A weekend of discussion and celebration marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Waymouth expedition at Monhegan and Allen Island. The expedition, sent by England to explore mid-coast Maine for commercial and military purposes, arrived here in early June, 1605, and remained for a month.

After their peaceful visit to the area the explorers captured five Abenaki Indians and took them home to England — an act that has long been blamed for subsequent difficulties between English colonizers and Native Americans. Representatives of the modern-day Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes took part in the commemorative events on June 11-12 and led a purification ceremony at the start of a historical symposium at the Rockport Opera House on June 11.

A Passamaquoddy historian, Donald Soctomah, was among the speakers at the opera house, and other Native representatives joined Episcopal Bishop Chilton Knutsen at Allen Island the next day for her commemoration of the first Anglican Communion celebrated in the New World. A granite cross, erected at the 300th anniversary in 1905, marks the spot of that event.

Speakers at Saturday’s symposium described the religious and political climate in Europe and England in 1605, focusing on the Protest-Catholic rivalry that followed the death of Elizabeth I and continued through much of the 17th century. In 1605 England, despite her defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, was still an insignificant power in the New World compared with Spain, Portugal and France, and the Waymouth expedition may have been designed to bolster that country’s influence in the region.

The expedition produced a highly significant document, A True Relation by James Rosier, a “gentleman” employed by Waymouth for the purpose. Published in England after the expedition’s return, the book provided an early and remarkably accurate picture of New England’s flora, fauna and fisheries, in addition to substantial comments about its Native inhabitants.

One question left unresolved by Rosier became a topic at the Saturday symposium: which river did Waymouth explore in his “light horseman,” the small boat the expedition carried across the Atlantic and assembled at Allen Island? Many historians have assumed he went up the St. George River, but a modern-day experiment suggested that a crew could have rowed the length of Penobscot Bay and returned in the time Rosier says the trip took. The Rockland Apprenticeshop built a replica of the light horseman, and a volunteer crew made it to Bucksport and back in the allotted time. A documentary film crew went along. The resulting film by D’Arcy Marsh was shown at the opera house on Saturday. It didn’t settle the dispute, but it provided insights into the expedition, including relations with the Native American population.

Other topics raised by speakers at the symposium included a comparison of Rosier’s description of flora and fauna with modern-day conditions; the racist nature of the 1905 commemoration (which included whites dressed as Indians, but no real Native Americans) and much discussion of the Waymouth expedition’s significance in the later development of New England.