Maine History Lesson for teachers, home school students and general lovers of history
During the time Maine fell under the rule of Massachusetts, John Alden of the Plymouth Company was a frequent visitor to the future state. During one of those visits he was present when a shooting took place. The refusal of witnesses to name the murderer led authorities to believe the killer might be the well-liked John Alden. Learn about the events leading up to the murder of John Hocking and the arrest of John Alden.
Much has been written of John Alden by numerous historians. Tradition says it was his foot that first stepped off the Mayflower to touch Plymouth Rock. Every student of history knows the story of his great love for Priscilla and his friendship with Myles Standish. There is, however, a story that is seldom told and that could have cost John Alden his life.
After the arrival of the Mayflower, several members of the Plymouth Company, including Myles Standish, John Alden, Edward Winslow and John Winslow, visited the Kennebec River in northern Maine. Little is written about their trips to the Maine river delivering supplies to the small Koussinoc trading-post. The Plymouth Company had secured a royal patent in 1627, granting them control of that region of the Kennebec for their dealings and trading with the Abenaki tribes. John Howland was in charge of Koussinoc and the trading with the peaceful Abenaki Indians. At the time, Maine was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and subject to the laws of that governing body.
The trading was lucrative. Furs were a much needed cash crop. In the year of 1634 it was reported that “no less than 20 hogsheads of beaver skins, not to mention other furs, were shipped to England.” The hogshead held approximately 140 beaver skins, for which, the English paid 20 shillings each. This money helped the Pilgrims pay the 200 pound annual installment on their loan from the English bankers who financed the Plymouth Company.
It was a spring day in 1634 when John Alden set out for the Kennebec in Maine with a load of supplies for the trading-post. At the same time, the English living in the Piscataqua Colony, in Maine, decided they deserved a share of the Kennebec trading business. They sent John Hocking to Koussinoc as the representative of their self-appointed interest in the trading business.
The arrival of Hocking was not well received and he was ordered to leave. A disturbing verbal altercation followed. Hocking expressed his assumed rights in a flood of unpleasant words and refused to leave. He then proceeded to move to a spot above Koussinoc where he and his men could intercept any canoes carrying furs to the trading post.
John Howland, being the one in charge of the trading post, filled four boats with his men and went to meet Hocking where he had anchored. Once again he ordered Hocking to leave. John Alden was present and a witness to what happened. Hocking refused Howland’s order for a second time, and the latter then ordered his men to cut the cables to the Englishman’s boat. Hocking grabbed his gun and threatened to kill the men.
The courageous Howland let out a yell, “Shoot me, not them!” He jumped to the rail of his boat as he continued, “They are only obeying my orders!” One of the men, Moses Talbot, began cutting a rope attached to the boat. Hocking took aim and shot him. He died instantly. Immediately another shot was fired which hit Hocking in the head. He died without ever speaking another word. Those who chronicled the event failed, most conveniently, to mention the name of the man who ended the Englishman’s life.
When word of the killings reached the authorities in Massachusetts Bay, they were more inclined to side with the English of the Piscataqua Colony than with those in the Plymouth Colony. John Alden was promptly arrested upon his return to Boston and placed in the jail, accused of murder. His good friend, Myles Standish, rushed to help and diligently sought Alden’s release. The magistrates of the Bay Colony, however, demanded a full hearing on the matter and refused to release him.
When the hearing convened, the Plymouth Company was represented by Winslow and Bradford. There was no representation sent from the Piscataqua Company. Winthrop and Dudley appeared on behalf of Massachusetts Bay. Evidence was presented, including the royal patent of 1627. The evidence clearly proved the Plymouth Colony had been granted the full rights to the area for the purposes of exploration and trading. The killing of John Hocking was declared to be self-defense, prompted by his ruthless murder of Moses Talbot and the fear he would kill more of Howling’s men.
No witness gave the name of Hocking’s killer during the hearing or after. John Alden was released and returned home to Priscilla and their children. The Plymouth Company continued their trading with the Abenaki at Koussinoc for many more years. The shooter of John Hocking was never named.
Early in the twentieth century, Dr. Winfield Scott Hill, of Augusta, Maine, found the graves of two men which contained the remains of some strands of cloth and some gun shot. Also he discovered a pipe of an unusual style which had an exact match in the collection of Pilgrim relics at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Dr. Hill was confident he had discovered the graves of John Hocking and Moses Talbot after more than two and one half centuries had passed.