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New England In The Earliest Days
Before Plymouth Colony there was Sagadahoc, the short-lived settlement for which Sir Ferdinando Gorges had high hopes
August 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 5
Some of these Indians had fantastic experiences. Assacumet had been captured on Challons’ ship and taken with him to Spain, whence the Indian managed to escape and somehow got back to Gorges at Plymouth. Gorges’ contacts and conversations with these Indians helped to keep his interest alive. In 1614 a Captain Thomas Hunt seized a score or more Indians on the coast and took them to Malaga to sell as slaves. One of these, Tisquantum, or Squanto, managed to get a passage on a Bristol fishing boat out of Malaga to England, thence to Newfoundland, and back to England once more, on his way home to Cape Cod. In Newfoundland he met a Captain Thomas Dermer, who brought him back with him to Gorges at Plymouth. His interest in Indians must have been well-known by now, and he was certainly shocked by Hunt’s treacherous conduct, which naturally made the Indians on the Massachusetts coast mistrustful and hostile for some time to come.
Epenow, who was a fine-looking fellow, had been shown in London “for a wonder,” and preferring to get back to his people, put up a tall story about a gold mine on Cape Cod, which persuaded Gorges and his fellow adventurers to equip a vessel to take him across the Atlantic—treating it as his Cunard boat, evidently. When he got to the coast, being a man of great stature and strength, Epenow slipped out of their clutches over the side and joined his relations. That ended the hopes of that voyage: dead loss again. Nevertheless in 1618 Gorges tried once more, sending out a Captain Rocroft with a scratch crew, who, alter various adventures on the New England coast, made him go for Virginia where his ship was wrecked and himself killed in a quarrel.
Next year Gorges sent out Captain Dermer, an able navigator, with friend Squanto aboard, whom he set ashore among his people and then met with Epenow once more. In his exploration of the coast Dermer penetrated into Long Island Sound, got through Hell Gate, proving that Long Island was an island, and followed the coast all the way to Virginia, where he wintered. He returned in the spring to the New England coast, where Epenow tried to kill him, and, severely wounded, Dermer struggled back to Virginia to die.
The more amenable Squanto, however, does not seem to have resented his English experiences. When the innocent Pilgrims arrived at New Plymouth in 1620, they were astonished to find a savage who spoke fluent English: they considered him, of course, “a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.” And indeed he made himself invaluable to them as their interpreter, put them in touch with the native chief Massasoit with whom they made peace, “directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died.” It was Squanto who gave them their contact with the Indians southward in Massachusetts Bay, which enabled them to start up a trade in beaver. On a journey with them to get Indian corn and beans, without which they could hardly have lasted out their second winter, he died, “desiring the Governor to pray for him that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven, and bequeathed sundry of his things to sundry of his English friends, as remembrances of his love; of whom they had a great loss.” It is hard to see how the Pilgrims could have got through their first two years without him.
The Pilgrims were the first to make a permanent plantation, but there were already small settlements on the coast, fishermen wintering there, and regular communications with Virginia. Virginia was interested in the New England fishery, and sent boats up for supplies. The French were already settled on the coast farther north. M. de Monts had moved his original settlement (1604) from the St. Croix River to Port Royal in Nova Scotia. Now in 1613 a new French settlement was made in the Mount Desert area on the coast of Maine. This was within the latitude of the Virginia Company’s charter. They were not going to undertake all those efforts, undergo all those sacrifices, to find themselves forestalled by the French: they ordered Captain Samuel Argall up from Virginia to put an end to the settlements, which he did, effectively, but with complete humanity: no massacres like the Spaniards in Florida, or such as the Dutch were shortly to commit in Amboina. He took the colony’s leaders off into gentlemanly captivity along with Pocahontas at Jamestown.
This is not the full tale of the efforts made by Gorges and others in these years before the sailing of the Mayflower. Captain John Smith had come back in 1614 fired by an idea—no doubt others had it at the time, but he made more of it—namely, of combining planting with fishing. The fishing boats went out and back doubly manned, having to carry men to dry and cure the fish, in addition to the fishermen. What more obvious than that these should remain on shore as planters, supplementing the fishermen at need, instead of being carried to and fro?
This subsequently became the basis of Ferdinando Gorges’ next phase of activity, as also of the Dorchester Company with its brief colony at Cape Ann, out of which the Massachusetts Bay Colony sprang. In 1615 four London ships sailed for New England, only one from Plymouth and that largely provided by Gorges. She “returned as she went, and did little or nothing but lost her time.”