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Document Number: AJ-040
Author: Pring, Martin, 1580-1646
Title: The Voyage of Martin Pring, 1603
Source: Burrage, Henry S. (editor). Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534-1608. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 343-352.
Pages/Illustrations: 12 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Martin Pring (1580?-1626), was born to a Devonshire family, but the details his early life remain obscure. By age twenty-three, Richard Hakluyt and a group of Bristol merchants considered Pring “sufficient Mariner for Captaine” and placed him in command of the voyage to northern Virginia recounted by this text. Impressed by the success of Captain Gosnold’s 1602 voyage (see AJ-039), the group of Bristol merchants underwrote this voyage to discover and exploit commercial opportunities along the northern Virginia coast (present-day New England). Pring’s backers focused primarily on the valuable sassafras Gosnold had discovered but unlike Gosnold, they first secured Sir Walter Raleigh’s permission prior to undertaking their venture.

Pring enjoyed a long and active career as a mariner whose actions continued to influence the development of England’s colonial trade. In 1606, Pring returned to Virginia as a master Captain Hanham’s ship and mapped the coast with an accuracy that drew him praise. By 1613, he was again serving as a ship’s master, this time in the employment of the Dutch East India Company. By working with the Dutch to exclude the Spanish and Portuguese, he enjoyed great success. By 1619, Pring was commander of naval forces for the entire Company. He returned to England in 1621 and was made a freeman of the Virginia Company and given two hundred acres. His pro-Dutch policies, however, along with accusations of private trading, forced him to resign from the Dutch trading company in 1623. Pring returned to sea and enjoyed notable success capturing French and Spanish prizes. He died in 1626 and is buried in St. Stephen’s Church, Bristol.

Pring Expedition, 1603

Pring left England on April 10, 1603, and reached the shores of what is now Maine and New Hampshire in the late spring. Pring, on the the flagship Speedwell and the bark, Discoverer, explored the islands, rivers, and harbors of New England, including the Piscataqua , Saco, Kennebunk, and York Rivers. They sailed south to present-day Plymouth Harbor and to the Elizabeth Islands south of Cape Cod. The Discoverer sailed home first with a boatload of sassafras. On the Speedwell, Pring and his men had a near-disastrous encounter when the local Indians tried to attack their ship. Two mastiffs brought along on the journey woke the crew and held the Indians at bay before they could take the ship. The Indians then set fire to the woods along shore and nearly two hundred shouted at the departing boats from the land. The Speedwell departed August 8 or 9 and reached England in October 2, 1603.

Following its publication, this document became an important piece of promotional literature. Pring’s account stimulated interest in the economic potential of the northern coast of Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Virginia.” The document provides firsthand descriptions of the region’s geography, plants, animals, and people. Pring’s record of interaction with the Indian inhabitants provides one of the most detailed accounts of pre-settlement English-Native American contact. Pring was particularly fascinated by the Native Americans’ reaction to the European’s two mastiff dogs and a member of the crew who played the gittern, a late-medieval stringed instrument similar to a mandolin.

Document Note

Richard Hakluyt obtained a copy of Martin Pring’s report but never published it. After Hakluyt’s death, his papers passed into the hands of Samuel Purchas, who first printed this narrative in 1625 as part of his fourth Pilgrimes volume. Purchas ascribed the work to Pring, although some parts appear to have been written by others.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Maine’s Davistown Museum maintains a site with an essay about the early explorations of the area, including information about Pring’s travels:

The Museum also offers an extensive online bibliography of Maine history:

On the birch-bark canoes collected and observed by Pring, see the Plimoth Plantation site at:

Axtell, James. Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) and Baker, Emerson W., et. al., eds. American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega. (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1994) contain the modern standard treatments of these events.

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