Martin Pring

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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. In the process, he named what is now Plymouth Harbor 'Whitson Bay' and a nearby hill 'Mount Aldworth' after the two Bristol merchants who provided him with ships and supplies. The harbour was later renamed by the Pilgrim fathers. He and his crew were the first known Europeans to ascend the Piscataqua River. It is thought that Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano explored this part of the New England coast in 1524-25 looking for a route to the Far East but did not make landfall until he reached the St. Lawrence River. In 1606 Pring returned to America and mapped the Maine coast. Later he became a ship's master, sailing for the East India Company (EIC) 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 EIC in 1623, Pring served as a privateer for England, capturing several French and Spanish ships as prizes.

Early life and education[edit]

Martin Pring was born and raised in Feniton, Devonshire. The parish registers record his baptism in the church on 23 Apr 1580, son of John PRINGE of Thorne, (b. 1540bfr. – bur. 6 Feb 1630 Feniton) who married (30 Jun 1561 Feniton) Mary Clarke. Historians have not discovered details about his early life, but he apparently learned early about sailing out of Bristol. He started working on ships.


In 1603, under patronage of the mayor, aldermen and merchants of Bristol, including Richard Hakluyt, Pring at the age of 23 was appointed as captain to command a ship and bark to explore the northern parts of the territory known as Virginia in North America and assess its commercial potential.[1] His flagship, the Speedwell, was of 60 tons and 30 men. (A different Speedwell was one of those used by members of the Plymouth Colony 17 years later for their 1620 trip to America.) It was escorted by a barque, the Explorer (also known as Discoverer[1]), of 26 tons and 13 men. The expedition was licensed by Sir Walter Raleigh and departed 10 April 1603.[2]

The two ships first made landfall about two months later at the entrance of Penobscot Bay in what is now the state of Maine. Heading west, they visited the mouths of the Saco, Kennebunk and York rivers, all of which Pring found "to pierce not far into the land."[3] In June, they arrived at the Piscataqua River, a tidal estuary, which he described as the westernmost and best river. Pring explored 10–12 miles into the interior by means of the Piscataqua, the center of which now forms part of the border between Maine and New Hampshire. He and his crew are the first Europeans known to have done so.

Anchoring the Speedwell at the lower harbour, Pring boarded the smaller Explorer and, aided by oarsmen, ascended the Piscataqua. They sounded its depth, which they found impressive, and explored its banks. Pring admired the area's "goodly groves and woods."[4] They encountered the native Abenaki people and Pring's description of them provides significant details of pre-colonial Native American life.[1] At that time of year, the Abenaki would likely have been upriver at the Piscataqua's tributaries, where fish and game were plentiful around the numerous falls.

The Explorer sailed into Great Bay, where the crew sought the sassafras (or "ague tree"), then considered an elixir of life with great medicinal value in treating fevers. Finding none, they returned to meet the Speedwell, together continuing down the coast.

The expedition spent two months ashore at the mouth of the Pamet River on Cape Cod, in what is now Truro, Massachusetts. The explorers erected a small stockade below Cornhill, which would be noted by the Pilgrims on their subsequent journey to the New World. Subsisting on a variety of fish and game, Captain Pring's men harvested sassafras trees for export to England.

The Explorer departed first with a load of sassafras. Pring's ship Speedwell was attacked by a large force of Wampanoag, but the ship's two mastiffs had woken the guard and held off the warriors. As the ship departed, warriors burned the woods on shore and more than 200 shouted at the sailors. The natives had earlier fled the area where the expedition camped. Pring's men had found one of their birch bark canoes, which he brought to England. He departed 8 or 9 August, and reached England on 2 October.[1]

Later career[edit]

Pring continued to participate in commercial expeditions that created important trade networks and laid the base for colonisation: in 1606 he returned to Maine and mapped the coast. He started to work for the East India Company, where by 1613 he served as ship's master. He helped exclude the Spanish and Portuguese from East Indies markets. By 1619, he commanded all of the naval forces for the Company.[1]

In 1621 Pring returned to England, where he was made a freeman of the Virginia Company. He was granted 200 acres. Although he resigned from the Dutch East Indies Company in 1623, he soon returned to sea, serving as a privateer for England. He took many prizes in French and Spanish trading ships.[1]

Pring's short account of his first expedition to America was published in 1625 and is 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.[1] The explorer died in 1626 at the age of 46 and was buried in Bristol.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Martin Pring, "The Voyage of Martin Pring, 1603", Summary of his life and expeditions at American Journeys website, 2012, Wisconsin Historical Society
  2. ^ Brace, Keith (1996). Portrait of Bristol. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7091-5435-6.
  3. ^ Martin Pring, "The Voyage of Martin Pring, 1603", in Burrage, Henry S. (editor). Early English and French Voyages, Chiefly from Hakluyt, 1534–1608, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906, pp. 343–352, text online at American Journeys website, 2012, Wisconsin Historical Society
  4. ^ Pring (1906), The Voyage

Further reading[edit]

  • Axtell, James. Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992
  • Baker, Emerson W., et al., eds. American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega, Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1994
  • Brewster, Charles W. Rambles About Portsmouth (1873)
  • Whalen, Richard F. Truro: The Story of a Cape Cod Town (2002)

External links[edit]