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New Monument for the Man Who Named New England

 

John smith portrait

A very different New England

Smith himself intended to return to New England to start a colony, perhaps nearby. He named the Isles of Shoals "Smith Isles" and correctly predicted their enormous economic value as a fishery. But his attempts to return were thwarted, first by bad weather and a shipwreck, and later by pirates. We can only imagine how different New England would be under Smith, a Royalist and savvy entrepreneur  who had considerable experience with Indian cultures.

But as the inscription on the new memorial proclaims, Smith's map of the region also guided the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620 and led John Winthrop to settle at Boston in 1630. It may have directed the first fishermen to Rye in 1623 and the settlers to Strawberry Bank in 1630. Smith's enthusiastic reports from his 1614 voyage encouraged the investors who bankrolled trip after trip to the region.

Campbell is especially proud of the embossed bronze plaque that will give visitors a detailed view of Smith's influential map of New England. At 26 by 30 inches, the map will be nearly twice the size of the original. Campbell obtained a high-quality digital image of the map from the Boston Public Library. The ornate "compass rose," an icon on the map used to designate directions, has been etched into the granite of the memorial.

          "After we commissioned the map I had nightmares that it would come out blurry," Campbell says. But the finished plaque is beautifully reproduced and should stand the test of time.

The obelisk shape also echoes the design of the monument to Rev. John Tucke on StarIsland. Tucke was a Harvard-educated Hampton native who dedicated his life as missionary to the island fishing families prior to the Revolutionary War. The new monument at Ragged Neck Point is just over six miles away, the closest point between the mainland and the Shoals.

An historic day

Does John Smith really matter to New Hampshire? You bet. At one level he reminds us of how accidental all history really is. A shift in the wind and we might be living in Port Smith instead of Portsmouth. Smith's treatise and map also remind us that America was founded primarily for territorial and economic reasons, rather than the popular claim that New England was a haven of religious freedom. Smith reminds us that European explorers criss-crossed the Atlantic Ocean well before the Pilgrims at Plymouth.

History has not always treated John Smith well. Critics have labeled him a boaster, a self-promoter, an opportunist, and perhaps a liar. His adventures in the Crusades, in Jamestown, and on the high seas sometimes seem beyond belief. But during his stay at MonheganIsland in Maine and his travels south to Cape Cod, Smith offered surprisingly accurate details. His assessment of the potential value of local fish, whales, and fur turned out to be brilliant. And his map was the best one available for decades.

At the upcoming dedication re-enactor Paul Strand will make a case for the colonization of New England using Smith's own prophetic words. Award-winning Portsmouth writer W. Jeffrey Bolster will tell us why history matters. Rep. Campbell will be on the podium along with local senators Nancy Stiles and Martha Fuller Clark. Governor Maggie Hassam is an invited guest.

Captain John Smith would expect nothing less. He was, after all, the man who named New England. And while Smith has long been a celebrity in Virginia, it has taken New Hampshire 400 years to get his monument right.

READ MORE ABOUT THE 1614 MONUMENT 

Copyright © 2014 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday and exclusively online at his independent Web site SeacoastNH.com. He is the author of 11 books including AMERICA'S PRIVATERR: Lynx and the War of 1812.

 

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