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Document Number: AJ-042
Title: Relation of a Voyage to Sagadahoc, 1607-1608
Source: Burrage, Henry S. (editor). Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 397-419.
Pages/Illustrations: 26 / 1
Citable URL:

Author Note

Although its author is unknown, this work has been attributed to James Davies, the navigator of Raleigh Gilbert’s ship, the Mary and John.

Popham’s Expedition to Maine, 1607-1608

On April 10, 1606, James I signed a charter for two colonies, one in the northern part of Virginia and the other in the south. The promoters of the northern colony included Sir Fernando Gorges and Sir John Popham. In May 1607, the investment group sent out two ships, the Gift of God and the Mary and John, under the command of Popham’s son George. They carried a total of about 120 settlers, including gentlemen, soldiers, craftsmen, and farmers. They hoped to establish a settlement that would profit from trade with the Native Americans and exploit the wealth of America’s natural resources, particularly through the discovery of precious metals such as the Spanish had found in the south.

When George Popham sailed in 1607 to settle the Sagadahoc colony at the mouth of the Kennebec River, he first landed at Monhegan Island. Leaving Monhegan, he sailed south, first landing at New Harbor, and ultimately choosing a site at the mouth of the Kennebec, east across the bay from present-day Portland, Maine. Here the colonists built a fort, houses, a stockade, and a storehouse. An alliance with local Wawenoc, Canibas and Arosaguntacook Indians soon deteriorated and eventually resulted in an attack on the colonists that caused thirteen deaths. A particularly severe winter set in early, food supplies gave out, the colony’s sponsor in England passed away, the site of the little settlement was exposed to brutal winter winds, and George Popham himself died on February 5, 1608. When a supply ship finally arrived the following June, the colonists learned that Gilbert’s older brother had also died, leaving him to head the family. He decided to return to England to tend to his affairs and all the other colonists, reluctant to face another severe winter without their leader, joined him.

Until this document resurfaced in 1875, most scholars believed that the charter for a northern colony had never been acted upon and that the Pilgrims at Plymouth, who arrived thirteen years later, were the first English colonists in New England (see AJ-025). Archeological evidence has settled the debate. While the venture did not prove to be permanent, the Popham Colony’s experiences likely provided valuable information for colonists who later settled in New England.

Document Note

The manuscript of the Relation of a Voyage to Sagadahoc was discovered in 1875 in the library of Lambeth Palace London, and was first printed in 1880 by John Wilson and Son, University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since the Lambeth manuscript was mutilated, leaving the narrative unfinished, in 1892 the Gorges Society added an end section from an earlier copy that appears in William Strachey’s Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia (London, 1612). They then published the resulting composite under the title The Sagadahoc Colony.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

An archeology project called the Popham Field School, run by the Friends of the Maine State Museum, maintains a website with information on the colony, and on the discoveries that archeologists are making at the site. See

The Davistown Museum maintains a very good local and regional history website. This section has links to information on Popham Colony:

The Davistown Museum also offers an extensive online bibliography for Maine history:

Imagine Maine hosts a site with an essay by Pat Higgins, "Popham Colony: A Slice of Time,” at

The Archeology Channel website contains additional information and a field video of a dig done at the Popham colony site in 2001. See the “The Popham Colony” at

Ivor, Noël Hume. “Message from Maine: Two Virginias and One Mystery Map,” Colonial Williamsburg 22:4 (Winter 2000-01): 67-72; and Baker, Emerson W., et. al., eds. American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994) are two modern scholarly treatments of these events.

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