The Ancient Dominions of Maine
Norumbega Reconsidered and the Wawenoc Diaspora
Information File

Tales of Early Visitors to Monhegan Island, Maine

The following is quoted from Ida Sedgwick Proper's 1930, Monhegan, the cradle of New England. The Southworth Press, Portland, ME. (pg. 4 - 14).
It has been thought necessary to go back to the old and legendary sources for tales of voyagers to this locality in order to account for the oldest vestige or possible sign of the occupation of, or landing on, Monhegan by such persons as might have chiseled the peculiar Inscription that is on Manana, Monhegan's little companion island.

This Inscription appears, and has always appeared, to be the work of man's hand, although several authorities have disputed it. It is placed on a boulder, in a diagonal manner, at right angles to the grain of the granite, or extremely hard volcanic rock, on which it is found. A drawing of it is shown in the frontispiece of this volume, which was made from a plaster cast taken in 1855, or seventy-five years ago. A comparison of the drawing with the original will show that there has been slight change due to weathering. If the Inscription is the work of nature, surely in seventy-five years nature would have continued her work and cracks would have appeared at each end of each supposed character, which would have entirely changed its appearance. This is not the case.

The Inscription alone might be passed over, by unbelievers, were it not for the large spring found near the base of the rock, on which the Inscription is graven, and from which the Inscription runs to the strange holes found on top of the rock or ledge above. These holes might have been made to fit rounded ends of poles or timbers, used to hold upright some structure to carry a cross, or other symbol of possession, or a signal, either of distress, or to attract the attention of passing craft to the fine spring, or good harbor, or both. These holes or depressions are arranged .  : . so that the end one was evidently used as a brace. Placed in this location on Manana such a signal could not have been overlooked by any passing craft.

This Inscription has come in for endless discussions and many of the Massachusetts people have made merry over it along with their Dighton Rock. But that many people have held, and many others do now hold, the opinion that the Inscription is a very real one, although of unknown origin, is also a fact. It was first brought to notice in 1808, but the turmoil about it being of Norse origin did not begin until 1849; this continued at a furious rate until 1885, when someone with a magnifying glass found some faint cracks and discredited it. Due to these discussions the drawing was made, which now makes possible the comparison after such a long period by any reader. A resume of the discussion for and against will be found in its chronological order. There was also another supposed inscription of similar characters on one of the ledges of the Peninsula of St. George which has been lost through vandalism. These are the only two such freaks of nature, if nature's work they are, that have been found in Maine up to date.

Partly on account of this still undeciphered Inscription on Manana, and also because Monhegan's history starts in mists and legends, consideration of ancient tales of islands in this general locality will be sketchily touched upon in this study.

If, as some of the earlier Maine historians hesitatingly suggest, the Inscription on Manana is not Norse, but still might be of Phoenician origin, some gleanings of the activities of this ancient people may be pertinent.

Cádiz, Spain (or Gades the ancient name), was the chief city of the region called Tarshish in the Bible and Tartessus in classical days. Its population in the earliest times came from Phoenicia, an ancient section of Greece, lying between Tesselia and Boeotia.

Cádiz became prominent about the year 1100 B.C. It lies further to the west than any other of the cities of Andalusia, or southern Spain, and was a famous maritime city. It was occupied by the Carthaginians in 501 B.C.-- Carthage was also a Phoenician city -- who had been summoned to the aid of the Gaditanians. The art of writing, the first and most important aid to commerce, was propagated from Gades. After the Second Punic War came the dominations of the Romans, who ultimately (27 A.D.) formed the whole of the south of Spain into the Provincia Baetica. Hamilcar, Hannibal and the Scipios fitted out their fleets in the Cádiz harbor.

The fish and preserved meats of Cádiz were celebrated in the second century after Christ. "In the middle of the 12th century, after a long period of Mahometan rule, Cádiz was important enough to make Edrisi greatly exaggerate on his map the size of its peninsula, making it an island, and giving it a name when most other islands went nameless."  "Pilotage and Hydrography" were taught in Andalusia at a very early period, especially by Bascayan mariners. An ordinance from Ferdinand and Isabella, dated March 18, 1500, confirms the regulations which until then had been followed in a school of Basque pilots at Cádiz. The document declares the origin of the school so ancient that "the memory of man runneth not to the contrary (que de tanto tiempo ace' que memoria de hombres non es en contario)." The most celebrated pilot and cartographer of the time was a Basque, Juan de la Cosa, who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first and second voyages, and whose map made in 1500 is the most important of that period.

Cádiz was destroyed during the middle ages and its revival dates with the discovery of America and the anchoring of the "silver fleet" in its harbor.

This seeming detour to Cádiz is given for the reason that on very old maps the words "Boethik," and "Boethem," are found placed on the regions in the northeast portions of North America, and since evidences of the occupation of the country by the Norsemen has not been substantiated by remains, the hue and cry is now turned toward the records of the "Boethiks." The Phoenicians were neighbors of the Boeotians.

The Phoenicians were great navigators, whose exploits remained unequaled till the days of Columbus. Hakluyt tells of their trips around Africa. The Phoenician sailors were in great demand to man the ships of all countries. Sails on Phoenician crafts were so arranged that they could sail only with the wind nearly aft. The prevailing winds at Cádiz are southwest during the winter months and as Cádiz is 36° N. L. and Monhegan 43° 45' and 52", these winds if continual could easily have brought them to this island.  Cádiz has also the high tides like those that rise and fall on Monhegan's rocky shore.

From pure conjecture we now arrive at legends, about islands and voyages to this region.

Brendan, an Irish monk, around 565 A.D., so the legend runs, heard of the existence to the west, in the ocean, of an Isle of Saints. He was immediately seized with a holy impulse to visit it. He embarked with seventeen followers of the brotherhood in an osier boat which was covered with tanned hides, well greased.

They reached, after about forty days, an island with steep scarped sides, where they were hospitably received and where they reprovisioned. Carried by the strong winds from the region of this island they came to an island where there were countless flocks of sheep. They took a lamb, so the story runs, and went to a barren island close by to celebrate Easter. When they landed they set up their altar, then made a fire intending to roast the lamb. To their consternation the island began to move. They fled to their boat and then found that they had been on the back of a whale ("Jasconius is his name") instead of on an island. They hastily got away and the next day they came to an island which only birds inhabited. They remained on this island until Pentecost, then wandered for several months on the ocean. At last they came to the island of which St. Patrick was the patron saint. Here they celebrated Christmas, again embarking after the octave of the Epiphany. They passed a year in these travels, always peering out for the Isle of Saints. For six years they visited and roamed between these various islands, but during the seventh year they found to the north a rocky, barren island of Cyclop's forges; this they thought the mouth of hell. Finally they found themselves in a region of mist and darkness, and discovered the long sought Isle of Saints. They remained here for forty days, and then an angel appeared and told them to return to their own country.

This is the story as it has come down, but that some belief in its verity existed in the minds of cartographers seems certain, for St. Brendan's Island is placed on the ancient maps at the forefront of the unexplored regions, and as Terre Nuova was being talked about they shifted its position hither and yon in the ocean until it found an anchorage on the charts near the uncertain outlines of the Gulf of Maine and on one ancient map it occupies a position nearly that of Monhegan.

But St. Brendan was not the only Irish voyager to turn his craft westward. Early in the Christian era the Irish, a restless, an energetic, a hardy seafaring folk, became Christian zealots and their missionaries went through Europe trying to convert the world. The English and Scots resented them. Finally schism in the church brought about their persecution and they fled in their half-decked, ox-hide vessels of the period to the islands of the far North Atlantic.

From here they were driven by the Norsemen, their bitter foes, to the Faroe Islands. Their enemies reached them there and they pushed to sea, until they found a new home in Iceland. These migrations were during a period from the sixth to the ninth century.

The Irish historian Dieuil and the Icelandic Landnamabok, or book of land acquisitions, relate that when the Norse first reached Iceland they found living there a Christian people called the Papas-or Culdees of Ireland.

Again their Norse foes drove them out and they had nowhere to go, so they embarked in their boats, commended themselves to God, and sailed to the west.

In this direction they found a new land, which, on account of its size, they called Irland it Mikla, or Ireland the Great. From this time they endeavored to hide their place of refuge, but the Northmen hung on to their trail and it is from the sagas that we learn of their settlement in the new world.

Are' Thorgelsson, surnamed Frodhe' or the Wise (Gaffarel), who lived from 1067 to 1148, left an account which was completed by five other historians. Here is what he says of his great-grandfather, Are' Marsson.

"Are' son of Ma'r and Torkatla, was driven by a storm to Hvitramannaland (or Whiteman's land, or land of men in white), which some call Ireland it Mikla. This country is situated westward in the sea, near Vineland the Good, it is said at 6 days sail from Ireland."

An old manuscript, quoted by Rafn in Antiquitates Americanae, is fairly explicit as to locality.

"Now there are, as is said, south from Greenland, which is inhabited, deserts, uninhabited places and icebergs, then the Skrellings, then Markland, then Vineland the Good. Next, and farther behind lies Albania, which is white man's land. Thither was sailing formerly from Ireland, there Irishmen and Icelanders recognized Ari, the son of Mar and Kalta of Reykjaness, of whom nothing has been heard for a long time and who had been made a chief there by the inhabitants."

Eric the Red's Saga and the Saga of Thorfinn Karlsefni tell of native boys captured in Markland, an American region, about 1006, who told of a country beyond their own, where people wore white garments and carried rags on poles and shouted; from which it was inferred that this must be, as already known or rumored, "White Man's Land," sometimes called Great Ireland.

From an ancient volume:

"We finde in the old manuscript life of S. Brendan that many of them (Irish) were sent into, and lived in the Iles of America and had been there, some 80 years, some 90; brought up by St. Patrick, in his monasteries in these parts before."

There are also records of a Welsh settlement in this western country of the Atlantic and this is what B. F. DeCosta prints in confirmation of this fact:

"Pre-Columbian Geneologies compiled by Ilvan Brecoa say that 'Madoc and Riryd found land far in the west and settled there.' Madoc, son of Gwynedd, Prince of Wales, a sailor, adventurous on the sea, made a voyage westward on the Atlantic, after the first voyage he was supposed to have been murdered, while, on trial, the accused man was cleared. He reappeared in Wales, raised a company of 300 men and women, embarked in 10 ships with the intention of returning to the site of his colony. He sailed westward for the purpose of founding a colony and never returned."

Hakluyt uses the Madock legend as an argument for the possession of the new country by Queen Elizabeth, as did Dee and other of her councilors. Hakluyt says:

"And it is very evident that the planting there shall in time amply enlarge her Majesties Territories and Domenions, or (I might rather say) restore to her Highness ancient right and interest in those countries into the which a noble and royall personage, lineally descended from the blood royall, borne in Wales, names Madock ap Owen Gwyneth, departing from the coast of England, about the yeere of our Lord God 1170, arrived and there planted himselfe and his colonies and afterward returned himself into England, leaving certaine of his people there, as appeareth in an ancient Welsh Chronicle, where he then gave to certaine Ilands, beasts and foules sundry Welsh names, as the Iland of Penquin, which yet to this day beareth the same."

See our other comments and quotations from Ida Proper's book in the essay History of Monhegan Island, information file on the Italian Zeno's explorations in the Ancient Pemaquid section and annotations in the Maine History: Antiquarian sources, Ancient Pemaquid and Pre-Columbian bibliographies.

Curator's notes:

Received from Doug Brackett (11/30/2004) "... a cross erected in 1605 on Isle St. George by George Waymouth. Monhegan Island was named Isle St. George by Waymouth. The Waymouth cross was to be the designated mark for the first destination of the Popham voyagers in 1607. The Popham voyagers arrived and had their thanksgiving service there at the time."
Please reference and for more information.

Received from Tim Bryant (2/27/2013) this update on the island names:

I was a little shocked that the probable origin of the islands' names themselves were left out. They are not of Indian origin. They are Celtic, and probably named by the Tuatha De Danan.

The sea-god, Manannan MacLir ("of the sea"), was the guardian to the "Blessed Islands". 

He took his son, Mongan mac Fiachnai, away to Tir Tairngire ("the Land of the Promised", similar to Tir Na Nog). Mongan remains there for 10 years learning esoteric knowledge, before returning to Ulster. 

These names are mentioned repeatedly in the Irish immrams, and most notably, Compert Mongain. The Celt-Iberians of the time, had regular trade with the Celt-Hibernians. It is also of note, that the Milesian Race of ancient Ireland, came from the Iberian peninsula approximately 1000 BCE. The Fomorian Race, who subsequently invaded Ireland, were described as African sea-rovers. Both Phoenicians, and the later Carthaginians, have been directly linked with Ireland since it's beginnings. 

The aforementioned Tuatha, Milesians, and Fomorians, along with the Fir Bolg, account for the standing stones, cairns, tumuli, and cromlech throughout Ireland. These same lithic structures can be seen throughout New England. Most notable of these, is America's Stonehenge. The Celtic god, Bel, is a direct derivative of the Phoenician god, Ba'al.

As you can see, the name of these islands are hardly of native origin. Most likely, they are native pronunciations for the names previously given to them by Celtic or Iberian travellers.