Have you noticed that lots of people are becoming interested in Antarctica? As it’s ice cap slowly melts, it will become easier for vessels to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean using the fabled Northwest Passage.
As a kid in school, learning about Maine history, I read that just about every European explorer – from John Cabot to Giovanni de Verrazano to Henry Hudson went up every Maine river they could find - hoping to find the mythical passage.
At the same time, I learned about how Maine’s picturesque coastline was created by the mile-high glaciers that covered our state a few thousand years ago. As the glaciers melted, they slid over our state sculpting our rocky coast. And as difficult as it is to believe, the glaciers did all that creative coastal carving without one high-priced design consultant or pricy facilitator.
A lot of ice melted, but not enough to reveal the fabled Passage. I also learned that once the land appeared, people soon showed up. First on the scene where a group now called the Red Paint people. Imagine the great real estate deals they must have gotten? Their name came from their custom of lining the graves of their deceased 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 after the glacier mostly melted and they were really into red paint.
As for Europeans, the first of that lot supposedly arrived here in Maine 500 years before 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 vending machine.
Because Massachusetts hadn’t even been invented yet, real estate prices along the coast of Maine in the year 1000 were quite reasonable and the Vikings even considered building a settlement here. Some historians think that early environmentalists might have put the kibosh on the Vikings’ settlement plans. They also assume that this was the first use of the word kibosh in the New World.
Historians say they don’t think any more Europeans came through these waters until around 1498, six years after the Great Admiral “discovered” the New World. That European was John Cabot who may have sailed around Maine’s shoreline around that time. He was an Italian explorer 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 -- he didn’t send one postcard or sign one credit card receipt.
There may have been a few European ships that visited these waters briefly around 1600, but as far as we know all they did is come ashore to make repairs and process their fish catches.
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 didn’t survive the first harsh Maine winter and headed for Florida, becoming America’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. Frequent Indian attacks didn’t make it any easier.
A lot of people think our “thing” with Massachusetts is a recent development in our history. It isn’t. It goes way back. By the early 1700s, our neighbors in Massachusetts had bought up most of the land claims in what was called Maine’s wilderness territory, a predicament that would continue until 1820 when Maine becme our nation’s 23rd state.
It may be more information than you wanted to know, but once I started writing I found it difficult to stop.