I don’t know how it could have come out differently and I don’t even know the point of speculating on how it might have had a different outcome, except that I’m curious about the whole thing. Plus, I have this column to write and this space to fill. That sometimes increases my curiosity.
What I’m talking about is why the history of Maine turned out the way it did and why we ended up joining the Union in 1820 as our nation’s 23rd state, instead of getting in much earlier as one of the original 13. Or, in our case, it would have been the original 14. How did our sometimes obnoxious neighbor New Hampshire get in the Union before we did? How do things like that happen?
According to the “Dictionary of American History,” published by Scribner, explorers from France, England and Portugal visited Maine in the 1500s and checked it out pretty good. Apparently none thought Maine was the kind of place anyone would actually want to live, so they sailed on.
The Portuguese, who must have been the fussiest of the early explorers, didn’t find what they were looking for until they sailed along the coast of Brazil and decided to settle there. It would be their only colony in the new world.
In the early 1600s the English and French decided almost simultaneously that they wanted to try and settle in Maine. It’s almost like they were eavesdropping on each other or reading each other’s mail. Suddenly they both thought at the same time that everyone was looking for an out-of-the-way place like Maine to “settle.”
The French, under Pierre du Guast, Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain, established a small settlement on an island in Maine’s Saint Croix River in 1604.
It failed after one miserable winter. After what we’ve been through the last few months, who can blame them? I’m ready to move on myself.
Under the auspices of Sir John Popham, the English established a colony on the lower Kennebec River in 1607, which also failed after only one winter. Again, all of us Mainers easily understand why, but that doesn’t answer my original question.
Believe it or not the English Civil War of the 1640s had an adverse effect on British settlement here in Maine. That gave the future summer complaints from Massachusetts time to get control of the land that would eventually become the state of Maine.
They say that if James II had managed to keep his seat on the throne Maine’s history probably would have been a lot different. But James lost his crown and just about everything else and was eventually driven from power. His successors, William and Mary, eventually granted all of Maine to Massachusetts. Nothing’s been the same around here since.
So, if you think about it, Maine could have been a Portuguese settlement and then a colony, instead of Brazil. Maybe Portland today would look like Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, without the Old Port shops, of course.
John McDonald writes books about Maine, and his latest is “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 899-1868.