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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Dutch and Quaker Colonies
in America

by
John Fiske

published by
Houghton, Mifflin and Company
Boston and New York, 1903

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 4
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
p52
Chapter III
Verrazanoº and Hudson

It seems to be not uncommonly believed, even to‑day, that Henry Hudson was the discoverer of the river that bears his name. But the student of history gets accustomed to finding that the beginnings of things were earlier than had been supposed. So many famous discoveries have turned out to be rediscoveries that we become cautious about asserting that any event or achievement was the first of its kind. With regard to the Hudson River, there can be no sort of doubt that it was visited by many Europeans before Hudson, and in the story of these earlier voyages there is much that is of interest.

The expeditions of John and Sebastian Cabot, in 1497 and 1498, found no traces of civilization, or of spices, or gold, or precious stones, on the coasts which they visited, and hence their efforts were not followed up as otherwise they might have been. But one source of wealth attracted their attention, the fisheries on the banks of Newfoundland. Englishmen were rather slow in availing themselves of this information, inasmuch as they had long been accustomed to find codfish and haddock in plenty in the waters about Iceland. But sailors from Portugal and the Basque provinces of Spain, and in still greater numbers from Normandy and Brittany, soon flocked to the Newfoundland fishing grounds. From 1504 to the present moment there has probably never been a year when the French flag has not been seen and the French language heard upon those waters. The name of Cape Breton, which is perhaps the earliest European name north of the West Indies, tells its own story. It is only natural to suppose that now and then some hardy p53skipper, impelled by curiosity or in quest of further gains, would cruise along the mainland and enter the mouths of the broad rivers; and so in fact it seems to have happened.

The local annals of Dieppe assure us that on the 10th of August, 1508, two ships from that port entered a mighty river which they named after the patron saint of that day, St. Lawrence.1 They ascended the river for eighty leagues, driving a lucrative trade in peltries, and when they returned to Europe they carried to Rouen seven wild men, who are thus described in a chronicle printed at Paris in 1512: "They are of a sooty colour, . . . with hair black and coarse like a horse's mane; having no beard throughout the whole life. . . . They have p54a speech, but no religion. Their canoe is bark, which a man can lift on his shoulders with one hand. Their weapons are large bows, the strings being intestines or sinews of animals; their arrows are canes barbed with flint or fishbone. Their food is boiled flesh, and of bread, wine, or money they have no knowledge."2

The documentary evidence for this voyage is not all that could be desired, but there seems to be no good reason for doubting that it was made. As to the naming of the St. Lawrence, it is pretty clear that Jacques Cartier gave that name to the gulf on the 10th of August, 1535; but that is eminently one of the kind of incidents that might happen twice.

In this voyage of 1508 the name of one of the captains is given as Thomas Aubert, a Frenchman, and that of the other as Jean Vérassen, a Frenchified form of the Italian name, Giovanni da Verrazano. Concerning the early life of this famous navigator our details are meagre. He was born in Florence about 1480, and evidently received a good education. He was one of the most highly trained scientific pilots of his time, was deeply versed in geographical lore, and had a naturalist's eye for the physical contour of countries and for their plants and animals. The Norman city of Dieppe was then one of the busiest ports in France, and the place where most attention was given to ocean navigation. As Verrazano was engaged there, and in command of a ship, at the age of twenty-eight, it was apparently after long experience and mature reflection that he offered his services to Francis I to conduct an expedition for the discovery of a westward passage to Cathay. In the autumn of 1523 he sailed from Dieppe with four ships, but all were disabled in a storm and obliged to put back. Starting again with only two ships, he ran down to the Madeira islands, and seems to have suffered some further mishap, for when he again weighed anchor, on January 17, 1524, it was only with a single ship, La Dauphine. On the 10th of March he sighted land on the North Carolina coast, a little north of p55Cape Fear, — "a new land," Verrazano calls it in his letter to the king, "a new land never before seen by men in ancient or modern times." He called it "Diepa," an Italianized form of Dieppe. Twenty years earlier Verrazano would probably have supposed himself to be on the coast of Japan, or perhaps of China. But since the Portuguese, sailing eastward, had reached the Spice Islands in 1511, it had become obvious that there was an immense difference in longitude between eastern Asia and the coasts discovered by Columbus. Before Verrazano started on this voyage he must have heard of the circumnavigation of the earth by Magellan. So now he did not call the American coast by any Asiatic name, but simply a "new land." Nevertheless the fragrance of spring herbs and flowers in the Carolina woods set him thinking about spices, and the yellow soil suggested gold, as it did in later days to the English settlers of Virginia.

In his letter Verrazano tells us: "My intention in this voyage was to reach Cathay, on the extreme coast of Asia, expecting, however, to find in the newly discovered land some such obstacle as I found." The problem before him was to find a passage through this obstacle, and with this object in view he sailed slowly northward, keeping the coast in sight and occasionally landing and parleying with the natives. His vigilance, however, seems now and then to have been relaxed. He must have passed the entrance to Chesapeake Bay by night or too far offshore, or perhaps in a fog, for he makes no allusion to such an opening; but when next he landed, it must have been, I think, on the Accomac peninsula. There he stayed three days, and there he may well have got the glimpse of a western sea which had curious results. A tramp of ten miles might have taken his party to some point like the present site of Hoffmann's Wharf, whence he might look out upon a waste of waters stretching north, south, and west, as far as the eye could reach; and how was he to know that this p56water was not the Pacific Ocean, but only a bay which future generations were to call by the name of Chesapeake? If any such incident happened, it may seem strange that it should not be mentioned in his letter to Francis I. But that letter is extremely brief and unsatisfactory, and was evidently never intended as a report in any full sense of the word. Against this negative evidence may be set the fact that after the return of the expedition to Europe, the navigator's brother, Girolamo Verrazano, made a mapa which shows a long narrow isthmus just about where the Accomac peninsula is situated, and on it is the inscription: "From this eastern sea one beholds the western sea; there are six miles of land between the two." From Florida indefinitely westward the map shows a narrow mass of continent connecting with Mexico and running up to about the 37th parallel. Next comes the isthmus just mentioned, and to the north of that we come to a region which might include the states of New York and Pennsylvania, with New England and Canada, and which is called Francesca, after Francis I. This Chesapeake isthmus is in the map-maker's mind the only land connection between the Florida region to the south, which he leaves in possession of Spain, and the region just mentioned to the northwest, which he claims for France. The western shore of the narrow isthmus is washed by a mighty ocean, which covers nearly the whole area of the United States, and is continuous with the Pacific, thus making an uninterrupted waste of waters from Accomac to China. This imaginary sea soon came to be known as the Sea of Verrazano, from its discoverer. We find it repeated on the important map made by Vesconte Maiollo in 1527, now in the Ambrosian library at Milan,3 and on a series of other maps, including the one which Dr. Michael Lok, of London, made for Sir Philip Sidney in 1582.4 The seventeenth century was well advanced before p57belief in the Sea of Verrazano had become extinct. It is not easy to rid oneself of the feeling that this colossal blunder must have originated in gazing upon Chesapeake Bay from the Accomac shore. The late Dr. Justin Winsor suggested that the water actually seen might have been Pamlico Sound looked at from inside of Cape Hatteras. To this view my objection is that Pamlico Sound is too near Verrazano's first landfall at Cape Fear, and not near enough to New York. His narrative implies a greater interval of time between Cape Fear and the place where he made his three days' stop than between the latter place and New York.

However that may have been, there can be no doubt whatever as to Verrazano's entering New York harbour. Why he should have passed Delaware Bay and its sentinel capes without mention is not obvious, but such difficult questions perpetually encounter us in the letters of these old navigators. At all events, his description of the approach to New York is unmistakable. About the middle of April he arrived at Sandy Hook, which he called Cape St. Mary, as we learn from Maiollo's map. Northward the channel now called the Narrows seemed full of promise. The neighbouring hillsides were alive with peering savages as the French ship passed between Staten Island and the Gowanus shore and entered the great landlocked harbour which Verrazano compares to a beautiful lake. At the upper end of it was a delightful place among small steep hills, between which una grandissima riviera, a very great river, emptied into the bay. Canoes, filled with red men in paint and feathers, darted hither and thither. Verrazano does not call the river a strait, and did not ascend it in order to find an entrance to his western sea; so that his inferences from what he saw seem here to have been correct. He sailed out between Sandy Hook and a point of land which appears on Maiollo's map as Angoulême, the name of Francis I's countship before he became king; this may have been Coney Island. Here the general trend of the Atlantic coast changes, he tells us, toward the east. He cruised along the p58southern shore of Long Island, noticing the throng of natives gathering wampum at Rockaway Bay, then presently discovered Block Island, which he called Louise, after the king's mother; then passing Point Judith, which appears on the map as Cape St. Francis, he found himself in Narragansett Bay and had a lively parley with the Indians. Here he stayed a fortnight and explored the whole of the bay, which seems greatly to have pleased his fancy. He called it Refugio, and on several maps of the next half century it appears as Port de Refuge. The accuracy of Verrazano's astronomical observations is shown by his statement that this bay "is situated on the parallel of Rome, in 41°40′." Now Newport is in 41°29′ and Providence is 41°49′, so that as an average between them his figure is correct within thirty seconds; or if intended for the entrance the error of only eleven minutes was a very small one for the astrolabes of the sixteenth century.b

From this harbour of refuge the worthy Florentine set sail on the 6th of May, passed to the south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, which he mistook for portions of the mainland, rounded Cape Cod, and went ashore probably somewhere between Nahant and Cape Ann. Here the sailors had a scrimmage with the Indians, who shot stone-tipped arrows among them without killing anybody. Some of these belligerent redskins wore copper earrings. The country there was densely wooded, but as La Dauphine approached the Piscataqua neighbourhood it became more open, and far inland against the northwestern horizon loomed the peaks of the White Mountains, some of them still streaked and patched with snow. Thence, following the coast northeasterly, as far probably as the mouth of the Penobscot River, Verrazano was struck with the multitude of small islands, all near to the continent, making many beautiful bights and canals like those on the coast of Illyria and Dalmatia. At length on the 10th of June, as the supply of food was running short, La Dauphine turned her prow seaward nature for a voyage of eight-and‑twenty days arrived safely at Dieppe.

p59 A few years ago an attempt was made to discredit this letter of Verrazano to Francis I as an ingenious forgery based on the Ribeiro map of 1529 by some Florentine man of letters. But this notion, which never had much to recommend it, has been completely exploded.5 The date of the Maiollo map has been fixed beyond a doubt at 1527; and for the information contained in it and in the map of Girolamo Verrazano concerning the American coast from North Carolina to Maine, there was no possible source except actual exploration. The letter was dated from Dieppe, in July, 1524, immediately after the ship's return, and its statements are strictly borne out by the two maps. Now up to that time there was absolutely no map or document of any sort in Europe which could have given a forger any information about New York Bay or Narragansett Bay, or could have told him that our coast turns eastward from Sandy Hook and northward after passing Cape Cod. No man of letters, in his study at Florence, could have imagined inland mountains visible from a ship's deck, as the White Mountains are, and then have passed on to the islands of the Maine coast and so happily compared them to those of Illyria. This was probably the first voyage that was made by Europeans between Chesapeake Bay and the Bay of Fundy, unless we go back to the Icelanders. It is possible that John Cabot in 1498 may have come as far south as Cape Cod;6 Americus Vespucius with Vicente Pinzon in that same year came perhaps as far north as Chesapeake Bay.7 For the first exploration of the intervening coast, the first mention of New York and Narragansett bays, of the White Mountains and the romantic coast of Maine, we have to thank the Florentine captain, Giovanni Verrazano.

p60 This interesting voyage was not vigorously followed up by the French. Their terrible defeat at Pavia in 1525 and the captivity of the king seem sufficient to account for this. As for Verrazano, he did not long survive. The MS. archives of the city of Rouen prove that he sailed again in May, 1526, for the American coast, and two documents in the archives of Simancas tell us how in the autumn of 1527 he was captured by a Spanish squadron and taken to Cadiz, where he was hanged as a pirate.8

The next captain to visit the Hudson River was the Spaniard, Estevan Gomez, who in 1525 crossed the ocean to Labrador and coasted southward to Florida, looking a passage. Gomez took notice of Cape Cod, Narragansett Bay, and both the Hudson and Delaware rivers.

After Gomez we hear no more of Spaniards coming so far north, but there can be little doubt that French skippers from time to time visited the River of the Steep Hills, and even ascended it as far as the site of Albany, in order to get furs from the Mohawks. About 1540 they left a fort on a long low island on the west side of the river, "near the present southern limits of the city of Albany,"9 but their work was partially destroyed by violent freshets. The pilot, Jean Allefonsce, of Saintonge,c makes mention of this incident in the journal of his voyage in 1542. Allefonsce came to Canada in that year with Roberval, and in the course of the summer made a voyage by himself and was the first to explore in some detail the shores of Massachusetts Bay. He may also have been the first to approach New York harbour through Long Island Sound; in one passage he has been supposed to describe the dangers p61of Hell Gate, but his meaning is not perfectly clear. As for his mention of Frenchmen trading far up Hudson River, it is corroborated by important Dutch testimony. In 1614 a syndicate of Dutch merchants applied to the States General of the Netherlands for a special license to trade up and down that river, and they affixed to their petition a manuscript map enriched with explanatory notes and memoranda.10 In these notes it is stated that the French were the discoverers of the river and had traded there with the Mohawks long before Hudson's time. Such testimony seems conclusive.

Before passing from the French to tell of the coming of the Dutch, some mention should be made of a question over which geographers and historians have long been puzzled. Immediately after Verrazano's voyage there began to appear upon maps the name "Norumbega," a name which evidently had for contemporaries much meaning, but which in less than a century fell out of use without making ample provision for gratifying the curiosity of later generations. Neither the maps nor the allusions of explorers have as yet enabled us fully to solve the difficulties presented by this name. We find it applied to three things; first, a spacious territory; secondly, a river somewhere in that territory; thirdly, a town or village somewhere upon that river.

Now the territory called Norumbega does not present much difficulty; it may be roughly defined as the land included between the Hudson and the Penobscot rivers. It is thus not far from equivalent to New England. But when we come to the river there is a wide difference of opinion, and as to the origin of the name there has been much brave guessing. Perhaps the most common opinion is that the Penobscot was the River of Norumbega, with a village on its bank somewhere up country, where European skippers p62traded with the natives for furs; and the name is often said to be Indian.11

But a very different explanation of Norumbega, suggested in 1884 by Arthur James Weise, of Troy, has some strong points in its favour.12 Mr. Weise maintains that the River of Norumbega was the Hudson and that the town was on Manhattan Island. The name is evidently connected with Verrazano's13 voyage, and the Hudson River is the only one which in his letter he speaks of entering. How many other streams he may have entered without seeing fit to mention the fact, we cannot say; but clearly the Hudson River and Narragansett Bay were the two localities which most deeply impressed him. He describes the Hudson as a very broad river running between small steep hills, which indicates that he may have gone up as far as Spuyten Duyvil. Now it this was really the River of Norumbega, visited and described by this party of Frenchmen, it is fair to ask if the name may not be some French epithet, mutilated and disguised in its pilgrimage among the map-makers. Might not the map-name Norumbega be simply a Low-Latin corruption of Anormée Berge? in sixteenth century French that means Grand Scarp,d and where could one find a better epithet for the majestic line of cliffs that we call the Palisades? a feature so unusual and so striking that one could hardly fail to select it for description. The River of Norumbega, p63then, is simply the River of the Grand Scarp. It is in favour of this view that on some old maps the name occurs as Norumberg and Anorumberga. But far more important them may be drawn from the maps.

Here the question may arise in some minds, why should not the maps at once and decisively settle the question? If the River of Norumbega is given upon maps under that name, why should we be in doubt as to whether it is to be identified with the Penobscot, or the Hudson, or with some river between them? A modern map would not leave us in doubt. Very true. A modern map is based upon full and correct knowledge of the country depicted, and its names have become firmly attached to the places and objects which they denote. The maps of the old explorers were based upon scant and fragmentary knowledge, eked out by an indefinite quantity of inference, some of it sober and more of it wild. Names, moreover, once given, were liable to be migratory, for an honest skipper might suppose himself to be at some particular spot which his predecessor had baptized, and yet in reality he might be two or three hundred miles away from it. Thus the next map might move the name two or three hundred miles. Even descriptions would suffer in this way; for your worthy skipper, observing some hill or river or wild beast which his predecessor had not mentioned because it was not there, would go and add it to his predecessor's descriptions, thus mingling two true pictures to make one false one. It would be hard to find a subject more abounding in pitfalls for the unwary than the geography of the great ages of discovery, and by the same token it would be hard to find a subject more full of fascination.

In most of the sixteenth century maps the coast between Chesapeake Bay and the Bay of Fundy, the region first mapped by Verrazano, appears in very abridged and sketchy shape. Just obliterate all the names now familiar to us, take away Long Island Sound, and reduce to insignificance Nova Scotia, Cape Cod, and the Delaware capes, and the map of p64our Atlantic coast, thus bedevilled, loses much of its instructiveness. Most of the older maps give to the region now occupied by New England a very squeezed look, and the way in which your mind works depends more or less upon which side you start from. If you carry your eye westward from Nova Scotia to a river which seems in the right place for the Penobscot, and then look for some other familiar feature of New England, ten to one you are confronted with something in Maryland. Or if you start for Chesapeake Bay and look north and east for the Hudson River, you may find it in a plausible position, but your next movement eastward is likely enough to drop you in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Hence it is not strange that there has been so much difficulty in locating the River of Norumbega.

Nevertheless the old maps have important testimony to offer. On many of them we find certain important names recurring in the same order of sequence. One of those names is Cape St. Helen, in latitude 32°, evidently one of the capes at the mouth of Savannah River. Farther north we observe a very prominent cape, one of the most prominent features on the whole Atlantic coast; it is usually called Cabo de Arenas, or "Sandy Cape," but sometimes appears in French as Cap des Sablons, which means the same. This prominence has often been identified with Cape Cod, but there are serious obstacles to this view. On most, if not all, the sixteenth century maps where it appears, this sandy cape is placed below the 40th parallel, and usually with much persistence at the 39th. In the very interesting maps of Diego Ribeiro (1529)14 and Alonso de Santa Cruz (1542),15 the Atlantic coast between Florida and Newfoundland is divided into two great regions called the Land of Ayllon and the Land of Gomez. The former corresponded roughly with the territory of the Virginia Company, and was named for Lucas d'Ayllon, who in 1526 made a disastrous attempt p65to found a Spanish colony on James River.16 The region named for the navigator Gomez corresponded roughly with New England. Now both Ribeiro and Santa Cruz place the Cabo de Arenas in the northern part of the Land of Ayllon, a position which might answer for Cape Henlopen, but not at all for Cape Cod. Again, the historian Gomara, in a deeply interesting passage wherein he gives many distances along the Atlantic coast, not only gives the latitude of Cabo de Arenas as 39°, but makes it 210 Spanish leagues distant from the Savannah River, thus clearly indicating Cape Henlopen.17 The large river, then, which appears on many old maps immediately north of Cabo de Arenas is the Delaware. It is called Río de San Antonio, a name which Gomez bestowed probably upon the Hudson, but which was often shifted to the Delaware.18

The correct identification of Cabo de Arenas is of vital importance. Fifty leagues or so to the north of it the coastline bends rather abruptly to the eastward. Now if Arenas is Cape Cod, this eastward trend must be that of the Maine coast, and the great river hard by, which often bears the name of Norumbega, must be the Penobscot. But if Arenas is Cape Henlopen, the eastward trend must be that of the coast of Long Island, and the River of Norumbega must be the Hudson.

In this connection the map made by Gastaldi, in Venice, in 1556, is instructive.19 It is under obligations to Verrazano; it calls the Coney Island region Angoulême, and Narragansett Bay a Port of Refuge. The Hudson River is carried up to its junction with the Mohawk, and even higher, to an imaginary junction with the St. Lawrence. p66Now on this map Norumbega is plainly comprised between the Hudson River and Narragansett Bay, over the mouth of which Block Island keeps a strict watch.

But far more decisive is the testimony of the great Flemish geographer, Gerard Kramer, whose Latinized name of Mercator is familiar to everybody who uses an atlas or sails a ship. Mercator made several maps of the world, which are all of the highest value as showing the progress that was achieved between them. On one of these maps, made at Duisburg in 1569,20 the Hudson River is so clearly indicated, midway between Cabo de Arenas (Cape Henlopen) and Claudia (Block Island), that there could be no two opinions about it even if it had no name attached. But it has a name attached, and that name is Rivière Grande, the Great River, a name appropriated to the Hudson at that day and by which it continued to be known long after Hudson's time. The bay of New York is at its foot, and far up country the Mohawk is seen entering it; hypothetical mountains are shown as the source of both rivers. Now on this map the territorial name, Norombega, has its first three letters on the west side of the Hudson River and its final a comes due north of Block Island, thus agreeing with the Gastaldi map just mentioned. But there is something better yet. East of the river and at the head of New York Bay is a tiny picture of a village with a fort, and this village is labelled Norombega in smaller type than the territorial name just above it. Here, then, we seem to have the testimony of one of the greatest geographers of the sixteenth century, that the River of Norumbega was the Hudson, and that the village of Norumbega was at the head of the bay into which it empties, that is to say, on Manhattan Island.

p67 The original of this map is in the National Library at Paris, and in the same library is a manuscript folio of 194 leaves written by Jean Allefonsce, the navigator already mentioned. From this document it would appear that Allefonsce sailed up the River Norombègue at least as far as the site of Poughkeepsie, for he found the water tasting salt at a distance of ninety miles from the sea. This is true of the Hudson, but could not be said of the Penobscot, where the tide rises only as far as Bangor, about sixty miles from the sea. We further learn that the French fort of Norombègua was situated on a small island [or partly submerged isthmus] in a lake upon the island of Manhattan. In other words it was a little north of the present City Hall. The lake, which the Dutch used to call sometimes the Collect, sometimes the Fresh Water, was a familiar feature in New York until after the present century had come in. John Fitch used it for experiments with a small steamboat in 1796. It covered a large part of the Five Points neighbourhood. Here, we are told, French fur traders had a village and blockhouse21 in 1540; and such was then the city of Norumbega. It may well have been in its origin an Indian village, most opportunely situated between the peltries of the upper country and the great aboriginal wampum fields of Long Island.

The details of Mercator's map are closely followed by another eminent geographer, Abraham Ortelius, in his map of 1570;22 and the same conclusion as to Norumbega seems borne out by the maps of Rasciotti (Venice, 1583)23 and Cornelius Wytfliet (Louvain, 1597).24 In strong contrast with these is the vague and confused treatment of Cornelius de Judaeis (Antwerp, 1593)25 and Matthias Quadus p68(Cologne, 1608);26 while a haziness of conception that lends itself readily to the Penobscot theory may be seen in the maps of Pierre Desceliers (Arques, 1546)27 and Franciscus Hoeius (Amsterdam, cir. 1600).28 The tendency to identify the River of Norumbega with the Penobscot grew with the lapse of time, and there the good Champlain searched for "the city" in 1604 as far as the site of Bangor, but sought in vain.29

This solution of the Norumbega problem seems to me the one that best harmonizes with such data as are accessible, but the subject is not one which admits of dogmatic assurance. However it may come out with Norumbega, it is clear that for a quarter of a century or more after the voyage of Verrazano the Hudson River was visited by the French fur traders, and that they had blockhouses on Manhattan Island and at Albany. Then there seems to have been a falling off in these French visits; at least we hear no more about them; and this falling off may well have been the reason why the position and meaning of Norumbega were forgotten. Of expeditions supported by the crown there seem to have been none after Roberval and Allefonsce until the beginning of the seventeenth century, — an interval of sixty years. This cessation of maritime enterprise was probably due to the absorption of France in the Huguenot struggle, including thirty-six years of civil war. From the action of Henry II in 1547 down to the Edict p69of Nantes in 1598, we need not be surprised at the absence of any traces of French voyages to America, except for the fishing on the banks of Newfoundland, which was an industry too solidly established to be easily overthrown.

It was early in this period of French quiescence beyond sea that the English formed their first joint-stock company for the prosecution of maritime trade and colonization. This was the Muscovy Company, incorporated in February, 1555, for the purpose of trading with Russia and discovering a northeastern passage to the Indies. Its first governor was the veteran navigator, Sebastian Cabot, who had lately returned from the Spanish into the English service, and one of its founders and directors or assistants was a Henry Hudson. With the careless prodigality of spelling characteristic of that age, the name of this gentleman occurs in more than thirty different forms, including such aberrations as Herdson, Hodgson, Huddesdon, and Hogeson, so that when modern scholars began looking him up, a good deal of patient research was required to prove his identity under so many disguises. This Henry Hudson, described in legal documents as Gentleman, was a citizen of London, a member of the guild of Tanners, one of the twelve companies from which the Lord Mayor must be chosen. He was alderman of London at the time of the founding of the Muscovy Company, and is often mentioned as Alderman Hudson. Beside his great wealth acquired in trade, he was lord of at least a dozen ancient manors, some of which had been conferred upon him by Henry VIII out of the spoils of the monasteries. This Alderman Hudson died of a malignant fever in December, 1555, and was buried in the church of St. Dunstan's in the East, where his monument is still to be seen. He was noted for his public spirit and benevolence, and had the respect and confidence of all classes of people.

Of Alderman Henry Hudson's eight sons, the eldest, Thomas Hudson, who lived at Mortlake on the Thames, was a friend of the learned and eccentric philosopher, Dr. John p70Dee, whose private diary, published by the Camden Society, gives interesting information about him. We learn that among his intimate friends were Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Walter Raleigh, Rev. Richard Hakluyt, and the great Arctic navigator, John Davis. We find that in 1583 this Thomas Hudson took part in a conference of such choice spirits in planning the voyages which have left the name of Davis upon the western gateway to the Arctic Ocean; and a cosy picture it is when Queen Elizabeth one winter day, after a noon dinner at Walsingham's house at Richmond, passes Dr. Dee's door and calls out to him, whereupon he walks by her horse's side and chats with her till they reach Mr. Hudson's dwelling.30

It seems to have been a different Thomas Hudson, of Limehouse, below London, who in 1579, in the service of the Muscovy Company, commanded an expedition to Archangel, and thence across country and down the Volga to Astrakhan, and so on over the Caspian Sea to Persia. Hakluyt's narrative shows this Captain Hudson to have been a man of nerve and resource. There was also a Christopher Hudson, whose career as agent of the Muscovy Company we can follow from his appointment in 1560 to 1601, when we lose sight of him. He was a man of great and varied abilities, and deeply interested both in Arctic exploration and in what was then called "western planting" or the founding of colonies in America. He seems to have been a son of Sir Christopher, brother of Alderman Hudson. Into the relationships of these worthies we can go just far enough to be tantalized, for in matters of genealogy a miss is as bad as a mile; but there are fair grounds for believing them all to have been kinsmen. It has been conjectured that Henry Hudson the Navigator was the grandson of Alderman Hudson. The moment at which history first actually knows him is the first day of May, 1607, when he sailed from Greenwich in command of an Arctic expedition, but we also know p71that he was a citizen of London; and the Dutch historian, Van Meteren, who was consul at London, tells us that there was a warm friendship between Henry Hudson and Captain John Smith. We learn from documents collected by Hakluyt that it was a custom for members of the Muscovy Company to apprentice their children in the art of navigation for the Company's service. It therefore seems highly probable that Henry Hudson, as member of a family which had already for two generations been devoted to the interests of Arctic navigation, had grown up in the employ of the Company. In 1607 and 1608 he made two voyages in its service. In the first he tried to penetrate between Greenland and Spitzbergen, in the hope of passing across the North Pole and finding beyond some available stretch of water over which he could sail to the eastern ports of Asia. In the second voyage Hudson tried to pass between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla. In this high latitude he tells us that on the morning of the 15th of June two of his sailors saw a mermaid, who came close to the ship's side and gazed earnestly at them. Her face and breasts were those of a woman, but below she was a fish as big as a halibut, and in colour like a speckled mackerel.31 It has been plausibly conjectured that this creature might have been a seal, an animal which at that time had seldom been seen by English sailors.

Although neither of these voyages accomplished its purpose, yet on his return to England in August, 1608, Hudson p72found himself famous. He had been nearer the pole than any man before him, and his superb seamanship was widely reported. Naturally the Dutch East India Company felt that if he were to undertake a third voyage, it had better be in their behalf than in that of their English rivals. Their offers were probably made through his friend, the Dutch consul Van Meteren, but how they prevailed upon him to leave the English service, we do not know. One Dutch historian, Adrian van der Donck, who wrote in 1650, assures us that Hudson had before 1607 spent several years in Holland, and this may be the source of the tradition which paints him as in some indescribable way half a Dutchman, and affectionately calls him Hendrik Hudson. But Van der Donck is notoriously untrustworthy for matters outside of his own personal knowledge; he no more thinks of sifting his statements than any other old gossip. If Hudson had spent much time in Holland he could hardly have failed to know something about the language, which is so like our own and so easy to learn. It was Hudson's friend Van Meteren who declared that English was only "broken Dutch."32 But Hudson in 1608 knew scarcely a word of Dutch. In the fourteenth century, a set of sailing directions for the northern seas was written in Icelandic by Ivar Bardsen, steward of the bishopric of Gardar, in Greenland. This was translated into Dutch about 1592 by the illustrious pilot, William Barendz, of whom I gave some account in the preceding chapter. When this version was shown to Hudson he was unable to use it, and it was then translated into English for his especial behoof. This English version, used by Hudson, was published at Albany in 1869. As for Hudson's name, the Dutch contract drawn up by Dutch lawyers at Amsterdam, under which he sailed, calls him Henry. Instead of being half naturalized in Holland, he was evidently a stranger there, invited because of p73the sudden fame of his two recent voyages. He was the Nansen of the year 1608.

Others than the Dutch directors were eager to secure the great sailor's services. Henry IV of France wished to establish a French East India Company and find work for it, so that he too was interested in an Arctic passage to Cathay, and his ambassador at the Hague approached Hudson on the subject. One grave source of weakness in the Netherlands was an excess of state sovereignty, which was apt to impair unity of action. Even the great commercial company must have its separate chambers to represent the interests of different localities. The Amsterdam chamber had no power to make a contract that would bind the whole Company, and the next general meeting would come too late for starting such a voyage in the spring of 1609. But while things were thus pending, news of the French ambassador's overtures reached the Amsterdam directors, and they instantly assumed the responsibility of sending Hudson out. Thus we may with peculiar propriety call New York the child of Amsterdam.

It was on the 4th of April, 1609, that Henry Hudson set sail on the Zuyder Zee. His equipment for penetrating the polar seas was such as to make us marvel at the mighty courage which could undertake such arduous work with such slender means. One little yacht, of eighty tons burden, with a crew of sixteen or eighteen sailors, — that was all. The mate was a Netherlander, and about half the crew were English. The records of voyages were now much better kept than in Verrazano's time. Sebastian Cabot had introduced sailors of the Muscovy Company to the practice of keeping the log-books, with observations systematically recorded from day to day. Hudson's movements, therefore, present us with comparatively few difficulties. He doubled the North Cape on the 5th of May, and headed for Nova Zembla. But the sea was so full of ice that the prospect of getting through was dismal, and the little crew became mutinous. Hudson was required by his instructions to return to Amsterdam in case of failure p74to find a passage here, but he had expedients of his own in mind, and probably felt that in an enterprise of such magnitude his own discretion must be allowed to count for something. He had not yet tried the northwestern routes; he might sail through either Davis Strait or Frobisher Strait and see what he could find beyond.

But yet another and perhaps more promising course was open. There was the great Verrazano Sea, behind Virginia; he might try to find a passage into that. Nothing had as yet occurred to refute the belief in such a sea. It is true that Fernando de Soto had reached the Mississippi River, and Cabeça de Vaca had gone through Texas, and Coronado had visited the pueblos of New Mexico. These discoveries are reflected in Michael Lok's map of 1582, which shows a solid continent from Florida to the Gulf of California, reaching up in many places to the 40th parallel. But north of this and west of Norumbega this map shows the enormous Sea of Verrazano sweeping over the whole of North America, and divided from the Atlantic only by a narrow isthmus just at the 40th parallel. One might still hope somewhere about here to find a strait. In the preceding summer John Smith had explored Chesapeake Bay and entered the Potomac, Patapsco, and Susquehanna rivers. There was no passage there, but there might be one a little farther north. So Smith thought, and so he had written to Hudson, who had received the letter at Amsterdam and had it with him now. When Hudson explained the matter, it was decided to cross the Atlantic and look for a northwest passage in latitude 40°. Thus curiously is the name of John Smith linked with the beginnings of American history in the middle as well as in the south and northern zones. Smith was the saviour of Virginia, he gave to New England its name, and he was instrumental in sending the Dutch to Manhattan!

These northern voyages of Hudson, aside from their intrinsic interest in the history of navigation, are memorable for two things. First, they revealed the existence of whales p75in vast numbers about Spitzbergen, larger and better in bone and blubber than any hitherto known, and thus they led to a revival and extension of whale-fishery, in which Holland kept the lead until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Secondly, on the 21st of May, 1609, while doubling the North Cape on his return to the Atlantic waters, Hudson made the first recorded observation of a sun spot. It was a year and a half later that sun spots were observed by Hariot and again by Galileo, to the holy indignation of good Aristotelians, who deemed it flat blasphemy to say that the Eye of the Universe could suffer from ophthalmia!

Nine days after passing the North Cape, the little Half Moon put in at the Faroe Islands, and the casks were filled with fresh water. On the 3d of June the sailors were surprised at the force of the current which we call the Gulf Stream. On the 18th of July they arrived in Penobscot Bay, with foremast gone and sails much the worse for wear. Here they anchored and went ashore to cut a pine-tree for a new topmast. It took them a week to make the mast and repair their sails, and meanwhile they must have lived like princes, for they caught fifty cod, a hundred lobsters, and one great halibut. They were visited by two French shallops full of Indians, who offered them fine beaver skins in exchange for red cloth. Nine days after leaving Penobscot Bay the Half Moon anchored near Cape Cod, and another day brought her to Old Stage Harbour, on the south side of that peninsula. On the 18th of August, amid gusts of wind and rain, she was off the Accomac peninsula and sighted an opening, probably Machipongo Inlet, which Hudson mistook for the James River. "This," he said, "is the entrance into the King's River in Virginia, where our Englishmen are." He made no attempt to visit them, perhaps because he may have been conscious that Dutch explorers upon this coast would be regarded by Englishmen as poachers. Presently turning northward, he entered Delaware Bay on the 28th of August, and began taking p76soundings. He found many shoals, and several times the Half Moon struck upon the sands; the current, moreover, set outward with such force as to assure him that he was at the mouth of a large and rapid river. This was not encouraging, for a large river, discharging loads of sand, implied something more than a narrow neck of land behind it. Before daybreak he weighed anchor, and on the 3d of September dropped it again somewhere between Sandy Hook and Staten Island, as Verrazano had done eighty-five years before.

When the Half Moon entered the great bay, says the mate's journal, "the people of the country came aboard of us, seeming very glad of our coming, and brought greene tobacco, and gave us of it for knives and beads. They goe in deere skins loose, well dressed. They have yellow copper. They desire cloathes, and are very civill. They have great store of maize or Indian wheat, whereof they make good bread. The countrey is full of great and tall oakes. . . . Some of the people were in mantles of feathers, and some in skinnes of divers sorts of good furres. Some women also came to us with hempe. They did weare about their neckes things of red copper. At night they went on land againe, so wee rode very quiet, but durst not trust them."

It soon appeared that this suspiciousness was well founded. Next day the ship's boat was sent out toward Bergen with five men to make some observations; on their way back they were assailed by a score of Indians in canoes, and one Englishman was killed with an arrow. As the Half Moon passed on up the river she was occasionally saluted with flights of arrows, and sometimes these volleys were answered by musket shots with deadly effect. On the 14th of September the ship passed between Stony and Verplanck's points and entered upon the magnificent scenery of the Catskills. On the 22d she had probably gone above the site of Troy, and the boat found only seven feet of water, so that progress was stopped. On the way down there were p78some adventures. "The people of the mountaynes," says the journal, "came aboard us, wondring at our ship and weapons. We bought some small skinnes of them for trifles. This afternoone, one canoe kept hanging under our sterne with one man in it, which we could not keepe from thence, who got up by our rudder to the cabin window, and stole out my pillow, and two shirts, and two bandeleeres. Our master's mate shot at him . . . and killed him. Whereupon all the rest fled away, some in their canoes, and some leapt out of them into the water. We manned our boat and got our things againe. Then one of them that swamme got hold of our boat, thinking to overthrow it. But our cooke took a sword and cut off one of his hands, and he was drowned. By this time the ebbe was come, and we weighed and got down two leagues." On another occasion there was quite a skirmish, the barbarians swarming by hundreds in their bark canoes and shooting persistently, though with little effect, while the ship's cannon sank them and musketry mowed them down. But the meetings were sometimes more friendly. Somewhere near the site of Catskill, "I sailed to the shore," says Hudson, "in one of their canoes, with an old man, who was the chief of a tribe, consisting of forty men and seventeen women; these I saw there in a house well constructed of oak bark, and circular in shape, so that it had the appearance of being well built, with an arched roof. It contained a great quantity of maize . . . and beans of the last year's growth, and there lay near the house for the purpose of drying, enough to load three ships, besides what was growing in the fields. On our coming into the house, two mats were spread out to sit upon, and immediately some food was served in well made red wooden bowls; two men were also despatched at once with bows and arrows in quest of game, who soon after brought in a pair of pigeons which they had shot. They likewise killed a fat dog, and skinned it with great haste, with shells which they had got out of the water. They supposed that I would remain with them for the night, but I returned after a short time on p79board the ship. The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon, and it also abounds in trees of every description."

This picture of Indian hospitality, with its festal dish of dog, is one with which we are all familiar in books. On coming out of the great river, on the 4th of October, Hudson left behind him the shore which the natives called Mannahatta, and on the next day he sailed out through the Narrows and headed for Europe. On the 7th of November the Half Moon arrived at Dartmouth, and the Englishmen in the crew compelled the captain to land there. He sent to Amsterdam a report of the voyage, with a request for more money and half a dozen fresh men in place of the unruly ones; then he p80proposed to start in March on a fresh search for the northwest passage. When this letter reached Amsterdam the directors instructed Hudson to come first to Holland. But meanwhile King James had interfered with an order forbidding him to leave the country. The foreigners were not to be allowed to have so valuable a man, and so Hudson was unceremoniously brought back into the service of the Muscovy Company. The Half Moon was sent on her way to Amsterdam, a new ship was fitted up by Sir Dudley Digges and others, and in the following April our bold navigator set sail once more for the New World.

The voyage was full of hardship as the ship made her way into the great inland water which has ever since been known as Hudson's Bay, but ought rather to be called Hudson Sea, since it is bigger than the Black and Caspian together. From the 3d of November, 1610, till the 18th of June, 1611, the ship was locked in ice in James's Bay, at its southern extremity. During this long and unexpected delay the supply of food fell short and Satan found mischief for idle hands and busy brains. The crew insisted upon returning home as soon as the ice should break up, but the captain, nourishing his great purpose and finding himself on this broad western sea, naturally wished to press on westward. Perhaps the summer might show that he had already cleared the barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the waters that washed the coast of Asia. An Indian came on board one day with a poniard, which Hudson believed to be of Mexican make, and this confirmed him in the belief that he must be near the Pacific coast, where he might find fresh supplies. Fish could be caught in considerable numbers, but there was scarcely bread enough to last a fortnight. On the ship was a young man named Henry Green, of worshipful parents but of froward and unseemly life, whom the captain had befriended and sought to reform and to have for his secretary. This viper devised a mutiny; and on midsummer day, three days after leaving winter quarters, Henry Hudson, p81with his son John Hudson,33 and seven sick men, were set adrift in an open boat upon that waste of waters, while the ship faced about for England. Our chronicler tells us with satisfaction that before reaching the ocean the faithless Green and his abettors were slain by the Indians. On arriving in England the crew were thrown into jail and an expedition was sent out in search of the great navigator; but in spite of diligent seeking no more was ever seen or heard of Henry Hudson.

The man who came to such an untimely end was a notable instance of the irony of human destiny. Of all the searchers for a northerly route to the Indies none was ever more persistent or more devoted than he. In the brief four years during which we can follow his career he tried four ways of finding it, — the way across the pole, the way by Nova Zembla, by the imaginary sea of Verrazano, and by the veritable sea of Hudson. Had his life been spared we should doubtless have seen him enter the bay afterward discovered by Baffin, the route by which success could be attained, but only with modern resources and in the middle of the 19c. In all that he attempted he failed, and yet he achieved great results that were not contemplated in his schemes. He started two immense industries, the Spitzbergen whale-fisheries and the Hudson Bay fur trade; and he brought the Dutch to Manhattan Island. No realization of his dreams could have approached the astonishing reality which would have greeted him could he have looked through the coming centuries and caught a glimpse of what the voyager now beholds in sailing up the bay of New York. But what perhaps would have surprised most of all would have been to learn that his name was to become part of the folk-lore of the beautiful river to which it is attached, that he was to figure as a Dutchman, in spite of himself, in legend and on the stage, that when it is thunder weather on the Catskills the children should say it is Hendrik Hudson playing at skittles with his goblin crew. p82Perhaps it is not an unkindly fate. Even as Milton wished for his dead friend Lycidas that he might become the genius of the shore, so the memory of the great arctic navigator will remain a familiar presence among the hillsides which the gentle fancy of Irving has clothed with undying romance.


The Author's Notes:

1 Desmarquets, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de Dieppe, Paris, 1785, I.100.

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2 Eusebii chronicon, Paris, 1512, fol. 172.

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3 There is a beautiful reproduction of it in Kretschmer, Die Entdeckung Amerikas, AtlasXIV.

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4 It is given in my Old Virginia and Her Neighbours, Illustrated Edition, I.64.

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5 Evidence enough to set the question at rest is adduced in Harrisse's Discovery of North America, pp214‑228.

Thayer's Note: Harrisse doesn't seem to be online yet (2012); see Bourne, Spain in America, pp143 ff., for further discussion.

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6 Harrisse is disposed to allow that Cabot may have followed the coast as far south as Florida; see his Discovery of North America, p43; John Cabot and Sebastian his Son, p137. But the evidence is far from satisfactory.

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7 See my Discovery of America, II.89.

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8 The often repeated story that Verrazano was devoured by Indians is based upon a statement of the Venetian historian Ramusio, who misunderstood a passage in Oviedo (lib. XXV cap. vi), which tells how one "Johan Florin" was eaten by Indians in Venezuela in 1528. Verrazano was often called "Johan Florin," or John of Florence, so that Ramusio's mistake was a natural one.

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9 Weise, The Discoveries of America, p361.

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10 The original map is in the Royal Archives at the Hague; there is a copy in the State Library of New York, at Albany. It is engraved as frontispiece to O'Callaghan's History of New Netherland, vol. I.

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11 In recent years it has been maintained, by the late Professor E. N. Horsford, of Cambridge, that the River of Norumbega was the Charles, and that at its junction with Stony Brook stood a city founded by Northmen early in the eleventh century; we are asked to believe that after keeping up a trade with Europe for three hundred years this Norse colony vanished, leaving no trace in European tradition, but the Indians remembered its name for two centuries longer and imparted that name to the whites, Norumbega being the Indian attempt at pronouncing Norvega, the Latin form of Norway. In accordance with these views a tower with a commemorative inscription has been somewhat prematurely erected on the supposed site of the city.

Thayer's Note: The tower and its inscription are nicely covered in five photoillustrated webpages, with a summary bibliography attached, at the Norumbega Lodge, Sons of Norway (Boston, MA).

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12 The Discoveries of America to the Year 1525. New York, 1884.

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13 It first appears as Aranbega on Hieronimo da Verrazano's map, of which there is an engraving in Brevoort's Verrazano the Navigator.

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14 Kretschmer, Die Entdeckung Amerikas; AtlasXV.

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15 A facsimile was published by the Swedish Staff-General, with notes by E. W. Dahlgren, Stockholm, 1892.

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16 See my Discovery of America, II.490.

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17 Gomara, Historia general de las Indias, Saragossa, 1552, cap. xii.

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18 On Dr. Dee's map (1580) the Delaware is called San Antonio and the Hudson (on which appears Norumbega) is called the River Gamas (i.e. Gomez). A rough sketch of this map is given in Winsor, Narr. and Crit. Hist., IV.98.

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19 It is engraved in Ramusio, Navigationi e Viaggi, Venice, 1556, III.353.

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20 The original is preserved in the Stadtsbibliothek at Breslau. A superb facsimile, in eight sheets of elephant folio size, was published at Berlin in 1891 by the Gesellschaft für Erdkunde. There is a reproduction of the part which gives the American coast in Weise's Discoveries of America, p360.

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21 Perhaps on the isthmus between the Collect and Little Collect, where a powder magazine was built in 1728. See below, vol. II pp64, 67, 68.

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22 Nordenskjöld's Facsimile-Atlas, XLVI.

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23 Remarkable Maps of the Bodel Nyenhuis Collection at Leyden, Amsterdam, 1894, XII.

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24 Nordenskjöld, LI, but the good Wytfliet's latitudes are out of joint.

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25 Id., XLVIII.

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26 Nordenskjöld, XLIX.

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27 Kretschmer, Die Entdeckung Amerikas; AtlasXVII.

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28 Remarkable Maps, etc., VII. In this map C. de Arenas is placed below 40°, but its shape is made strikingly like that of the Cape Cod peninsula; and the river usually labelled Grande is moved eastward from the name Grande, which is attached to a much smaller river.

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29 On Champlain's map of 1612 (see Winsor, Narr. and Crit. Hist., IV.381), the Penobscot River is called Naranberga. Perhaps the latest occurrence of the name is on the map made by Lucini for Robert Dudley's Arcano del Mare, Florence, 1647, an engraving of which is given in O'Callaghan's Documentary History of New York, Albany, 1849, vol. I. Here the territorial name stands upon the locality of the White Mountains.

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30 Read's Hudson, p54.

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31 Purchas His Pilgrimes, III.575. The same explanation suits the mermaid seen by Captain Richard Whitbourne, off the Newfoundland coast; see my Old Virginia and Her Neighbours, Illustrated Edition, I.248.

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32 William Bradford, on the other hand, an excellent linguist, calls Dutch a "strange and uncouth language" (History of the Plimoth Plantation, p11); but he heard it with the ears of an exile.

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33 Asher's Hudson, p122; Read's Hudson, pp167, 172.


Thayer's Notes:

a The Munster map of 1540 reproduces these features; online at North Carolina Maps.

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b Some doubt is thrown on this accuracy by the fact that the latitude of Rome is not 41°40′, but 41°53′35ʺ (Capitoline Hill); 41°40′ is nowhere near the city: at the same longitude it is some 25 km south of it, just W of the town of Pomezia, founded in 1928 on reclaimed land in what was in Verrazzano's time the Pontine swamp.

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c (Jean) Alfonse or Alphonse de Saintonge, to give him a modern spelling, seems to have been in fact a man by the name of Jean Fonteneau or Fontenaud, or at least such is the name most often given him in modern French histories; and although Saintonge is an old maritime province of France, he is said to have been born not loosely in that region, but in a village of the region curiously bearing the same name in the commune of Saint‑Même-les‑Carrières near Cognac: this according to Jean de Marnef, as cited by Bulletin de géographie historique et descriptive pour l'année 1895, p276.

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d This is, alas, utter nonsense.

*Anormée, if it ever existed, is a barbarous corruption of énorme; and berge, though a word in use at the time and now, just meant, and still only means, "bank": "scarp" is a tendentious translation, apparently for the sole purpose of finding in it the Palisades.

Although Norumbega quickly appears in many spellings, including the French Norembergue, one of the consistent features of the word is that the g is hard; but the g in berge is soft. Allefonsce himself in his 1559 report writes Norembergue and Norembergues: as a French-speaker he would hardly corrupt the word himself.

More to the point, the name first surfaces in Verrazzano's map of 1529, as Oranberga or Aranberga (secondary sources differ; I haven't seen the actual map), which is even further removed from *anormée berge.

No French scholar, to my knowledge, accepts the etymology; efforts at decoding the word have focused on native American languages, although with little success.


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