If proof were needed of their godly mission, it came in the providential form of the castor canadensis, the North American beaver. For five hard years, the Pilgrim colony at New Plymouth had clung by calloused fingertips to the edge of the New England coast with little prospect of prosperity, or even survival, and with scant support from its financial backers in London. The settlers grew enough corn and salted enough fish to get by, but their reserves were meagre and they had few goods to trade with the natives. In fact, relations with the Indians in the narrow hinterland around Cape Cod were circumspect and often uneasy, especially after the indigenous population was repeatedly decimated by epidemics.
The beaver saved the colony (if not the Indians). Demand in Europe for beaver pelts was soaring at the very moment in 1625 when Edward Wilson, one of the original Mayflower Pilgrims, led a small expedition up the Kennebec River in Maine to the elevated swamplands where the