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VI. THE PLYMOUTH COMPANY.
THE eyes of many Englishmen were still turned toward America—"a fertile, salubrious land," as one ancient chronicle describes it. There were some who longed for adventure, and some who were greedy of wealth; and the captive Indians carried across the ocean had aroused in others the desire to carry Christianity to the dark corners of the earth, and civilize the strange barbarians. Moreover, there were not a few Englishmen who wanted the country simply because France claimed it.
In 1606, when James I. was King of England, a company of gentlemen was formed whose avowed purpose was "to propagate God's holy church." After events proved that they were not wholly superior to considerations of personal gain in connection with this pious and laudable purpose.
The company comprised two divisions, one of which essayed to settle Virginia and the region thereabout, and the other, known as the Plymouth Company, with Lord Popham and Sir Ferdinando Gorges as leaders, sent out a ship in August, 1606, to establish a colony on the Acadian peninsula, embracing what is now the state of Maine. The ship carried thirty-one white men and two Indians—Weymouth's captives. England was then at war with Spain, and the vessel was seized by a Spanish fleet and carried to Spain. A second vessel reached the Maine shores, but was, for some unknown reason, unsuccessful in establishing a colony.
The first division of the council, called the London Company, had sent a hundred colonists to Virginia, and at the mouth of the James River a permanent settlement was established. On the 31st of May, 1607, two ships set out from Plymouth, England, with colonists for the Northern shores. George Popham, a brother of Lord Popham, was in command of one ship, and Raleigh Gilbert, a nephew of Sir Walter Raleigh, of the other. They had intended to have three ships, but in consequence of some difficulty in procuring another, two only were dispatched.
Popham's vessel was called the Gift of God, and Gilbert's the Mary and John. There were over a hundred colonists in these vessels, and large quantities of the necessaries of life in a new land.
These vessels found the Grand Banks of Newfoundland a wonderful fishing ground. They stopped three hours to fish, and took so many codfish that they could have filled their boats. They were "of a most goodly size," too, these fish with which the New World's waters teemed. "There seems, indeed, to be no limit to the good gifts of God in these waters," writes an enthusiastic chronicler of the voyage.
They had directed their course to the island of Monhegan, but came to anchor at a small island not far from Pemaquid, supposed to be Stage Island. They had religious services, and read their patent. It was a form of government, carefully drafted and adapted to a great state. Every colonist and his children were to be "citizens of the realm;" the coinage of money was made lawful; and for seven years the importation of all useful chattels, armor, and furniture from the British dominions was to be allowed free of duty. The colonists were also given the right to exact taxes and duties for their own benefit, and to seize or expel intruders.
Besides giving thanks to God for their safe arrival, and reading their patent, the settlers listened to a sermon preached by the Rev. Richard Seymour, the chaplain of the company.
Eight Indian men and a boy visited them upon the island. At first these natives showed distrust, but at length three of the bolder spirits ventured on board the ship. Their reception seems to have been an agreeable one, for the next day they returned in a larger boat, with a load of fine beaver skins, for which an honorable and satisfactory traffic was made.
The colonists built some rude cottages on this island, and sunk two or three wells; but they soon decided that the island was too small for a permanent settlement. It is said that on Stage Island one may still see the remains of a fort, brick chimneys, and some wells of water, and several cellars. The bricks must have come from Europe.
The settlers reëmbarked, and sailing on in search of a favorable location for their new settlement, they came to a cape which they describe as low land, showing white like sand. "But yet it is all white rocks, and a strong tide goeth in there." This is thought to have been Cape Smallpoint, at the western extremity of the town of Phippsburg, where the tides are remarkably strong.
Skitwarroes, the Indian chief captured by Weymouth, was on board the Mary and John. He here found his friends, including Nahanada, who had previously found his way home, and was of great service to the white men in keeping peace with the Indians, whom at this point they found in a terrified and hostile condition from their recollection of Weymouth's treachery.
Wind and weather seem to have had their part in determining the location of the first settlement in Maine. In attempting to enter the Sagadahoc River the two ships encountered a dead calm. They were three miles south of Seguin, and were forced to lie there. The calm preceded a storm, as dead calms are apt to do, especially off Seguin. In the middle of the night a wild tempest arose. There was no harbor and no anchorage, and the Gift of God and the Mary and John were in imminent danger of being beaten upon the rocky shore.
All night the lives of the passengers and the life of the new colony were in jeopardy. With the earliest ray of dawn, the storm having almost spent itself, they sought the nearest point where they could find safety. Under the shelter of a small island, supposed to be one of the St. Georges, they found a safe harbor.
The next morning, with weather still unfavorable, the Gift of God made her way into the mouth of the Sagadahoc. Before the Mary and John could follow she was becalmed; but by her boats and those of the Gift she was towed in as soon as the tide served, and anchored also in the "gallant river," as they called the beautiful Sagadahoc.
They rowed far up the river in search of an abiding place, and found many "goodly" sites for the new settlement, but none that seemed to them more favorable than the one at the mouth of the river. It was at the southerly corner of the present town of Phippsburg, near what is now called Atkins Bay.
The Indians called the place Sabino, from the chief within whose dominion it lay. It was a beautiful head-land of more than a hundred acres. They gave the settlement the name of Sagadahoc colony, and laid its foundation with religious ceremonies, to the intense interest of the Indians, who were always greatly attracted by ceremonials.
These Indians had Nahanada, the returned captive, for their chief, but he evidently did not dispel their suspicion of the white men. They could not be hired to work, although they worked gladly for the French in Canada. Weymouth's treachery had made too deep an impression upon them. The colonists built a fort, and named it Fort St. George from the Christian name of their leader. It was afterwards called Fort Popham. It was on the southeastern side of Cape Smallpoint.
In December the Gift of God and the Mary and John returned to England, leaving only forty-five settlers, a small, stout-hearted band, to face the winter with but scanty supplies, and between a howling wilderness and a waste of waters.
They had built several log huts, and named the town St. George. They built also a storehouse for their supplies, and a small vessel to cruise along the coast and make explorations. This first vessel built in Maine was of thirty tons' burden, and the name Virginia was given to her by the settlers.
From the first, great dissatisfaction prevailed in the colony, and its affairs seem to have been conducted without prudence or discretion. They discovered too late that the headland, which they had supposed to be so fertile, was a sand bank, barren and bleak. They sent home the discouraging report that the country was "intolerably cold and sterile, unhealthy, and not habitable by our English nation."
After their buildings were erected, instead of occupying themselves with preparations for the coming winter, they were continually making excursions in the Virginia, seeking a better location for a settlement, although they could not then avail themselves of this if it should be found. They also had continual difficulties with the Indians, although, under the influence of Skitwarroes, the returned captive, these were disposed to be peaceable and friendly.
Some of the chiefs offered, with great friendliness, to go with the white men to the Bashaba, their sagamore, who lived somewhere in the region about Pemaquid. He was a mighty prince, head over all the sachems from Penobscot to Piscataqua, and all strangers were expected to pay him court.
An expedition set out, guided by Skitwarroes, to visit this high potentate, whose friendly favor was, of course, greatly to be desired; but, unfortunately, it was obliged to turn back by reason of adverse winds and stormy weather.
Shortly afterwards the Bashaba sent his own son to Popham, proposing to open a traffic in furs and skins. In all this early traffic the Indians are said to have been not only businesslike and honorable, but to have shown a remarkably generous spirit. An Indian named Ameriguin,—his name has survived the centuries on account of one little act that showed a generous spirit,—having been given a straw hat and a knife, immediately presented the giver with a rich beaver mantle.
The colonists suffered miserably from cold. They had neglected to provide ample stores of wood, as they might have done, and had failed to obtain from the Indians the necessary supply of furs for clothing and bedding.
At length the difficulties with the Indians culminated in a fierce quarrel, in which one of the settlers was killed, and the rest were driven out of the fort, leaving provisions, arms, and several barrels of powder. The Indians opened the barrels of powder, and, having had no experience with explosives, carelessly scattered the stuff about. Everything in the fort was blown to pieces, and several of the Indians were killed.
Fortunately for the colonists, the savages regarded this terrifying disaster as a sign that the Great Spirit was angry with them for their treatment of the strangers, and they immediately made overtures for peace.
Another story which reflects very severely upon the settlers is told by Williamson, who "hopes it may be one of those tales invented or exaggerated by the lively imagination of posterity."
Some Indians who had come to the fort to trade furs were shown the firearms, in which they had always a keen interest, regarding gunpowder as a device of magic, or else an especial gift of the Great Spirit to his white children. They were allowed to draw a small mounted cannon by its ropes, and when they were all in an exposed position it was discharged. Some were killed and others wounded, while all received a frightful shock.
When the colonists' storehouse took fire in midwinter, and, with most of their provisions in it, was burned to the ground, it was perhaps not unreasonable to suppose that the Indians were the incendiaries.
As soon as the Gift of God and the Mary and John reached England, another outfit was to have been sent to the colonists, and two ships were made ready. But while one ship waited for a favoring wind, the death of Lord Popham, the moving spirit of the enterprise, was announced, and before the other sailed the news reached it that Sir John, the brother of Raleigh Gilbert, was dead. George Popham, the head of the colony, also died,—fortunately for him, while there was yet hope that the settlement would survive. His last words were: "I die content. My name will be always associated with the first planting of the English race in the New World. My remains will not be neglected, away from the home of my fathers and my kindred."
His expectation was unfulfilled. His colony soon came to an end. His grave, on the alien shore, far from the home of his fathers, remains unmarked and unknown. But his name has not quite faded or been forgotten in the province of Maine, where his highest hopes were set.
Raleigh Gilbert succeeded Popham as head of the colony; but his brother's estate, which he had inherited, required his attention, and he soon returned to England. All these misfortunes, happening at nearly the same time, proved the deathblow to the colony. The resentment of the natives on account of the cannon discharge had not been overcome, and one account represents the colonists as fleeing for their lives from the savages. Another account relates that they "cheerfully departed," although they carried with them, as the only fruits of their exile, toil, and privation, some furs, the small vessel that they had built, and some products of the new country.
The Plymouth Company was discouraged by the unexpected return of these settlers, and made no further attempts at colonization for several years; nevertheless, Sir Francis Popham, son of the baronet, sent a ship over annually for the fishing and fur trade, and with, possibly, some hope of a future colony, until continued losses and discouragements induced him to abandon the effort.
Captain John Smith
After the failure of Popham's colony, Sir Ferdinando Gorges had purchased a ship, and secured Richard Vines as captain, with the intention of effecting another settlement on the Maine coast; but the new country had fallen into such ill repute that he sought in vain for colonists, and was obliged to be satisfied with sending trading vessels to America, as Sir Francis Popham had done.
About five years after Sir Francis Popham had decided to let the New World alone, Captain John Smith, of whom every one has heard, was moved by his zeal to attempt another settlement at Sagadahoc.
Smith seems a storybook hero, but he was a real personage. An unvarnished tale of his prowess relates that when he was making the tour of Europe, at the age of seventeen, he killed three Turkish champion fighters in single combat, and was honored therefor by a triumphal procession. But he received something besides honor in Turkey, for we read that he was for many months a prisoner there. All this was long before his life was saved in Virginia by the beautiful Indian girl Pocahontas. He was now but thirty-five years old, yet six years before this time he had been president of the colonial council of Virginia.
He sailed from London, March 3, 1614, with two vessels, a ship and a bark. His destination was Sagadahoc, in Maine. He was to found a settlement there, or at least to hold possession, and "hinder any foreigner from settling there, under any pretense whatever." He built boats as soon as he reached the mouth of the Sagadahoc, and explored the coast. His men spent the fishing season in catching whales, which seems to have been a Simple Simon sort of enterprise, for when they were caught they were "not of the kind which yields fins and oil."
Then the men were led astray by a story about rich gold and copper mines which proved to have no more gold and copper in them than the whales had fins and oil. Nevertheless, their gains were very valuable. Captain Smith says: "We got, for trifles, 11,000 beavers, 100 martens, and as many otters, and we took and cured 40,000 dry fish and 7,000 codfish, corned or in pickle." The net value of what they carried home with them amounted to £1,500.
Captain Smith seems to have had peaceful relations with the natives, except in one instance, when there was a skirmish, and several Indians were killed. When Smith sailed for England, he left at the mouth of the Kennebec Thomas Hunt, the master of the other ship. This man disgraced himself and the Plymouth Company by stealing twenty-four Indians, whom he carried to Malaga and sold as slaves to the Spanish, at each.
In 1616 Captain Smith published in London a map and a short history of the country which he had explored. Prince Charles gave the latter the title of "A History of New England."
In 1615 Captain Smith came again to America. The Plymouth Company had once more lost interest in the New World, and it was Sir Ferdinando Gorges, with some friends, who privately equipped two ships and gave the command to Captain Smith. But England and France were at war, and Smith and his companions were captured by a French ship and carried prisoners to France.
Not long after this the Plymouth Company aroused itself sufficiently to send another ship to America, under command of its president, Sir Richard Hawkins. But he found the whole eastern coast the scene of a bloody war between the Indian tribes, and was forced to return with only a cargo of fish. This war was so widespread and destructive as nearly to depopulate New England. It was impossible to cultivate the ground. The settlers were driven from their burning cabins to the woods, where they wandered, without food or shelter. Nearly all the warriors on both sides were slain.
A fearful pestilence followed the war. Whether it was smallpox or yellow fever is uncertain, but it is described as a most loathsome disease, and the Indians died of it "in heaps." It happened, strangely, that Captain Richard Vines, sent by Sir Ferdinando Gorges in a trading vessel, passed this winter near Saco; and although the mortality among the savages was frightful, yet "not one of his company," as Gorges quaintly records, " ever felt his head to ache so long as they staid there."
Captain Smith, still full of enthusiasm, essayed another voyage, but was "wind-bound" for three months, and finally abandoned the undertaking. He received from the Plymouth Company the honor of a commission as Admiral of New England. What practical benefits it entailed we are not definitely told.
During another spasmodic revival of the Plymouth Company's courage, it received information that Thomas Dermer, an Englishman then in Newfoundland, had great zeal in making discoveries and forming settlements. So the company, through the influence of the indefatigable Sir Ferdinando Gorges, sent out Edward Rocroft in a ship to Dermer's assistance. Rocroft failed to find Dermer, but he captured a French bark whose crew were fishing and trading upon the coast. She was a fine ship, and regarding her as a valuable prize, he sent the captain and crew to England in his own vessel, and kept the French vessel himself, with a part of his men to guard the coast through the winter.
Some of Rocroft's men formed a plot to assassinate him and run away with the French prize. The plot came to Rocroft's ears just in time to save his life. He set the would-be assassins ashore at Saco, and sailed for Virginia, where he was soon afterwards killed, we are not told by whom.
Dermer had missed Rocroft, but he had the help of Squanto, one of Hunt's captives, whose heart he had won by great kindness. Samoset, a captive from Sagadahoc, sent home by Captain Mason, governor of Newfoundland, was also with Dermer, and was his faithful friend and ally. These two Indians were of great assistance in helping the Englishmen to keep peace with the hostile tribes.
Dermer, like Rocroft, went to Virginia, and also met his death there, being killed by Epenow, the famous captive, who had been sent home from England. The death of Dermer, a thoroughly honorable as well as a discreet and politic man, discouraged Gorges. He declared that "it made him almost resolve never to inter-meddle again in any of those undertakings."
In the meantime, in the year 1620,—one of the few dates we never forget,—the Pilgrims from England had landed upon Plymouth Rock and established their permanent and world-famous colony.
In that same year the Plymouth Company secured a new patent, and the son of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, himself a brilliant officer in the English army, established a permanent settlement at Saco, and was commissioned lieutenant general and governor in chief of New England. But before long the English government became convinced that the Plymouth Company, and especially the new governor in chief, were moved altogether by motives of self-interest and private gain, and threatened the withdrawal of the patent. Gorges thereupon planted a small colony at his own expense, securing a grant of twenty-four thousand acres on each side of York River.
There were disturbing controversies with France; but in spite of these, and of continual Indian outbreaks, the Plymouth Company continued to grant patents. At Sheepscot, at Pemaquid, and at Damariscotta small settlements were made, and in 163o eighty-four families, besides the wandering fishermen, were living along the shores of this region.
A Belt of Wampum.
New Plymouth, a flourishing colony at this time, opened a trade in an article called wampum. One authority says that it was originally made of white and blue beads, as long and large as a wheat corn, blunt at the ends, perforated, and strung. The beads possessed a clearness and beauty which rendered them desirable ornaments. Other authorities say that wampum was made of the inner wreath of the cockle or periwinkle, some shells being white, others blue veined with purple. The white beads were used by the Indians for stanching the blood from a wound.
The commercial value of wampum varied like that of gold and silver, being determined by both quality and workmanship. Belts were made of it, and highly ornamented, and it became not only the money of the tribes that possessed it, but also the expression of their artistic talent; and the beautiful belts were used as pledges of good faith and tributes of friendship. The colonists, having little gold and silver, came to regard wampum as "legal tender." But it seems to have been known only to the Narragansetts, the Pequots, and the natives on Long Island.
The Plymouth Company held its last meeting April 25, 1635, when only sixteen members were present. The cause of its dissolution was thus recorded: "We have been bereaved of friends; oppressed with losses, expenses, and troubles; assailed before the privy council again and again with groundless charges; and weakened by the French and other foes without and within the realm. What remains is only a breathless carcass. We therefore now resign the patent to the king, first reserving all grants by us made and all vested rights, a patent we have holden about fifteen years." The king, expecting this dissolution of the company, had already appointed eleven of his privy councilors lords commissioners of all his American plantations, and committed to them the direction of colonial affairs. This commission procured for Sir Ferdinando Gorges the position of governor general over the whole of New England.
Sir Ferdinando was then sixty years old, but his zeal. for the English settlement of the New World had not abated. A man-of-war was built .to bring him to this country, and was to remain here for defense; but in launching she turned over upon her side, and her ribs were broken beyond repair. Strange to say, although it might be supposed that England could afford another war ship, the enterprise thereby failed, and Sir Ferdinando never saw America. Nevertheless, on the 3d of April, 1639, with interest in the New World still unabated and hope undimmed, he received a charter of the province of Maine.
He congratulates himself in this wise: "Being seized of what I have travailed for, above forty years, together with the expenses of many thousand pounds, and the best time of my age loaded with troubles and vexations from all parts, as you have heard, I will give you some account in what order I have settled my affairs in the province of Maine, with the true form and manner of government according to the authority granted me by his Majesty's royal charter."
There are two reasons given for the naming of the province. One is that on account of the great number of islands the shores were constantly called the "main." Captain John Smith says the Indians called the land there the "Mayne." The other and more probable reason for the name is that it was given in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria, married not long before to King Charles. She was a French princess, and had inherited the province of Maine in her own country.