit and the Wampanoag Confederacy. The colonists gave him food and liquor, and at one point when a cold wind began to blow, a coat. Bradford and Winslow note how “all afternoon we spent in communication with him; we would gladly have been rid of him at night, but he was not willing to go this night” (51-52). He was welcomed at the home of Stephen Hopkins (l. 1581-1644 CE) who had previously lived at Jamestown and, through interaction with the Powhatan tribe of Virginia, knew a little of the Algonquian language Samoset spoke.

Samoset explained how the people of the region had come to distrust the English after Captain Hunt's abduction of them and that this was why the Nauset had attacked them in December. This was also, he explained, why the colonists' tools had recently been stolen – as a small act of revenge – and he agreed to negotiate for their return.

The next morning, they sent Samoset on his way with gifts of a knife, a bracelet, and a ring. He returned the next day, Sunday, with five warriors who came with skins to trade, but, it being the sabbath, the colonists said they could not work but would entertain them and provide them with food and drink. The five warriors then left, but Samoset, pretending he did not feel well enough to travel, remained at the settlement until Wednesday when he left with more gifts, telling them that Massasoit was coming, and the next day he returned with Squanto.

The Peace Treaty

Thursday, 22 March 1621 CE, Samoset and Squanto explained how Massasoit was nearby with his warriors and his brother, Quadequina, and wanted to speak with them. Massasoit and his party then appeared on the nearby hill and Squanto went between the two groups telling the colonists that their leader should go speak with the chief. The governor at the time, John Carver (l. 1584-1621 CE), refused, requesting Massasoit come to them, and Edward Winslow volunteered to go as a hostage while negotiations went on, bringing gifts of knives for Massasoit and Quadequina.

Massasoit was welcomed with all proper courtesy, including the sound of a trumpet and beating of drums and, after food and strong drink, a peace treaty was signed between the colonists and Massasoit to look out for each other's interests, maintain peaceful relations, and protect each other against enemies. Afterwards, Massasoit returned to his party, and Quadequina and his warriors came to be entertained for the rest of the day. At this point, Samoset leaves the narrative and is not referenced again as Squanto becomes the central Native American character.

The only other reference to him comes some years later when Captain Levett writes of a meeting with Native American sagamores in 1624 CE at the harbor of present-day Portland, Maine, to discuss trade. Levett writes:

There I stayed four nights, in which time, there came many native people, among them Somerset, a Sagamore, one that has been found very faithful to the English and has saved the lives of many of our nation, some from starving, others from killing. (Mack, 171)

Samoset's reputation, referenced by Levett, had to have grown from the account in Mourt's Relation which seems to have found an audience among the English whose interest in North America and colonization had grown immensely since the success of the tobacco crop of Jamestown. Mourt's Relation was brought back to England by Robert Cushman (l. 1577-1625 CE) in 1621 CE and was published in 1622 CE, and although Levett could have heard of Samoset by word of mouth, he most likely read of him in the account of Bradford and Winslow.


What happened to Samoset after he had arranged the meeting for the peace treaty is unknown as are any details of his later meeting with Levett. If he was a prisoner of Massasoit, then the chief kept his word and released him to return home. If he was only visiting, he must have thought his business concluded and left. He does not appear in any new light in the works of later writers, who only repeat what Bradford and Winslow wrote, until the 19th century CE when tales of the early colonization of North America became popular following the works of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (l. 1807-1882 CE) and novelist James Fenimore Cooper (l. 1789-1851 CE) both of whom encouraged the vision of the Native American as “noble savage”, a term applied to both Samoset and Squanto.

The 1808 CE melodrama, The Pilgrims or the Landing of Our Forefathers at Plymouth Rock, departs from this image, casting Samoset as the villain. After Massasoit has left the colony following the signing of the peace treaty, Samoset tries to abduct the young woman Juliana in an act of treachery. Edward Winslow comes to her rescue but is wounded, dropping his musket, and Juliana, grabbing the weapon, flees for safety to some nearby cliffs. Samoset pursues her, but she strikes him with the butt of Winslow's musket, and he falls from the cliff to his death (Willison, 484).

How well the play was received is unknown, but it seems to be the only work which uses Samoset in this way. Since the publication of Mourt's Relation, and more so after Of Plymouth Plantation was published in 1856 CE, he has always been regarded as the “friendly Indian” who brought the pilgrims and Native Americans together to forge their peace treaty. Since the early 20th century CE, Samoset is featured in plays and pageants annually in the United States in the weeks leading up to the holiday of Thanksgiving, though there is no evidence he was present in Plymouth Colony in the fall of 1621 CE when the First Thanksgiving is said to have been held, and he remains among the most enduring figures of early American history and lore.

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The Bay Point Hotel, owned by Francis Cobb II, opened on July 4th, 1889.

In 1902, the Ricker family, owners and operators of the Poland Spring Hotel, bought the property and embellished the L-shaped building with turrets, porches, and gingerbread decoration.

Hiram Ricker renamed the hotel "The Samoset," after the Pemaquid chief who was among the first people to greet Europeans.

In 1911 the Maine Central Railroad acquired the hotel. The hotel closed in 1969 and burned completely on October 13, 1972.

A new Samoset was built in 1978.

About This Item

  • Title: Samoset Hotel, Rockland, ca. 1930
  • Creation Date: circa 1930
  • Subject Date: circa 1930
  • Town: Rockland
  • County: Knox
  • State: ME
  • Media: Photographic print
  • Dimensions: 9 cm x 14 cm
  • Local Code: Coll. 448
  • Collection: Prints of original post cards of Witteman Brothers Postal Card Company
  • Object Type: Image

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Samoset lived at a momentous time in our history

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.

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Learned English from Fishermen

Samoset explained that he was originally from Monhegan Island, which was five days' journey by land but one day by ship, and he was a sagamore, a lesser chief or lord, there. He had been in the Patuxet region for the past eight months visiting the Wampanoag tribe, but that he was intending to return to his people shortly.

He had learned English from contact with the English fishermen and traders who visited the Monhegan region. In fact, he even became acquainted with some of the ship captains and commanders and knew them by name. Historians speculate that when Samoset greeted the Pilgrims, he had mistaken the Mayflower in Plymouth harbor as just another fishing vessel.

Camp Samoset

Wednesday, November 30, 2016. When my good buddy Shai Waisman suggested that I keep a blog at the “commencement” of this entire experience, I was hesitant. Shai thought it would be a way to keep people posted (per the original entry that Shai drafted). He had it designed, came up with the titles (including “Sussinator,” which I think I just fully appreciated it actually says), and left the rest to me. I was in the hospital for a few weeks and thought a lot about it. And then it kind of just happened. [Thanks again Shai I know you know how much I appreciated this.]

I wrote the first night I got home (May 13). And then almost 30 days in a row. It was a good escape, cathartic and helped fill my day when sleep (because of medication) was very hard to come by and lots of thoughts were running wild. Like many things in life it slowed down. That was a function of a lot of things. Including some tough times….some time to reflect…finally giving in to television…intermittent medication (like now)…not sure there was anything to say….not wanting to say anything. The list can and does go on. But at the beginning, when there was a strange euphoria notwithstanding being diagnosed with something associated with pain and fear, with so many people from so many different worlds coming together to show support and love (as I have been so lucky to have throughout these nearly 8 months and my entire life for that matter), there were places and things I thought about taking the time to write about because those places or things were/are so important to me. One of those places was Camp Samoset in Casco, Maine.

Today seems to be an appropriate day to make that happen and properly reflect. Unfortunately it is bitter-sweet. Earlier today, I drove to Boston with my brother to attend a memorial service for Arthur Savage, who owned and directed Camp Samoset with his wife Barbara for 21 years. Arthur passed away the night of Thanksgiving (after spending his favorite holiday with his family) following a one month battle with a very aggressive form of kidney cancer. He had just turned 80 years old.

Arthur and Barbara had lasting and indelible impacts on so many campers and counselors over their years at camp. My brother and I were fortunate recipients. Fortunate, in the first instance, to be able to spend two months each summer as kids running around playing sports and participating in activities in an environment that allowed you to be you. Without the pressures attendant to the other 10 months each year. It was never lost on me that this was a privilege. We were even more fortunate to stay on as counselors and learn things that we no doubt remember and use today. Lessons about life you just could not find at a summer job or internship. Sounds cliché. But it is true. Those were years that helped define us. [Earlier today, Drew attributed his organizational skills to being in charge of dozens of campers during day trips to water or amusement parks to this day Drew is still amazed that Arthur and Barbara left him in charge of not only all of the cash, but making sure all the kids were accounted for on the bus both to and from the trip. So am I. He was probably no older than 17 and needed a chaperone in his own right. I had some more “meaningful” experiences in my humble opinion, but as I told Drew today, to each their own!]. All these lessons and experiences were made possible by Arthur and Barbara. They were directly responsible for the teachings or the putting in place of the right people to serve as role models and do the teaching. I can to this day recount dozens of moments and conversations, several of which I close my eyes and can be transported to the scene.

This was always the case and it was on complete display today when Barbara and Jackie read some of the email messages that were sent over the last month when Arthur became sick and was no longer able to speak on the phone. The messages were amazing and such a tribute to the way Arthur (and Barbara) conducted themselves and touched so many. I last spoke to Arthur in May (from 1-3 am, when I first got sick). We had not spoken in a while but we caught up quickly without missing a beat, as is often the case with camp relationships. I only wish I had properly thanked him for everything at that moment rather than through an email just a few weeks ago….

Arthur and Barbara are also the parents of Jackie and Rob, who I literally grew up with at Camp Samoset. We all met in 1989 (my first summer was 1988 the Savages bought Samoset in 1989). Rob and I were in the same bunk in 1989 when we were 11 years. We were not best friends at first. In fact, we weren’t friends at all. Rob switched bunks until we were 14. Bottom line: I was a jerk and gave him crap because his parents owned the camp. Things started to change as we grew up. And during the five years we were at camp as counselors together, getting opportunities from Arthur and Barbara to help run major functions of the camp as we got older, we were inseparable. This included my sole reality television experience in 2000 (the summer we graduated from college and before I went to law school) when Rob and I–because of our long time camp experience and relationship from camp with Rhett (the “original” )–were selected to be counselors not at Samoset, but at a camp in New Mexico that was featured on the television show “Bug Juice” on the Disney Channel. [Another story and unbelievable experience in and of itself. No surprise, Rob (the current actor living in LA) was selected to live in the bunk with the kids and was the focus of the show I lived in a tent alone and served as the Director of the Boys’ camp (looking for some good cameos while I studied for the LSAT)]. A great experience, but it was not Samoset. We did, however, bring many Samoset traditions to Bug Juice and put them on full display for 14-year-old kids in certain parts of the US (who watched the show, together with our families and my new girlfriend at the time, who turned out to be my wife. And we didn’t get married because of my TV career Jen would come over Sunday’s to see most episodes, most of which I appeared in for 30-45 seconds. No DVR in 2001 and she usually wasn’t paying close attention).

It is not a coincidence that I have maintained a close relationship with Rob and other people from Samoset for nearly 30 years. I always will. It was an important and defining time in some of my most formative years (10-21), and the lessons and experiences are consciously and subconsciously with me daily. I met some of the best people I know at camp. Including the Savages. It is days like today where you really appreciate opportunities that not many people are afforded.

Thank you Arthur (and of course Barbara, who I will continue to thank as I should have been for a long time) for everything from the timeless lessons to my friendship with Rob. Thanks for always letting me be me. You guys were and always will be family. It is pretty amazing that so many other people, from so many different places and backgrounds, share the same sentiment. Too often we do not get to say thank you until the end. I realize it doesn’t have to be that way…..

Barbara, Jackie and Rob. Thinking of you and so grateful to have you guys. Thanks for everything, including sharing Arthur with all of us. Rob said it well today. We are all better off for knowing Arthur, who was truly one of a kind.

I was truly honored when Jackie read part of the note I sent to Arthur (through Rob) on November 17th. It was obviously personal and something meant for the family. But as Jackie read various messages from so many people who had reached out, I was so comfortable and proud that people could hear out loud how important this family had been to me. I don’t need an email reminder of that. But for those that knew Arthur and the Savage family, I am thrilled to share because I know you might be thinking and feeling the same.

Rob. Please get this to your Dad.

Arthur — I heard the awful news from Rob today. And I understand that email is the best way to get in touch. Too bad as I would have really enjoyed another two-hour conversation in the middle of the night it was great to catch up with you live over the summer. We cut through the bull sh*t in about five minutes and got to the important stuff how big of a di*k I was as a 10-year-old kid the many times you should have fired me and the unbelievable friendship that I have with your son (this is soon to be 30 years old).

You and your family have had a massive and incredibly positive impact on my life and the person I am today. I am sure it sounds corny and comes at a time when emotions are running 100 miles per hour in thousands of directions, but I wanted to say thank you. Not sure I ever really thanked you properly or on an unqualified basis . . . Truth be told, a proper thank you is impossible to put in words when you think about what camp means to me…

I know lots of people who were privileged to have a great experience. And as a kid, I had a great experience. But it was really the 5 years as a counselor where I learned the most — about myself and life more generally — and developed a special relationship with Rob and the entire Savage family. Thanks for making that possible. You and Barb gave us responsibility and I learned so many things that were on “time release” (i.e., I didn’t even realize how certain experiences and moments at camp would come in handy years down the road and help shape the person I ultimately would become). Those 8 weeks were my favorites 8 weeks of the year. That was a function of the atmosphere you guys created and your willingness to let us succeed and fail. And I say “us” because I felt like part of your family and rarely did anything without Rob. (I still remember when you called me and said you were flying me in for Rob’s 20th surprise birthday party [not 21 by the way because Arthur was truly one of a kind]. Not that I would have missed it, but that phone call and invite meant the world to me. And I am sure I was “too cool” to say thank you on a truly unqualified basis at the time….).

I don’t use an electric razor often, but I was forced to use one over the last 8 months to avoid infections. For better or worse, I think of you every time it turns on. You are walking into the dining hall — a few minutes late for breakfast — with the electric razor fully engaged on your chin. Then, fast forward, and I immediately think about you catching me in the fridge eating macaroni salad at 1 am.

Thinking of you. And thanking you for everything.

Poetic that Arthur’s electric razor sat outside the memorial service on a table with pictures of his family, grandchildren and camp.

In the 1890s, businessmen created the Rockland, Thomaston, & Camden Street Railway, an interurban, electric trolley that ran from Camden, through Rockport and Glen Cove, with several branches in Rockland, to Owls Head, Thomaston, and Warren. An electric plant on Power House Hill in Glen Cove powered the trolleys and provided electricity for homes and businesses. It was purchased by the Central Maine Power Company in 1920.

Also in the 1890s, a syndicate of Rockland businessmen built the Bay Point Hotel on Jameson’s Point overlooking Owls Head Bay. The fashionable resort attracted wealthy summer people from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The Ricker family purchased the Bay Point Hotel in 1902. They enlarged it, renamed it the Samoset, and added it to their chain of resort hotels. The Maine Central Railroad purchased the Samoset in the 1920s in an effort to promote summer tourism.

William H. Glover, the successful contractor who built the Bay Point Hotel, also built the Knox County Courthouse, the Breakwater Lighthouse, commercial buildings, many fine homes in Rockland, and large summer cottages on the islands. He transported lumber and building supplies to the islands in his own special windjammer.

400 years ago today, a Wabanaki man was 1st Indigenous person to meet Mayflower settlers

March 16, 2021, marks the 400th anniversary of a meeting that was crucial to the development of what would become the United States, involving a Wabanaki man from what would eventually be known as Maine.

Despite that meeting’s significance, however, in most classrooms across the country, few students are taught about Samoset, the Eastern Abenaki man who in 1621 became the first Indigenous person to make contact with the settlers at Plymouth Colony, better known today as the Pilgrims.

Rather, most schoolchildren learn about Tisquantum, who is more commonly known as Squanto, the Patuxet man who was the second Indigenous person to meet the Pilgrims, and who later became a much closer liaison between Natives and colonists than Samoset ever was, thanks to his fluency in English.

But Samoset was the first, according to David Silverman, a history professor at George Washington University and the author of “This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.”

“He made that initial contact with the Mayflower colonists, and then very shortly, Squanto takes over, with his better English language skills, and Samoset takes his leave,” Silverman said. “But Samoset, an Abenaki man, was the first.”

According to Silverman, Samoset was a member of the Eastern Abenaki, at that time a network of loosely connected bands of Indigenous people who lived along and in between the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers. They were part of the broader Wabanaki people, which includes the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Mi’kmaq and Maliseet, among others.

While there are very few details about his background, it is known that Samoset lived at some point along coastal Maine, and that he spoke enough English to communicate with the colonists. Silverman suspects that Samoset had likely had dealings with other white settlers in New England, such as the Popham Colony in what is now Phippsburg, and with the English fishing fleet in the Gulf of Maine. He also suspects that Samoset likely had longstanding ties to the Wampanoag people, the tribe whose members lived where the Mayflower colonists landed in 1620.

That’s likely why Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag confederacy, recruited Samoset to be the first Indigenous person to extend initial diplomatic outreach to the Mayflower colonists. For several months after the colonists first arrived, the Wampanoag had been cautiously observing them, keeping a safe distance. Other, earlier European settlers in New England had violently attacked Indigenous people, raiding villages and murdering people, so Massasoit was understandably cautious.

“By the spring of 1621, Massasoit had decided it was time to reach out. He had two people among his group that could speak English, but he holds Squanto in reserve, choosing to send Samoset out first,” Silverman said. “[Samoset] doesn’t tell the colonists where, exactly, he’s from, but he tells them he’s ‘from the eastward,’ which means, essentially, Maine.”

After Squanto enters the picture, Samoset leaves and apparently heads back to what is now Maine. He turns up just one more time in any known documents, in a record a year later kept by an English sea captain named Christopher Leavitt. Still using his English skills, Samoset was brokering relations between Leavitt’s expedition and Native people. After that, almost nothing else is known about his life, though it is believed Samoset died sometime in the 1650s.

Silverman said that despite the shadowy details surrounding both Samoset’s life and many of the other interactions between Indigenous people and European settlers at that time, those early encounters had an enormous impact on the future. That it was a Wabanaki man who set into action a series of events that would irrevocably change the world has even deeper meaning for today’s Wabanaki, and for Mainers more broadly.

“These are deeply consequential things,” Silverman said. “If things went south between the Natives and the Mayflower settlers, like they did at Popham or in Roanoke, there’s no way that colony would have survived. These things would have changed the course of history. These are events that have reverberations for centuries to come.”

On March 16, 1621, only about 4 months after landing at Plymouth Rock and setting up their new colony in what was then called Plymouth Colony (Now Massachusetts and Maine) the Pilgrims that had traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower had their first friendly contact with a Native person, and that contact came as quite a shock! On March 16, 1621, Samoset, a member of the Abenaki Sagamore people simply strolled into the Pilgrim village and greeted the Pilgrims in English! Samoset was not yet through with startling the colonists…

Digging Deeper

The first thing Samoset asked for after rendering his greetings was a request for beer. (We cannot make this stuff up.) The polyglot Native American had learned to speak English from fisherman that had been visiting the New England and Canadian coasts for close to 100 years before the Pilgrims established the first English colony in what became New England. (Virginia colonies at Jamestown had preceded the Pilgrims by 13 years.)

“Interview of Samoset with the Pilgrims”, book engraving, 1853

The Pilgrims had already seen evidence of Native Americans as they explored the area prior to choosing a site for their first village, including burial mounds and mounds that contained stores of corn. They had helped themselves to some of the corn, meaning to use the seeds to plant as their own crop in the Spring. On other occasions, Native Americans had fled when spotted by the Pilgrims, and on at least one occasion the Natives had launched arrows at the “invaders,” eliciting some small arms fire in return.

Samoset stayed overnight with his amazed hosts and returned a couple days later with 5 other Native Americans carrying some pelts for trade. While the colonists declined to trade at that first opportunity, Samoset returned on March 22, 1621, with another companion, this being Squanto, the last member of Patuxet tribe who became much better known to history and to American school children as a friend to the Pilgrims. Squanto, more formally known as Tisquantum, had been kidnapped in 1614 by an English sea captain/explorer and sold as a slave in Malaga, Spain. (Note: The author has been to Malaga, a really picturesque and beautiful city.) Educated by European monks and then sent to England, Squanto was dropped off back in North America to return to his home, but found his entire tribe wiped out by disease, leaving him as the sole remaining Patuxet. Squanto spoke English much more fluently than Samoset and became a legendary figure in the stylized retelling of the Pilgrims and their adventures and travails while setting up Plymouth Colony, especially in a major role attributed to him in the highly mythologized “First Thanksgiving.”

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899). The painting shows common misconceptions about the event that persist to modern times: Pilgrims did not wear such outfits, and the Wampanoag are dressed in the style of Native Americans from the Great Plains.

Samoset is recorded as having been entertained by Christopher Levett, an English sea captain, while aboard ship in the harbor at Portland, Maine in 1624. Samoset’s death is estimated to have occurred in 1653, in Bristol, Maine. Samoset had also made introductions between the Pilgrims and other important Native American leaders, acting as a sort of ambassador between the Whites and Indians.

A 1622 account of Samoset’s interaction with the Pilgrims is related in Mourt’s Relation, a booklet formally titled A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England, written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, a primary source for our knowledge of the history of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. So why is the booklet titled bearing the name “Mourt?” Because the account was erroneously attributed to somebody named George Morton (aka George Mourt) that was a Puritan involved with the same people that sailed on the Mayflower, but Morton did not make his own voyage to Plymouth until 1623, dying the next year.

Frontispiece, Mourt’s Relation, published in London, 1622

Native Americans played a large role in the successful colonization of North America by Europeans, sometimes voluntarily in a friendly way, sometimes by the establishment of trade. European settlers certainly learned a lot about the land and ways to survive from Native Americans, especially the use of corn (Maize) as a food crop.

Question for students (and subscribers): What Native American do you most associate with friendly relations with White European settlers? Were you taught about Samoset in grade school? How about Squanto? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

1911 illustration of Tisquantum (“Squanto”) teaching the Plymouth colonists to plant maize.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Seelye Jr., James E. and Shawn Selby, editors. Shaping North America. ABC-CLIO, 2018.

The featured image in this article, a map of the Plymouth Colony by Hoodinski, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.

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