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Why Maine had a Boston but no Pilgrims

It has been said that Capt. John Smith was a whimsical sort, and spotted on his charts and maps of New England a few good English names, hoping to get a laugh from the staid British gentry. I think not. I believe the Old Salt knew what he was doing and put Plymouth on his map not to entice hilarity, but to gain the attention of important Plymouth people who would be useful when the captain called for a show of hands.

It is certainly comforting to know that the Pilgrims set sail for Plymouth knowing full well there was a place here by that name. Plymouth was on the map quite a few years before there was any Plymouth this side of the one in England. The first English effort to exploit the New World was the formation of two trading companies: The Plymouth Company and The London Company.

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Each was enjoined from doing business within 100 miles of the other. One company tried to establish a colony in Maine, and the other did establish one in Virginia.

The Plymouth Company had failed to colonize at Fort Popham, Maine, but did have offshore fisheries stations that were busy seasonally. Some 30 vessels had loaded fish on the Maine coast in the summer of 1620, the year the Pilgrims came over in the fall.

The Mayflower, scrubbed up and fitted for passengers, was a fish transport in secular life, and all we need to know to confirm this is that the skipper knew the route and made landfall at Monhegan Island, where he had loaded fish many times, and where he laid to and showed the Pilgrims how to hand-line "a few coddes." He then continued on to Massachusetts Bay, where Capt. John Smith had designated Plymouth some years ago.

Most interesting in this matter is that the Pilgrims, when they were in England and began to think about coming to America, approached the Plymouth Company to ask if they might settle on the company's property.

The Royal grants to the Plymouth and the London companies are extant, and show that the rights conveyed were a very tight monopoly. The companies could raise armies, establish coinage, supervise and direct, and had life-and-death authority. Bear this in mind, for a most unhistorical thing happened. Also bear in mind that in those distant days the big wheel in the Plymouth Company, at Plymouth, England, was Sir John Popham, Lord High Justice, and from his own writings a shrewd student of affairs and their causes.

It was his decision to make, and he made it.

The Plymouth Company did not give the Pilgrims permission to settle along the Maine Coast. Nonconformists, the Pilgrims were known to be trouble- makers and reformers, and they could upset the apple cart in a region where all was going very well without them. The Pilgrims were told they might, however, take up residence down in Massachusetts, where they'd be off by themselves and couldn't foment any insurrections or interfere in the smooth conduct of a good business. Pilgrims were welcome if they didn't butt in.

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The Pilgrims did have a tough time in Massachusetts, and in 1622, as I recall, sent their sloop up to Maine to cadge some needed food, which the Maine fishermen supplied without charge, showing the kindly, if astonishing, generosity that we have always nurtured. You can read about this in the Pilgrim records. We could have had the Pilgrims here in Maine, but we didn't want them.

It's been a long way around, but I wanted to show how Capt. John Smith set up towns, and one town he was eager about was Boston. I believe he located Boston just east of the Piscataqua River, but not quite to the Saco. James Jocylin, who came exploring after Smith, was surprised to find that "Boston" was just a beach. Not until 1750 did Maine get a Boston, and by that time Massachusetts had one, too.

What was settled as Maine's Boston was afterward New Boston, then New Town, and now Gray. By the time of the American Revolution, Gray, Maine, was a substantial community and a citizen and taxpayer was one William Goff. There came a day when Mr. Goff heard the Redcoats had occupied the other Boston, down in Massachusetts, and Mr. Goff was not pleased. Who did this king think he was?

So Mr. Goff got down his musket and struck out for Old Boston. He arrived just as the exercise at Concord Bridge commenced and he rolled into a cranny and joined the battle.

NOW, another delusion is that our Colonials were all farmers fresh from the fields, but the truth is we had well-trained militia with considerable equipment and supplies, and they were led by competent officers quite able to meet the best army in the world. So as Mr. Goff was assisting, a company militia officer noticed him and said, "Who are you, and what company are you with?"

Mr. Goff pulled his trigger and replied, "I ain't with no company; I'm old Bill Goff from up to Boston, down in Maine, and I'm fightin' alone!"

I told this story of the solitary soldier who fired the shot heard round the world, and a lady said, "I'm so pleased you told that story! William Goff was my great-grandfather!"

"How nice!" said I, and that's every word I said to her. History prospers on many things that aren't so. I might have told her that I knew for a solid fact that William Goff never married.

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