John Smith (1580-1631) - New England
John Smith (1580-1631)
“New England the most remarqueable parts thus named by the high and mighty Prince Charles, Prince of great Britaine. Observed and described by Captayn John Smith” from The General Historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles
State 5 (of 9): With cross hatching on the armor, Paynes islands named, and the engraver's names spelled “Passaeus”.
London, (1616), 1626
Paper size 13 1/2 x 14 7/8”
Frame size: 24 3/4 x 26 3/8”
This is the foundation map of New England cartography, the map that gave it its name and the first devoted to the region. It covers the area from the present Penobscot Bay in Maine to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After a period of inactivity following his Virginian escapades, Captain John Smith was invited by four London merchants to explore the coastline of New England. These men, Buley, Langham, Roydon and Skelton, financed two ships that sailed in March 1614 with instructions to return with a profitable cargo. There had been earlier English voyages between the years 1602 and 1605 by men like Gosnold, Pring and Weymouth. Although these did not amount to anything of great importance, Gosnold is credited with naming Cape Cod.
Smith made a good crossing in six weeks, arriving off Monhegan Island near the Kennebec estuary. By now the waters of New England, particularly Maine, were visited by dozens of Englishand French fishing vessels a year. One of Smith's vessels concentrated on catching fish and collecting other valuable commodities. Smith continued down the coast to chart and explore, lamenting the poor quality of existing maps: '[he] had six or seven several plots of those Northern parts, so unlike each to other, and most so differing from any true proportion, or resemblance of the Country, as they did me no more good, then so much waste paper, though they cost me more'. Naming Plymouth Rock he described the place as 'an excellent good harbor, good lands, and no want of anything but industrious people'. This proved the incentive six years later for the 'Mayflower' Pilgrims to relocate here after their first choice proved unwise. In mid July after just six weeks Smith returned to England. It is remarkable that in this short time he managed to glean so much of the coastline. Indeed, the amount of work that is actually his own has been called into question by some.
Smith settled up with the four merchants who had backed him and approached the Plymouth Company with the idea of founding a colony. By now though Smith's luck had run out. Setting off in 1615, he was held back by appalling weather which destroyed his ship and nearly cost him his life. Undaunted he set out again and ran into one pirate ship, and then two French privateers. Finally, he was interrupted by four French warships suspecting that he was a privateer. Whilst Smith was on board one of the French ships to present his credentials, the shipmaster, Captain Chambers, fled, leaving Smith stranded with the French. Captive, he sailed with them as they attacked the ships of all nations. When the ship he was in became shipwrecked, he managed to survive and make his way back from France, arriving in England in December 1615. He was thought to have perished. Smith tried many more times to travel to America, but never succeeded. Whilst on board the French vessel, Smith had passed the time writing a manuscript entitled A Description of New England. This he carried to London and published in June 1616.
To accompany this work Smith had Simon van de Passe engrave a map of his surveys. The young Prince Charles provided much of the nomenclature, most of which does not survive today. The notable exceptions are the 'River Charles and Plimouth'. The book was successful, not least because America was very popular at the time. Rebecca Rolfe, otherwise known as Pocahontas, was in London causing quite a stir. During its life the plate was changed numerous times, creating nine recorded states.
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