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What Martin Pring Was Really After


The search for this tree led to the
discovery of Seacoast, NH?

Was Marting Pring the first white man to set foot in the Piscataqua region in 1603. If so, why had he traveled the Atlantic for to dig up trees? The true story of the European discovery of New Hampshire is one rarely whispered by the history books.




Here’s a rarely whispered New Hampshire fact. The first known European to sail down the Piscataqua River was seeking a cure for syphilis. Martin Pring of Bristol England, most scholars agree, discovered what is now the Seacoast region of New Hampshire in 1603 while searching for sassafras, a valuable medicinal plant. Most early New Hampshire historians tend to blur the simple truth, but Pring was quite specific. In his own published report of the 1603 voyage to the New World he wrote that sassafras was "a plant of soveriegne vetrue for the French Poxe".

shipPortsmouth is an English town to its roots. It was named for an English city, as are most of the towns in the New Hampshire coastline – Hampton, Durham, Dover, Newmarket, New Castle, and on. The English hated the French in the 1600s. The French had beaten the English to Norembega, the early name for the New World. Pring’s visit was an early attempt to establish British influences in the unclaimed area between French territory to the north and Spanish claims to the south.

So the English naturally named an irritating, sometimes deadly sexually transmitted disease after the French. Baldness produced by syphilis was called a "French crown". The French, in turn, called the disease after the Italians. The Russians named it after the Poles. The Japanese named it after the Portuguese. Even in the 1600s, it seems, venereal disease was always someone else’s fault.

Nathaniel Adams, Portsmouth’s first official historian, was unaware of Martin Pring’s visit. His 1824 "Annals of Portsmouth" begins with John Smith, the ultimate English explorer, who charted this region in 1614 and changed its name from "Northern Virginia" to "New England". But by the mid-1800s, Portsmouth journalist Charles Brewster had included Martin Pring’s search for sassafras in his "Rambles About Portsmouth". Brewster imagined the arrival of the first white man to step onto Portsmouth soil with a spiritual fervor that modern historians use to describe Neil Armstrong’s first footfall on the Moon.


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Sunday, February 25, 2018 
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