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  • 16 Nov 2020 3:50 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    First Death of a Passenger

    “In all this voyage there died but one of the passengers, which was William Butten, a youth [born perhaps in 1605], servant to Samuel Fuller.”  Today marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the first of the passengers to die on this voyage.  Caleb Johnson notes a William Butten, son of John Butten, baptised at Worksop, Nottinghamshire, on 13 March 1605 as possibly being this passenger.  Worksop was not all that far from Scrooby and briefly had a Separatist gathering in 1607.  Some members of the Worksop congregation had joined with members of the Scrooby separatist congregation in the migration to Holland in 1608 and soon thereafter.  There is at least one other possible William Butten in the area, but his birth date is too early for him to qualify as a “youth” in 1620.  Nothing else is known about this passenger, his cause of death or his origins.

    The fact that the first passenger to die was the servant to the physician does not fill us with great confidence about how well everyone else will be.

  • 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.

  • 14 Nov 2020 2:35 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Charter of the Council of New England

    “JAMES, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. to all whom these Presents shall come, Greeting, Whereas, upon the humble Petition of divers of our well disposed Subjects, that intended to make several Plantations in the Parts of America, between the Degrees of thirty-ffoure and ffourty-five; We according to our princely Inclination, favouring much their worthy Disposition, in Hope thereby to advance the in Largement of Christian Religion, to the Glory of God Almighty, as also by that Meanes to streatch out the Bounds of our Dominions, and to replenish those Deserts with People governed by Lawes and Magistrates, for the peaceable Commerce of all, that in time to come shall have occasion to traffique into those Territoryes, … And lastly, because the principall Effect which we can desire or expect of this Action, is the Conversion and Reduction of the People in those Parts unto the true Worship of God and Christian Religion, in which Respect, Wee would be loath that any Person should be permitted to pass that Wee suspected to affect the Superstition of the Ch[urch] of Rome, Wee do hereby declare that it is our Will and Pleasure that none be permitted to pass, in any Voyage from time to time to be made into the said Country, but such as shall first have taken the Oathe of Supremacy; for which Purpose, Wee do by these Presents give full Power and Authority to the President of the said Councill, to tender and exhibit the said Oath to all such Persons as shall at any time be sent and imployed in the said Voyage.”

    Note three things:

    (1) the purpose of the grant is for the conversion of “the people in those parts” and the furtherance of the Gospel;

    (2) not only Roman Catholics, who were treasonous, but also anyone who refused to accept the King’s supremacy over the English Church were excluded (and thus, presumably, the Separatists, who denied not only the Royal Supremacy but also the legitimacy of the English Church as a whole);

    (3) the territory overlapped in its southern and western region with the northern region of the (first) Virginia Company.  The land on which the Pilgrims landed thus was covered by a royal charter at the time of their arrival, but they had been at sea for so long that they were unaware of that grant.

  • 13 Nov 2020 3:09 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    The Council of New England

    The Council of New England was established on this day four hundred years ago (3 November 620, o.s.), and was disbanded (although with no apparent changes in land titles) in 1635. It provided for the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, the Colony (and eventually the State) of New Hampshire, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the New Haven Colony, and the eventual State of Maine. It was largely the creation of Sir Ferdinando Gorges.  Some of the persons involved had previously received a charter in 1606 as the Plymouth Company and had founded the short-lived Popham Colony within the territory of northern "Virginia" (in present-day Maine). The company had fallen into disuse following the abandonment of the 1607 colony.  In the new 1620 charter granted by James I, the company was given rights of settlement in the area now designated as New England, which was the land previously part of the Virginia Colony north of the 40th parallel, and extending to the 48th parallel.  The Council would have full legal rights of governance and administration over the colonial plantation, and the members of the Council would elect a President to oversee administrative affairs.  Although this explicitly covered the land that the Pilgrims would eventually land on and settle, they were ignorant of this grant because they had been at sea for more than two months when the charter was issued.  They only found out about it when the Fortune arrived in November 1621, over a year from now.

  • 12 Nov 2020 2:59 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    The Shoals

    When we look carefully at Captain John Smith’s map, it is startling to see that it is blank in the area known as “the back side of Cape Cod.”  Heading south from the northern tip of Cape Cod (named “Cape James” by Captain Smith after the reigning monarch) on the eastern side of the peninsula, no ship would meet any serious obstacle until passing what is now Chatham.  At that point, sailors met a barrier of shifting, barely submerged sandbars lying easterly off Monomoy Point, and almost blocking the entrance to Nantucket Sound.  They begin about seven or eight miles southeast of Chatham.  These sandbars were dumped on top of clay beds by retreating glaciers during the last ice age, and were constantly shifting because of the actions of winds and sea.  Smith notes what the Indians told him about the shoals lying south and southwest of Cape Cod, but he himself in his 1614 voyage did not go much further south than Peaked Hill at the Head of the Cape.  He says that he took the Indians’ word for it that the “shoales beginne from the main at Pawmet, to the Ile of Nausit, and so extends beyond their knowledge into the sea.”  The description aligns with Point Care (observed by Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602) and Malle-barre (so named by Champlain in 1605 and called “a very dangerous place” on his return in 1606).  Although the shoals were not on the more recent maps, previous explorers such as Gosnold and Champlain had left notice of their shifting shape and their dangerous currents. 

    Captain Gosnold obtained backing to found an English colony in the New World and in 1602 he sailed from Falmouth in Cornwall with thirty-two men, intending to establish a colony in New England. Gosnold pioneered a direct sailing route due west from the Azores to what later became New England, arriving in May 1602 at Cape Elizabeth in Maine.  On 15 May 1602, he sailed into Provincetown Harbour, where he is credited with naming Cape Cod for the abundant fish.  Continuing down the Atlantic coast of Cape Cod, pivoting on Gilbert's Point, they coasted westward, observing numerous natives on shore, many running after them to gaze.  Following the coastline for several days, he discovered Martha's Vineyard which they explored but found seemingly uninhabited.  Gosnold named it after his deceased daughter, Martha, and the wild grapes that covered much of the land.  An attempt was made to settle on Cuttyhunk Island (the outermost of a chain of small islands extending southwest from the southern coast of Cape Cod at the outer edge of Buzzards Bay), where the colonists harvested sassafras.  The post was abandoned in June after a month when settlers decided to return to England since they feared they had insufficient provisions to carry them through the winter.

  • 11 Nov 2020 2:50 AM | Soule (Administrator)


    The last set of navigation tools to look at would be charts and calculation tools, such as dividers and parallel rulers.  Captain John Smith wrote about what was available before his 1614 voyage to New England that the charts available to him “of those Northern parts” were “so unlike each to other; and most so differing from any true proportion, or resemblance of the Countrey, as they did mee no more good, then so much waste paper, though they cost me more.”   Smith and his foolhardy band of sailors, nonetheless, covered 350 miles, from the Bay of Fundy down to Cape Cod, in an open boat probably no more than 30 feet long. And, with a humble set of surveying tools — a crude compass, astrolabe, sextant, a lead line to measure depth, a quill pen and paper — they gathered notes for their very own map of what Smith named for the first time “New England.” The official map was published alongside Smith’s book, A Description of New England, in 1616. Smith was actually the first to call the site where the Pilgrims finally settled “New Plimouth” on his map four years earlier.  In fact, in A Description of New England, Smith astutely noted that Plymouth was “an excellent good harbor, good land; and now want of any thing, but industrious people.”  It is unlikely that the Mayflower carried either the charts of Champlain or Lescarbot; Captain Jones definitely had John Smith’s published description and map of his 1614 voyage, but the map as originally published had no description of the back side of Cape Cod -- Smith only sailed as far south as the tip of Cape Cod, and he took the word of the Indians for what lay further south.  The old Dutch trade route from Holland to the trading post on Manhattan had skirted the shoals of Cape Cod for years, but they had not published any information about these (perhaps trying to guard their “trade secrets”).  The Pilgrims may have gained some information about the Atlantic Coast from their Dutch acquaintances, and perhaps even obtained Dutch charts for the area for which they were headed.  It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that the area around the shoals was mapped with any degree of accuracy.

  • 10 Nov 2020 3:17 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Speed Calculation

    “The log-line and log-glass were the ship’s speedometer.  The log was originally just that, a log of wood with a line made fast midway of its length, so that, when dropped over the stern of a moving vessel, it immediately took up a position practically stationary in the water, broadside to the course of the ship, causing the line to pay out over the taffrail [the handrail around the open deck area toward the stern of a ship] as the ship ran on away from it.  In the Mayflower’s day the log had evolved into a quadrant of wood, weighted on one side, having a log-line one hundred and fifty fathoms [900 feet] long and graduated into lengths by short pieces of knotted marline inserted through its strands.  Each length, or ‘knot,’ bore the same relation to the nautical mile of about six thousand and eighty feet as the log glass did to the conventional hour glass, and the number of knots run out while the sands of the glass were running through determined miles, or knots, per hour the ship was logging.  Like the old hog-yoke [cross-staff], it was pretty good in fair weather, but in heavy weather and head winds there was considerable slip.”  Sears Nickerson, Land Ho! 1620 (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1997) 31.

  • 9 Nov 2020 2:46 AM | Soule (Administrator)


    Ships of the Mayflower’s day had a very simple array of navigating instruments.  The compass, the cross-staff or the astrolabe, the log-line with its accompanying “sand glass” (hour glass), parallel rulers and dividers, and a spyglass (telescope) were all that was usually available for offshore or deep water navigation.  To this should be added the leadline for soundings when the ship was near enough to the coast to be within a depth of one hundred fathoms (six hundred feet).

    The compass was similar to its modern counterpart.  The local variations of the magnetic needle from true north (as indicated by the North Star or the meridian altitude of the sun) were known and a source of some anxiety.  Whether the Mayflower had a cross-staff or an astrolabe is unknown.  The astrolabe had been in use for a century or more, but it was expensive, complicated, and delicate.  Samuel de Champlain used one onboard ship and on shore for making astronomical observations, but his expedition was well financed and outfitted.  As an aside, in May 1613, to avoid the rapids of the Ottawa River, Champlain chose a course through a number of small lakes near Cobden, Ontario; he and his men were forced to portage and to climb over and under fallen logs at one particularly difficult point by Green Lake (now also known as Astrolabe Lake).  It was here that Champlain lost his astrolabe.  The astrolabe remained where it had fallen for 254 years: eventually a 14 year old farm boy named Edward Lee found it in 1867 while helping his father clear trees by Green Lake.  It is probable that Captain Jones, being only a merchant captain and not being as well funded, relied on the cross-staff, which yielded accurate results with much less trouble.

    The cross-staff was about three feet long, across which (at right angles) was attached a sliding bar about two feet long.  On one end of the staff and on both ends of the bar were sights, so that the observer, holding the sighted end to his eye, could slide the bar along in a vertical position until the horizon could be seen through the sight at the lower end of the bar, while the star or planet being observed showed through the sight at the upper end.  This provided the angle between the horizon and the heavenly body.  Occasionally the North Star was used, but the sun could also serve.  As mentioned in a posting several days ago, Captain Jones probably knew within a few miles what degree of north latitude he was on, but could not possibly have known his longitude within several hundred miles.  No doubt he recognised and made allowance for this.

  • 8 Nov 2020 3:36 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Thomas Weston (1584-c.1647)

    In response to a comment on the first of the posts on Captain Jones, perhaps something should be said about Thomas Weston, who was the villain (if any there was) of Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation.  In 1615 Weston, through his uncle, William Greene, "a man of much wealth," prevailed upon Edward Pickering, "then a shop keeper in Cheapside of mean estate," to become his agent in Holland. According to Weston's evidence, Pickering "professed himself to be so farre of the opinion with the Brownists such as that his conscience would not permit him to conf[orm to] the Church of England nor to allow of the Rites and Ceremonies thereby required and therein used, and that for his non Conformity to the same he was called in question and in danger and to undergoe the Censure of the Ch[urch] .... goe to Amsterdam in Holland where he might live in peace and enjoy the freedome of his Conscience, but for that the said Pickering had not acquaintance there nor meanes to get his liveing." Together Weston and Pickering began to import a variety of seditious (nonconformist) religious tracts into England. By 1619 he was implicated in a shady venture whereby one of his agents, Philemon Powell, imported 30 tons of alum and unloaded it secretly at night to avoid customs duties; he was observed and reported by a vigilant customs official. He and some of his associate Merchant Adventurers had been brought before the Privy Council and ordered to cease unlimited trade in the Netherlands.  Soon after, he left England and travelled to Leiden, where his agent Pickering had married a woman belonging to the Separatists.

    What became the Plymouth colony was financed and begun under Thomas Weston’s direction, but he quit the enterprise in 1622.  As agent for the merchant adventurers' investment in the Mayflower voyage, Weston played a part in the transportation of the More children of Shropshire, who had been taken in 1616 in a dispute arising from their mother’s supposed adultery; the children had been held incommunicado in Shropshire for four years and were then taken to Weston and held at Weston’s home in Aldgate, London, for some weeks until the Mayflower was to sail. They were then given over (or indentured) to three Pilgrims for the voyage to the New World. Three of the four children died the first winter in Plymouth: only Richard More survived.

    In early 1622, Thomas Weston began the colony of Wessagusset (Weymouth) which failed by March 1623; he left New England for Virginia, and by 1640, Maryland.  Phineas Pratt later wrote an account of the company's experience in Wessagusset.   Weston's activities in the Plymouth colony are detailed in Bradford's journal and Robert Cushman's letters. He was a Merchant Adventurer, promoter and capitalist, and a citizen and ironmonger of London. One derogatory comment recorded in records of the time summarises the rest: “He was eager to reap quick profits from the New World, and not very scrupulous about the means.” On 1 March 1622, Weston obtained an export license from the Privy Council to send cannon (thirty pieces of ordnance, the big guns weighing nearly two tons) to New England, intended for the use of the Plymouth Colony; the consignment came from the royal arsenal at the Tower of London, but it never reached America.  Weston sold it instead and pocketed the money: the ordnance was indeed taken aboard in England by Andrew Weston (Thomas’ brother), but "was sold abroad to Turkish pirates ... for extraordinary and excessive gain," or, as less hostile witnesses put it, "sold in some foreign part by Weston's direction, although the same was sold in a countrie both in peace and freindshippe to this Kingdome." The discovery of this capital offence, for which Thomas Weston appears never to have been pardoned, was his downfall. On 31 May 1622, the Council for New England ordered the immediate forfeiture of Weston's ships.  An inquisition was taken at the London Guildhall on 28 July 1622, and Weston’s assets, including Pickering's bond for £1500 and his own for £800 to the King, were ordered forfeit and Weston was declared an outlaw from the Crown. When he arrived in New England in 1622, Thomas Weston was penniless and wearing borrowed clothes, and he was soon expelled.  His activities and movements thereafter remain obscure, but by 1641 he was again visiting England and, so it would appear, still being sought by authority for his old misdemeanours. Thomas Weston's residence during his last years was the 1250 acre Westbury Manor on the east side of St. George's Creek in Saint Mary's County, Maryland, laid out for him on 10 January 1642/3.  According to Charles Andrews: "Weston, after squeezing all he could out of the Pilgrims, became a planter and burgess in Virginia, where he made trading and fishing voyages to the Maine coast. After being arrested more than once for breaking the Colony's laws, he went to Maryland, acquired new property, and returned to England;” he died in London or Bristol of the plague between 5 May 1647 and 29 November 1648. (The Colonial Period of American History [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 1934-38] 3:184).

  • 7 Nov 2020 3:37 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Captain Jones (part two)

    Once the colonists were landed upon American soil, especially if late in the season, they would not be likely, it doubtless was argued, to remove; by a liberal policy on the part of the Council for New England toward them — when they discovered that they were on its territory — they could probably be retained.   That just such a policy was, at once and eagerly, adopted as soon as occasion permitted, supports the idea that the scheme was thoroughly matured from the start. The record of the action of the “Council for New England” — which had become the successor of the Second Virginia Company before intelligence was received that the Pilgrims had landed on its domain — is available and has not survived, but it appears by the record of the London Company of Monday, 16 July 1621, that the Council for New England had promptly made itself agreeable to the colonist  : “It was moved, seeing that Master John Pierce had taken a Patent of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, and thereupon seated his Company [the Pilgrims] within the limits of the Northern Plantations, as by some was supposed ..."  From this it is plain that, on receipt by Pierce of the news that the colony was landed within the limits of the Council for New England, he had, as instructed, applied for, and been given (1 June 1621), the (first) Council patent for the colony.  See also the minutes of the Council for New England of 25 March 1623, and the fulsome letter of Robert Cushman returning thanks in behalf of the Planters (through John Pierce), to Gorges, for his prompt response to their request for a patent and for his general complacency toward them.  James Phinney Baxter, Gorges’s biographer, says: “We can imagine with what alacrity he [Sir Ferdinando] hastened to give to Pierce a patent in their behalf. … The warm desire of Sir Ferdinando Gorges to see a permanent colony founded within the domain of the Plymouth [or Second] Virginia Company was to be realized in a manner of which he had never dreamed [sic!] and by a people with whom he had but little sympathized, although we know that he favored their settlement within the territorial limits of the Plymouth [Second] Company.”  He had indeed “favored their settlement” with all the skill of which he was master, and greeted their expected and duly arranged advent with all the jubilant open-handedness with which the hunter treats the wild horse he has coralled, and hopes to domesticate. 

    In summary, everything favoured the conspirators.  The deflection north-ward from the normal course of the ship as it approached the coast, bound for the latitude of the Hudson, needed only to be so trifling that the best sailor of the Pilgrim leaders would not be likely to note or criticise it, and it was by no means uncommon to make Cape Cod as the first landfall on Virginia voyages.  The lateness of the arrival on the coast, and the difficulties attendant on doubling Cape Cod, would increase the anxiety for almost any landing-place, and render it easy to retain the sea-worn and weary colonists when once on shore.  The grand advantage, however, over and above all else, was the entire ease and certainty with which the cooperation of the one man essential to the success of the undertaking could be secured, without need of any other, that is, the Master of the Mayflower, Captain Christopher Jones.  While proof is, four hundred years later, impossible, there was opportunity, motive, and execution.

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