Richard Jobson (1623) The Golden Trade, pp. 10-27.
The description of the River.
THIS River, whereof I now take in hand, (by Gods grace) to write, is scituate in the latitude of 13 degrees and1/2, by all or the most part of Mappes and Cardes, and by some called, by the name of Gambia, by others Gamba, and by another sort set down Gambra, to which latter name being most frequent, I doe apply my selfe, for by the naturall inhabitants, either belowe in the mouth of it, neither it above to the farthest I have travelled, being upon the truest accompt I could keepe, some 320 leagues, or 960 miles, could I ever heare any proper name, but only the word Gee, which in their language, they use to all rivers, and waters: It hath one sole entrance, which in the very mouth, is about some 4 leagues broad, and in the channel 3 fadome water, at the least, without any barre, contrary to the setting of it formerly forth, where it is generally noted to have a barre, and much sholer water than we have found: After we are run some 4 leagues in, it doth spread it selfe, into so many rivers, bayes, and creeks, that for the space of some 30 leagues, unto a Towne called Tauckro valley, it is so intricate, that many months might be spent to search each particuler within that limit; but for that my occasion of writing, is grounded upon the great hopes, and expectations, that are from above I entend not to make any stay there, but refer what is to be sayd, until I speake of the inhabitants,only, as I proceed to let you know, that the maine channell, is not to be mistaken, except within the limit aforesayde, and then also thorough great neglect, or rather some wilfull ignorance.
Thus with a faire streame, this brave river shooteth in flowing from his mouth, into the land, neare upon 200 leagues, unto a Towne called Baraconda, or some little above, & that is the uttermost bounds of his flowing, even in the lowest season of the yeare: For as in all rivers, running into the sea, the increase of the inland waters, occasioned by raines, or snowes, doe abate of the seas in draught; so much more, in this great River, who swels upright 30 foote, observing one due time, and season of the yeare for ever, must the seas force in those swelling times, be mightely driven backe, whereby a certaine knowledge is attaind, which are the setled times, to be followed earnestly, to meete with no impediment, in passing up, which impediment, is onely want of water to passe over flats, which in the lowest season of the yeare, in certaine places, are met withall, as is commonly seene, in all rivers, of such mightly inlets, which bankes as it were being past, presently a faire passable River continues, for many leagues; and as we expect our seasons of Winter, and Sommer, so do these inhabitants these times of floods, occasioned by aboundance of raine, which raines alwayes proceed forth of the South-east, and have their beginnings, much sooner in the inland, then at the Rivers mouth, so as in those parts, where we have had aboade, they begin to fall in the latter end of May, and at the Rivers mouth, not untill the end of Iune: These raines continue very violent, for three moneths, comming downe with great winds, and very much thunder, and lightning, not perpetually, but as we say, in suddaine gustes, and stormes, the violence whereof being overpassed, the people continue their labour, as where I write of their manner of Tillage, is more largely set downe, as also a more free discription of these contagious times: The increase of the River likewise, in the beginning of the yeare, before any raine is seene to fall where we aboade, did make it propable, that raine was fallen, within the land, before we tasted any, all which affirmes the great inlet of this hopefull River, and gives an assurance, that it is passable, if times and seasons be observed, and with dilligence followed, with boates, and vessels fitted accordingly, as experience in travelling it already so farre, may some wayes warrant a sufficient director.
Next to shew a continuance of this great streame, when we had rowed beyond the ebbing and flowing, and 12. dayes against the currant, which we travailed in the moneth of Ianuary, when the water was at the lowest of his nourishment, and then the shole we met withall, and stopped our further proceeding, had 9. inches water, which shallownesse continued not above 20 yards, wherein if we had beene an able company together, being onely 10. of us,1 and likewise had had provision of tooles wherewithall, and beene assured of a commodius trade, and so friendly a people to converse withall, as after we found, any encouragement would have made us worke a gut thorough that little distance, and being past that place, the river shewed himselfe againe, with faire promising, so farre as we had occasion to looke, neare a league, and how far he might so continue, we are ignorant, and in those places above did we see sea-horses,2 whose nature requires deep waters, as where I write at large of him, you may better perceive, likewise the higher still, more store of Crocodiles, which addes incouragement of the largenesse of the River; and likewise a faire breadth betweene the shores: I follow these probabilities, to encourage the farther search of the River, which diligently followed, may even in one season, give a full satisfaction to the forward Adventurer, and if it so fall out, we can meete with any towne bove, standing by the River side, it will assuredly prove a commodious place, to make our aboade in, to take the advantage of the seasonable times, and to make returnes, to, and againe, as experience must leade, to the greatest advantage. And for trade there is no question, but a marvailous recourse would be unto us, which is already testified, in that so many hundreds of them came down unto us, to the remote place where we were enforced to stay, building them houses of reads on both sides the shore, and the recourse still more, and more increasing, in so much as we had intelligence, the people were comming, from a great Towne called Iaye in their language, and wee doe conceave it to be Gago, if wee had beene furnisht with commodities enough for them, and likewise knowne the seasonable times for our passage in the River, and convenient Harborough for our safer aboade; and why may not the towne they call Mumbar, which they say is but 6. dayes iourney, from the place we stayed at, according to their travaile, which in the discourse of the people I askt lay downe, be likewise upon the River, if so, how great an advantage, might it bring unto us, if wee were minded to stay there, when the Moore of Barbary come, for at this towne the Caravan from Barbary doth stay and abide, we know their whole trade is for gold, but what quantity they have here, or what people it is, they trade withall, we are as yet ignorant, and this adventure up the river, would undoubtedly discover, that the gold is there, wee are assured of, having bartered, and had trade for some, and upon triall the same in goodnesse, that Barbary affords our Countries, having the river to friend, we should be able, though but few of us, to defend our selves, from the rage of the Barbary Moore, if he should attempt any thing against us, for undoubtedly, when he shall see us entered into his trade, he will appose what may be, to affront us; And although I have beene promised safe defence, by the country people, yet a boat is a certaine retreate, and the River a constant friend, to trust unto.
Againe, what know we, whither the River may bring us within the confines of those people, who will not be seene, and are those to whom our salte doeth passe, of whom in the relation of the Country, in his place, as it followeth I write, and if it be as in all descriptions that are set out, it is layd downe, that the River of Senega, and this River do meete, yet cannot be in any probability, but a few dayes iourney, above the place, and heigh, we have already beene at, must needes reach to it, and no doubt afterwards, that which affordes two such branches, must containe within himselfe, a faire and promising streame, which may take head from some great and large lake, above, such as is described, to be about Gago, and if any such place should be found, what use or profit might arise, cannot but promise a hopefull expectation.
And lastly, if the inhabitant above, be enemies amongst themselves, as we see in the mouth of the River, and heare likewise of them, what advantage our force inthe River, may worke, will easily be considered, in regard they have not the use of anyh boates, above where it ebbes and flowes, so farre as we have hetherunto beene, which is about 120. leagues, or 360. miles, which we were travelling, as I have sayd before, onely 12. dayes, wherein is to be understood, we laboured not the whole day,3 but setting forward so soone as it was day light, we continued working untill 9. or 10. of the clocke, resting the heate of the day, and againe from 3. until the evening shut in, and not at all in the night when it was coole, and convenient, for avoyding of trees sunke, rockes, and sholes, which in the day time we could see, and have now taken notice of, and perfectly writ downe, that upon any second attempt, we may be much bolder, and thereby aske lesser time for performance; howbeit our returne downeward, for those 12. dayes travaile, was in 6. and God be praised, both going, comming, and staying there, without sicknesse, or losse of any one man; Nay more (to our great comfort wee found) the higher we went, the more healthfull our bodies. And it is likely, if townes were found againe, neare the River, they do so continue, for from Baraconda, whither the River flowed, we never h[e]ard, nor saw of any Towne, or plantation, nor recourse of any people unto us, but what we sent for, neither shew of any boate, onely some two, or three bundles of Palmeta leaves, we found bound uptogether, which our Blackes would tell unto us, some of the people had made shift to passe the river upon, so as our passage then must needes afford more discouragement to the Actors, then any that can, (by Gods grace) happen hereafter, for we were discouraged, that the people above were of a bad condition, if we could passe unto them, which the inhabitants held, as impossible, in regard they did affirme, the river was full of trees suncke, and drifts, wee should meete withall, and our time in passing, being uncertaine, our provision which was small, might faile us, and poorely (God knowes) we were provided of those materials, that would have helpt to maintaine that principall, in respect the place, and way affordeth it; and what experience hereafter, can direct in that kind to doe, which being good comforts, and encouragers to the Adventurer, I will not by any meanes leave unwritten.
There is abounding in this River, who are bred and live therein, two sorts especiall, as I may terme them monstrous, the one devouring, as the people report, and the other daungerous, as I have found: The devouring is the Crocodile or Alegatha, because they carry one, and the same resemblance, but doubtlesse, I am perswaded, there is no other Crocodil, but such as wee have seene in this River, whom the people cal by the name of Bumbo, sundry times when we have driven them from the shore, where theyhave beene lying in the morning, or otherwise forth of the water, when wee have observed the print they leave behind them, upon the soft sand, we have found by measure of rule, his whole length, from the point of his nose, to the end of his tayle, containe thirty three foote; The people of the Country, stand in such dread of these, that they dare not wash their hands in the great River, much lesse, offer to swimme, or wade therein, reporting unto us many lamentable stories, how many of their friends, and acquaintance have beene devoured by them: neither do they at any time bring any of their Cattle, to passe the River, as within ebbing, and flowing, they have diverse occasions to doe, but with great dread, and ceremony: for at all townes within that compasse, they have small boats, which we call Canoos, to ferry over withall, which cannot receive a live beefe, onely some five or sixe of the people: but when they passe a beefe over, he is led into the water, with a rope to his hornes, whereby one holds him close to the boate, and another taking up his tayle, holds in the like manner; the Priest, or Mary-bucke, stands over the middle of the beast, praying and spitting upon him, according to their ceremonies, charming the Crocodile, and another againe by him, with his bow and arrowes ready drawne, to expect when the Crocodile will ceaze, and in this manner, if there be twenty at a time, the[y] passe them one after another, never thinking them safe, untill they be on the toppe of the River bancke: One thing more, to shew the feare they have of him, when I was going in my discovery up the River; having as I sayde, onely nine of our owne people with me, I did hire Blacke-men, as I had occasion to use them, to serve as Interpreters, likewise to send abroade, and to helpe to row, and get up the boate, so that when I came to passe the flowing, and to goe all against the currant, I did furnish my selfe, of foure able Black-men: the first place we found a stiffe gut to resist us, the water being not above foure foote deepe, for speedier and more easier passing, our men went into the water, and laying hands, some on the one side of the boate, and some likewise on the other, waded along, and led her through, which we found a good refreshing; the River being sweete and cleare, was comfortable in the heate, by no meanes I could not make any of my blacke people, go out of the boate, denying flatly to go into the water, saying that Bumbo would have them; after some two of these passages, there was another streight, where was a necessity of more hands, so that striping my selfe, I leapt into the water, the Blackes seeing me prepare, seeme much to diswade me, but when they saw me in the water, they presently consulting together, stript themselves, and came likewise in, the businesse ended, and we all aboord againe, I askt of them the cause made them come in, having so earnestly denied it before, they made answere, they had considered amongst themselves, the white man, shine more in the water, than they did, and therefore if Bumbo come, hee would surely take us first, so that after they never refused to go in, yet in all our whole passage, did we never receive any assult, but to the contrary, where we have seene great companied of them, lying upon the sands, they have perpetually avoyded us, with the same shines, [i.e. "shyness"] that Snakes doe use, to avoyde the noyse, and sight of men here, onely boldest to shew himselfe where the water was deepest, and the Blacke people, do not sticke to say, that since the white men have had to doe in the River, the Crocodile is not so daungerous, as in former times; Againe, whereby it doth appeare, they are more aboundantly above, whereas he doth naturally smel exceeding sweete, after the manner of muske, so as in all places, where they use to come one shore they leave a sent behind them, that many times we are not able to receive, but inforced to stoppe our nostrils: some three dayes, before wee came to the highest place we stayd at, we beganne to find the River water, which was our daily drinke, to change his relish, but after we came there, it had such a sweete musky tast, that we not onely refused, to drinke of it, but also could not endure, our meate to be drest therewith, but sought out springs and freshes, upon the land, nay more, those great fish which with our hookes, we tooke in that place, lost the savor they had below, and did tast and relish as that Crocodile smelt, that we utterly refused, to eate them our selves, but bestowed them upon the people of the Country, which received them thankfully; and likewise the cry and noyse of them in this place, was more then we had heard al the way, for the noyse he makes is resembled right to the sound of a deepe great well, with which the great ones call one to another, and may be distinctly heard a league, which surely argues, the continuance of this hopefull river, and that some great lake above may bee the nourisher of them.
The other is the Sea-horse, who in this River do wounderfully abound, and for that the name of Sea-horse is a common word, in regard of the Greene-land voyages, where they use the same to the Sea-mosses they kill there, who are of contrary shapes, I thinke it fit to describe this fish or beast, or what I may call him, because questionlesse, there was never beast, nor any thing in that kind, set forth to shewe in these our Countries, that would produce more admiration. He is in fashion of body, a compleate horse, as round buttock'd as a horse of service, and in his whole body answerable: his head like unto a horse with short eares, but palpably appearing which he wags, and stirres, as he shewes himselfe, onely toward his mouth, he growes broade downe like a Bull, and hath two teeth standing right before upon his lower choppe, which are great and dangerous in regard he strikes with them: his crye, or neighing, directly like a great horse, and hath in the same manner foure legges, answerable to his body, whereupon hee goes, and wherewith hee likewise swimmeth, as a horse doeth, yet in these is his greatest difference, for they are somewhat shorter in proportion, then horses are, and where they should be round hoofte, it devides it selfe into five pawes, upon every which hee hath a hoofe, the whole foote, containing a compasse of great breadth, as the beast is in growth, insomuch as I have taken the measure of some prints they leave, where they walke, of twenty ynches over: His manner of feeding likewise, resembles the horse, for although he live all day in the River, yet every night hee goeth duely on shore, in divers places feeding upon their Rice, and Corne, doing the Country people much spoyle, but his generall feeding, is upon low marish grounds, where the grasse or sedge is greene, to which they resort in great companies, & in those reaches of the River, which have deepest water, and lie nearest, and convenientst, to such manner of grounds, do wee alwayes finde greatest store: in some places, they go a mile from the shore side to their feede, having trackes that are beaten as hard and palpable, as London high way; he returnes by the breake of day to the River, where he is very bold; when our boates come by, hee will hold his head above the water, many times store of them together and so neare as within Pistolls shot, snorting, neighing, and tossing the waters, making shewes of great displeasure, and sometimes attempting it, for in my passage too and againe in the River, my boate was stricken by them three times, and one of the blowes was very dangerous, for he stroke his tooth quite through, which I was enforced, with a great deale of dilligence to stoppe, or it had daungered our sinking; but the hazard of them may be well avoyded, if men be provided to shoote at them, when they presse overbold, which wee could not do, in regard our allowance of powder was small, and we were driven to put it to other uses, neither had wee peeces accordingly, thorough the neglect of some ill willing persons, who deceive the trust the worthy Adventurers apposed upon them: In the night, while wee had candle burning, some of them, disturbed by us, would remaine in the River, and would come starting up the streame, snoring, and pressing neere upon us, but wee found meanes to send them packing, for breaking a small peece of wood, we would sticke a short candle lighted upon it, and let it drive with the streame upon them, from which they would flie, and make way, with a great deale of horrour, and one note we observed amongst them, they were alwayes most dangerous, when they had their young with them, which they sometimes leave on shore, but being in the water, every female carries her young upon her backe, so as when she puts up her head, the young head likewise will looke his share, and where they appeare many heads together, there is asmuch variety, as from the great horse, to the hunting nagge: the Sea-horse, we found greatest store when we were likewise past the flowing of the tide, and continued above the highest place we were, which still argues, a large and constant River: The people do account of these for an excellent meate, not refusing to eate them, if they be taken up dead in the River, as they are many times found swimming, howsoever they come killed, howbeit I conceive, the Crocodile and they agree, for that I have stood upon the bancke, and see them swimme, one by another without offence.
Having spoken of these, I now returne to matter of sustenance, which the River affordeth, there is variety of good fish, among which great store of Mullet, if men have nets, and provision to take them, which in some places, within the ebbing and flowing, the shore lies convenient to make use of, and above, that in most places, howbeit we never made use above any place where our shippe ridde, who alwayes kept the net with her, wherewith we made diverse draughts, most especially at a Towne called Cassan, and against which the shippe did ride, and was the highest place in the River she went, where our convenientst drawing was close to the Towne, and when the people at any time saw us bring our net on the shore, and provide to fish, as the net came neare the shore, they would come rudely in, and many times with their uncivilnes, indanger the breaking, and spoyling of our net, with their greedinesse to lay hold on the fish, that we were inforced to speake unto the King, dwelling in the Towne, to command them to forbeare troubling us, promising when we had taken for our own present use, and reserved some for him, the residue should be taken out and remaine amongst them, and his Commaund being given, they were carefull to observe it.
Amongst the rest, one time having made a draught, we had not such plenty as usually, onely some fish, in the cod of the net, which being taken up, were shakt into a basket standing in the boate, with which we rowed aboord, & the basket being handed in as the custome is, the fish were powred upon the Decke, whereof many rude Saylers will be their owne carvers, amongst which fish, there was one, much like unto our English breame, but of a great thicknes, which one of the Saylers thinking for his turne, thought to take away, putting therefore his hands unto him, so soone as he toucht, the fellow presently cried out, he had lost the use of both his hands, and armes: another standing by sayd, what with touching this fish? and in speaking put thereto his foote, he being bare-legged, who presently cried out in the like manner, the sence of his leg was gone: this gave others, of better rancke, occasion to come forth, and looke upon them, who perceiving the sence to come againe, called up for the Cooke, who was in his roome below, knowing nothing what had hapned, & being come wild him to take that fish, and dresse, which he being a plaine stayd fellow, orderly stooping to take up, as his hands were on him, suncke presently upon his hinder parts, and in the like manner, made grievous mone: he felt not his hands, which bred a wonderfull admiration amongst us: from the shore at the same time was comming a Canoe aboord us, in which a Blacke man called Sandie, who in regard he had some small knowledge of the Portingall tongue, had great recourse amongst us, we brought him to the fish, and shewed it unto him, upon sight whereof, he fell into a laughter, and told us, it was a fish they much feared in the water, for what he toucht he num'd, his nature being to stroke himselfe upon another fish, whom presently he likewise num'd, and then pray'd upon him, but bid us cut of his head; and being dead, his vertue was gone, and he very good to eate: At this place onely we should see many Moores sporting, playing, and comming boldly into the water, a good distance from the shore, where lay a sandy banke, but they never went beyond their heights, and they would tell us, there was a blessing granted to that place, by some great Mary-bucke, that Bumbo should never hurt them; and on that side the Towne stood, as our ship did ride in the middle of the River, and we have observed, we never saw any Crocodile; buton the contrary side, many times very great ones; And this being assuredly true, for varities sake I have placed here.
In the upper part of the River, there are store of fish, and more conveniently to be come by, if men go provided. Amongst which we note one little fish, which may well be called the running fish, and is much like our English Roach, with a red tayle, who is inforced to runne above the water, and will continue a great way, but only touching of it, to save his life from his pursuing enemy, who comes chopping after him, just like the Trout after the flie, and is of that bignesse the Trout is, that somtimes the little fish hath runne into our Canoe to avoyde the pursuer: Likewise of foule, the higher we go, we find plenty, and much variety, but this we have ever observed, that in the maine River, we never see them swimming, but as they are in sholes together be they Ducke, and Mallard, or any other in their kind, they sit upon the shore, close to the River side, and dare not surely venter in, for feare of the Crocodile, but have their principall feeding upon the marish grounds, and ponds, which lie from the River, whereof the Country is very full, and you can finde no such place, but is aboundantly furnished, among which are many geese, of colour white, and blacke, rather bigger then our English tame goose, who hath upon each pinion of his wing, a sharpe spur, in every point resembling a Cockes spurre of the largest size, with which they are apt, not being shot dead, to give offence: but for foule that live naturally by the shore side, as Herrnes, Corlews, Storkes, Pluffer and the like, it doth yeeld plenty, so that whomsoever shall go up well furnished of peeces, and powder, shalbe sure to mend their fare, and light upon many a dainty dish.
The people of the Country have likewise divers wares, which they make use of in the time of raines, and when the River is over-floude, at which times, they kill much fish; and they have also, a strange maner of fishing, in their lakes and ponds, of which tthere are many that are very broade, and containe much circute, but are not deepe, to which they resort as they desire to fish, a whole towne or plantation together, only the men, every one having a kind of basket, with the mouth open, which hee holds downeward, and so going into the water, close on by another, they over spread the pond, whereby the fish is moved; and so clapping downe the mouth of their baskets before them, they hit upon the fish, and in this manner they take so many that most of them go loaden home, and if at any time we be neare those places, they will lovingly impart them to us, upon returnes from us of poore valew: These things which now we know, and can tell how to provide for, may serve as incouragements, to proceede upon a farther discovery, but in that which followes, concerning the love of the people, what trade we already have found, and what reliefe they bring us, and at what rates, as also what Deare, and wild Cattle the land affords throughout, with such variety of land foule, and other necessaries, whereof in their due place I meane to speake; I hope (as I desire) may be some furtherances, to invite adventurers, to advise of some few dayes search further into this hopefull River: Wherein the very River, if we had nothing else to friend, proving but as we have hetherunto found it, will afford that comfortable reliefe, men neede not stand in dread of starving, which considered, and the probale good that may and will rise, in obtaining the Golden Trade, I conclude it most necessary, to follow dilligently a farther search, for which if I should be thereunto required, in place convenient, I could yeeld some other speciall account which for some respects I forbeare to publish, and following my order, proceede to the inhabitants.
1. There are marginal references throughout the book, most of which repeat what is in the text at that point. Many of them have been used in the Table of Contents, but the marginal note at this point is in fact a gloss on the text:
We were 10 of our owne company, that went up in a thaliop, and 4 Blacke that I hired to carry up a Canoe.
2. That is, the hippopotamus. As Jobson remarks later, the word is used of various creatures, most notably (in the "Greene-land voyages", for instance) of the walrus.
3. Margin: "We laboured to get up the River onely 7. houres in 24."
James Eason welcomes comments and corrections on this page.