There is some evidence of Eurpeon activity in New England before the 15th century:

  • Mystery Hill, American Stonehenge, Salem, New Hampshire may be the oldest surviving man made structure in New England. You can find more information at their website and read about it in Harvard Professor Dr. Barry Fell’s book America BC. Or it was just built by early colonists.
  • L’Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America, with carbon dating having the site at 950-1030 CE. The Vikings may have traveled through Canada, possibly through Maine, and had a settlement in Rhode Island. The story goes that “Leif” was sent by King Olaf of Norway to introduce Christianity abroad. He discovered a place with an abundance of grapes growing which he named Vinland or Wineland. The actual location of “Vinland” is unkown. Two attempts were made to establish a colony but they failed. No European DNA has ever been discovered from Native Americans.
  • Christohper Columbus did not have any voyages that reached North America
  • Italian explorer John Cabot, leaving from Bristol in 1497, it is thought he reached Cape Breton, Nova Scocia, and during a second voyage in 1498, traveled further south and was possibly the first European to discover (or rediscover) Maine.

An Ottoman-Turkish named Admiral Piri Reis, in 1510, mapped a huge amount of land, including parts of North America Europe, North Africa, parts of South America, the Canary Islands, and Antartica.

Piri Reis Map

While the Spaniards were winning the “Empire Wars” with their exploits in South America, France and England were about to fight it out for second and third place in North America. Starting in the 16th century, the English and French began sending fishing and scouting missions to the region. This slowly escalated into conflict and it did not end until the The War of 1812.

The French were the first to take a more active role in the region, primarily in northeastern Maine and Canada, which included the beginnings of perpetual trade between Europeans and the New England Native Americans.

Giovani da Verrazano, in 1524, reached farther south than the Cabot expidition. He reached the shore of Wilmington, NC, and then sailed north.

Estavan Gomez, sailing for the Spanish in 1525, explored the coast of Maine and named some of the places he visited. The Penobscot, which he detailed vividly, he named the “Rio De Gomez.”

In 1527 an Englishman named Rut explored the Maine coast and stated that the area was “peculiarly fitted to repay expenditures made in colonizing it.” (36)

In 1534 Jacques Cartier, commishioned by King Francis I of France, discovered the St. Lawrence River and sailed up to the Native village of Hochelaga, modern day Montreal. He attempted to plant a colony near Quebec in 1541 and the Bay of Fundy in 1598. (2) His exploration of the region propelled France to futher explore and colonize the region in the 17th century.

In 1556, a French Catholic priest explored the coast named Andre Thevet explored the coast and was particularly taken of the area between the Piscataqua and Penobscot. (36)

English fishermen were known to frequent the coast, especially Newfoundland. In 1565 John Hawkins sailed along the Maine coast. They did make a stop and traveled inland, and sailors David Ingram, Richard Brown, and Richard Twide may have been the first white men to visit the interior of Maine.

In 1578, the English Queen Elizabeth allowed Sir Humphrey Gilbert to explore the new land, took formal possession of Newfoundland for the Queen, but was unable to establish any official footprint on the new world.


Andres Thevet speaks of the Penobscot as Norumbega, but says that the natives called it Agoncy. The name Norumbega was used by early explorers to designate the entire coastal region of Maine. Their vivid imagination say rich empires, huge cities, splendid towers, palaces, gold, silver, and opulent in all the riches of the East. (36)

At the end of the 16th Century, there were no colonies in New England, but knowledge of this land was now readily available, and was so for a long time. “These accounts of the New World aroused in the minds of enterprising men of Europe a spirit of adventure and enthusiasm, which finally resulted in the conquest of the natives, the destruction of the forest and fisheries, and the building of a nation.” 36