George Folsom.

A discourse delivered before the Maine historical society (Volume 1) online

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SEPTEMBER 6th, 1846.



" But I doubt not * * * it will prove a very flourishing place, and be replenished
with many falre Towns and Cities, it being a Province both fruitful and pleasant."

F. Gouges. Description of the Province of Maine.







At a meeting of the Maine Historical Society, holden at Brunswick, Sept.
6th, 1846,

Resolved, That the thanks of the Society be presented to the Hon. George
FoLSOM, of New York, for his highly valuable and interesting Discourse, deliv-
ered before them this day, and that he be respectfully requested to furnish a
copy of the same for publication.

JOS. IVIcKEEN, Eecording Secretary.


Mr. President, and Gentlemen of the Histori-
cal Society :

Indifference to the past, considered as a na-
tional characteristic, is a mark of rudeness and inciv-
ihzation. A purely savage people live only in the
present moment. The satisfaction of immediate
wants, the enjoyment of the passing hour, make
up the sum total of their existence. They have no
monuments of former generations, and they leave
none of themselves. To them, the deeds of forefa-
thers, the exploits of other times, the good or evil
that marked an earher day, afford no examples and
impart no instruction. It is as if none had lived
before them, and none were to come after. Equally
indifferent to the future, they make no provision for
a day beyond that which already dawns upon them,
and care as little for the next generation as the last.

Such are mankind in their natural and uncultivated
state. But as they emerge into the light of civiliza-
tion, a change comes over the scene. An enlarged
horizon exhibits new objects to the view. Their
gaze is no longer fixed, animal-like, upon the narrow
compass of earth that suffices for present indulgence ;
but looking upward towards Heaven, as well at
around upon the outspreading landscape, they begin


to feel the sublimity of their intellectual nature, and
to call into exercise the faculties that God has endow-
ed them with, but of which they were before uncon-
scious. Now awakens the thirst of knowledge, — the
strong and insatiable desire to grasp at something
beyond mere existence. The well-spring of thought
bubbles up, stimulating and fertilizing the perceptions,
and a thousand imaginations and conceits pour forth
in undisciplined confusion. Reason and reflection
soon, however, assert their rights, and the plastic hand
of cultivation moulds all into shape and order.

The present moment is now no longer the limit of
of the mind's ken. It supplies too gross a material
for the exercise of the awakened powers, and the
imagination scorns to feed upon it. Stretching back
to the past, or diving deep into futurity, it delights
to take to itself the wings of fancy, and revel and
riot amid the scenes that bear it away from the sen-
sualities and follies, the cares and distractions, of the
fleeting moment. It conjures up the realities of a
by-gone age, and seeks to learn the motives, the
principles, the habits, both of body and mind, and all
tliat was comprised in the career of those who once
lived and flourished, but have long slumbered in the
Valley of Silence. It was at this stage of progress^
that the Father of History unfolded his luminous page,
and recited to his assembled countrymen the glorious
deeds and chivalric achievements of their departed
sires, or traced the daring exploits of the half-fabulous
heroes who made Greece the arena for the display
of superhuman courage and unrivalled prowess. It
is needless to add that the land rung with praises of
the man, who had thus successfully appealed both to


the new-born thirst for historic lore, and to that other
and scarcely less civihzed sentiment, the love of
one's own native land.

Advancing improvement strengthens the desire to
converse with departed excellence, and national pride
leads to the erection of lasting monuments to perpet-
uate its fame. Memorials are sought on every hand,
but, alas ! it too often happens that inattention or
neglect, on the part of contemporaries, occasions the
loss of what a subsequent age would be sure to prize as
the precious rehques of genius or distinguished merit.
How little is known, for instance, of the private his-
tory of England's great dramatist, and with what
eagerness are the faintest traces of his every-day life
sought and treasured up ! Yet with a little care ex-
ercised either in his own day, or by those of the next
succeeding generation, enough might have been pre-
served to enable his admirers, in all ages, to form a
correct conception of the life and personal character
of the man whose genius is the proudest boast of
English literature.

Great national events likewise often fail of a proper
appreciation from the want of due care in preserving
the memorials of their occurrence. To the historical
student many cases in point will suggest themselves.
The history of American discovery may be mention-
ed as singularly deficient in the requisite materials
for its elucidation. The important voyages of Sebas-
tian Cabot and Americus Vespucius are involved in
much obscurity from this cause, and the chart or map
drawn by the former to illustrate his discoveries, has
long been classed among the things " lost on earth."
Navarrete, in Spain, has done much to rescue from


oblivion the services rendered by his countrymen, in
the discovery of the New World ; but had the work
been commenced at an earlier period, the results
would doubtless have been far more satisfactory and

In this country, something has already been done
towards the preservation of the materials of history ;
and it is gratifying to find an increased interest awa-
kened in the subject, and a higher appreciation of its
importance entertained, at the present time, than at
any former period. It marks to some extent the cha-
racter of the age, and affords, according to the gene-
ral views just presented, an indication of progress,
a sign of intellectual growth, in our social character.
The Documentary History, now in the course of pub-
lication under the auspices of the general government,
is a work of which any country might be proud ;
and if completed according to the plan of its intel-
ligent editor,* it will be a noble monument to the
liberality and enlightened patriotism of our national
legislature. The states individually have also awa-
kened to the importance of collecting and preserving
their public records, and in some of the older com-
monwealths considerable appropriations have been
made of late years to defray the expense of arranging
and making secure what is too often regarded as the
useless lumber of antiquity. It is certainly desirable,
in every point of view, economical as well as histori-
cal, that a similar course should be pursued in the
pubhc offices of all our states ; for often the preser-
vation of a single document may lead to results of

* Peter Force, Esq., late Mayor of the city of Washington.


greater value than all the labor and expense re
quired to effect this object.

The publications of the English Record Commis-
sions are an example of what may be accomplished
by a great and enlightened nation for the preservation
of its public records. The work was commenced in
the year 1800, and was continued nearly forty years,
during which time there were printed of the ancient
records of the kingdom, commencing with tlie reign
of William the Conqueror, one hundred and eleven
volumes, of which eighty-six are in folio ; and the
amount expended by the government in connexion with
this object, during that period, is estimated at nearly
a milhon of pounds sterling, or about five millions
of dollars. The same liberal and munificent spirit that
has led to the achievement of this great enterprise,
not satisfied with having provided for the security of
the documents contained in those massive volumes,
by their publication, has also governed their distribu-
tion ; for copies were sent to most of the colleges
and many other literary institutions of this country,
which certainly had no claim upon the liberality of
the British government. This great work has raised
another monument to the far-famed national spirit of
that monarchy, which ever seeks, by appropriate
means, to foster and sustain the reputation of her sons
and the glory of her ancient name.

The long connexion of the people of this country
with the European governments, of which they were
colonies, renders our own archives incomplete with-
out resorting to those abroad; and hence some of
the State Legislatures have so far interested them-
selves in this subject, as to send agents to the mother


countries to procure copies of documents illustrative
of their early history. The Legislature of New York
appropriated about fifteen thousand dollars for this
purpose, and her Agent was employed three years
in the ])erformance of his labors, during which time
he examined the archives of London, Paris, and the
Hague, and brought home an invaluable collection of
State Papers, and other documents of great value and
interest. Georgia, likewise, with commendable liber-
ality, has instituted a similar agency abroad, which re-
sulted in the acquisition of twenty-two folio manuscript
volumes, obtained from the English offices, and deposi-
ted by the direction of the Legislature with the Histor-
ical Society of that state. Massachusetts, distinguish-
ed for her enlightened legislation, and ever alive to
whatever promotes the cause of learning and educa-
tion, has established a similar agency in London and
Paris ; and it is believed that many other States are
prepared to adopt the same course.

But the most striking evidence of the attention now
bestowed on the subject of historical investigation
in this country, is found in the organization of His-
torical Societies throughout the Union, having in view
the specific object of collecting and preserving the ma-
terials of history. The Massachusetts society was the
first in the field : it has already published twenty-
nme volumes of Collections, containing a prodigious
mass of information, relating chiefly to the history
of New England. One of its founders, and its first
President, was a native of this State ; I refer to the
late James Sullivan, then a resident of Boston, and
afterwards Governor of Massachusetts. This gentle-
man also produced a history of this State, then the


District of Maine, which although far from being a
faultless work, was highly creditable to the industry
and patriotism of its Author. Associated with Sulh-
van in founding and sustaining that Society, were
Belknap, Eliot, Freeman, Minot, Tudor, Thach-


Bradford, Harris, and others, who formed a pha-
lanx of intellectual strength and erudition not often

The New York Historical Society was founded at
a somewhat later period than that of Massachusetts,
but was the next in order of time, and is now in the
forty-second year of its existence. Among those
who were among its earliest members, (but now de-
ceased,) may be named Egbert Benson, John Pintard,
Rufus King, De Witt Clinton, Dr. Hosack, Bishop
Hobart, Daniel D. Tompkins, Dr. Mitchell, Brockholst
Livingston, and Peter A. Jay. The President of this
society, at the present time, is the Hon. Albert Galla-
tin, who at a very advanced age finds solace in hterary
pursuits, to which his time is chiefly devoted.f The
Library of this institution is large, and rich in American
history ; and is the resort of historical students from

* See an excellent sketch of the history of the Massachusetts Society, by the
Rev. William Jenks, D. D., in the twenty-seventh volume of its Collections.
Dr. Jeuks states, that the Kev. Dr. Belknap, author of a well known and highly
esteemed History of New Hampshire, " has been uniformly regarded as the prin-
cipal founder of that Society."

t This gentleman is also President of the American Ethnological Society, es-
tablished at New York. The first volume of the Transactions of that learned
association appeared last year, consisting chiefly of an elaborate essay upon the
languages, astronomy, &c. of the ancient inhabitants of Mexico and Central
America, by Mr. Gallatin. This remarkable work, involving much abstruse
learning, and acute discrimination, is one of the greatest trophies of an intellec-
tual old age the world ever saw ; having been composed by the venerable author
in his eighty-fifth year.


all parts of the country. Its members are numerous,
and the papers read at its monthly meetings usually
attract a large concourse of persons of literary taste
and habits. Besides its volumes of Collections, this
Society publishes an amial report of its transactions,
containing the Papers read during the year«

I have spoken more particularly of the societies
of Massachusetts and New York, as being the oldest
in the country ; but there are many others of a more
recent date, which are equally efficient and useful.
They bring together much of the learning and talent
of their respective States, and afford to politicians a
neutral ground on which they can meet without dan-
ger of hostile collision ; for surely nothing is better
fitted to inspire proper feelings in the hearts of the
living, than the contemplation of the virtues of those
who have preceded them on the stage of active life,
and patriotism itself is kindled by surveying the tro-
phies and memorials which a grateful country exhibits
to exalt the fame of her distinguished sons. We have
no Westminster Abbey to perpetuate the remem-
brance of valor, genius, or beneficence ; even
Washington sleeps in a common tomb with his kin-
dred, and of his distinguished associates in the field,
how few of us can tell where their remains now repose !
If Historical Associations should do no more than
point out the resting places of departed merit, dis-
encumbering the humble tomb-stone of its moss, and
freshening the sod that lies upon the grave of genius,
they will perform a truly grateful though it may be
humble office, and be the means of holding up to
public view examples worthy of imitation.

The Society I have the honor to address was insti-


tuted in 1822, and numbered among its early friends
and founders some of the most eminent names in the
State. It has already rendered good service by the
publication of a volume that sheds much light on the
early history of a large portion of Maine ; and should
its organization give birth to nothing beyond that vol-
ume, so replete with the fruits of patient research, its
existence would be marked by no idle or unsatisfactory
result. But there is no reason it should stop here ;
there is much more work for it to perform before its
destiny be accomphshed. There is no part of our
country whose history is more diversified, and in-
structive, than these Northern shores ; noiie less
known, or full of more exciting incident. The long
subjection of Maine to a rival colony, gave it less inter-
est and importance in the eyes of the general histori-
an than it deserved to possess ; but having at length
resumed its original independence, with the means of
developing its vast resources, and extending its
wealth and population, this State must hereafter oc-
cupy a prominent position in our country, and a con-
spicuous place on the page of history.

I propose in the remainder of this discourse to call
your attention to some of the facts connected with
the early discovery and settlement of Maine, and the
character of those who were most active in the work
of colonization.

To Columbus belongs the glory of having solved
the great problem, as to the existence of lands in the
west ; but in his estimation, the discovery owed its
chief importance to the supposed identity of those
lands with the opulent, but remote regions of Cathay,
or China, and the Indies. Impressed with this idea.


the great navigator, even in his last voyage, took with
him persons skilled in the Arabic language, for the
purpose of being enabled to hold intercourse with the
Khan of Tartary, as the Emperor of China was then
styled, whose dominions he expected to reach by sail-
ing west from Hispaniola. This voyage terminated
twelve years after the first discovery, and resulted
only in the exploration of the coast of Central Ame-
rica, from the bay of Honduras to the Spanish Main.
The same idea led to the discovery of the continent
of North America, by the Cabots in 1497. The ac-
count of the matter given by Sebastian Cabot, who
was the master spirit on that occasion, is that the
news of the discoveries made by Columbus, caused a
great sensation at the court of Henry VH., who then
reigned in England, and it was thought a wonderful
thing, " more divine than human, to sail by the west
to the lands in the east, where spices grow." The fame
of this achievement kindled a desire in his own mind
to attempt something of a similar character, and
" understanding," he says, " by reason of the sphere,
that if I should sail by the northwest, I should by a
shorter tract come into India, I thereupon caused the
king to be advertised of my device," 6zc. He after-
terwards adds, " I began therefore to sail towards the
northwest, not thinking to find any other land than that
of Cathay, and from thence to turn towards India ;
but after certain days, I found that the land ran towards
the north, which to me was a great displeasure." *

*Hakluyt. Thus Lord Bacon characterizes Cabot's discovery as " a memo-
rable accident," and the great navigator he describes " as one Sebastian Gabato,
a Venetian, dwelling at Bristol, a man seen and expert in cosmography and na-
vigation." Hist. Henry VII.


The accounts of this voyage, and of a second in
in the same direction, made by Sebastian Cabot the
following year, are extremely meagre ; no details of
them were published by the navigator himself, and
after his death, his original maps and papers disap-
peared in a mysterious manner. But there is suffi-
cient evidence to show that he first discovered land,
after pursuing a northwest course from Bristol Chan-
nel, on the coast of Labrador, in latitude about 56**^,
on the 24th of June, the day of St. John the Baptist.
In honor of the day, he gave the name of St. John to
a small island, on the same coast, which has latterly
disappeared from our maps. It is now supposed that
Cabot, after making this discovery, continued his
course to the north, as high as latitude 67^, and enter-
ed Hudson's bay ; finding the sea still open, he said
that he might and would have gone to Cathay, had it
not been for the mutinous conduct of the master and
mariners, who compelled him to retrace his steps.
The ship in which he sailed was called the Matthew,
of Bristol.

Obtaining a new patent from the king, he again
sailed the following year with several vessels and
about 300 persons, for the purpose, it is supposed, of
forming a colony. It was during this voyage that he
sailed alono- the whole coast of the United States, and
laid the foundation of the English claim to the country.

Some particulars of these voyages are given by
Peter Martyr, the celebrated Italian, a resident in
Spain at that period, who derived his information from
Cabot himself, when a guest at his house. According
to this writer, Cabot called the lands he had discov-
ered " Baccalaos, a name," says Martyr, " given by


the inhabitants to a large kind of fish, which appear-
ed in such shoals, that they sometimes interrupted the
progress of the ships." This word is now used in
several European languages, to denote the codfish,
either in its natural or dried state. It is found on
some of the oldest maps of North America, as applied
by Cabot to the countries he discovered, but is gene-
rally restricted to the island since called Newfound-

The name of Labrador is Portuguese, having been
given with some others by a Portuguese navigator,
Gaspar de Cortereal, who visited the same coast in
1501, and left his own name applied to an extensive
tract of country on the borders of Hudson's Bay, long
known as Terra Corterealis.

The name Norumbega was subsequently used to
designate nearly the whole of the Continent north of
Florida. This is supposed to be an Indian word,
with a Latin termination,t and was generally used by
the French, until it was superseded by another Indian
name, which the French wrote Cadie, or Acadie, and
sometimes with the Latin termination, as Cadia, or
Acadia, but which the English changed into a less
poetical word, by writing Quocldi/ instead of Cadie-I^.

Norumbega, at a later period, was confined
to the country lying north of Virginia ; thus on a

* Thus Cortes, writing in 1524, proposes to explore "the northern coast of
Florida as far as the Bacallaos." Despatches, p. 417.

t Sometimes written Arambec, or Arambeag. It is remarked by Sullivan
that the Indian word eag signifies land, and he thus accounts for its frequent oc-
currence in local names. Father Rale, in his Dictionary of the Abenaqui dialect,
gives the words ki and kik, (kee and keek,) as meaning land ; but Gallatin's
Synopsis of Indian languages, (Long Island Vocabulary,) has " keagii, or eage ;"
the difference is, however, only in the orthography ; the words are the same.

t The bay of Passamaquoddy, is on the French maps named Pesmo-cadie.


map contained in Wytfliet's supplement to Ptolemy,
published as late as 1603, it has New France on the
north, and Virginia on the south. A city of the same
name is also laid down on this map, situated upon a
large river, supposed to be the Penobscot. A map
of North America, contained in the. Novus Orbis
of De Laet, published in 1633, distributes the country
into the following divisions, commencing on the
north : New France, Cadie, Norumbega, (comprising
the territory between the St. Croix and Kennebec,)
New England, New Netherland, Virginia, and Flor-
ida. Purchas in describing the coast of Maine, refers
to former accounts of " a great town and fair river
called Norumbega," and adds, that the French discov-
erers deny the existence of any such place, affirming
that there are only cabins, covered with bark or skins,
to be found in that region, and that the true name of
the village and river is Pentegoet, a name long ap-
plied by the French to the Penobscot. This more
accurate account of the matter was the result of visits
to that river, by the French, at the period of their
first settlements in Nova Scotia.

According to Hakluyt, and other writers, the In-
dians had a general designation for the territory com-
prised within the forty-third and forty-fifth degrees
of north latitude, almost the precise limits of the sea
coast of Maine, and extending forty leagues into the
interior. This territory they called Mavooshen,
" which," says Hakluyt, " was discovered by the Eng-
lish in the years 1602, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9," implying
that voyages were made to it by the English in each
of those years, a statement fully confirmed by evi-
dence from other sources. The government of all


the Indians dwelling within these limits, and of others
as far south as Massachusetts, was in the hands of a
single Cacique, or Sachem, to whom the inferior
Sagamores of the various tribes owed allegiance.
His title as given by the English Navigators who
first visited the country, was Bashaba, and Dr. Bel-
knap remarks that " we have no account of any other
Indian chief in these northern parts of America,
whose authority was so extensive."* The place of
his residence was probably on the banks of the Pen-
obscot, and as it was also the seat of his government,
the fabulous accounts of a large city in that quarter
may have arisen from exaggerated descriptions of this
humble capital of the Bashaba's dominions.

Notwithstanding the discoveries of the Cabots,
with the exception of one or two expeditions from
Bristol, fitted out by the enterprising merchants of
that city, no subsequent eff'orts were made in Eng-

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Online LibraryGeorge FolsomA discourse delivered before the Maine historical society (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 6)