WELL may Massachusetts cherish the sacred cod on the walls of her State House. Even as the mother wolf suckled infant Rome, so the cod nurtured New England in her infancy. "God fed them out of the sea," said Gov Bradford, in speaking of the hungry, half-naked colony at Plymouth.
The stern, rock-bound coast held no richer lure for colonists than this humble but easily preserved fish, in a time when Christian Europe was debarred from eating meat on 157 days in the year. No great New England river tempted the searchers for a passage to the Indies. The gray granite coldly repelled the gold hunters. The destined to be rich corner of the United States was the Cinderella of America, which the French passed by for the valley of the St Lawrence and the Dutch for the valley of the Hudson.
The first English ship responded to the beckoning, outstretched finger of New England in 1602, when Bartholomew Gosnold rounded and christened Cape Cod, gave our geography what has been transmuted into the pleasant name of Marthas Vineyard, and named for his Queen Elizabeth the cluster of little islands in the mouth of Buzzards Bay, where he came to anchor.
Down there on Cuttyhunk in the town of Gosnold, an English hammer first walked the echoes in New England, as the voyager and his 20 men fell to building their fort, and its thatch was the first English roof in the New World since the vanishing of the lost colony of Roanoke. Also they prepared and loaded the first cargo of New England exports, which consisted of the bark and pitch of the sassafras tree, a sovereign remedy for whatever ailed on in those days and a specific for the plague, which was spreading terror and death through Europe.
Although the first English colony was established in Virginia, it was closely followed, in the same year of 1607, by another and larger colony, which planted itself in New England. The rival leaders, Humphrey Gilbert, brother of Sir John, and George Popham, kinsman of the Lord Chief Justice, were so long in agreeing on the choice of a landing place in "hundred-harbored Maine," that it was well into August and on the sharp edge of Winter, when 117 strangers to the New England climate landed on one of the lips of the many-lipped Kennebec.
Nevertheless, the ships that brought the so-called Popham colony over, the "Gift of God," and the Mary and John, returned to England with the blithesome assurance of the natives that the forests of Maine abounded in"nutmegs, mace and cinnamon!"
The ubiquitous Spanish spy did not overlook that solitary hamlet of Englishmen, but was concealed among the colonists, as the records of Spain disclosed long afterward. A ship also went out to destroy both the James River and the Kennebec colonies, but the crew flinched from attacking either.
Those redoubtable New England warriors, January and February, were more effective in persuading the Popham colony from its dreams of gathering nutmegs in Maine. "All former hopes were frozen to death" by Spring. At the approach of a second assault by Winter, the surviving denizens of St George fled their fort and church and sailed home. At least most of them did. No doubt some few chose to stay and squatted along the coast.
There was a continual coming and going between England and New England, even after the abandonment of St George. Three years afterward a French fisherman ran into an English party on the island of Matinicus in the mouth of the Kennebec, where he was attacked and robbed as a trespasser.
A nobleman of France put out from the Bay of Fundy to punish that insult to his King. But he seems to have been overburdened with scruples strange to his day, and he shrank from avenging the national honor by sinking some innocent English fishermen. Not his hands, but thousands of others, were stained in blood in the 150 years' war that was started by those nameless Englishmen on that lonely little island off the coast of Maine in 1611.
In only two years more the second Anglo-French class occurred on another island of Maine. Some Jesuit fathers from France had hardly more than set up the altar of St Sauveur by the shore of Somes Sound on Mt Desert in 1613, when Capt Argall, English sea dog from Virginia, broke up that abode of Frenchmen and Catholics.
For seven years more there was not a white man's chimney in New England, so far as history knows. Yet by the reports of Capt John Smith, there seem to have been as many men on Monhegan as may be found today on that island of Maine.
Capt John came a fishing and mapmaking and took home with him a rich store of fish and furs. He was the first of America's boosters. New England has yet to find a more enthusiastic publicity man, and he vowed that she was to him, "his wife, his hawks, his hounds, his cards, his dice." He coined the very name New England, which did much to sell it to English colonists, and he hammered out for his colonizing campaign a catchy slogan, "Planters, Pleasures, Profits."
The Admiral of New England, as Smith was, by right of the King's commission, never revisited its shores, although he made repeated attempts to lead expeditions and colonies to his favorite land. He still was wrestling with a perverse fate and drumming up colonists in 1620, when there sailed a little colony that answered well to his description of those who should people New England—men and women "that have great spirits and small means."
James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Oct 21, 1927, p. 22