2013-08-09 / Ticket

Seymour’s new book looks ‘Beyond Popham Colony’



At the mouth of the Kennebec, a small group of young men from England made the first brave stand in New England in 1607, 13 years before the Mayflower bumbled into Cape Cod.

There is more that is unknown about the shortlived Popham Colony than what is known, but local psychologist and first-time novelist Dick Seymour takes the threads of history — in some cases, tattered or even missing — and weaves a rich and dense tapestry surrounding the lives of two of the actual people whom the Popham Colony touched — chaplain Richard Seymour (it isn’t known how or whether the novelist is related) and a young native American captive named Skidwarres, who returns to Popham with Seymour and Sir John Popham two years after he was taken captive.

The novel, “BEYOND Popham Colony: The First English Settlement in New England,” published by Maine Authors Publishing of Rockland, came out this summer. It’s available at area independent bookstores and through Amazon.

The novelist Seymour was a history minor, and taught secondary school on North Haven, where for the first time, he had to teach Maine history to eighth-graders.

“I realized I didn’t know anything about Maine history,” he laughed. “But as I got to know about the Popham Colony, it really touched something in me. It was so very early, these men were all so young ... and they spent the winter in what could only be described as a frozen wilderness.”

Along the way, they built the pinnace Virginia, the first ship built in the New World. A replica of the Virginia is currently being built in Bath. Seymour was entranced.

“I went to see it ... it wasn’t what I expected. It was a big ship, and these men had virtually nothing to work with during one of the coldest winters anyone could remember at the time. They lost their provisions to a series of fires. The native people ... justifiably ... didn’t trust them. There were multiple Indian attacks, which killed some of the colonists. But no one died of disease or starvation, and they built the Virginia, which made it across the Atlantic at least twice.”

After the experience of teaching Maine history, Seymour focused on Popham Colony. “I decided it was something I wanted to know more about,” Seymour said. “So my wife and I went to England and interviewed the biographers of Sir John Popham.”

They learned more about chaplain Richard Seymour, too, who ended up spending time in Venice as secretary to the Earl of Wotton (that’s the next trip, the author says), finishing as secretary to the Earl of Northhampton. In the book, Seymour is tutor to Skidwarres, the native American who was kidnapped along with four fellows and brought back to England.

Seymour understood from sources that Skidwarres had been hanged, but later discovered that it wasn’t true.

“I was so excited when I found out,” Seymour said. “I shouted, ‘He’s alive!’”

Seymour says he is exploring the option of a second book, in part, to resolve questions about chaplain Seymour’s later life, but now, also, to bring Skidwarres back from the dead. So to speak.

“I kind of want them to go to Swan Island,” he said, referring to the Kennebec River island off Richmond.

“My wife and I went to Swan Island, and no one was there,” he said. “It was like being in a Stephen King novel. We could imagine people stepping out of the houses in 18th century dress.” While some of the homes date from 1750, there is evidence that European settlers were on Swan Island even earlier, and before them, Native Americans lived on the island.

Seymour is most interested in the relationship between the kidnapped Skidwarres and the young gentleman Seymour.

“The evidence suggests that in spite of the kidnapping, they became dear friends,” he said. “How would two young men experience one another’s cultures given the impossible nature of the situation?”

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