History and Maine's First Ship

The pinnace Virginia was the first ocean-going English ship built in the Americas, and she started a 400-year legacy of shipbuilding in the lower Kennebec River near Bath Maine. The tidal portion of the river was previously called the Sagadahoc River; Sagadahoc is a Wabanabi name meaning “river mouth”. The area was heavily populated by the Wabanaki before the arrival of the Europeans and they had a long tradition of building watercraft as boats were generally the only viable form of transportation in the area.

Virginia was built in 1607-1608 at the Popham Colony which was founded by the Plymouth company in August 1607 and abandoned in October 1608.  The colony of about 100 men and boys was founded to exploit the wood, animal, and mineral wealth of the area and to find the northwest passage. Virginia was built to use in this exploration and to show it was possible to build a ship using local materials in the Americas. When the colony was abandoned, Virginia was sailed to England, and in 1609 sailed to Jamestown, the Popham Colony’s southern sister colony.

The exact location of the Popham Colony was unknown for several centuries.  In 1888 a plan for it was found in the Spanish royal archives.  Archaeological digs done over a 15 year period have confirmed the location and the accuracy of the plan. 

The Bath area, ten miles upriver of the Popham Colony location, became a major shipbuilding site with over 4000 ships built.  This legacy continues with Bath Iron Works which builds destroyers for the US Navy. In the shadows of BIW cranes, Maine’s First Ship is building a reproduction of Virginia.