June 14 – 20, 2019Vol. 21, No. 2

The Popham Colony

by Martha F. Barkley

Beyond: Popham Colony: The first English settlement in New England, the 2013 London Book Festival Grand Prize historic novel, was written by former high school teacher Dick Seymour of North Haven, Maine. He knew very well that students study the 1607 Jamestown Colony, but Popham in that same year is never mentioned in history books. Wonder why?

Perhaps the over 400 year survival of Jamestown explains its enduring fame. The early demise of Popham due to an extremely harsh winter and Abanaki native troubles may be the reason history of the U.S. overlooks Maine. Several different tribes had "serious warfare" right before the October 8, 1607 arrival time to these shores. So many events in history are simply luck and timing.

Both colonies settled by the same English company is evident in the ship built on the Kennebec River being named Virginia and the first ship ever built this side of the Atlantic. Quite a major accomplishment in a short-lived Popham Colony. The energetic colonists even managed to send quite a large cargo of huge, harvested trees to help ship building back in the Mother Country.

How did they do so much in such a brief period of time, less than two years? Author Seymour explains the hardships and accomplishments in this novel based on historic records. Merry Old England seems all the merrier for leaders of Popham who return for wives and instructions. Minds and future plans change after long ordeals once again back at Popham.

Those of us who enjoy Popham Beach days, not far from here, will find descriptions of swimming there quite realistic: "In the afternoon, just before high tide, I enjoy swimming up that small river, the one that divides the beach and meanders a mile or so north into a pond. If you time it right, you can float up with the incoming and out with the outgoing tide. The water gets almost warm."

The historic pen and ink drawings in the front and back of the books show the extensive fortifications built near the beaches and the numbers of buildings within, including a chapel. How did they do all of that? Read Seymour's story and find out. I hope to someday see the colorful replica of the Virginia, which I understand is usually harbored at Jamestown. Maybe Portland will have her visit soon?

"The fort still teems with activity: twenty future masts, tall pine trees, straight and true, limbed and barked and lashed together before being floated downriver with an ongoing tide. They rest next to the Mary and John (ship's name) waiting to be hoisted with block and tackle onto the deck for its upcoming return to Plymouth. These are prizes for His Majesty's growing Royal Navy, trees not easily found in England."

Keeping warm is survival at Popham Colony, so sex among the colonists and native peoples perhaps requires a mature reading audience for this novel by R. deVillers Seymour who became a professor at Cambridge College in Boston. He now lives in Brunswick with his wife and extended family and Border Collie, Bet.

As usual in my reading, I find the endnotes just as fascinating as the story. Chapter 5 footnote: "Some fifty miles north on the Kennebec, above present day Augusta, lived the Abanaki. Their cultural and trading connections were more aligned with Quebec...all natives in what is now Maine were referred to as Abanaki — or to make things more convoluted, Wabenaki, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy."