John Hunt's plan of Fort St George (1607)

On October 8, 1607, seven weeks after the establishment of the Popham Colony, John Hunt completed the plan (draught) of Fort St George.  This plan was returned to England on the Mary and John left for England on that same day.  It appears that John Hunt returned with this map, probably leaving a copy with George Popham, president of the Popham Colony.  No copy of the plan was ever found in England, and indeed we do not have a similar plan for any early English settlement in the Americas. Very little of the plan could have been completed before the plan was sent to England.

The plan was found in 1888 by the historian Alexander Brown in the Simancas Archive in Spain.  Along with it were found letters between Don Pedro Zuñiga (Spain’s ambassador to England) and Spain’s King Phillip III concerning the plan.  Prior to finding this plan, the exact location of the Popham Colony was not known, but this plan exactly matches the geography of Sabino Head.  Archaeological excavations between 1994 and 2013 by Jeffrey Brain confirmed the location, and proved the accuracy of the plan, at least for those portions that were built.

hunt map
John Hunt plan of Fort St George - scan from Simancas Archive (1998)

Three copies of the plan are known, two drawings of the plan were done in 1888 (for Alexander Brown) and 1890 (for Henry Thayer), and a scan done in 1998 for Jeffrey Brain.. The original is 289mm by 429mm (11.4 by 16.8 inches) including the backing.  The map is oriented with magnetic north to the left (which in Maine is about 20 degrees east of true north). 

An image of the plan with the text modernized makes it easier to read the markers. 

Hunt plan with modern text

Who was John Hunt

We know little of the identity of John Hunt except that as we have the plan he had the skill to architect the fort and to draw this plan. Because so many of the principal colonists were related to either the Popham or Gilbert families we assume that he was as well.  But where he came from, his age, and where he went afterwards, is not known.  Because of the parent Plymouth Company’s tight rein on costs, we assume that Hunt was only employed to create his plan and then return to England on the first available ship.

The archaeological excavations by Jeffrey Brain have shown the Hunt was an exceptionally accomplished draftsman.  His scale, conformity to topography, and construction detail have proved to be very accurate.  However, should not forget that most of what is shown on this plan was not been built (or even started) when this plan was send to England with the Mary and John.  As the colony only existed for 14 months, and for 10 of those months with a very small company, we must assume that much of the plan was never built.  Where buildings have been found in the archaeology, they do conform to this plan.

Fort St George

As was the custom at the time, the plan shows a three dimensional view of the fort.  Using the store house (5) as an example, the entire eastern side is shown giving the building’s length, as well as the northern end giving the building’s width and height.  This technique does not use perspective as is used in modern drawings.

In the plan, Fort St George has two sections, the citadel and the fort.  The narrow citadel is located at the highest point and is the terminus of Sabino Head.  It contains the president’s house and several guns , a demi-culverino (9 pound ball), and two sakers (5 pound ball).  The entrance is to a gate in the north wall, next to the postern gate on the east side of the fort.  In modern times, the postern gate is the road into the site, and Fort Baldwin was built above the citadel with 20th century large guns pointing out over the mouth of the Kennebec River.

The remainder of the plan describes the fort.  Trenches run along the south and western sides, and cliffs protect the northern and eastern sides.  The stone fortifications are shown with 3 to 7 courses of stone.  The cliffs do respect the current shoreline, and shallow ditches were found along the areas marked as trenches.  However, no stonework was found in either location in the archaeology, and most likely only gabion style defenses existed.  Gabions are wicker cylinders filled with dirt from the ditches which would not appear in the archaeological record. Six more guns are shown in the plan.  However, we do not know how many guns were placed in the fort.  There is evidence for some, but they would have been removed when the colony was abandoned.

The buildings on the site include common buildings (chapel, munition house, store house, buttery, and kitchen), officer houses, and private lodgings.  It is likely that many of the private lodgings were not built as the company was reduced by 50 men in December 1607.  Many of the buildings have dotted lines around them which most likely indicates fencing.  The small stream (labeled Lake) still exists at the site but has very little flow except right after rain as it drains port of Sabino Head.

On the north side a jetty is shown.  The pier for Fort Baldwin was put at this point in 1905 as it is the nearest point to deep water. The water to the west of the site is Atkins Bay is is very shallow.  There is about an 8 foot tidal range today and it was presumably the same 400 years ago.  At high tide the water is very near the cliffs, but there is a noticeable but rocky beach at low tide.

The plan shows a pinnace with coastal rigging adjacent to the jetty which appears to be Virginia.  Of course when this plan was drawn work was just beginning on Virginia.  The area of the beach just beyond the water gate (19) has a 50 foot section which could be modified into a semi dry dock.  This is the most likely location for the construction of Virginia.

 

Signficance of the Hunt plan

The Popham Colony site is very important for understanding early colonization of North America.  While much investigation has been done in Jamestown, its history is continuous, and very little is known about its early layout.  There are no drawing of what they planed to build, or what was built, and often the same location was built over many times in a small number of years.  It is impossible to say if artifacts came from 1607, 1617, or 1627 even if they are found in context.

Jeffrey Brain called John Hunt’s plan a visual time capsule as is the site itself.  As the colony only lasted 14 months and the site was unused for the next 150 years, if a building is found at the location shown on the Hunt plan, we know what the building was used for.  If a 17th century artifact appears in context, we know is is from 1607.  Unfortunately the site was significantly modified in the 19th and 20th centuries as two forts, farms, houses, roads, and parking lots were built there.  

See Fort St George Archaeology to see more about the archaeological excavations of the Popham Colony site.

Work in progress: Add a bibliography.  Add links to the 19th Century books by Brown and Thayer which are available online.