About six miles directly out to sea, this cluster of islands abounds in legend and history. Before 1614, when the famous Captain John Smith mapped the rocky and surf-lashed Isles, early fishermen, traders and explorers had a part in their history.
Erected on Rt 1A just North of Wallis Sands Beach, in 1963. This marker is no longer present, as vandalism seems to have gotten the better of it. All that remains, is the post it was mounted on.
“That part wee call New England is betwixt the degrees of 41. and 45: but that parte this discourse speaketh of, stretcheth but from Pennobscot to Cape Cod, some 75 leagues by a right line distant each from other: within which bounds I haue seene at least 40. seuerall habitations vpon the Sea Coast, and sounded about 25 excellent good Harbours; In many whereof there is ancorage for 500. sayle of ships of any burthen; in some of them for 5000: And more then 200 Iles ouergrowne with good timber, of diuers sorts of wood, which doe make so many harbours as requireth a longer time then I had, to be well discouered.”
Captain John Smith
Captain John Smith. The tales he could tell even before exploring and being the first to map the New England coast. As you can see in the top picture, the Isles of Shoals was originally mapped and Smith named them after himself. “Smith Iles” bottom center of Image. We’ll get to his journey to the New England coast in a minute after we get to know our Captain a bit better.
The Isles of Shoals from the Marker 11/1/09
At 16 years of age he set off to sea as a mercenary for hire. He worked for the French, killing Spaniards; the Dutch, killing Spaniards; the Austrians killing Turks; Romanians killing Turks, and being an occasional high seas Pirate. Yarr!
The Prince of Transylvania is purported to have Knighted him, given him a coat of arms and a horse for being particularly good at Dueling and killing Turks.
Finally, his luck ran out in 1601 or 2 he was wounded, captured, and then sold in Slavery to a Turk! Yow, that had to sting. To make a long story short, he escaped and crossed present day Russia and Poland to return to England just in time to earn himself a lot of statues and a New Hampshire roadside marker.
At that time, two companies had been formed in England to colonize the new world. The London Company, and The Plymouth Company. Smith set sail with the London Company, and became one of the leaders at Jamestown in May of 1607.
It didn’t take long for out brave Captain to get bored, and he unexpectedly walked into a major motion picture shoot and quickly landed the Male Lead for his angelic voice.
The whole Pocahontas legend is outside the purview of this story, so I’ll let you determine it’s veracity on your own. Suffice it to say, that in 1609 the Jamestown colonists were in open war with Pocahontas’ tribe and John Smith beat feet back to England. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
And this finally brings us to his second voyage in 1614 Mapping and exploring the New England coast, and the Isle of Shoals.
His mapping expedition took him up and down the New England coast, evaluating potential harborage and depths, key rivers and tributaries, and types of forests game and fish. He makes note of individual Native American tribes and their settlements, habits and languages.
This information he brought back to London and would prove to be very valuable. All of the Early English settlements in New England relied on his work to succeed. His complete book regarding the voyage and full sized detail versions of his maps can be downloaded here.
Captain Christopher Levitt was the first Englishman to set foot on the isles that we know of in 1623. And he wrote:
"The first place I set my foot upon in New England was the Isle of Shoals, being islands in the sea about two leagues from the main.
"Upon these islands I neither could see one good timber – tree nor so much good ground as to make a garden.
"The place is found to be a good fishing-place for six ships, but more can not well be there, for want of convenient stage room, as this year’s experience hath proved."
Samual Adams Drake
I’ll leave you with this. From this past August, Hurricane Bill at the Isle of Shoals.