Construction of 1608 Popham Colony ship replica stalled by sluggish fundraising

Reconstruction by Maine's First Ship of the Virginia, a pinnace built more than 400 years ago at the short-lived Popham Colony, is taking longer than had been hoped. It is now expected to be complete in 2016 or 2017.
Courtesy of Maine's First Ship
Reconstruction by Maine's First Ship of the Virginia, a pinnace built more than 400 years ago at the short-lived Popham Colony, is taking longer than had been hoped. It is now expected to be complete in 2016 or 2017.
Posted Aug. 27, 2014, at 12:04 p.m.

BATH, Maine — The pinnace Virginia has faced challenges both times it’s been built.

First was the harsh winter of 1607-1608, when the vessel — the first European ship built in New England — was constructed at the short-lived Popham Colony on the shores of the Kennebec River.

Second is the past several years, as the Maine’s First Ship group has been raising funds to reconstruct the legendary 51-foot pinnace in a harsh economic climate.

“Right now we’re walking in the footsteps of the settlers who came before us,” group treasurer Gayla Teague said last week. “We dream about the day that we’ll be sailing in their wake.”

A fundraiser will be held at the 19th century Bath Freight Shed — the 27 Commercial St. site where the ship is being built — from 2-4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7. The two-person traditional music group, Castlebay, will perform ballads with guitar, Celtic harp, fiddle and tin whistle, and admission is $10.

While the Virginia two years ago was expected to be complete in 2015, the fundraising pace has caused delay, according to Teague.

“We are finding that our ability to fundraise, even though it’s getting better each year, has served to delay the schedule,” she said last week. “Because we’re certainly not going to get in debt to purchase materials. Although we still make very good progress on Virginia’s construction, we think it’s more likely she’ll be in the water either 2016 or even 2017.”

Teague added that “we want to be able to perform within the income we receive. We want to be a reliable charitable organization, that when you give us your money, you can be assured that it will be spent wisely.”

As of the end of 2013 the Virginia had an asset value of $130,000, which included materials purchased and installed on the vessel, she said. Another $450,000 in materials may be needed to complete the work, Teague said, aided by volunteer labor.

Maine’s First Ship has a budget of about $50,000 this year, and the group is trying to raise $75,000, Teague said.

Framing on the vessel, which is nearly complete, comprises about a quarter to a third of the work needed, she said.

The organization held an education program this summer for 14 students. They worked with volunteers to do maintenance on the Jane Stevens – an 18-foot shallop built by Morse High School students and launched it in 2010 – which trained them for maintaining the Virginia.

The Popham effort was named for the venture’s financier, Sir John Popham, and was a partner endeavor with the better-known Jamestown colony in Virginia.

The Popham Colony lasted a little more than a year, upended by Popham’s death and a harsh winter. Besides the Virginia, which returned many surviving colonists to England, the men also built the walled settlement called Fort St. George.

 

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