St. George’s Fort
This map of St. George’s Fort was constructed in 1607 by colonist John Hunt. As cartographer and draughtsmen for the Popham Colony, Hunt created this map as an indicator of the Colony’s intentions in the construction of the fort. While the map was initially created to illustrate the physical structures of the fort, archeologists today are finding the map invaluable as an aid in uncovering the history of the colony.
Brain, Jeffrey P. (2008) “The John Hunt Map of the First English Colony in New England,” Northeast Historical Archaeology: Vol. 37: Iss. 1, Article 6.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/neha/vol37/iss1/6
Where was this colony located?
Fort St. George was built in 1607 by the Popham Colony, near the mouth of the Sagadahoc River in Virginia, the name given to the unsettled east coast. Today the fort is found in the town of Phippsburg, Maine which archeologist Dr. Jeffrey Brain rediscovered in 1990. It is located north of the more successful Virginia colony of Jamestown and it would become the second colony in the area that would eventually make up present day New England. (Richard Pflederer, History Today)
Who were the settlers who tried to colonize this place?
The colonists who erected St. George’s Fort were originally from England. As William Tabor details in his article entitled Maine’s Popham Colony, a charter was issued in 1606, from James the First. They came to North America in 1607, arriving on August 18th (although this map of the fort was not drawn until October of the same year.) The group’s leader was President George Popham, whose uncle, Sir John Popham, was Chief Justice of England and one of the largest financial supporters of the expedition. Second in command was a younger man named Raleigh Gilbert, who assumed leadership of the colony after Popham’s death in the winter of 1607. Additionally, Richard Thorton notes in his article Fort Saint George, approximately 100 other colonists, all men, arrived with the two. These colonists were hand-selected from plantations in Ulster, Ireland, for the voyage, as means of insuring that all were healthy and had the skills necessary for the building of a colony.
1 Tabor, William T. . Athena Review, “Maine’s Popham Colony.” Last modified 2003. Accessed September 20, 2012. http://www.athenapub.com/popham.htm.
2 Thorton, Richard. Access Genealogy , “Fort Saint George.” Last modified 2010. Accessed September 20, 2012. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/people/fort_st_george_maine.htm.
What motivated these people to travel across the Atlantic?
This map of St. George’s Fort, established in August of 1607, shows many buildings, including a chapel, a storehouse, cabins, etc, (Maine History Online, Plan of St. Georges Fort). This fort was located by the Kennebec River in the town of Phippsburg located in Maine and had begun the colony known as the Popham colony (Due to George Popham who was to be the president of the colony) (Maine History Online, Plan of St. Georges Fort). This group of colonists had stopped at other places along this journey before reaching Phippsburg including Monhegan Island and Pemaquid, but were rejected of trading and then pushed by a storm and forced to drop anchor in the Sagadahoc River which was part of the Kennebec River (Maine History Online, 1500-1667: Contact and Conflict). There, they had started building the fort. This settlement did not last long at all due to bad relationships between the colonists and the natives (Maine History Online, 1500-1667: Contact and Conflict). But why did these people decide to travel here? It is noted that these people had come here for fish, timber, furs and other resources (Maine History Online, Plan of St. Georges Fort). They had also come on the mission of hopefully being able to start a settlement there to collect many of these resources and to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific and Asia (Main History Online, Popham Colony: The First English Colony in New England).
Contributor. “Maine Memory Network – St. Georges Fort plan, Phippsburg, 1607.” The Maine Memory Network, Maine’s online museum, a project of the Maine Historical Society. http://www.mainememory.net/artifact/7542 (accessed September 24, 2012).
“Maine History Online – 1500-1667 Contact & Conflict.” The Maine Memory Network, Maine’s online museum, a project of the Maine Historical Society. http://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/895/page/1306/display?page=2 (accessed September 24, 2012).
“Maine History Online – Plan of St. Georges Fort.” The Maine Memory Network, Maine’s online museum, a project of the Maine Historical Society. http://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/947/page/1358/display?use_mmn= (accessed September 24, 2012).
“Maine Memory Network – Popham Colony: The First English Colony in New England.” The Maine Memory Network, Maine’s online museum, a project of the Maine Historical Society. http://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/2002/page/3257/display?use_mmn=1&popup=1 (accessed September 24, 2012).
With whom did these people come into contact when they arrived in North America?
As the Popham Colony was being founded in 1607, the colonists came into contact with the Abenaki. The Abenaki tribe belongs to the group of Algonquian peoples and had lived along the coast of present day Maine for thousands of years. The Popham colonists were not the first Europeans to come into contact with the Abenaki. The Abenaki had previously encountered a group of explorers led my Giovanni Verrazano in 1524. The relations between the natives and the explorers had been hostile and the Abenaki maintained that hostility towards the Popham colonists. Because of this the colony was unable to open trade with the Abenaki.
Tabor, William H. “Athena Review 3,2: Maine’s Popham Colony.” Athena Review 3,2: Maine’s Popham Colony. Athena Publishing, Inc, 2003. Web. 24 Sept. 2012. <http://www.athenapub.com/popham.htm>.
Why did the colony fail?
This colony failed because they failed to establish a relationship with a neighboring aboriginal tribe who could have helped them discover local resources to ensure their colony’s survival. During the short time the colony was there, summer arrived late which meant there was no time to farm for food and half of the colonists returned to England in December 1607. The remaining colonists faced a hard winter including cold weather, the freezing of the Kennebec River, and fires destroying buildings including the storehouse. Finally, with the colony president returning to England to inherit a title and the estate of Compton Castle in Devon, the remaining colonists also decided to return to England. This left the colony abandoned in just one year.