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Mayflower, Day by Day - Sunday, 15 November 1620

15 Nov 2020 3:26 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Popham/ Sagadahoc Colony

The Popham Colony—also known as the Sagadahoc Colony—was a short-lived English colonial settlement in New England which in many ways provides an instructive contrast with the much less well organised Pilgrim voyage.  It was established in 1607 by the proprietary Virginia Company of Plymouth and was located in the present-day town of Phippsburg, Maine, near the mouth of the Kennebec River.  The Popham Colony was the second colony in the region: the first was St. Croix Island, near what is now the town of Robbinston. (St. Croix Island was settled in June 1604, and subsequently abandoned).

About 120 colonists (all men and boys) left Plymouth (England) on 31 May 1607, in two ships. They intended to trade precious metals, spices, furs, and show that the local forests could be used to build English ships. The ship's log and diary from the voyage and first 6 weeks of the colony is the main contemporary source of the information about the colony; it was called "Popham" after its principal financial backer, Sir John Popham.  Late summer arrival meant that there was no time to grow food.  With inadequate supplies, half of the colonists returned to England in December 1607 aboard the Gift of God and almost starved on the return trip and had to sell their cargo in the Azores.  Others faced a cold winter during which the Kennebec River froze.  Records indicate that fire destroyed parts of the storehouse and its provisions, but archaeological excavations indicate that other buildings were burned and not the storehouse.  George Popham died on 5 February 1608; he is the only colonist known to have died (in contrast to Jamestown which lost half its population that year) although the Abenaki claim that they killed eleven colonists and set fire to the site.  The first ocean-going ship built by the English in the New World was completed during the year of the Popham Colony and was sailed back to England. The pinnace, named Virginia of Sagadahoc, was apparently quite seaworthy, and crossed the Atlantic again successfully in 1609 as part of Sir Christopher Newport's nine-vessel Third Supply mission to Jamestown. The small Virginia survived a powerful three-day storm en route which was thought to have been a hurricane and which wrecked the mission's large new flagship Sea Venture on Bermuda.  In May 1608 a supply ship brought a message that Sir John Popham had died. The supply ship returned to England with a cargo. When Mary and John returned in September 1608, it brought news that Gilbert's elder brother John had died; he decided to return to England and as no other leader was found, the colony decided to disband and the remaining colonists sailed home in Mary and John and Virginia. The Popham colony was abandoned after only 14 months, apparently more due to the death of patrons and the first colony president than lack of success - this may have been on the minds of the Plymouth settlers as they drafted the Mayflower Compact.. 

The exact site of the Popham Colony was lost until 1888 when a plan for the site was found in the General Archives in Simancas, Spain. This plan exactly matches the location at Sabino Head near Popham Beach State Park. Later archaeology in 1994 confirmed the location and the accuracy of the plan.


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