The Popham Colony at Fort Saint George

When: In August 1607

Who: About 100 men arrived in the Kennebec River on the Gift of God and the Mary and John.  Sir George Popham was the leader and Raleigh Gilbert was second in command.

Why did they come: They wanted to find gold and other mineral riches, the Northwest Passage, a river passage to China, to control the beaver and fishing trade and for adventure. Two colonies were established that year – one group went to Jamestown in Virginia and the other group came north to the Kennebec.

Problems: In December, half of the men returned to England in order to save on the food that was left at the Fort. In February, the leader, Sir George Popham died. Raleigh Gilbert became the leader. He was young, early to mid twenties, not a good leader and did not get along with the natives already living here, and the winter was terribly cold.

What did they do during the year: They built a storehouse, other buildings including a house for Raleigh Gilbert. They explored, got food from the Natives, fished, searched for gold. They also built a 30 ton boat called a pinnace. This was the Virginia built under their shipwright Mr. Digby. This pinnace was the first English boat built on the continent of North America.

Why did they give up: A supply ship came in the late summer with a surprise for Raleigh Gilbert! His brother had died and now Raleigh became the heir to the family fortune! He wasn’t about to stay in the colony when he had riches at home and he decided he was going home to England.

What happened: 14 months after they arrived, in October of 1608, their plans were over and the colonists followed the new leader, Raleigh Gilbert home. The men traveled in the supply boat and in Virginia back to England.

Outcomes: The Virginia was built and sailed across the Atlantic at least 2 times, as a supply ship for the Jamestown colony. The Pilgrims got a lot of good information from the Popham colonists so they were more successful in starting their colony. AND we have a time capsule in Phippsburg, Maine – a 1 year colony buried from 1608 until discovered by Dr. Jeffrey Brain in 1997.

The Mystery: There never was a map of the colony found in England. But then a map by Hunt was found in the Spanish archives. This was the only map ever found. How did it get in the Spanish archives? Spain and England were enemies. Was there a spy at Fort Saint George? Was someone willing to make money by selling this map to the Spanish? We don’t know the answer to that question, But a copy of this map proved very helpful to Dr. Brain in his digs at the site of Fort Saint George, including the dig that has taken place this summer. Pictures of the 2010 dig are on the right.