About Martin Pring
Martin Pring (1580–1626) was an English explorer from Bristol, England who in 1603 at the age of 23 was captain of an expedition to North America to assess commercial potential; he explored areas of present-day Maine, New Hampshire, and Cape Cod in Massachusetts. He and his crew were the first known Europeans to ascend the Piscataqua River.
Was Martin Pring the first white man to set foot in the Piscataqua region in 1603? If so, why had he traveled the Atlantic for to dig up trees? The true story of the European discovery of New Hampshire is one rarely whispered by the history books.
Here’s a rarely whispered New Hampshire fact. The first known European to sail down the Piscataqua River was seeking a cure for syphilis. Martin Pring of Bristol England, most scholars agree, discovered what is now the Seacoast region of New Hampshire in 1603 while searching for sassafras, a valuable medicinal plant. Most early New Hampshire historians tend to blur the simple truth, but Pring was quite specific. In his own published report of the 1603 voyage to the New World he wrote that sassafras was "a plant of soveriegne vetrue for the French Poxe".
From "Sassafras and Syphilis" by Charles Manning and Merrill Moore. The New England Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Sep., 1936), pp. 473-475. Published by: The New England Quarterly, Inc..
- "SASSAFRAS, to a modern New Englander, suggests a tea that a country housewife in a Sarah Orne Jewett story might make, a harmless tonic, "good for what ails you.". At an early moment in New England history, however, sassafras was as much a "prize commodity" as codfish itself, and the desire to obtain it for the London market was the motive for the first temporary settlements on the coast of Massachusetts."
Martin Pring (1580?-1626), was born to a Devonshire family, but the details his early life remain obscure. By age twenty-three, Richard Hakluyt and a group of Bristol merchants considered Pring “sufficient Mariner for Captaine” and placed him in command of the voyage to northern Virginia recounted by this text. Impressed by the success of Captain Gosnold’s 1602 voyage (see AJ-039), the group of Bristol merchants underwrote this voyage to discover and exploit commercial opportunities along the northern Virginia coast (present-day New England). Pring’s backers focused primarily on the valuable sassafras Gosnold had discovered but unlike Gosnold, they first secured Sir Walter Raleigh’s permission prior to undertaking their venture.
The year 1603 was signalized by the death of Elizabeth and the accession of James, while at nearly the same time Raleigh's public career came to an end. Before the cloud settled upon his life, two expeditions were sent out. The "Elizabeth" went to Virginia, under the command of Gilbert, who lost his life there; while Martin Pring sailed with two small vessels for New England. Pring commanded the "Speedwell," and Edmund Jones, his subordinate, was master of the "Discoverer." This expedition had express authority from Raleigh "to entermeddle and deale in that action." It was set on foot by Hakluyt and the chief merchants of Bristol. Leaving England April 10, Pring sighted the islands of Maine on the 2d of June, and, coasting southward, entered one of the rivers. He finally reached Savage Rock, where he failed to find sassafras, the chief object of his voyage, and accordingly "bore into that great Gulfe which Captaine Gosnold overshot. This gulf was Massachusetts Bay, the northern side of which did not answer his expectations; whereupon he crossed to the southern side and entered the harbor now called Plymouth, finding as much sassafras as he desired and he remained there for about six weeks. The harbor was named Whitson, in honor of the Mayor of Bristol; and a neighboring hill, probably Captain's Hill, was called Mount Aldworth, after another prominent Bristol merchant. On the shore the adventurers built a "small baricado to keepe diligent watch and warde in" while the sassafras was being gathered in the woods. They also planted seed to test the soil. Hither the Indians came in great numbers, and "did eat Pease and Beans with our men," dancing also with great delight to the "homely musicke" of a Zitterne," which a young man in the company could play. This fellow was rewarded by the savages with tobacco and pipes, together with snake skinnes of sixe foote long," These were used as belts, and formed a large part of the savage attire, though upon their breasts they wore plates of "brasse."
In 1606 Pring returned to America and mapped the Maine coast. Later he became a ship's master for the Dutch East Indies Company and explored in East Asia, as well as preventing other nations from trading in the area. By 1619 he commanded all the Company's naval forces. Returning to England in 1621, he was made a member of the Virginia Company and granted land. After leaving the Dutch East Indies Company in 1623, Pring served as a privateer for England, capturing several French and Spanish ships for prizes.
In 1625, Pring's short account of his first expedition to America was first published, included in the fourth volume of Samuel Purchas' Pilgrimes. It provides valuable material about the lives of the pre-colonial Abenaki and Wampanoag, as well as Pring's descriptions of geography, plants and animals.
The explorer died in 1626 at the age of 46 and was buried in Bristol.
- >"Another significant tomb is that of Martin Pring, who died at the age of 46 in 1627. He was a navigator, explorer and merchant and discovered what is now called Cape Cod Bay. The monument is draped with painted mermaids and mermen and verses to his exploits."
- 1. Martin Pring, "The Voyage of Martin Pring, 1603", Summary of his life and expeditions at American Journeys website, 2012, Wisconsin Historical Society
- 4. Brace, Keith (1996). Portrait of Bristol. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7091-5435-6.