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John Smith. No. Really.

Okay, picking up now where I left off. You’ll recall that I’m writing about our recent trip to New England and the Boston-area. I had just left off with us in Amherst, discovering that it was (alas) no longer our town, and that we were no longer 25. Or 35. Or, hell, 55...

Anyway, the next morning, we got up early, had a bite of breakfast at Johnny’s Diner and then headed out. We were on our way towards Boston. Or, at least, in that general direction. We were going first to the town of Rockport, MA, which was another one of our favorite haunts back in when we lived in the state.

It was a quick drive and we arrived mid-morning. As I say, Rockport had been important to us when we lived in New England. We went there frequently for outings and weekends, and many a Christmas present was purchased there.

About the photos: Surprise! These actually have something to do with the story today. The first is a joint selfie Martha and I took while we were in Rockport.

If you’ve not run into the place, then let me provide a bit of background. We’ll start with location. If you’ve got a map of Massachussets handy, look way on the right side of the map...that is, to where the state meets the sea. Head north until you go past Boston, then up past Salem (as in, yes, Witch City), and then you’ll see a spar of land that juts out into the chilly waters of the Atlantic. That’s Cape Ann--which, btw, has an interesting history in its own right. It was originally inhabited by the Agawam people. Then, the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain “discovered” the place in the early 1600s.

Next, the English got into the act when John Smith (as in the Pocahontas guy) dropped by around 1614. He, too, “discovered” it, and named the area “Cape Tragabigzanda,” after (according to Wikipedia) a woman he’d known in Turkey while he was enslaved there. Yep. You read that right “enslaved.”

This was, by the way, a fairly common fate for soldiers, sailors, merchants, etc., at the time. If they were taken as POWs, or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, they usually ended up chained to an oar in a galley someplace. Ships of the line in those days (at least in the Mediterranean) relied on human muscle for a lot of their motive power.

Smith was more fortunate than most. He was an English adventurer, and he did spend considerable time at sea. But at this particular point of his career, he was fighting on land. Specifically, he was a mercenary in the service of the Prince of Transylvania, Sigismund Báthory (no relation to Vlad the Impaler, i.e., Count Dracula, which is a pity ‘cause it would have made a great story) when he was taken captive by the Crimean Tartars--who, by the way, were among the leading slavers of the age. They sold their captives (often Slavs, and guess where we get the word “slave” from) all over the world.

In his memoirs, Smith says that he was then sold to a Turkish nobleman, who, in turn, sent him as a gift to his mistress, a Greek woman living in Constantinople -- and, yes, her name was supposed to have been Tragabigzanda--thus, she was the woman after whom he named the Cape. Supposedly, she fell in love with him, and may have helped him escape. In any case, he did manage to get away and eventually got back to England around 1604.

All of this, by the way, may be total fantasy. Smith wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy of narrators and many of his works of “nonfiction” feel like adventure novels designed for consumption by credulous readers--which may have been exactly what they were. (Certainly, the famous story of Pocahontas saving his life from her father seems a little on the fabulous side.)

But what is undoubtably true is that Smith was an early visitor to New England, and he did come back with a map of the area which he duly presented to his king, Charles I. On this map, Cape Tragabigzanda was clearly marked--but, the good king didn’t much care for the name. So, with John’s permission (like he needed it), he renamed the Cape after his mother, Anne of Denmark--so, Cape Ann.

Oh, and a little more ‘bout Mr. Smith. He seems to have been quite a character, and was all over the place for a long time. He was involved in both the Jamestown settlement venture and, later, also the various attempts to put colonists into New England -- which, by the way, was a name he invented.

He annoyed the Puritans because he didn’t share their religion...or even their enthusiasm for religion in general. And, in the long run, he disagreed mightily with the English colonists’ treatment of Native Americans. Don’t get me wrong. He was no humanitarian. But, he did have very different ideas about how settlers ought to treat the local people. He seems to have felt that the English should have been more like the French in their relationships with the indigenous peoples of the continent--focusing, that is, on trade with them, the exploitation of their labor (when profitable), and the use of military power (when necessary) to gain their submission...but not seeking their actual destruction.

If his views had prevailed, who can say how history how might have gone?

But, anyway, that’s Cape Ann’s history, or a little bit of it anyway. And that’s where we were headed.

It would prove rather nice, when all was said and done.

More to come.

The second is a view of the ocean from Bearskin Neck, more about which later.


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If you like what I write or the videos I produce, and feel you could make a small contribution to support my efforts, please go here:

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Copyright©2023 Michael Jay Tucker

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