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They say time flies when you're having fun and we must be having a wild time here in Maine.
Has it really been over four-hundred years since - in August of 1607 - an outfit known as the Plymouth Company attempted to establish an English colony at the mouth of the mighty Kennebec River. To some of us, it seems barely three-hundred.
Of course the Kennebec wasn't known as the Kennebec back then. Mighty or otherwise, it was known then as 'Sagadahoc,' which, I think means "No lifeguard on duty; colonize at your own risk."
The group of colonists and sailors was lead by George Popham, and in what sounds like an obvious attempt at buttering up their fearless leader, the colonists, upon landing, voted to name their settlement 'Popham.' They later said they didn't mean to name it after George Popham but after Sir John Popham, George's uncle and Popham's chief patron. But at that point no one really cared who it was named for and since the entire venture eventually failed, it became an empty honor.
The way I heard the story, the colonists arrived on a Monday and by the following Sunday they had built a church, a modest fort and put non-refundable deposits on about fifty neighborhood houses. No doubt they also would have saved up to 15-percent on their car insurance with Geico, if that opportunity had been available to them.
What makes what they did even more impressive is that these hearty colonists accomplished all this without the help of a Home Depot OR a Walmart. As far as we know there wasn't even a Reny's or a Marden’s in those bleak days of 1607. We can only imagine how different the story of Maine would have been if only these people had the retail opportunities available to us today.
Despite all that hard work, things didn't go well for the Popham colony and before the year was over the two ships (the “Gift of God” and the “Mary and John”) had returned to England leaving behind a skeleton crew of forty-five, who were either the heartiest or numbest colonists of the bunch.
One of the most memorable things the colonists did before most of them packed up and went back to Jolly Old England was take out their ship-building tools and construct a 50-foot pinnace, or sailing vessel, which historians say was the first wooden vessel built by Europeans in the New World. They named the pinnace "Virginia" but we don't know much more about it. Attempts have been made over the years to recreate this historic vessel but since no pictures were left behind to go by no plans survived, no one has any idea what the "Virginia" looked like, making it a perfect subject for maritime historians to argue about endlessly without ever resolving the question.
Since there were no governmental bureaus or bureaucrats and even fewer regulatory agencies and tax officials and appraisers around Popham at the time, we're told that first vessel went through its life entirely uninspected, totally unregulated and completely untaxed.
At least those first colonists had something going for them.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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