The Journal of Robert Davies

There is little remaining original documentation from the Popham Colony. This is the journal of the pilot (navigator) of Mary & John, one of the two ships used to establish the colony. The ship was owned by the Gilbert family, and Raleigh Gilbert was the captain.  The ship’s officers were James Davies (master) and Robert Davies (pilot). The name is normally spelled as Davis in America and that is how it is pronounced. Robert Davies was master of Mary & John on the return voyage in October 1607 and on her return in September 1608. He was the master of Virginia in October 1608 when the colony disbanded. This journal has sometimes been attributed to James Davies, but it appears unlikely that James Davies would have done the things recorded in the journal.  

This journal was found in papers of Ferdinando Gorges stored at the Lambeth Archives in London in 1883. The journal is most likely a clean copy made upon the return of Mary & John in December It is not complete as it is missing the last two weeks before the departure of Mary & John and the return voyage.

The spelling of words has been changed to match modern English to make it more accessible to readers. The punctuation is only changed where the text was otherwise unreadable. This leaves many run-on sentences. The text in brackets is an explanation for the modern reader.

The journal refers to the native people as Savages. This term means “wild” in French and while certainly offensive now was most likely pejorative even then. However, the reason for reading the historical record is to understand the people at the time, and this is part of that understanding.

The voyage part of the journal is full of latitude references, as this started as the ship’s journal. This is the primary means of navigation, but it is not very precise below degree. Where they made landfall in Nova Scotia is actually at 44.24 N latitude and is recorded in the journal as 44.5 and 44.33.  All calendar references are to the Julian calendar which at this point was 10 days behind the Gregorian calendar we now use. Although most of Europe changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, England did not do so until 1752.

The journal contains the voyage starting in England, but the text here starts when Mary & John reaches what is now Nova Scotia, southwest of modern Halifax.

[Nova Scotia]

This day being the last of July [1607] about 3 o’clock in the afternoon we recovered the shore and came to an anchor under an island for all this coast is full of islands and broken land but very sound and good for shipping to go by them, the water deep 18 and 20 fathom hard aboard them. [A fathom is 6 feet].

This island stands in the latitude of 44 degrees and ½ and there we had not been at an anchor past two hours before we espied a Basque shallop coming towards us having in her eight Savages and a little Savage boy they came near unto us and spoke unto us in their language, and we making signs to them that they should come aboard of us showing unto them knives, glass beads and throwing into their boat some biscuit. But for all this they would not come aboard of us but making show to go from us, we suffered them. So when they were a little from us and seeing we proffered them no wrong, of their own accord returned and boldly came aboard of us and three of them stayed all that night with us the rest departed in the shallop to the shore making signs unto us that they would return unto us again the next day.

The next day the same Savages with three Savage women being the first day of August returned unto us bringing with them some few skins of beaver in another Basque shallop and offering their skins to trade with us. But they demanded over much for them and we seemed to make light of them. So then the other three which had stayed with us all night went into the shallop and so they departed. It seems that the French had traded with them for they use many French words.  The chief commander of these parts is called Messamott and the river or harbor is called Emannett [Le Have]. We take these people to be the Tarentins and these people as we have learned since do make wars with Sasanoa the chief commander to the westward. We have planted and this summer they killed his son. So the Savages departed from us and came no more unto us. After they were departed from us we hoisted out our boat wherein myself was with 12 others and rowed to the shore and landed on this island that we rowed unto the which we found to be a gallant island full of high and mighty trees of sundry sorts. Here we also found abundance of gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, and whorls [blackberries]. So we returned and came aboard and observed the place to stand in 44 degrees and ⅓.

Sunday being the second of August after dinner our boat went to the shore again to fill fresh water where after they had filled their water, there came four Savages unto them having their bows and arrows in their hands making show unto them to have them come to the shore. But our sailors having filled their water would not go to the shore unto them but returned and came aboard being about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. So the boat went presently from the ship unto a point of an island and there at low water in an hour killed near 50 great lobsters. You shall see them where they lie in cold water not past a yard deep and with a great hook made fast to a staff you shall hitch them up. There are a great store of them you may near load a ship with them, and they are of great bigness. I have not seen the like in England. So the boat returned aboard and we took our boat in and about midnight the wind came fair at northeast we set sail and departed from thence keeping our course southwest for so the coast lies.

Monday being the third of August in the morning we were fair by the shore and so sailed along the coast we saw many islands all along the coast and great sounds, going betwixt them, but we could make proof of none for want of a pinnace. Here we found fish still all along the coast as we sailed.

Tuesday being the 4th of August in the morning 5 o’clock we were seaward of a cape or headland lying in the latitude of 43 degrees [Cape Sable] and came very near unto it.  It is very low land showing white lake sand but it is white rocks and very strong tides goes here from the place we stopped at being in 44 degrees ½ until this cape or headland it is all broken land and full of islands and large sounds betwixt them and here we found fish in abundance so large and great as I never saw the like cods before neither any man in our ship.

After we passed this cape or headland the land falls away and lies in northwest and by north into a great deep bay [Bay of Fundy]. We kept our course from this headland west and west and by south 7 leagues and came to three islands where coming near unto them we found on the southeast side of them a great ledge of rocks lying near a league into the sea the which we perceiving tacked our ship and the wind being large at northeast cleared ourselves of them keeping still our course to the westward west and by south and west southwest until midnight. Then after we held in more northerly.

[St Georges Island]

Wednesday being the 5th of August from after midnight we held in west northwest until 3 o’clock afternoon of the same and then we saw the land again bearing from us north west and by north and it rises in this form there under. Ten or 12 leagues from you there are three high mountains that lie in upon the mainland (the Land called Segohquet) near unto the river of Penobscot in which river the Bashabe makes his abode the chief commander of those points and stretches unto the river of Sagadahoc under his command. You shall see these high mountains when you shall not perceive the mainland under it they are of such an exceeding height. And note, that from the cape or headland before spoken of until these high mountains we never saw any land except those three islands also before mentioned. We stood in right with these mountains until the next day.

Thursday being the 6th of August we stood in with this highland until 12 o’clock noon and then I found the ship to be in 43½ degrees by my observation. From thence we set our course and stood away due west and saw three other islands lying together being low and flat by the water showing white as if it were sand but it is white rocks making show a far of almost like unto Dover cliffs. and these three islands lie due east and west on of the other so we came fair by them and as we came to the westward the highland before spoken of showed itself in this form as follows.

From hence we kept still our course west and west by north towards three other islands that we saw lying from these islands before spoken of 8 leagues and about ten o’clock at night we recovered them and having sent in our boat before night to view it for that it was calm, to sound it, and see what good anchorage was under it we bore in with one of them the which as we came in by we still sounded and found very deep water 40 fathom hard aboard of it.  So we stood in into a cove in it and had 12 fathom water and there we anchored until the morning. And when the day appeared, we saw we were environed round about with islands you might have told near thirty islands round about us from aboard our ship. This island we call St. Georges Island [probably Allen island] for that we here found a cross set up the which we suppose was set up by George Weymouth [who scouted out the area in 1605. They appear to be looking for the agreed rendezvous point with Gift of God].

Friday being the 7th of August we weighed our anchor whereby to bring our ship in more better safety howsoever the wind should happen to blow and about ten o’clock in the morning as we were standing off a little from the island we descried a sail standing in towards this Island and we presently made towards her and found it to be the Gift of God, our consort. So being all joy full of our happy meeting we both stood in again for the island we rowed under before and there anchored both together.


This night following about midnight Captain Gilbert caused his ship’s boat to be maned and took to himself and 13 other myself being one. Being 14 persons in all and took the Indian Skidwarres with us the weather being fair and the wind calm we rowed to the west in amongst many gallant islands and found the river of Pemaquid to be but 4 leagues west from the island we call St. Georges where our ships remained still at anchor. Here we landed in a little cove [most likely New Harbor] by Skidwarres direction and marched over a neck of the land near three miles.  So the Indian Skidwarres brought us to the Savages houses where they did inhabit although much against his will for that he told us that they were all removed and gone from the place they were wont to inhabit.  But we answered him again that we would not return back until such time as we had spoken with some of them. At length he brought us where they did inhabit where we found near a hundred of them men, women, and children. And the chief commander of them is Nahanada at our first sight of them upon a howling or cry that they made they all presently issued forth towards us with their bows and arrows and we presently made a stand and suffered them to come near unto us then our Indian Skidwarres spoke unto them in their language showing them what we were which when Nahanada their commander perceived what we were he caused them all to leave aside their bows and arrows and came unto us and embraced us and we did the like to them again. So we remained with them near two hours and were in their houses. Then we took our leave of them and returned with our Indian Skidwarres with us towards our ships the 8th Day of August being Saturday in the afternoon.

Sunday being the 9th of August in the morning the most part of our whole company of both our ships landed on this island the which we call St. Georges Island where the cross stands and their we heard a sermon delivered unto us by our preacher giving God thanks for our happy meeting and safe arrival into the country and so returned aboard again.

Monday being the 10th of August early in the morning Capt. Popham in his shallop with thirty others and Capt.Gilbert in his ships boat with twenty others accompanied, departed from their ships and sailed towards the river of Pemaquid and carried with us the Indian Skidwarres and came to the river right before their houses where they no sooner espied us but presently Nahanada with all his Indians with their bows and arrows in their hands came forth upon the sands.  So we caused Skidwarres to speak unto him and we ourselves spoke unto him in English, giving him to understand our coming tended to no evil towards himself nor any of his people.  He told us again he would not let all our people should land, so because we would in no sort offend them, hereupon some ten or twelve of the chief gent landed and had some parle together and then afterward they were well contented that all should land.  So all landed we using them with all the kindness that possible we could.  Nevertheless, after an hour or so they all suddenly withdrew themselves from us into the woods and left us we perceiving this presently embarked ourselves all except Skidwarres who was not desirous to return with us. We seeing this would in no sort proffer any violence unto him by drawing him perforce, suffered him to remain—and stay behind us. He promised to return unto us the next day following but he held not his promise. So we embarked ourselves and went unto the other side of the river and there remained upon the shore the night following.

Tuesday being the 11th of August we returned and came to our ships where they still remained at anchor under the island we call St. Georges.

[Seguin Island]

Wednesday being the 12th of August we weighed our anchors and set our sails to go for the river of Sagadahoc. We kept our course from thence due west until 12 o’clock midnight of the same.  Then we struck our sails and laid ahull until the morning doubting for to overshoot it.

Thursday in the morning break of the day being the 13th of August, the island of Seguin bore north of us not past half a league from us and it rises in this form here under following the which island lies right before the mouth of the river of Sagadahoc South from it near 2 leagues but we did not make it to be Seguin so we set our sails and stood to the westward for to seek it 2 leagues farther and not finding the river of Sagadahoc we knew that we had overshot the place then we would have returned but could not and the night in hand the Gift sent in her shallop and made it and went into the river this night but we were constrained to remain at sea all this night and about midnight their arose a great storm and tempest upon us the which put us in great danger and hazard of casting away of our ship and our lives by reason we were so near the shore the wind blew very hard at south right in upon the shore so that by no means we could not get of where we sought all means and did what possible was to be done for that our lives depended on it. Here we plied it with our ship off and on all the night often times espying many sunken rocks and breaches hard by us enforcing us to put our ship about and stand from them bearing sail when it was more fitter to have taken it in but that it stood upon our lives to do it and our boat sunk at our stern yet would we not cut her from us in hope of the appearing of the day.  Thus we continued until the day came then we perceived ourselves to be hard aboard the lee shore and no way to escape it but by seeking the shore. Then we espied 2 little islands lying under our lee so we bore up the helm and steered in our ship in betwixt them where the Lord be praised for it we found good and safe anchorage and there anchored the storm still continuing until the next day following.

Sequin profile from the South and from the East

Friday being the 14th of August that we anchored under these islands their we repaired our boat being very much torn and spoiled then after we landed on this island and found 4 savages and an old woman. This island is full of pine trees and oak and abundance of whorls [blackberries] of four sorts of them.

Saturday being the 15th of August the storm ended and the wind came fair for us to go for Sagadahoc so we weighted our anchor and set sail and stood to the eastward and came to the Island of Sutquin which was 2 leagues from those islands we rode at anchor before and here we anchored under the Island of Sutquin in the easterside of it for that the wind was of the shore that we could no get into the river of Sagadahoc and here Capt. Popham’s ships boat came aboard of us and gave us 20 fresh cod that they had taken being sent out a fishing.

Sunday being the 16th day of August, Capt. Popham sent his shallop unto us for to help us in so we weighed our anchors and being calm we towed in our ship and came into the river of Sagadahoc and anchored the Gift’s side about 11 o’clock the same day.

[Exploring the Kennebec]

Monday being the 17th of August, Capt. Popham in his shallop with 30 others and Capt. Gilbert in his ships boat accompanied with 18 other persons departed early in the morning from their ships and sailed up the river of Sagadahoc for to view the river and also to see where they might find the most convenient place for their plantation, myself being with Capt. Gilbert. So we sailed up into this river near 14 leagues [most likely as far as Richmond, but that is more like 7 leagues] and found it to be a most gallant river very broad and of a good depth we never had less water than 3 fathom when we had least, and abundance of great fish in it leaping above the water on each side of us as we sailed. So the night approaching after a while we had refreshed ourselves upon the shore about 9 o’clock we set backward to return and came aboard our ships the next day [Tuesday the 18th] following about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We find this river to be very pleasant with many goodly islands in it and to be both large and deep water having many branches in it that which we took bendeth itself towards the northeast [The Kennebec River].

[Fort St George]

Tuesday being the 18th after our return we all went to the shore and their made choice of a place for our plantation which is at the very mouth or entry of the river of Sagadahoc on the west side of the River being almost an island of a good bigness. Whilst we were upon the shore there came in three canoes by us, but they would not come near us but rowed up the river and so past away.

Wednesday being the 19th August we all went to the shore where we made choice for our plantation and there we had a sermon delivered unto us by our preacher and after the sermon our patent was read with the orders and laws therein prescribed and then we returned aboard our ships again.

Thursday being the 20th of August all our companies landed and there began to fortify. Our president Capt. Popham set the first spit of ground unto it and after him all the rest followed and labored hard in the trenches about it.

Friday the 21st August all hands labored hard about the fort, some in the trench, some for gabions, and our ship carpenters about the building of a small pinnace or shallop.

Saturday the 22nd August Capt. Popham early in the morning departed in his shallop to go for the river of Pashipskoke [Androscoggin]. There they had parle with the Savages again who delivered unto them that they had been at wars with Sasanoa and had slain his sun in fight. Skidwarres and Dahanada were in this fight.

Sunday the 23rd our president Capt. Popham returned unto us from the river of Pashipcoke.

The 24th all labored about the fort.

Tuesday the 25th  Capt. Gilbert embarked himself with 15 others with him to go to the westward upon some discovery, but the wind was contrary and forced him back again the same day.

The 26th and 27th [of August] all labored hard about the fort.

[Exploring Casco Bay]

Friday the 28th [ of August] Capt. Gilbert with 14 others myself being one embarked him to go to the westward again.  So the wind serving we sailed by many gallant islands and towards night the wind came contrary against us so that we were constrained to remain that night under the headland called Semeamis [Portland Head] where we found the land to be most fertile the trees growing their doth exceed for goodness and length being the most part of them oak and walnut growing a great space asunder on from the other as our parks in England and no thicket growing under them here we also found a gallant place to fortify whom Nature itself hath already framed without the hand of man with a running stream of water hard adjoining under the foot of it.

Saturday the 29th August early in the morning we departed from thence and rowed to the westward for that the wind was against us but the wind blew so hard that forced us to remain under an island 2 leagues from the place we remained the night before whilst we remained under this island their passed two canoes by us but they would not come near us.  After midnight we put from this island in hope to have gotten the place we desired, but the wind arose and blew so hard at Southwest contrary for us that forced us to return.

Sunday being the 30th August returning before the wind we sailed by many goodly islands for betwixt this headland called Semeamis and the river of Sagadahoc is a great bay [Casco Bay] in the which lieth so many islands and so thick and near together that you cannot well discern to number them, yet may you go in betwixt them in a good ship for you shall have never less water than 8 fathoms.  These islands are all overgrown with woods very thick as oaks, walnut, pine trees, and many other things growing as sarsaparilla, hazel nuts, and whorls [blackberries] in abundance. So this day we returned to our fort.

[Dealing with the native people]

Monday being the last of August nothing happened but all labored for the building of the fort and for the storehouse to receive our victuals.

Tuesday the first of September there came a canoe unto us in the which was 2 great kettles of brass. Some of our company did parle with them but they did rest very doubtful of us and would not suffer more then one at a time to come near unto them. So he departed. The Second day third and 4th  [Wednesday, Thursday, Friday] nothing happened worth the writing but that each man did his best endeavor for the building of the fort.

Saturday being the 5th of September there came into the entrance of the river of Sagadahoc nine canoes in the which was Dehanada and Skidwarres with many others in the whole near forty persons men, women, and children they came and parled with us and we again used them in all friendly manor we could and gave them victuals for to eat. So Skidwarres and one more of them stayed with us until night the rest of them withdrew them in their canoes to the farther side of the river. But when night came for that Skidwarres would needs go to the rest of his company. Capt. Gilbert accompanied with James Davis and Capt.Ellis best took them into out boat and carried them to their company on the farther side of the river and there remained amongst them all the night. And early in the morning the Savages departed in their canoes for the river of Pemaquid promising Capt. Gilbert to accompany him in their canoes to the river of Penobscot where the Bashabe remains.

The 6th nothing happened.

The 7th our ship the Mary & John began to discharge her victuals.

Tuesday being the 8th September, Capt. Gilbert accompanied with 12 others myself being one of them departed from the fort to go for the river of Penobscot takings with them divers sorts of merchandise to trade with the Bashabe who is the chief commander of those parts, but the wind was contrary against him so that he could not come to Dehanada and Skidwares at the time appointed for it was the 11th day before he could get to the river of Pemaquid where they do make their abode.

Friday being the 11th in the morning early we came into the river of Pemaquid there to call Nahanada and Skidwarres as we had promised them, but being there arrived we found no living creature, they were all gone from thence. The which we perceiving presently departed towards the river of Penobscot, sailing all this day and the 12th the like.  Yet by no means could we find it. So our victuals being spent we hasted to return So the wind came fair for us and we sailed all the 14th and 15th days in returning, the wind blowing very hard at north and this morning the 15th day we perceived a blazing star [meteorite] in the northeast of us.

The 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd  nothing happened but all labored hard about the fort and the storehouse for to land our victuals.

[Exploring farther up the Kennebec]

The 23rd being Wednesday [of September] Capt. Gilbert accompanied with 19 others myself one of them departed from the fort to go for the head of the river of Sagadahoc. We sailed all this day so did we the like the 24th until the evening when we landed there to remain that night.  Here we found a gallant champion land and exceeding fertile. So hear we remained all night.

The 25th [of September] being Friday early in the morning we departed from hence and sailed up the river about eight leagues farther until we came unto an island being low and flat. [Augusta]. At this island is a great down fall of water the which runs by both sides of this Island very swift and shallow. In this island we found great store of grapes exceeding good and sweet of to sorts both red but the one of them is a marvelous deep red. By both the sides of this river the grapes grow in abundance and also very good hops and also chebolls and garlic.  And for the goodness of the land it doth so far abound that I Cannot almost express the same. Here we all went ashore and with a strong rope made fast to out boat and one man in her to guide her against the swift stream we plucked her up throw it perforce. After we had past this downfall we all went into our boat again and rowed near a league farther up into the river and night being at hand we here stayed all night. and in the first of the night about ten o’clock there came on the farther side of the river certain Savages calling unto us in broken English.  We answered them again, so for this time they departed.

The 26th being Saturday there came a canoe unto us and in there four savages those that had spoken unto us in the night before his name that came unto us is Sabenoa he makes himself unto us to be Lord of the river of Sagadahoc.

[At this point we lose the rest of the original journal. William Strachey in his history of the Plymouth Company created a summary of this journal, and seems to have had access to additional pages of it, but his history became much less detailed at this point. Robert Davies left the Popham Colony on October 8, 1607, as master of the Mary & John, and took this journal with him.]

You can see the original of this with the 17th century spelling and lots of footnotes: