Piscataqua Plantations

A History of the Piscataqua River Region

1602 – Early 17th Century Explorers

(rough draft)

( add https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuper%27s_Cove )

In 1602, the Concord, commanded by Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, learning from members of the earlier voyage Humphrey Gilbert, reached the southern part of Maine, possibly Cape Porpoise, Kennebunkport, and held parley at what is now York. The explored New England, possibly as far south as Martha’s Vinyard. No colony was established yet.

Gosnold, as did the other explorers, called the natives “indians” under the belief that they were the inhabitants of the Indies, which they were seeking through the mythical Northwest Passage (10).

The first European to explore and write about the Piscataqua river was 23 year old English explorer Martin Pring in 1603. Pring is believed to have sailed his ship up the Piscataqua River all the way into Great Bay looking for sassafras, considered to be a plant with great medicinal value. None was found, but he camped at the spot where Portsmouth was to be founded.

Weymouth did visit Monhegan, explored the coast, captured 5 natives, brought them back to Europe, and taught them English. Years later, this was to have an impact on the early pioneers of the Piscataqua.

The Plymouth and London Companies, named after locations in England, were joint-stock company founded in 1606 by James I of England. Rich merchants in the London and Plymouth England area agreed to finance settlers in return for repayment plus interest out of profit made. These companies fizzled out but were replaced by The Council for New England in 1620.

Popham is in Maine and “SA” is Saint Augustine FL a Spanish Colony

Another member of the Plymouth Company, Sir John Popham, with the help of Pring and Captain Challons, decided to make their first colony at the mouth of Sagadahoc, Kennebunk River (Google Maps search for Popham Beach). The story of the failure of Popham Colony will not be expored here. The failure did, however, discouraged English attempts at exploration and settlement for roughly 16 years.

Other European Empires were not dormant. In 1604 Frenchman De Monts received a legal monopoly of the fur trade in the new land, from Newfoundland to Philadelphia. De Monts, Samuel de Champlain, and Jeal de Potrincourt left on two ships for Nova Scocia.

They explored the Bay of Fundy, named a now famous island “Isle des Monts Deserts” and La Cadia, later called Acadia, sailed up the Penobscot River. He also explored the modern area of Bangor, possibly to the foot of Oak St, named the St. John River, St. Croix, and also sailed to Cape Cod.

De Mont returned to established a colony at St. Croix. 2/5ths died the first winter. Spring brought provisions but they refused to spend another winter. Before the end of the summer they moved across the bay to Port Royal Nova Scotia. The first military battle between English and French over the territory of New England happened near here, at Sommes’ Point, and did not commence until 150 years later with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Most or all of the French Settlements were destroyed by the English, who launched from the Virginia Settlement, though Champlain did go on and found Quebec.

John Smith of Jamestown fame, at age 38, started working for Ferdinando Gorges and the Plymouth Company, much to the anger of the Virginia. He sailed to the Maine coast and landed at Monhegan in 1614. Like other exporers, he search for percious minerals and found none. He took a small group and then sailed from Monhegan to Cape Cod while mapping the coast along the way. He named the Isle of Shoals “Smith’s Isles” and cited the area as an excellent spot for a harbor. He noted there were plenty of other business oppurtunities.

While the majority of these expeditions had a goal turning profits through gold silver, and resources, it’s interesting to note that in Description of New England he envisioned towns along the coast where men and women would live with children. “No landlords to rackle us with high rents, no struggle to get justice in the courts. Here every man may be master of his own little harbor and land. Could I have but meanes to transport a colonie, I would rather live here than anywhere.” (6)

When John Smith reported this to Prince Charles, he said “Call it New England.”

“In 1615 Smith set sail with two ships and sixteen colonist… but was captured and taken to France. Gorges settlement was again delayed.” (9)

Gorges send Captain Richard Vines in 1616 to winter on the Maine Coast. A civil war broke out in Maine, and those who managed to survive were mostly killed by plagues that decimated New England, killing upwards or 9/10 Natives. Vines wintered at Leighton’s Point, which they called Winter Harbor. In 1618 Gorges persuated a few people to spend the winter at Monhegan. (9)

It was one of these men, Thomas Dermer, brought back two natives that had been captured earlier, Squanto. If you’re reading this, you should be familiar with the Squanto of Plymouth Plantation fame. (9)

Financial loses caused the Plymouth Company to fold, so King James issued a new patent called “Great Patent of New England” in 1620. This patent was made up of 40 noblemen and merchants. (9)




1630 Strawberry Banke Portsmouth


  1. Fred Perry

    Hey! I LOVE it! Just stumbled on this web site and will look at it more later BUT let me encourage you to pursue this.

    Also the question I was pursuing when I found this site: Is it correct that (and details of?) time when the Piscataqua River region was the Piscataqua Republic (or similar name) between when Pilgrims and dwindled and Puritans took over Mass and Maine?

    Fred Perry, Kittery Point, fsp@wfbrewery.com, 617-953-6877

    • Hey Fred! Thank you very much for the kind words! I am not aware of anything called the Piscataqua Republic, but I will look into it. PS I love wf beer and I drink it all the time! -Tim

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