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Book III: Cabot and Verrazzano. (A. D. 1497-1524.)


Ship of the 15th Century.

The first of these extracts in regard to the Cabots may be found in one of the Hakluyt Society's volumes, entitled ‘Henry Hudson the Navigator, edited by G. M. Asher,’ London, 1860, p. Ixix.

The extracts which follow are from another volume of the same series, entitled ‘Hakluyt's Divers Voyages,’ London, 1850, pp. 23-26.

Verrazzano's narrative is taken from ‘Hakluyt's Divers Voyages,’ same edition, pp. 55-71. Another translation, by J. G. Cogswell, may be found, with the original Italian narrative, in the Collections of the New York Historical Society, second series, vol. I.


I.—First news of John and Sebastian Cabot.

[from a letter written by Lorenzo Pasqualigo, from London, to his. Brothers in Venice, and dated Aug. 23, 1497.]

This Venetian of ours, who went with a ship from Bristol in quest of new islands, is returned, and says that seven hundred leagues hence he discovered ‘terra firma,’1 which is the territory of the Grand Cham.2 He coasted for three hundred leagues, and landed. He saw no human being whatsoever; but he has brought hither to the king certain snares which had been set to catch game, and a needle for making nets; he also found some felled trees: wherefore he supposed there were inhabitants, and returned to his ship in alarm.

He was three months on the voyage, it is quite [56] certain; and, coming back, he saw two islands to starboard, but would not land, time being precious, as he was short of provisions. The king is much pleased with this intelligence. He says that the tides are slack, and do not flow as they do here.

The king has promised, that, in the spring, he shall have ten ships armed according to his own fancy; and, at his request, he has conceded to him all the prisoners, except such as are confined for high treason, to man them with. He has also given him money wherewith to amuse himself till then; and he is now at Bristol with his wife, who is a Venetian woman, and with his sons. His name is Zuan3 Cabot; and they call him the great admiral. Vast honor is paid him, and he dresses in silk; and these English run after him like mad people, so that he can enlist as many of them as he pleases, and a number of our own rogues besides.

The discoverer of these places planted on his newfound land a large cross, with one flag of England, and another of St. Mark, by reason of his being a Venetian; so that our banner has floated very far afield.

Ii.—Sebastian Cabot's voyage.

[the following notes, preserved in ‘Hakluyt's voyages,’ give the earliest authentic information about Sebastian Cabot.]

A note of Sebastian Cabot's Voyage of Discovery, taken out of an old Chronicle written by Robert Fabian, sometime Alderman of London, which is in the custody [57] of John Stowe, Citizen, a diligent searcher and preserver of Antiquities.

This year4 the King5—by means of a Venetian which made himself very expert and cunning in knowledge of the circuit of the world and islands of the same, as by a card and other demonstrations reasonable he showed, —caused to man and victual a ship at Bristol, to search for an island which he said he knew well was rich and replenished with rich commodities. Which ship thus manned and victualled at the King's cost, divers merchants of London ventured in her small stocks, being in her as chief patron, the said Venetian. And in the company of the said ship sailed also out of Bristol three or four small ships fraught with slight and gross merchandises, as coarse cloth, caps, laces, points, and other trifles, and so departed from Bristol in the beginning of May: of whom in this Mayor's time returned no tidings.

Of three savage men which he brought home, and presented unto the King in the seventeenth year of his reign.

This year also were brought unto the King three men taken in the new found island, that before I spake of in William Purchas' time, being Mayor. These were clothed in beast's skins, and ate raw flesh, and spake such speech that no man could understand them, and in their demeanor like to brute beasts, whom the King kept a time after. Of the which upon two years past after, I saw two apparelled after the manner of Englishmen, in Westminster Palace, which at that time I could [58] not discern from Englishmen, till I was learned what they were. But as for speech, I heard none of them utter one word.

John Baptista Ramusius, in his Preface to the third volume of the Navigations, writeth thus of Sebastian Gabot6 :

In the latter part of this volume are put certain relations of John De Verarzana,7 a Florentine, and of a great captain, a Frenchman, and the two voyages of Jaques Cartier, a Briton,8 who sailed into the land set in fifty degrees of latitude to the north, which is called New France: and the which lands hitherto it is not thoroughly known whether they do join with the firm land of Florida and Nova Hispania, or whether they be separated and divided all by the Sea as Islands: and whether by that way one may go by sea into the country of Cathaio:9 as many years past it was written unto me by Sebastian Gabot, our countryman Venetian, a man of great experience, and very rare in the art of Navigation and the knowledge of Cosmography: who sailed along and beyond this land of New France, at the charges of King Henry the seventh, King of England. And he told me that having sailed a long time West and by North beyond these islands unto the latitude of sixty-seven degrees and a half under the North Pole, and at the 11 day of June, finding still the open sea without any manner of impediment, he thought verily by that way to have passed on still the way to Cathaio, which is in the East and would have [59] done it, if the mutiny of the shipmaster and mariners had not rebelled, and made him to return homewards from that place. But it seemeth that God doth yet reserve this great enterprise for some great Prince to discover this voyage of Cathaio by this way: which for the bringing of the spiceries from India into Europe were the most easy and shortest of all other ways hitherto found out. And, surely, this enterprise would be the most glorious, and of most importance of all other, that can be imagined, to make his name great, and fame immortal, to all ages to come, far more than can be done by any of all these great troubles and wars, which daily are used in Europe among the miserable Christian people.

This much concerning Sebastian Gabot's discovery may suffice for a present cast: but shortly, God willing, shall come out in print, all his own maps and discourses, drawn and written by himself, which are in the custody of the worshipful master William Worthington, one of her Majesty's Pensioners, who—because so worthy monuments should not be buried in perpetual oblivion, —is very willing to suffer them to be overseen and published in as good order as may be, to the encouragement and benefit of our countrymen.10


III.—Verrazzano's letter to the King.

[this letter is said to have been written at Dieppe, July 8, 1524, being addressed to King Francis I. Of France.

this narrative, if authentic, is the earliest original account of the Atlantic coast of the United States. Its authenticity has been doubted; and Mr. Bancroft, in the new edition of his History, does not refer to it at all. But, as the question is still unsettled, the letter is included here.]

I wrote not to your Majesty (most Christian king), since the time we suffered the tempest in the north parts, of the success of the four ships which your Majesty sent forth to discover new lands by the ocean, thinking your Majesty had been already duly informed thereof. Now by these presents I will give your Majesty to understand how, by the violence of the winds, we were forced with the two ships, the ‘Norman’ and the ‘Dolphin,’ in such evil case as they were, to land in Brittany. Where after we had repaired them in all points as was needful, and armed them very well, we took our course along by the coast of Spain. Afterwards, with the ‘Dolphin’ alone, we determined to make discovery of new countries, to prosecute the navigation we had already begun; which I purpose at this present to recount unto your Majesty, to make manifest the whole proceeding of the matter. The 17th of January, the year 1524, by the grace of God we departed


[61] from the dishabited rock,11 by the Isle of Madeira, appertaining to the King of Portugal, with fifty men, with victuals, weapon, and other ship munition very well provided and furnished for eight months. And, sailing westwards with a fair easterly wind, in twenty-five days we ran five hundred leagues; and the 20th of February we were overtaken with as sharp and terrible a tempest as ever any sailors suffered: whereof, with the divine help and merciful assistance of Almighty God, and the goodness of our ship, accompanied with the good hap of her fortunate name, we were delivered, and with a prosperous wind followed our course west by north. And in other twenty-five days we made about four hundred leagues more, where we discovered a new land12 never before seen of any man, either ancient or modern. And at the first sight it seemed somewhat low; but, being within a quarter of a league of it, we perceived, by the great fires that we saw by the seacoast, that it was inhabited, and saw that the land stretched to the southwards. . . .

While we rode13 upon that coast, partly because it had no harbor, and for that we wanted water, we sent our boat ashore with twenty-five men, where, by reason of great and continual waves that beat against the shore, being an open coast, without succor none of our men could possibly go ashore without losing our boat. We saw there many people which came unto the shore making divers signs of friendship, and showing that they were content we should come a-land; and by trial we found them to be very courteous and gentle, as [62] your Majesty shall understand by the success. To the intent we might send them of our things, which the Indians commonly desire and esteem, as sheets of paper, glasses, bells, and such like trifles, we sent a young man, one of our mariners, ashore, who swimming towards them, and being within three or four yards off the shore, not trusting them, cast the things upon the shore. Seeking afterwards to return, he was with such violence of the waves beaten upon the shore, that he was so bruised that he lay there almost dead, which the Indians perceiving, ran to catch him, and, drawing him out, they carried him a little way off from the sea. The young man, perceiving they carried him, being at the first dismayed, began then greatly to fear, and cried out piteously. Likewise did the Indians, which did accompany him, going about to cheer him and give him courage; and then setting him on the ground at the foot of a little hill against the sun, began to behold him with great admiration, marvelling at the whiteness of his flesh. And, putting off his clothes, they made him warm at a great fire, not without our great fear, which remained in the boat, that they would have roasted him at that fire and have eaten him. The young man having recovered his strength, and having staid a while with them, showed them by signs that he was desirous to return to the ship. And they with great love, clapping him fast about with many embracings, accompanying him unto the sea, and, to put him in more assurance, leaving him alone, went unto a high ground, and stood there, beholding him until he was entered into the boat. This young man observed, as we did also, that these are of color inclining to black, [63] as the others were, with their flesh very shining, of mean stature, handsome visage, and delicate limbs, and of very little strength, but of prompt wit; farther we observed not. . . .

Verrazzano in Newport harbor.

Departing from hence, following the shore, which trended somewhat toward the north, in fifty leagues14 space we came to another land, which showed much more fair, and full of woods, being very great, where we rode at anchor; and, that we might have some knowledge thereof, we sent twenty men a-land,15 which entered into the country about two leagues, and they found that the people were fled to the woods for fear. They saw only one old woman with a young maid of eighteen or [64] twenty years old, which, seeing our company, hid them. selves in the grass for fear. The old woman carried two infants on her shoulders, and behind her neck a child of eight years old. The young woman was laden likewise with as many. But, when our men came unto them, the old woman made signs that the men were fled into the woods as soon as they saw us. To quiet them, and to win their favor, our men gave them such victuals as they had with them to eat, which the old woman received thankfully; but the young woman disdained them all, and threw them disdainfully on the ground. They took a child from the old woman to bring into France; and going about to take the young woman, which was very beautiful, and of tall stature, could not possibly, for the great outcries that she made, bring her to the sea; and especially having great woods to pass through, and being far from the ship, we purposed to leave her behind, bearing away the child only. We found those folks to be more white than those that we found before, being clad with certain leaves that hang on the boughs of trees, which they sew together with threads of wild hemp. Their heads were trussed up after the same manner as the former were. Their ordinary food is of pulse,16 whereof they have great store, differing in color and taste from ours, of good and pleasant taste. Moreover they live by fishing and fowling, which they take with gins17 and bows made of hard wood, the arrows of canes being headed with the bones of fish and other beasts. The beasts in these parts are much wilder than in our Europe, by reason they are continually chased and hunted. [65]

We saw many of their boats, made of one tree, twenty feet long and four feet broad, which are not made of iron, or stone, or any other kind of metal, because that in all this country, for the space of two hundred leagues which we ran, we never saw one stone

Indians making canoes.

of any sort. They help themselves with fire, burning so much of the tree as is sufficient for the hollowness of the boat: the like they do in making the stern and forepart, until it be fit to sail upon the sea. . . .

And we came to another land,18 being fifteen leagues distant from the island, where we found a passing good haven, wherein being entered, we found about twenty small boats of the people, which, with divers cries and wonderings, came about our ship. Coming no nearer than fifty paces towards us, they staid and beheld the artificialness of our ship, our shape, and apparel, that they all made a loud shout together, declaring that they rejoiced. When we had something animated19 them, using their gestures, they came so near us, that we [66] cast them certain bells and glasses and many toys, which when they had received, they looked on them with laughing, and came without fear aboard our ship. There were amongst these people two kings of so goodly stature and shape as is possible to declare: the eldest was about forty years of age; the second was a young man of twenty years old. Their apparel was on this manner: the elder had upon his naked body a hart's20 skin, wrought artificially with divers branches like damask. His head was bare, with the hair tied up behind with divers knots. About his neck he had a large chain garnished with divers stones of sundry colors. The young man was almost apparelled after the same manner. This is the goodliest people, and of the fairest conditions, that we have found in this our voyage. They exceed us in bigness. They are of the color of brass, some of them incline more to whiteness: others are of a yellow color, of comely visage, with long and black hair, which they are very careful to trim and deck up. . . . .

There are also of them which wear on their arms very rich skins of leopards: they adorn their heads with divers ornaments made of their own hair, which hangs down before on both sides their breasts: others use other kind of dressing themselves, like unto the women of Egypt and Syria. These are of the elder sort; and, when they are married, they wear divers toys,21 according to the usage of the people of the East, as well men as women. . . .

Among whom we saw many plates of wrought copper, which they esteem more than gold, which for the [67] color they make no account of, for that among all other it is counted the basest. They make the most account of azure and red. The things that they esteemed most of all those which we gave them were bells, crystal of azure color, and other toys to hang at their ears or about their neck. They did not desire cloth of silk or gold, much less of any other sort; neither cared they for things made of steel and iron, which we often showed them in our armor, which they made no wonder at; and, in beholding them, they only asked the art of making them. The like they did at our glasses,22 which when they beheld, they suddenly laughed, and gave them us again ..

And oftentimes one of the two kings coming with his queen, and many gentlemen for their pleasure, to see us, they all staid on the shore, two hundred paces from us, sending a small boat to give us intelligence of their coming, saying they would come to see our ship. This they did in token of safety; and, as soon as they had answer from us, they came immediately, and, having staid awhile to behold it, they wondered at hearing the cries and noise of the mariners. The queen and her maids staid in a very light boat, at an island a quarter of a league off, while the king abode a long space in our ship, uttering divers conceits23 with gestures, viewing with great admiration all the furniture of the ship, demanding the property of every thing particularly. He took likewise great pleasure in beholding our apparel, and in tasting our meats, and so courteously taking his leave departed. And sometimes our men staying for two or three days on a little island [68] Cabot and Verrazzano. near the ship for divers necessaries,—as it is the use of seamen,—he returned with seven or eight of his gentlemen to see what we did, and asked of us ofttimes if we meant to make any long abode there, offering us of their provision; then the king, drawing his bow, and running up and down with his gentlemen, made much sport to gratify our men. . . .

We found another land24 high, full of thick woods, the trees whereof were firs, cypresses, and such like as are wont to grow in cold countries. The people differ much from the other, and look! how much the former seemed to be courteous and gentle, so much were these full of rudeness and ill manners, and so barbarous, that by no signs that ever we could make, we could have any kind of traffic with them. They clothe themselves with bears' skins, and leopards', and seals', and other beasts' skins. Their food, as far as we could perceive, repairing often unto their dwellings, we suppose to be by hunting and fishing, and of certain fruits, which are a kind of roots which the earth yieldeth of her own accord. They have no grain, neither saw we any kind or sign of tillage; neither is the land, for the barrenness thereof, apt to bear fruit or seed. If, at any time, we desired by exchange to have any of their commodities, they used to come to the seashore upon certain craggy rocks, and, we standing in our boats, they let down with a rope what it pleased them to give us, crying continually that we should not approach to the land, demanding immediately the exchange, taking nothing but knives, fish-hooks, and tools to cut withal; neither did they make any account of our courtesy. And when we had nothing [69] left to exchange with them, when we departed from them, the people showed all signs of discourtesy and disdain as was possible for any creature to invent. We were, in despite of them, two or three leagues within the land, being in number twenty-five armed men of us. And, when we went on shore, they shot at us with their bows, making great outcries, and afterwards fled into the woods. . . .

Having now spent all our provision and victuals, and having discovered about seven hundred leagues and more of new countries and being furnished with water and wood, we concluded to return into France. [70]

1 Firm land, or continent.

2 The name then given to the sovereign of Tartary, now called ‘Khan.’ Shakspeare, in ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ written about 1600, says, ‘Fetch you a hair off the great Cham's beard.’

3 John.

4 1498.

5 Henry VII.

6 Cabot.

7 Verrazzano.

8 i.e., from Brittany, in France.

9 Cathay.

10 But these papers never were printed.

11 One of the Dezertas. Dishabited means uninhabited.

12 Probably the South Carolina coast.

13 At anchor.

14 To land.

15 To land.

16 Beans, or peas.

17 Traps.

18 Probably Narragansett Bay.

19 i.e. somewhat encouraged.

20 Deer's.

21 Various ornaments.

22 Mirrors.

23 Various exclamations.

24 Probably the coast of Maine.

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