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When it comes to John Smith, NH really rocks

New Hampshire Sunday News

July 19. 2014 10:01PM
A reproduction of Smith's map. New Hampshire and the Cape are clearly defined. (COURTESY)

"Plimoth" may have its rock, but New Hampshire has its own claim to early Colonial history - one that has Massachusetts beat by six years.

On Aug. 14, the state will commemorate the 400th anniversary of Capt. John Smith's visit to the Seacoast with the dedication of a new granite monument in Rye Harbor State Park.

Yes, that John Smith, leader of the Jamestown settlement and leading man of the Pocahontas tale.

In 1614 - six years before a Pilgrim stepped onto a now-famous rock in Massachusetts, as legend has it - Smith explored and mapped the coast of what he dubbed "New England," a name the King of old England agreed to grant. Smith's map - decorated with his own portrait - included a group of islands he called "Smith Iles;" today, we call them the Isles of Shoals.

Van McLeod, commissioner of the state Department of Cultural Resources, said that 1614 trip by Smith had huge historical significance. Until then, he said, the notion of a New World was "beyond comprehension" for most people in England.

But Smith returned to England with his tales of abundant fish, game and forest resources, McLeod said. "Here was this person who came back with evidence and proof, and not only with his stories, but ... a map of the land."

That map guided the Pilgrims to Plimoth, where they established a settlement.

And while Massachusetts and Boston are more famous for their Colonial history, McLeod said, "New Hampshire has a rightful place in the discovery of the New World and the activities that occurred in the first years when the settlers came here from across the sea."

Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, a self-described history buff, is credited with the idea of celebrating the quadrennial anniversary of Smith's visit. He chaired a commission that raised funds for the new monument, which will be at Ragged Neck, looking out toward the Isles of Shoals.

The monument is a granite obelisk that Campbell describes as "16 feet 14 inches" tall, to reflect the 1614 date. Smith's map will be reproduced on a bronze plaque.

"This is an historical event that's significant to our region and really to the whole Colonial period and the founding of our country," Campbell said. "It was the first nautically accurate map. It actually led the Pilgrims to Plimoth; it was used by John Winthrop to find the River Charles, where he founded Boston in 1630."

This will actually be the third such obelisk in the area, Campbell said. The first was built on Star Island in 1864 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Smith's voyage, but fell into disrepair. In 1914, a large obelisk was dedicated on Star Island to the Rev. John Tucke, and the Smith monument was rededicated at that time.

While the Legislature last year authorized spending up to $40,000 in matching funds to build the monument, the commission raised about $53,000 in private and in-kind donations, he said, so the state's share will be less than $20,000.

Swenson Granite Works of Concord donated half the cost of the materials. SLX Construction of North Hampton is doing the site work for free; Pike Industries also offered to help.

Four private donors purchased granite benches, donating $5,000 each.

The Aug. 14 ceremony, which begins at 10:30 a.m., will feature a talk by Jeffrey Bolster, a University of New Hampshire history professor who is an expert in Colonial history.

John Smith himself is expected to attend, portrayed by actor Paul Strand of Portsmouth.

Strand said Smith wasn't especially liked by his fellow Jamestown settlers. "He apparently was extremely full of himself," Strand said.

Smith was so unpopular, in fact, that another settler set fire to the bag of gunpowder he wore at his waist, causing a leg injury that sent Smith back to England, Strand said.

In 1620, about 100 people sailed on the Mayflower, arriving at what would be called Plimoth Plantation. Campbell said Massachusetts is getting ready for its own 400th anniversary celebrations beginning in 2020 in Plymouth.

But New Hampshire's part in it all "is a precursor to that and maybe even a progenitor of that event," he said.

Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, vice chairwoman of the commission that oversaw the monument's creation, said its purpose is "to show that there were people here before the Pilgrims who actually mapped out that area."

While many here may be unfamiliar with this piece of Colonial history, McLeod said it's important to mark such events.

For more, visit:

History New Hampshire

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