of New England
Prior to 1700
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Also of note: Bolded children (in the “Descendants of” section) are linked to more detailed information, including children that may also be linked through seven or eight generations; footnotes are at the bottom of each page, (again the Anthony Coombs and His Descendants source should be considered only as a starting point with more research needed to verify this information).
To begin to develop an appreciation of the Coombs family penetration of New England prior to 1700 and to understand the environment in which they struggled to establish a new home, we need to begin by looking back at what their world was like.
Earliest European Contact with New England
During the 1500s, European interest in the coast of New England began to grow. The French and English sent out numerous expeditions to explore the North American coast, to seek a passage to the Far East, and ultimately to establish settlements. One of the earliest explorers was John Cabot, who, sailing under the English banner, made two voyages along the coast of Newfoundland in 1497 and 1498. Part of Cabots report stated that the ocean off Newfoundland was “swarming with fish, which can be taken not only with the net, but in baskets let down with a stone.”1 This opened up fishing traffic in the Grand Banks and other coastal areas to provide fish for the Catholic populations in Europe. Transportation of their catch back to Europe required that temporary land settlements be established to dry and salt their fish. These settlements extended throughout the Maritimes and as far south as Maine.
By the early 1600s the salmon and sturgeon fishing industry had expanded to include the trade in furs; particularly beaver pelts for use in producing hats in Europe. English merchants financed explorations along the Maine coastline to find possible locations for trading settlements: Gosnold in 1602 and Pring in 1603 surveyed the coast including the Saco, Kennebunk, York and Pascataqua rivers. In 1605 George Weymouth in the Archangle from Bristol explored Saint Georges Island and Thomaston. In the process he kidnapped five Indians from the Pemaquid River area and took them back to England.2
In 1607, George Popham led 120 men to establish a settlement at Sagadahoc, in the area of present day Phippsburg, ME, at the mouth of the Kennebec River, just across the water from Seguin Island. They built a fort and spent the winter. This was the first settlement in New England. Due to the deaths of several financial backers in England and the hostile relations that they created with the Indians, the settlement was abandoned in 1608. Other than fishing stations on Monhegan and Damariscove islands, there were no other English settlers in the coastal area of the Kennebec until about 1632 when Thomas Purchase and George Way built a house in the Pejepscot region.3
Meanwhile, we all know the story of the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, MA in 1620 aboard the Mayflower. One of the interesting parts of that story is that the English settlers were met by Indians who spoke some English. “Samoset…came from Maine, had learned some English from fishing ships, and he walked in on the settlers shortly after their arrival at Plymouth and offered to help them. Through Samoset, they learned also of Squanto,…who had been taken by a ship to England”4 by Weymouth.
After several decades of cheating the Indians while trading for furs, numerous incidents in which Indians were shot or hanged, and the ever increasing waves of settlers from Europe that forced the Indians away from their coastal area, outright warfare in New England erupted between the primarily English settlers and the Indians and their French backers. History books call these hostilities the French and Indian Wars. In New England the fighting broke out during the following time periods:
1675–1676 King Philips War
1689–1697 King Williams War
1702–1713 Queen Annes War
1744–1748 King Georges War
1755–1760 French and Indian War
As a result of the fighting in Maine, almost all of the early settlers were either killed, taken captive, or were driven off their lands and forced to relocate westward – after the first war, some temporarily regrouped in the Wells, ME area, while others relocated their families in Massachusetts.
York, ME, which was settled in 1624, was nearly annihilated by an Indian raid in 1692. The resulting fire destroyed all prior records for the area. Unfortunately, some of these lost records might have been able to provide additional information on the early Coombs family settlers in Maine.