With the demise of Popham Colony, Maine lost all claim to having the first (legitimate) successful English settlement in New England to the Pilgrims who did not settle at Plymouth until 1620, a good thirteen years later. Plymouth became a national landmark and almost mythical center of the colonial beginnings in the north. The Pilgrims gave us our first Thanksgiving, now celebrated gloriously in the kitchens and in the elementary schools of America. Popham got lost along the way, but Maine did not. In fact, Maine and the Pilgrims had a long standing connection that may have saved the little Plymouth colony more than once.
First and foremost, how would Plymouth have survived without Squanto or Samoset? Every school kid knows how Samoset made the first friendly native overture to the Pilgrims and how Squanto taught them to grow Indian corn. But how many know that Samoset lived on or near the much-frequented island of Monhegan where he interacted with all manner of European fishermen, explorers and traders and learned to speak a rudimentary English? Incidentally, Samoset may have been responsible for the famous, or perhaps infamous, sobriquet “Yankee.” According to the French Jesuit Maurault in his Histoire des Abenakis, the Maine sachem greeted the Pilgrims with “Welcome, Engis.” Samoset’s poor pronunciation sounded more like “Welcome, Yankees.”
From The Indian Races of North and South America by Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1864.
The Pilgrims were not well versed in fishing, trapping or agriculture; they sorely needed the help and instruction of the Native Americans. However, if food issues could be solved, the success of the little colony really depended on some way to make money to pay back the considerable debt owed to their English investors.
In the spring of 1622 they sailed to Damariscove Island in Maine to beg for food. This was their first venture down east, but as Bradford wrote, it “had a duble benefite, first a present refreshing by ye food brought, and secondly, they knew ye way to those parts for their benefite hearafter.” Soon they were back and began a very lucrative trading operation with the natives for beaver.
This is a very abbreviated account of the Pilgrims in Maine and leaves out many interesting parts of the story.
- How much did the Pilgrims owe their investors? How much beaver did they ship to England, and how much money did they actually pay back?
- Why trade corn and how much was a beaver pelt worth?
- How did the Pilgrims become entangled with Edward Ashley and the trading post at Castine?
- Where exactly was Cushnoc located?
- Who was John Hocking and what happened to him when he tried to force trading on the Kennebec?
- Why was John Alden arrested for murder? And what did Massachusetts Bay Colony have to do with it?
- Why did the Pilgrims literally sail away from their trading post at Castine and abandon the trading post they operated there?
- Why did they sell off their patent and to whom?
If you are interested in the complete story of how Maine rescued the Pilgrims, please read the my MaineStory in
The Hidden History of Midcoast Maine
by Pat Higgins with photos by Dave Higgins.