On March 16, 1621, Samoset, a sagamore of the Wawenock, cemented his place in history. He was the first Indigenous person to make contact with the colonists at Plymouth Plantation, startling them when he emerged from the forest and welcomed them in English. The extraordinary thing about Samoset’s story is that he was not from Plymouth. Samoset’s home was more than 200 miles away on the coast of present-day Maine. Why was he there? And why was he chosen to make contact with the English settlers?
In addition to that first meeting in Plymouth, Samoset’s life coincided with several important events during the period of early contact with Europeans, and his home village of Pemaquid lay at the center of Indigenous-European interactions at the beginning of the 17th century. As a result he and his people were active participants in this history. But it came at great cost, and the way of living that had sustained them for centuries changed dramatically over the course of his lifetime as they endured war, epidemics, and a clash of cultures. What did that relationship look like, and how did it go so wrong?