The European Discovery of Maine
Edwin A. Churchill
Maine was host to a number of dynamic cultures before the arrival of Europeans in the sixteenth century. Our review of these cultures illustrates the forces of change in the region: an environment rebounding after the glacial retreat and responding to climatic swings and the periodic arrival of new ideas, people, and goods from other areas. As we enter the historic period, with its comparatively rich sources of written documentation, our chronological focus narrows to the century and a quarter after Columbus made landfall in the New World, an intense period of change in population, culture, and land use along the coast of Maine. Despite the changed perspective, the themes are familiar ones.
Although the infusion of new ideas, peoples, and goods into the region is part of a much older story, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the impact of these new exogenous forces became overwhelming and indeed devastating to existing Indian peoples. The balance between local stability and outside pressures for change shifted dramatically; in the courts and countinghouses of Europe, enthusiasm for New World colonization waxed and waned, and European contact with the coast of Maine pulsed accordingly. Thus the age of exploration served as prelude to a long period during which European events dominated colonial Maine. It is appropriate, therefore, that this episode in Maine's history begin with a discussion of events in Europe.
Between 1524 and 1618, Europeans made their first tentative ventures into the Gulf of Maine. They returned again and again to flesh out their understanding of the region; finally they planted a few scattered settlements along the coast. In dramatic fashion, these events reinforce the point that historic change in regional cultures often comes from the outside. The arrival of European explorers and settlers profoundly altered the human forces in the region.
European imperatives propelling the age of exploration formed the basis of the region's colonial economy. As a true picture of the continent emerged during the first decade of the seventeenth century, the possibilities of commercial exploitation crystallized in the minds of colonizers and their merchant-backers. Their objectives, for better or worse, decisively shaped Maine's colonial development. Thus Maine's environment--in this case, in the form of a European catalog of potential commodities--remains a central theme of the colonial period.
The period of European exploration also brought rival land claims, setting the stage for imperial wars that kept Maine and much of the North American frontier in turmoil throughout the colonial period. Other forms of conflict originated in this crucial period: clashes between Indians and Europeans and factionalism among the European colonizers themselves. These struggles--between French and English, Indians and Europeans, and among the settlers themselves--helped shape the history of colonial Maine.
European Background to the Age of Exploration
Numerous histories of Maine or its coastal communities indicate that around AD 1,000, Norse explorers sailed along the Maine coast and may have landed in the area. The evidence for these brave claims, however, is not terribly convincing. The ancient Norse sagas that describe New World exploration offer no precise geographic reference points, and time after time much-heralded "Norse" remains have proved to be no more than misread native or colonial objects, or even outright frauds. The eleventh-century Norse penny found at the Goddard site at Naskeag Point in Brooklin, Maine, was a different matter. Excavated in 1961 and reexamined in the late 1970s, the coin was found to be authentic. But as Bruce Bourque pointed out in chapter 1, the best explanation is that it was acquired by northern Indians and carried south to Maine along prehistoric trade routes. There is still no convincing evidence the Norse visited the Maine coast.
What can we say with certainty about the Norse travels? Their discovery and occupation of Greenland has been long known, and in 1960 Norwegian archaeologist Helge Ingstaad found an eleventh- or twelfth-century Norse occupation site at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland. Since then, other probable Norse artifacts have been retrieved from Labrador at similar latitudes. No artifactual evidence has been found that verifies voyages farther south, although it is conceivable that some of the early Norse voyagers traveled down as far as the St. Lawrence basin. We just don't know.
Ultimately, the extent of Norse explorations is of minimal historical consequence, since their discovery had little impact on European or American cultures. Medieval Europe at the time of the Norse discovery was simply too fragmented, too decentralized, and too conservative to take advantage of the exploits of the Vikings. Historically, it was not until the fifteenth century that western Europe was ready to expand outward, to probe beyond the limits of the known world. In contrast to the Norse landfall, the second discovery of the New World by Columbus was an epochal event, launching both Europe and America into a new age.
The age of exploration capped a period of vigorous political consolidation and modernization in Europe during which emerging nation states like Spain, Portugal, France, and England centralized political authority, reduced the power of the Church and the rural nobility, and developed bureaucracies capable of sustaining national programs. If the creation of powerful nation-states established the context for the age of exploration, the religious crusades of the late Middle Ages provided a motive. The great crusades of the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, the expulsion of the Moors from the Iberian peninsula, and the long struggle with the Ottoman Turks in northern and central Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries gave intense religious import to the fifteenth-century exploration of the New World and the Far East.
A second motive, often inextricably entwined with the first, was the desire for commercial expansion and economic gain. Europeans had long known of the riches in the Far East, and their appetites were whetted by trading that developed out of the Crusades and by reports brought back by Marco Polo, Odoric of Pordenone, and others in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The century following the last Crusades brought expanding commercial networks throughout Europe and into Asia. In the mid-fourteenth century, however, Islamic and other anti-Western empires arose in the Near and Far East and gradually consolidated their hold on the eastern Mediterranean. Although trade with the East continued, Islamic influence increased the already considerable risk to the Europeans of overland trade. The great overland caravan routes declined, forcing traders to sea-borne routes, where numerous Muslim intermediaries gouged them at ports along the way. Faced with rising prices, higher risks, and dwindling supplies of oriental goods, Europeans began searching for new routes to the East.
A third development necessary to the fifteenth-century explorations was a series of advances in ship design and navigation that made long, open-water voyaging possible. The vessels used by the explorers combined features of two earlier types of crafts, one from the North Atlantic and the other used by Mediterranean and southern European sailors. Neither by itself was satisfactory for transoceanic exploration. The North Atlantic vessel, a tubby, thick, high-sided craft designed for rough seas, featured a single mast with a large square sail. Although fairly stable in open seas, it was unsuitable for coastal navigation. The Mediterranean craft was sleeker but less ocean-worthy. Its highly maneuverable lateen sail and fore-and-aft rigging were perfectly adapted to the Mediterranean coasting trade but performed poorly in the open sea. The explorers' vessels were ingenious composites of the two, borrowing the heavy structure, decking, and seaworthiness of the North Atlantic type and incorporating some of the sleekness of the southern style. Their rigging combined the best features of each type; typically, two of the three masts were square-rigged for open sea, and the third was lateen-rigged for maneuverability during coastal exploration.
Like ship design, the art of open-sea navigation improved during this time. In simplest terms, navigators solved the crucial problem of sailing in a straight line while out of sight of land. This was accomplished by devising a means of determining latitude which permitted sailors to keep to a direct east-west course. Borrowing from astronomers, navigators modified the quadrant and astrolabe for use on the rolling deck in the open ocean. Gradually these instruments were replaced by the cross-staff, essentially a calibrated shaft that was pointed due north (or south, if below the equator) with a sliding sight bar that was focused by sighting the upper end with a heavenly body and the lower with the horizon. It had the added attraction of being the simplest instrument to use on shipboard in the open sea. Despite their various shortcomings, these instruments guided mariners to landings far beyond the horizon of their home ports and back again.
First Contacts with the New Land, 1497--1527
Such was the situation when Columbus sailed west on his epic voyage of 1492. Europe was electrified by his discovery, and it was not long before other nations resolved to reach the East by sailing west. The first quarter of the sixteenth century brought several explorers to the Maine coast, each establishing an overlapping imperial claim to the region. Although these early voyages generated more disappointment than enthusiasm, each contributed to the small store of knowledge about the wealth of resources in the area.
By late 1495, John Cabot, "citizen of Venice," was in England urging Henry VII to grant letters-patent authorizing him to sail in search of a shorter route to the Indies. Cabot received his patent the following March and after a year's preparation departed from Bristol in May 1497 in the ship Matthew. He made landfall after a month and spent four weeks exploring a rugged and hostile-looking coastline. The crew of the Matthew observed great trees, evidence of human habitation, and--a matter of great importance to later visitors--remarkably productive cod-fishing banks.
Historians are not certain where Cabot actually made landfall. Samuel Eliot Morison's authoritative history of the age of exploration favors the east coast of Newfoundland. James A. Williamson and David B. Quinn, eminent scholars who devoted substantial portions of their careers to the study of Cabot and his contemporaries, both feel he could have reached mainland America. Perhaps he and his crew were the first Europeans to set foot on the Maine coast.
The first clearly documented European visit to the Maine coast occurred in 1524. Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano sailed early that year for King Francis I of France seeking a passage to the Orient. He made landfall at or near Cape Fear, South Carolina, and then coasted northward along the Atlantic seaboard, providing the earliest known account northward along the Atlantic seaboard, providing the earliest known account of the area and its inhabitants. In early May he reached the Maine coast. Although pleased with the country, he found the Indians anything but cordial. Accustomed by Indians farther south to a warm reception, Verrazano paused to trade, perhaps at Bald Head at the tip of Cape Small. The Maine natives refused to allow the ship's crew to approach them. Ensconced on cliffs above the breakers and waving the small boat away from the land, they passed the items they saw fit to trade to Verrazano's crew using a rope, and accepted only a few items in return. "We found no courtesy in them," Verrrazano complained, "and when we had nothing more to exchange . . . the men made all the signs of scorn and shame that any brute creature would make . . . such as showing their buttocks and laughing immoderately."
Some commentators have suggested the hostile reception stemmed from some previous unpleasant experience with other Europeans. But at this time few Europeans had reached Maine shores, and few would for over a half century. It is far more probable that these natives had heard of or witnessed hostile encounters between Indians and Europeans along the lower St. Lawrence River. Another possibility is that their behavior reflected precontact patterns that differed from other Indians that Verrazano had met and that had little to do with European influences. Unlike their proto-agricultural contemporaries to the south, this group of hunter-gatherers may have long exhibited caution and antagonism toward unfamiliar visitors.
Taking leave of the "land of the bad people," as he called it, Verrazano completed a leisurely investigation of the Maine coast and set a course for home, arriving in France on July 8, 1524. His accomplishments were most impressive. According to historian Bernard G. Hoffman, "he was the first to explore the gap between the Spanish ventures to the south and the English enterprises to the north; he was the first to establish the continental nature of the 'New Founde Land,' and he was the first commander to bring back anything resembling a detailed account of the natives of North America."
Learning of Verrazano's voyage on behalf of France, Charles V of Spain commissioned Portuguese sailor Esteban Gómez to find a western passage to the Orient. A year after Verrazano's voyage, Gómez carefully threaded his way down along the Maine coast looking of "el Cathays oryental." Thinking the Penobscot River might be the "Northern Strait," Gómez sailed upriver to the head of navigation near present-day Bangor. Disappointed, he was nevertheless impressed with the country, especially the timber, and continued his explorations along the entire Maine coast. Gómez subsequently captured several Indians at Newport, Rhode Island. Returning to Spain, he was severely reprimanded and forced to release those still alive. Beyond that, Spanish administrators found little of interest in his explorations and turned their attention to Central and South America.
Englishman John Rut, sailing for Henry VIII, was next along the coast in 1527. First probing northward in search of passage to the Orient, Rut returned to Cape Breton and sailed down along the American shores, "oftentimes putting [his] . . . men on land to search the state of those unknown regions." Rut sailed all the way to the West Indies before returning to England, but he found nothing really new, and his return coincided with mounting domestic problems in England. His efforts were of little import, and after Rut's voyage the Maine coast saw few European visitors for several decades.
At first glance, these early sixteenth-century voyages appear to be random and unrelated expeditions that passed by chance along the Maine coast. Each, however, was part of a broader pattern. The quarter century between the arrival of Cabot in 1497 and Rut in 1527 brought an explosion of new information about the Americas, as nation after nation sent expeditions westward. This was a period of high adventure and dizzying expansion of knowledge about the unknown western continent. But after Rut's voyage, the surge toward North America receded as quickly as it had developed. Failure to discover a Northwest Passage dampened enthusiasm for North America. Magellan's circumvention of the globe (1519--22) drove home the immense distance between Europe, America, and the Orient, and Portuguese explorers found easier passage to India by sailing eastward around Africa. Spain and Portugal were increasingly occupied in South and Central America, and neither England nor France, for the time being, retained much interest in the Gulf of Maine.
By the early seventeenth century, France was once again ready to move into Maine; but after Verrazano's voyage, French explorers had shifted their attention to the St. Lawrence region. French explorers returned to Maine, but the region would remain an outpost of the French North American empire that was centered to the north and east.
For the English, the sixteenth century had been a period of vigorous internal growth, centralization, and consolidation, during which monarchs brought the Church under state control and secured the hinterlands in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The country experienced impressive economic and maritime development, building an essential foundation for overseas empire. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 signaled England's readiness to take its place in the New World.
By the time England and France renewed their New World activities, the nature of exploration had changed greatly. One of the most obvious differences was the withdrawal of the crowns of both nations from direct participation. Far too often these New World expeditions had proved unprofitable, and monarchs chose to grant private individuals or organizations permission to carry out the various projects in return for a portion of the anticipated profits. More important was a growing emphasis on colonization. Earlier explorers, interested in the Orient, had merely searched for passages through or around the New World, while others hoped to establish trading bases with the North American natives. But no passages were found, and the Indians proved to be indifferent trading partners. It was obvious that a different approach was necessary; colonization would provide a settled population from which the home country could extract New World wealth.
Several examples existed that France and England found encouraging. The Spanish had developed a spectacularly successful colonial system, and the Portuguese were beginning to reap the rewards of Brazilian activity. English colonizing in northern Ireland had not only enriched the colonizers but was desirable for nationalistic reasons: it supplied England with cheap raw materials, provided markets for manufactured goods, offered convenient places to send idle populations, and helped bolster maritime and naval strength. Enthusiasts argued these precedents in both England and France during the late 1500s.
Explorers and Colonizers, 1579--1607
The second wave of Maine explorers thus arrived with radically different dreams and objectives. For the English, the new phase of exploration and colonial endeavor began when Sir Humphrey Gilbert sent Simon Ferdinando and John Walker to the Maine coast in 1579 and 1580 respectively. In search of a likely place to locate a New World colony, the explorers were drawn to the Penobscot region, for it was there they hoped to find Norumbega, a region and a city of fabled productivity, wealth, and splendor.
The myth of Norumbega blossomed during the mid-sixteenth century. The term first appeared as "Oranbega" on Girolamo da Verrazano's 1529 map of his brother's 1524 voyage. Three decades later, the region had acquired a reputation as a northern land of milk and honey, owing in large part to European publicists who obtained sketchy, second-hand information about the region and imaginatively embellished it. One of them, Pierre Crignon, stated that "the land overflows with every kind of fruit, there grow the wholesome orange and the almond, and many sorts of sweet-smelling trees." André Thevet, who had spoken with Jacques Cartier about his experiences in the St. Lawrence region, was slightly more accurate, but he too provided a glowing portrayal of Norumbega.
In the late 1550s, an English sailor named David Ingram grasped the opportunity to improve a good story. Ingram and two companions had been set ashore on the Gulf coast of Florida in October 1557. According to Ingram, they proceeded overland on Indian trails all the way to Maine. After a couple of years of wandering, Ingram turned up at the mouth of the St. John River and caught a French ship back to England. There he began recounting his adventures in the New World. Norumbega, he insisted, was the Cibola of the north. In "a town half a mile long" with "many streets far broader than any street in London," the men wore "hoopes" of gold and silver on their arms and legs. Their ornaments were "garnished with pearls, divers of them as big as one's thumb." Women were adorned in gold plates, and the houses were supported by pillars of gold, silver, and crystal. Ingram's adventures included finding gold nuggets as large as his fist in springs and brooks and being chased by creatures as big as a horse with tusks. Seldom had a single traveler done more to misinform one continent about the makeup of another.
If Ingram had done little to further truth about the New World, at least he sparked new interest. John Walker, who apparently landed near present day Camden on his 1580 voyage, climbed a nearby hill and described the surrounding land as "most excellent for soil, diversity of sweet wood and other trees." Walker visited an Indian lodge and stole some of four hundred hides that were stored there. Only once did he let his imagination get the better of him. Spying some mica sparkling in the rocks, he promptly decided he had located a silver deposit.
Humphrey Gilbert was sufficiently impressed by the accounts of Ferdinando and Walker to attempt a colony in the region in 1583. After sailing to Newfoundland, which he officially claimed for the Queen, he continued west, only to meet with disaster. The supply ship, the Delight, went aground off Nova Scotia and was beat to pieces, with the loss of all provisions for the projected colony and most of the crew. Gilbert was forced to turn back but never reached England; the Squirrel, a small pinnace in which he was sailing, foundered in heavy seas. Gilbert's half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, carried on the effort by commissioning yet another exploration, but reports from the voyage convinced him to shift his efforts farther south; soon thereafter he established the unsuccessful settlements at Roanoke, Virginia. This, along with the great war with Spain, once again shifted the focus of exploration and colonization away from Maine.
It was not until 1602 that English explorers returned to the North. That year Bartholomew Gosnold and Bartholomew Gilbert (the son of Sir Humphrey Gilbert) launched an expedition sponsored by the Earl of Southampton to establish a settlement in the northern portion of America. Sailing from Falmouth, England, in March 1602, they reached land on May 14, probably somewhere between Cape Porpoise and Cape Neddick. They proceeded around Cape Cod to Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts, where they erected a permanent storehouse and fort and loaded the vessel with sassafras, cedar, and furs obtained from the Indians. However, when Gosnold decided to return to England in late July, the twelve men who were to remain at the settlement refused to stay behind. The little colony was abandoned, and Gosnold, with his entire crew, returned to England. Despite these disappointments, Gosnold's reports and cargo renewed interest in colonizing the north Atlantic coast. In addition, his adventures resulted in the first known report of the excellent fishing along the New England coast, a matter that had important implications for the region's future.
By the next summer Raleigh had been imprisoned as a suspected foe of the newly crowned James I, but a number of merchants sent out Martin Pring with two vessels, the Discoverer and the Speedwell. Their ambitions were apparently scaled down somewhat by recent court events, for Pring was instructed merely to obtain sassafras and trade with the Indians; there was no mention of colonization. Pring struck the Maine coast somewhere near Gosnold's landing, ranged northeastward, then turned southwest into Massachusetts Bay. He probably landed at Plymouth or Provincetown and put up some sort of building with a palisade. Pring returned carrying a substantial cargo of sassafras and a glowing description of the soils, trees, fur-bearing animals, and fish awaiting European exploitation.
Though nothing very significant had come of Pring's 1603 voyage, the Earl of Southampton renewed his colonizing efforts the following year, interested this time in a New World home for discontented English Catholics (an idea that had been circulating since the 1580s). He enlisted the aid of his Catholic son-in-law, Sir Thomas Arundell, and by the spring of 1605, they had selected the experienced explorer George Waymouth to search out a location.
Waymouth's Archangel left London on March 5 and raised land in the vicinity of Nantucket Island on May 14. Since this was north of the proposed site, Waymouth turned back to sea and headed southward. The ship, however, was driven north for three days by strong winds, and on May 18 made landfall at Monhegan Island off the Maine coast. The next day Waymouth sailed to the Georges Islands and anchored in Pentecost (or St. George) Harbor. During an exploration of the nearby mainland, he used treachery to kidnap five Indians. On June 11, he sailed the Archangel up the St. George River to the site of the present ruins of Fort St. Georges. The river, he related was among the most beautiful he had ever seen. Waymouth and a troop of men marched inland seeking a mountain they had spotted while at sea, but hot weather and cumbersome armor sapped their strength and they returned to the ship. The next day they sailed farther up the river in his shallop and on the way back erected a cross (probably near Thomaston). The Archangel then returned to Pentecost Harbor and on June 16 set out for England. On July 18, Waymouth reached Dartmouth Haven with his cargo of sundry New World trade goods and the five captive Indians.
It is not clear exactly what took place when Waymouth returned. Arundell, the major backer, was off on another project and no longer interested. For some reason, Waymouth visited Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of England, and Sir Ferdinando Gorges, commander of Plymouth Fort, giving to Popham two of the Indians he had captured and Gorges three. There is no evidence that either was especially interested in the New World, but both were related to other colonizers, and perhaps Waymouth was looking for support. If so, Waymouth's judgment was prescient: Popham and Gorges would become Maine's foremost English backers over the next few decades.
Their interest stirred by the captured Indians and Waymouth's reports, Popham and Gorges obtained a royal charter in 1606 incorporating two companies for the purpose of colonizing "in that part of America commonly called Virginia," a huge area covering most of the eastern seaboard north of Georgia. The London Company was to colonize the southern half of the region and the Plymouth Company the northern half. The two patents overlapped in the mid-Atlantic region, where either could establish colonies, as long as they were not closer than one hundred miles from each other.
The stage was set for an attempt at settlement. On December 20, 1606, the London Company sent three small ships to Jamestown in Virginia to begin the first successful English settlement in America. Not far behind, Popham and Gorges prepared for an expedition of their own. On May 31, 1607, the Gift of God, commanded by George Popham, nephew of the Lord Chief Justice, and the Mary and John, under Raleigh Gilbert, son of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, left Plymouth, England. The Gift of God was delayed by an encounter with two Flemish vessels, and the Mary and John, continuing on, made landfall along the Nova Scotia coast on July 30. The colonizers crossed the Bay of Fundy to the Penobscot region and arrived at the Georges Islands in early August. Two days later they sighted a sail, and to their joy the vessel proved to be the Gift of God.
Having brought along Skidwarres and Dahanada, two of Waymouth's captives, the expedition decided to visit the Pemaquid region where the Indians had been abducted. Understandably, they received a cool reception from the captives' kin. With no reason to expect a change in temperament and with summer slipping away, the settlers left Pemaquid and sailed to the mouth of the Kennebec River to establish a base for the winter. To their credit (or perhaps as an investment in future diplomacy), the English allowed Waymouth's captives to remain with their people. The Gift of God slid up into the Kennebec on the morning of August 13, and the Mary and John, after a harrowing bout with a storm at sea, arrived on the 15th. After locating a spot on the west shore near the mouth of the river, they set to work building fortifications, a storehouse, and quarters. The buildings were completed well before winter set in. Meantime, Popham and Gilbert explored up the Kennebec, west to Cape Elizabeth, and east beyond the Pemaquid peninsula.
As the warmth of summer gave way and winter enshrouded the little settlement, troubles set in. Although the men remained healthy through the winter, they complained incessantly about the weather. In fact it was extremely cold, for the northern hemisphere was suffering through the "Little Ice Age," which lasted from 1300 to 1700 and plunged temperatures several degrees below the averages of today.
Furthermore, the community was torn by rivalries between President George Popham and Raleigh Gilbert. Feuding reached such a pitch that at one point each side attempted to induce the Indians to support its efforts. Spirits were not lifted when the storehouse burned in the late winter, leaving the settlement short of supplies. On top of that, the Indians remained suspicious and reluctant to trade.
For all its problems, the settlement might have survived had it not been for a series of untimely deaths. In England, Sir John Popham died shortly after the vessels departed for America, leaving financial and administrative matters largely to Gorges, who was not nearly as well situated to support the venture. In February 1608, President George Popham died, and leadership fell to Raleigh Gilbert. Finally, Gilbert received news the following summer that his elder brother had died, leaving him heir to the family estate. Gilbert had no choice but to return to England to settle affairs. Since the colony was virtually leaderless, everybody clambered aboard the returning vessel, and in the fall of 1608 the once-promising settlement stood deserted amid the bright autumn foliage.
In England, the effect of the failure was catastrophic. Sometime later Gorges wrote that it had been a "wonderful discouragement to all the first undertakers, in so much as there was no more speech of settling any other plantations in those parts for a long time after." At another time he stated that "all our former hopes were frozen to death" for the country was considered "over cold, and in respect of that not habitable by our nation."
French Activity in the Gulf of Maine, 1604--13
During the first years of the seventeenth century, French explorers and colonizers returned to the territory of Maine, although, unlike the English, they focused on the northeast coastal regions. In November 1603, King Henry IV of France granted Pierre Du Gua De Monts a charter with trading and seignorial (ruling) rights in America roughly overlapping those the English king granted the Plymouth Company. A French nobleman, De Monts wanted a New World colony primarily as a personal estate; secondly, as a trading base with the Indians; and third, as a possible embarkation point in the search for a passage to the Orient. De Monts brought along explorer and geographer Samuel de Champlain to record and map the coast in the region. The expedition left France in two ships on April 7, 1604, and entered the Bay of Fundy in May. They skirted the shore, arriving at Passamaquoddy Bay in late June. Moving up the broad St. Croix River, which empties into the bay, they selected an island in the middle for their settlement (today known as St. Croix or Dochet Island). The site offered some advantages: a good anchorage, a fine growth of timber, a supply of clay for brick making, seemingly fertile soil, and security from attack. With the buildings and gardens established in September, Champlain and a small party headed west to explore along the Maine coast. Sailing close to shore, they passed between Mount Desert (which Champlain named) and the mainland and ascended the Penobscot as far as the Kenduskeag Stream at present-day Bangor. Although he was impressed with the area, Champlain found no Norumbega. He descended the river, sailed to the mouth of the Kennebec, and in October returned to St. Croix Island.
Winter came early and it proved to be severe. The desperate colonists quickly consumed most of the wood on the island, and cakes of ice churning in the tides kept them from crossing for more on the mainland. The men were reduced to eating frozen, uncooked food and shivering in their drafty dwellings. Frigid winds, unimpeded by the few remaining trees, stabbed across the island, intensifying the settler's misery. If this was not enough, the colonists found no natural source of water on the island and faced a constant shortage of drinking water. As the winter deepened, the harsh conditions took a fierce toll in scurvy. Over a third of the settlers died from the dreaded disease, and nearly as many suffered various degrees of permanent disability. The error of settling on an island was all too evident, and by spring De Monts set out to find a new location. He and Champlain spent the summer coasting southward, carefully surveying and recording what they saw. They ascended the Kennebec, perhaps as far as Augusta, but found the land along the shores of the river "very poor." They continued southward, observing the local Indians, their weapons, and their agricultural activities, eventually arriving in Massachusetts Bay after five weeks. With provisions low, they returned to St. Croix, not having encountered a place to the south that seemed promising for a new beginning. Thereupon they packed up their house frames and provisions and sailed for Port Royal (the present Annapolis Royal), Nova Scotia, where they reestablished their settlement.
Only a few years later the French again attempted a settlement in Maine, this time largely under the auspices of Jesuit priests. In the summer of 1610, Jean de Biencourt Poutrincourt et de Saint-Just sailed to Port Royal with a contingent of settlers and instructions to revitalize the habitation. Poutrincourt consciously avoided taking any Jesuits with him, concerned about the problems the zealous churchmen might cause. However, two members of the order, Fathers Pierre Biard and Enemond Massé, were not to be put off, and in early 1611 they arranged passage to the New World in a small vessel.
Relations between the Jesuits and the other settlers at Port Royal deteriorated through the winter, and shortly after, the Jesuits appealed to Antoinette de Pons, Marquise de Guercheville and lady of honor to the Queen of France, asking to be posted elsewhere. Concerned for the success of their mission among the natives, Madame de Guercheville fitted out a vessel and sent it to the colony in mid-summer 1613. After a few days, Biard, Massé, and the new arrivals sailed off, to the undoubted joy of all.
Although headed for the Kennebec, the Jesuits were enveloped in a fog and groped their way to Mount Desert Island, where they landed at the site of present-day Bar Harbor to rest and thank God for preserving them from the perils at sea. Shortly after landing, they were approached by a number of Indians, who pleaded that they remain in the area. Biard declined, being firmly resolved to settleon the Kennebec, but he agreed to visit their chief, Asticou, who, they informed him, was seriously ill and wished to be baptized before dying. This reference to baptism probably reflects efforts of earlier Jesuits in the region, most likely emanating from Port Royal. Whatever the case, the chief had nothing more serious than a cold, but the Jesuits found themselves at an ideal location for settling: the western shore of Somes Sound offered a protected harbor, cleared land, two springs, and excellent soil.
The colonizers elected to stay at Mount Desert but almost immediately became divided over plans for settlement: the Jesuits insisted on building fortifications, houses, and the like; the French commander, René Le Coq de La Saussaye, preferred to begin cultivating the rich soil. Whether or not La Saussaye's agricultural project seriously hampered the fortification of the small plantation is not entirely clear, but when the English captain Samuel Argall arrived at the mouth of the harbor shortly after, the French settlers were far from ready to defend themselves.
Argall, on a fishing voyage from the English colony at Virginia, had been told to keep alert for French settlements in the region. He learned of the colony from local Indians and was actually led to the site by a native who mistakenly presumed the French and English were friends. The English sailed into Somes Sound with "the banners of England flying and three trumpets and two drums making a horrible din," and after a few minutes of furious cannonade subdued the unprepared colonists. After sacking the settlement, Argall allowed about two-thirds of its inhabitants to make their way east along the coast, seeking passage from the French vessels plying the waters. He carried the Jesuits and other leaders to Virginia, then returned to destroy the settlement at Port Royal and the remains of the St. Croix Island colony. After this, the French abandoned all attempts at settlement in Maine for some time.
John Smith and the Promotion of New England
A year after Argall's foray, Maine was visited by one of the most colorful adventurers of the time: Captain John Smith. By the time he arrived in New England, John Smith's career as a colonizer was already well established. As a young man, he had performed heroic deeds in the religious wars against the Turks in eastern Europe, and later he kept the nascent Jamestown settlement from collapsing under the challenges imposed by the new land and its people. The trip to the northern shores of America was the beginning of still another phase in his remarkable career--historically, perhaps, the most important of all. When Smith returned from his North Atlantic adventures, he began a life-long promotion of the region he named New England, and it was largely his efforts that caused interest in the area to be revived in the late 1610s and 1620s.
Smith left for New England in April 1614. Sponsored by four London merchants, he was to hunt whales and look for gold and copper mines. After an uneventful voyage, Smith made landfall at Monhegan Island. Chasing the swift, powerful finback whales and searching for precious metals quickly proved frustrating, so Smith put most of his crew to fishing around Monhegan while he and eight others ranged along the mainland charting the coast and doing a little fur trading. Although the best season for both fishing and trading had already passed, Smith's thorough investigation resulted in a carefully drawn map of New England, with inlets, islands, harbors, soundings, sands, rocks, and other landmarks all meticulously recorded. Deeply impressed with the potential of the country, Smith sailed back to England fully determined to plan a new colony. Unfortunately, Thomas Hunt, whose vessel had accompanied the expedition, tarried after Smith sailed for England and captured twenty-four Indians, whom he sold as slaves. Outraged, Captain Smith reported that "this vile act kept him [Hunt] ever after from any more employment in these parts." Regrettably, this act would sour English-Indian relations for some time to come.
Upon his return Smith visited Sir Ferdinando Gorges, hoping for assistance in implementing his New World settlement plan. The old knight probably needed little convincing; with Gorges's backing, Smith left again in late spring 1615 with two ships, expecting to establish a small colony. He had gone but a hundred and twenty leagues when his ship "brake all her Masts, [and was] pumping each watch five or six thousand strokes," offering him no choice but to turn back. Smith reembarked on a smaller vessel, only to be captured by a French pirate shortly after leaving port. During the winter of 1615--16 he found himself sailing the Atlantic as the prisoner of a buccaneer.
Ironically, Smith probably did more to advance the settlement of New England by remaining at home than he would have in the New World. During his months of captivity, he occupied himself writing his Description of New-England, a thorough and convincingly laudatory discussion of his 1614 voyage and the territory he had explored and named New England. Published in 1616 along with a map of the region, its success was almost instantaneous. Smith filled his account with glowing stories of the riches to be recovered from the Gulf of Maine--the "strangest Fish pond I ever saw," as he called it. Fishermen began sailing to the region, and in less than a decade they had established small fishing stations from the Piscataqua to Damariscove Island. Justly, Smith has been called the father of New England.
Smith's voyage of 1614 once again galvanized Sir Ferdinando Gorges to action; the old knight sent repeated expeditions to the New England area, demonstrating that settlers could survive the cold season in the northern territories and that the Gulf of Maine could yield profitable cargoes of fish. In 1620, a group of English separatists known as the Pilgrims established the first New England settlement at Plymouth.
Smith's voyage and the subsequent publication of Description of New-England capped a long period during which Europeans yielded their old myths and unrealistic assumptions and came to understand the Gulf of Maine region in its own right. Transcribing explorers' reports into lists of profitable commodities, Old World merchants launched the first attempts at settlement based on a firmer understanding of what the land and sea had to offer. These halting early endeavors brought discouragements as colonizers encountered a harsh and unfamiliar environment and were sometimes subject to the uncertainties of European enthusiasm for New World intercourse. But this growing appreciation for the potential value of the Maine landscape was the basis for subsequent colonial development. A second important precedent for colonial Maine emerged during these years. The conflicts that prevailed throughout Maine's colonial history were already evident when Smith arrived in the Gulf of Maine: English explorers and colonizers had clashed periodically with Indians since the days of Verrazano, and the guns of imperial rivalry that first echoed off the steep cliffs of Somes Sound would not be stilled for another century and a half. By 1615 the shadow of European events had fallen across the coast of Maine.Go to the top.