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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #98: 1614 Monument, Rye

The 1614 Project

Captain John Smith has long been a fascinating and controversial cat in American history, wreathed in mythology and alternatively celebrated and castigated. The truth likely lies somewhere in between - a braggart, a self-promoter, an exploitative opportunist, but also an intrepid visionary and more willing collaborator with indigenous peoples than many of his contemporaries. All men are good and evil admixed, and we err when we attempt to allocate these remote historical figures entirely onto one side of the ledger or the other.

What we do know, through the mists of history and legend, is that John Smith left the Jamestown settlements he helped establish and headed north, charting the Atlantic seaboard from Rhode Island to Canada in 1614. His was the first accurate map of the New England coastline (the name "New England", by the way, was his idea). Smith had learned a host of lessons from the Jamestown failures, and rather than waste time and resources on fruitless searching for gold, he advocated the slower, surer road to profit with a self-sustaining settlement of farming, fur trapping, whaling, and timber harvesting. It was the right approach, but he'd never live to see it. He identified possible sites for new colonies at Plymouth in Massachusetts, Monhegan Island in Maine, and Portsmouth in NH. In 1615 he was on his way with a team of hardy settlers to colonize one of these areas, but storms and pirates put an end to that dream.

In 2014, the NH state legislature appropriated some $40,000 to be matched by private investors to erect a quadricentennial memorial monument to Captain Smith's expedition to the area. The location was chosen as Ragged Neck Point at Rye State Harbor, with a clear view out to the Isles of Shoals (originally named, modestly and impermanently, Smith's Isles). The monument itself is a handsome 18-ton granite obelisk seventeen feet two inches in height (or 16'14") with panels that include a bronze reproduction of Smith's original chart and the graven dedication to Smith's impact on the region.

I love that New Hampshire has nearly a half-millennium of recorded history, and that we embrace it along with whatever warts it might include . After all, who wants to root for the Northern Virginia Patriots?

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