Megan Gambino unearths the first map to bear the name “New England,” published by Captain John Smith in 1616:
In his new book, A Man Most Driven: Captain John Smith, Pocahontas and the Founding of America, [Peter] Firstbrook argues that historians have largely underestimated Smith’s contribution to New England. While scholars focus on his saving Jamestown in its first two harsh winters and being saved by Pocahontas, they perhaps haven’t given him the credit he deserves for passionately promoting the settlement of the northeast. After establishing and leading the Virginia Colony from 1607 to 1609, Smith returned to London, where he gathered notes from his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and published his 1612 map of Virginia. He yearned for another adventure in America and finally returned in 1614.
When Smith was mapping New England, the English, French, Spanish and Dutch had settled in North America. Each of these European powers could have expanded, ultimately making the continent a conglomerate of similarly sized colonies. But, by the 1630s, after Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were established, the English dominated the East Coast—in large part, Firstbrook claims, because of Smith’s map, book and his ardent endorsement of New England back in Britain. “Were it not for his authentic representation of what the region was like, I don’t think it would be anywhere near as popular,” says Firstbrook. “He was the most important person in terms of making North America part of the English speaking world.”