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A while back we wrote a column on icebergs, and surprisingly that innocuous column still prompts e-mails from readers including this one from Alice in Northport.
She writes: "John, It's been a while but I've finally gotten around to e-mailing to tell you how much I enjoyed your column on icebergs. I'm sure you know from reading Maine history that our state is the product of the 'Ice Age,' which, as it ended, created its share of icebergs. The last glacier to slide slowly over what would become Maine managed to cut hundreds of inlets and bays out of what we're told was a straight coastline."
Thanks for the e-mail, Alice. You are right. Maine's picturesque coastline was created by the mile-high glaciers that covered and then slid over our state. And as difficult as it is to believe, Alice, the glaciers did all that creative coastal carving without one high-priced landscape consultant or “garden facilitator.”
Once the ice was gone the first human inhabitants, known as Red Paint people, began arriving in Maine -- getting some great waterfront real estate buys in the process, I might add. The name Red Paint had nothing to do with Sherwin Williams; the name came from their custom of lining the graves of their dead with red paint. As you might expect, some historians first wanted to call them the Sherwin-Williams people; others, not to be outdone, insisted we call them the Tru-Value Hardware people. Regardless of what they're called, two things about the Red Paint people are indisputable: They were the first people here and they were really into red paint.
As for Europeans, the first of that lot supposedly arrived here in Maine 500 years before ol’ Chris Columbus. Leif Ericson and a hearty crew of Vikings are believed to have sailed along the coast of Maine around the year 1,000 or so. We’re pretty sure they were here because they left behind an ancient Norse coin which was found on the ground in front of what historians assume was an equally ancient roadside vending machine.
Because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts hadn't even been invented yet, the term “people from away” was still unknown. For that reason, real estate prices along the coast of Maine in the year 1000 were almost affordable and the Vikings even considered building a settlement here. Some historians think that early environmentalists might have put the kibosh on those settlement plans. They also think that this was the first known use of the “kibosh” in the New World.
Historians don't think any more Europeans came through these waters until around 1498, six years after the Great Admiral of the Ocean Sea "discovered" the New World. That European was John Cabot, who may or may not have sailed Maine's coastline at that time. Cabot was being paid for his efforts by King Henry VII of England. The problem with Cabot's 15th century visit is that he left no records. As far as we know he sent no postcards and left no credit card receipts behind.
The first Europeans to come ashore in Maine to stay established Popham in 1607. If that date sounds familiar it should; 1607 was the same year the folks in Jamestown, VA, arrived to build their settlement. Not surprisingly the Popham colony residents didn't survive the first harsh Maine winter and headed for Florida, becoming Maine's first Snow Birds.
There were more than a few English settlements that tried to get something going here in the 1600s but not surprisingly they couldn't take the cold weather, either. Frequent Indian attacks didn't help much.
Our “special relationship” with Massachusetts began in the 1700s, when land speculators in the Massachusetts Bay Colony began buying up most of the land claims in what was called the Maine wilderness territory. You might say the buying of Maine land by Massachusetts speculators continues to this day.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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