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By James H. Hyde, Editor

Maine may well have been the first U.S. region visited by Europeans, a notion that poses some interesting questions: 1. Who really discovered America, and what does that have to do with Maine history? A great deal!

2. Where was the first attempt made at establishing a European settlement on our shores, and in what year was the attempt made?

The first question was answered by an early map discovered in 1957. Archeologists, anthropologists, sociologists and historians found themselves first elated, but later debating in a bitter disagreement as to the authenticity of a new artifact, the Vinland Map. The map, allegedly drawn in the 1500s to replace one drawn in the 1300s, purportedly sketches out parts of Canada and New England. It was bought by Yale University and illustrates man's knowledge of the entire world at that time in history.

The map led to disagreement on several fronts that continue to smolder today. The Vinyland Map tells us that Maine's history is the oldest of any other state in the Union and that both Canada and Maine were discovered by Vikings, most prominent amongst them being Leif Eriksson, son of Eric the Red, at least half a millennium before the Indies were discovered by Christopher Columbus.

The legitimacy of the map is in question to some because a yellow synthetic ink known as anatase was used on the map. Anatase, many argue, wasn't used until the 1920s, although it has been discovered in various manuscripts from the Middle Ages. But, other empirical evidence has been a part of Viking legends (or "sagas") about America's discovery from as long ago as 986 A.D.

History for Icelanders, Greenlanders and the Vikings was passed from generation to generation in the form of "sagas," jagged, non-rhyming poems. We know that some Icelandic sagas report that the first sighting of North America occurred in circa 986.

That's when Bjarni Herjolfsson and his crew were the first to lay eyes on it when they were blown off course while sailing between Iceland and Greenland. The sagas of the sightings inspired Leif Eiriksson and his buddy Lars Almvig to head out and look for the new land in about the year 1000.

We also know that when Eriksson made the trip, he named the lands he saw, and one of them he called "Vinland," which historians and archeologists believe to be Newfoundland.

Regarding Question 2, about the earliest settlements, Eiriksson is tied to them, as well. He attempted two settlements, possibly in Newfoundland and or Maine. The northern one was called Straumfjördr and the one further south he called Hop. Apparently, the newcomers were discovered by Native Americans and both struggling settlements were routed.

In 1960, archeologists unearthed remnants of a Viking camp at L’Anse-aux-Meadows on Newfoundland that apparently dates back to the time period when Leif was sailing around, anxious to find and explore the new land.

There's other evidence as well that the Vikings were here first, but books have been written about it, so they are beyond beyond the scope of this article. Clearly, while the map may be a hoax in the minds of some, the other evidence is compelling.

No doubt, Columbus' voyage was a heroic journey worthy of analogy to the many trials and tribulations of the Argonauts. But the sagas about voyages to Canada and possibly Maine indicate that the first people not from this hemisphere, the Vikings, discovered Canada before Columbus found the Indies.

With abject apologies to our Italian friends, I offer no affront to Christopher Columbus' courage and tenacity, nor do I downplay the value of his discovery. His feat is well worth continued annual celebration. But, unfortunately, the title, "Discoverer of America" must be stricken from his résumé.

The Vikings were hardly the last to try and settle here. In circa 1607, King James I decided that the "New World" needed to be settled and claimed for English before the Spanish or French moved into mainland colonies.

While Britain, France and Spain each wanted the New World to be conquered under their flags, they were also vying for the ever-elusive Northwest Passage to China. Sir John Popham, England's Chief Justice, decided to financially back the establishment of one of the two settlements in about 1607. The first, as we know from history, was Jamestown in Virginia, and from which all colonists simply disappeared.

The other, little spoken of in our history books for which no one has a reasonable explanation, was the Popham Colony, so named after its backer. Aboard the The Gift of God and Mary and John 100 colonists sailed from England, arriving in Maine during the late summer of 1607. At the delta of the Kennebec River, they built a settlement and named it Fort George.

While they found no gold, silver, furs or passages, they learned quickly just how harsh the winter could be in Maine, and a number perished. In addition, at first, the Native Americans gladly helped them with their settlement, but for reasons not recorded in any journal, that relationship ended badly and the settlement was all but abandoned.

Prior to the colony's collapse, with winter over, there were enough men to construct what is very likely the first, European-made ship manufactured in the New World. She was a pinnacle, 30 tons in all, which the colonists dubbed The Virginia. According to some historians, she sailed the coast of Maine and may have crossed the Atlantic. It would be aboard her that some of the colonists returned to England.

Returning with them was a good deal of knowledge, which later greatly aided such colonies at Pilmoth Plantation. While it, too, suffered the indignities nature can hurl at those who challenge her, they were better prepared, although we'll see how the Pilgrims suffered their first three years in utter misery.

Escaping historian's pens were not only the Popham Colony, but the stories of the Native Americans who had inhabited the land for eons. In fact, numerous tribes and nations survived the last Ice Age, including two tribes prevalent in Maine and other New England states today: the Abenakis and the Micmacs (Mi'kmaqs).

Hints of the existence of a large number of tribes have given social scientists to believe that the Native Americans had been in what is now Maine for at least 3,000 years. That comes from close examination of burial grounds and tons of shucked oyster shells stacked in huge piles in Damariscotta.

Those numerous tribes and nations have been whittled down to five, all of which have gained federal recognition. They are: the Aroostook Micmacs; the Houlton Maliseet; the Indian Township and Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy (also known as the Wabanaki); and the Penobscot Nation in Pleasant Point.

The State with Many Names
As confusing as who found what first is how Maine got its name. According to the Maine Government Web site, it's been tough for anyone to get their arms around the evolution of the name Maine.

At various times, it's been tapped as: New Hampshire, Laconia, New Somerset, and County of Mayne. Other suggestions have been: Yorkshire, Lagonia, and, ironically, Columbus up until circa 1819 when the state was on the cusp of joining the Union. To this day, no one knows for 100% certain how the name was chosen.

But in his book Names on the Land (Houghton-Mifflin, 1958), G.R. Stewart maintains that in 1665, the British King's Commissioner finally mandated "The Province of Maine" be used henceforth.

This is often cited as the likeliest means of how the name evolved. And, even though the state now had a name, Maine didn't join the other states right away.

Many people believe that all of the New England states were members of the thirteen original colonies. In fact, Maine and Vermont were not. After the Revolution, Vermont went so far as to declare itself an independent nation. It had a government planned and money printed up until it was persuaded to join the Union.

Some theorize that famed seafarer and explorer John Cabot sailed along the coast of Maine in 1498. Attracted to it's pristine, rocky shoreline and stretches of sandy beach, he may have bellowed "drop anchor," was rowed ashore and set foot upon something akin to Pilgrim's Rock. While the prospect is tantalizing, there exists no solid evidence of any such visit.

Instead, we do know the first settlement was established as the Plymouth Company (not to be confused with the Plimoth/Plymouth Colony) in Popham in 1607, although another settlement had rooted itself years earlier, but had not survived.

But the year 1607 was a fateful one for English settlers up and down the Eastern Seaboard. With Plymouth Company attempting to put down roots itself in the north, the Jamestown crowd was also rowed ashore in 1607, and even though Jamestonians would all mysteriously vanish later, Jamestown sustained itself longer than did the Plymouth Company and took the prize for longest surviving first settlement. The frosty and raw first winter picked them off settlers of the Plymouth Company one by one.

Unwilling to be outdone by nature, the British tried again during the 1620s. Settlements rose up along the coast at first. But along with so-so crops and a painful lack of life's other necessities, they had been discovered by the Native Americans and were doomed.

The Indians were helpful initially. They taught the new arrivals how to grow corn and shared some hunting and fishing tips for survival. But like an obnoxious in-law who over-stays his or her welcome, the Pilgrims gave no indication that they had plans to leave. Worse, stealing became a big problem (the only way to survive for many) in Plimoth Plantation and Native American camps.

The Native Americans were none too happy with thieving interlopers wandering about their forests and encampments.

The inevitable manifested quickly. The natives gave the British, whose soldiers believed in forming lines to fight like gentlemen, a nasty lesson in the devastating effectiveness of guerilla warfare. You can't do much standing in a row of sitting ducks as tomahawks and arrows come flying at you from behind a grove of thick maples.

The Native American attacks continued until they became morphed into the French and Indian Wars. The French were anxious opportunists who sought to establish a foothold in the New World to deny Britain at least some claim to it all.

But in 1745, Mainers rallied behind Kittery resident William Pepperill, who assembled forces and attacked and captured the French Louisburg fort in Nova Scotia. That essentially rang in the end of further land-grab attempts by the French. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, resulted in the surrender of all French claims to land in Maine.

Bent on solidifying ownership of the virtually untouched New World, during the early 1700s, the British Crown started handing out charters. Some noisy debates sprang up between Massachusetts and Mainers about who really owned what land.

With the Maine population increasing and the French no longer egging them on, Native American attacks grew fewer in number. The European population grew at a rapid pace because Massachusetts, which had political control over Maine, offered 100-acre plots to anyone who would settle in Maine.

The British Parliament decided to increase the revenue flow from the New World to pounds from shillings. The best and most effortless way to do that was to slap ridiculously oppressive taxes on tea and other goods the British exported here. As the taxes rose, so did the ire of the colonists, and thus the colonies became a tinderbox. More taxes lit the fuse for the war for independence.

The Roar of Rebellion
Not the least bit timid, Mainers were quick to join the fight and to engage in civil disobedience against the British Parliament. Mobs had long since begun to form, and in 1765, one found a sizeable number of tax stamps, which they quickly seized and presumably burned or destroyed by other means.

Not to be outdone by those attending the Boston Tea Party, in 1774 Maine threw its own fiery party in York, where they reduced to ashes a large store of taxed tea.

In 1775, stung to fury by "impudent Americans" and the colonial quest for independence, a repugnant Captain Henry Mowatt sailed several British warships to the waters off Falmouth to give the Maine mobs a "time out" by shelling and burning the city.

It was, in Mowatt's view, a fit reprisal for anti-Crown behavior, albeit a bit heavy handed for some ash-flavored tea. But instead of rushing off, suitably chastised and repentant, Mainers gained even stronger backbones than they already had and were all the more anxious for retribution.

With the Revolution heating up, Falmouth was avenged promptly in June of 1775, during a historically significant clash, the first naval battle of the war, which occurred in Maine waters. The Margaretta, a British warship, was captured by what amounted to the Maine navy.

It was an embarrassing sword surrender for the Margaretta's captain and the dumbfounded British. But it was an iconic boost for the slipping morale of a colonial military that had suffered a string of humiliating losses.

Mainers also eagerly joined the war's "mission impossible," a star-crossed and dreadfully planned gambit to take Quebec from the British. Led by Colonel Benedict Arnold, the men with him had to goad oxen to drag several enormous cannons. Launched too late, the men and oxen arrived in time for a snowy Maine winter. The mission was a disaster from the start.

The wooden runners on which the cannons rested were virtually unable to navigate Maine's significant snowfalls and mud. As well, the attempt was poorly supplied and despite a virtual blizzard of letters from Arnold to the Continental Congress, he got little response and very little if any of the supplies needed, much less than he had requested.

The trek in 1799 was the turning point for Arnold, and when it ended in disaster, he switched his allegiance due to the incompetence of the colonial government and military planners. Less treasonous and cowardly than most people assume, the switch was a direct result of his illimitable and legitimate frustration with the politicians and military leaders that drove him into the waiting arms of the Redcoats, who were at least organized, if not winning. But before he charged across the line, he was instrumental in earlier victories for his fellow Americans and an excellent strategist.

For a fascinating account of the campaign, I strongly recommend that you read Arundel, written by Mainer Kenneth Roberts, who is best known for penning Northwest Passage, Oliver Wiswell and Lydia Bailey.

Roberts authored a number of historical novels, such as Oliver Wiswell, which based on exhaustive research, and focused attention on all aspects of the Revolution; Rebels, Tories and those in between. He surpasses even the enormously popular historical novelist John Jakes for scripting page-turners that will keep you up all night.

As good as the first naval battle had been for all revolutionary colonists, Maine later became the site of the most ignominious naval battle defeat in 1779.

British General Francis McLean sailed his troops into Penobscot bay. The troops deployed at Castine, took the town and headed for a highpoint on which they would build Fort George.

The Massachusetts Legislature directed Dudley Saltonstall to take the fort. He was given command of a fleet of 19-armed warships and 24 transport ships. The 1,200 men assigned to the mission were led by General Solomon Lovell. General Peleg Wadsworth was second in command, and Colonel Paul Revere (yes, the guy who is said to have made the famous ride shouting, "The British are coming. The British are coming.") was placed in charge of ordinance.

The British, though greatly outnumbered, survived a three-week siege by revolutionary forces. But, realizing that the battle could not be won, the Americans set sail up the Penobscot River and there they scuttled $8 million worth of naval ships so the vessels would not be captured by the British.

The British held the fort until war's end, and then relinquished it to the Americans according to the terms of the peace settlement.

For Maine, the cost of the quest for freedom was high. Over 1,000 souls departed this life and the loss of Falmouth was devastating. Trade agreements and routes were in tatters, and the bill for their share of war debt, proportionately speaking, makes our current national debt piggy bank sized.

In the end, the British military, noted for sometimes extreme cruelty during the war, were woefully unprepared by the courage and resolve of the colonists.

"Thank God Almighty, We're Free at Last"
That famous phrase that went forth from Dr. Martin Luther King centuries later, was doubly true for Mainers, but not at first. Yes, they were free of British rule, but Massachusetts still controlled their territory.

Many decided to cleave themselves from Massachusetts' rule and determine their own destiny. However, those benefiting from the status quo, mostly the merchants along the coast, resisted the notion.

When the War of 1812 came along, British raids into Maine were frequent and damaging. Despite pleas to Boston, Massachusetts hadn't the wherewithal to send troops to protect Mainers.

Seeing the light, in 1820, Maine, obviously discontented by the lack of Massachusetts' protection of Maine's well being and fed up with the distant disposition of important matters within their state, slashed the umbilicus linking it to Massachusetts and began planning and steering its own destiny.

The Missouri Compromise made Maine the 23rd state on March 15, 1820. With 236 towns and 9 counties, Maine's population was 300,000 strong and growing.

In 1819, knowing it would be made a state, Maine assigned delegates to travel to Portland in October to cobble together their Constitution.

When statehood was finally theirs, Maine had fully and finally arrived.

Today, 98% of the nation's low-bush blueberries come from Maine, as do sizeable percentages of apples, dairy products, potatoes, poultry, eggs and vegetables, which together bring the state significant farm revenues.

Due to its massive timberland (some 89% of the state), Maine is among the world's biggest pulp-paper producers and manufactures a large number of wood products. It was the preeminent ship-building state for some time and makes wood-related products as simple as toothpicks. Maine loads sardines into 77 million flat tins a year, currently a world record. Finally, known well as the lobster capital of the East coast, in 2005, Maine lobstermen fished 63.5 million pounds of lobster from the Atlantic.

It's said by some that you haven't visited Maine unless you've been to Acadia National Park, it tiny neighbor, Bar Harbor, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House in Portland, the St. Croix Island National Monument, Roosevelt Campobello International Park, and Allagash National Wilderness Waterway. But whether or not you visit those places, we know that you'll have the time of your life.

Other Resources
On the Name of the State

The Origin of Maine's Name

These books were compiled by Emily A. Schroeder of the Maine State Library.

Chadbourne, Ava Harriet. Maine Place Names and the Peopling of Its Towns. Portland, ME: Bond Wheelwright, circa 1955.

Clark, Charles E. Maine: a Bicentennial History. New York: Norton, c1977.

Dunnack, Henry E. The Maine Book. Augusta, ME: [s.n.], 1920.

Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums, Maine, a Guide "Down East". Rockland, ME: Courier-Gazette, 1970.

Matthews, Albert. Origin of the Name of Maine. Cambridge: J. Wilson and Son, 1910.

Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. Boston: B.B. Russell, c1881.

Williamson, William D. The History of the State of Maine: From Its First Discovery, A.D. 1602, to the Separation, A.D. 1820, Inclusive. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1991.

World Almanac and Book of Facts. New York: Press Pub. Co. (The New York World), 1923-.

York County (Me.). Register of Deeds. York Deeds, 1642-1737. Portland: J.T. Hull, c1900. (See the introduction in Vol. 1)


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