Martin Pring

Martin Pring

Martin Pring (1580 – 1626) was an English explorer from Bristol, England. In 1603, under patronage of the mayor, alderman and merchants of Bristol, Pring sailed to discover the northern parts of the territory known as Virginia in America. His flagship, the Speedwell, of 60 tons and 30 men (a vessel of the same name and size was one of the ships boarded by the Plymouth Colony 17 years later for their 1620 trip to America), was escorted by a bark, the Explorer, of 26 tons and 13 men. He would write of his adventure which was under licence by Sir Walter Raleigh.[1]

The two boats first made landfall at the entrance of Penobscot Bay in what is now the state of Maine. Heading west, they visited the mouths of the Saco River, Kennebunk River and York River, all of which Pring found "to pierce not far into the land." In June, they arrived at the Piscataqua River, a tidal estuary called by Pring the westernmost and best river. Pring would explore 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 known Europeans to do so.

Anchoring the Speedwell at the lower harbor, 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." They encountered the native Abenaki people, Martin proceeding to set dogs on them, and bring specimens back to Europe. At that time of year, the inhabitants would probably have been upriver at the Piscataqua's tributaries, where fish and game were plentiful around the 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. Finding none, they returned to meet the Speedwell, together continuing down the coast.

The expedition then spent two months ashore at the mouth of the Pamet River on Cape Cod in what is now Truro, Massachusetts. There 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 natives had fled the land that the expedition was staying on, leaving nothing but a birch bark canoe. Martin Pring brought the canoe back to England. The ships left for England near the end of July.

Pring lived to be 46 years old, embarking on future expeditions to Guiana, the East Indies, and again to the coast of Maine. His tomb survives in St Stephen's Church, Bristol.


  1. ^ Brace, Keith (1996). Portrait of Bristol. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 0709154356. 
  • Charles W. Brewster, Rambles About Portsmouth (1873)
  • Martin Pring, The Voyage of Martin Pring, 1603 (1906)
  • Richard F. Whalen, Truro: The Story of a Cape Cod Town (2002)

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