The History of New York State
Book I, Chapter III
Part I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Chapter III.

DISCOVERY AND PREEMPTION

Christopher Columbus discovered America in the year of Our Lord 1492. True, he only reached outlying islands of the Western Hemisphere in that year; and the nearest to seems to have come to the mainland was during his fourth voyage, when he landed in Central America. During his third voyage he discovered Trinidad, and coasted along the mainland of South America in that latitude, but he never sighted any part of North America. Still, for certain acceptable reasons, Christopher Columbus comes into history as the Discoverer of America, although as a matter of fact he was not the first of some other race than the American Indian to reach American shores.

His relationship to America is somewhat like that of Henry Hudson to New York. Hudson was preceded in New York waters by several explorers. There is satisfactory evidence that Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed into the outer harbor of New York in 1524. Esteban Gomez visited it a year later. Jean Allefonsce, in 1542, found that "the (Hudson) river is salt for more than forty leagues up," therefore he must have been in the river. And Samuel de Champlian was in northern waters of New York in 1609, some months before Henry Hudson, in that year, cruised into southern waters of New York. Yet, New York history is commonly believed to begin with the latter's "discovery" of the Hudson River. Of course, Columbus lived before the time of all the navigators named; but the claims do not clash, because he never set foot on New York soil. Still, even had Columbus come so far north, and found the harbor, which in later centuries, he would not have been the first European to enter it. Indeed, it seems more then likely that white men sighted New York five centuries before Columbus set all the civilized nations thinking of the New World.

Nevertheless, there are justifiable and like reasons why American historians give Columbus premier place in American history, and place Hudson first in New York annals. Nothing of importance followed earlier discoveries of the same territory, but great developments in settlement and colonization followed the discovery of America by Columbus and of New York by Hudson. A new era began with the coming of each. Ferdinand Magellan's discovery of the southern way to the Pacific and the Indies opened the way to the exploration of the western coast of America, and led Pizarro to the "empire" of the Incas in 1524--to the conquest of Peru, which yielded the marauders gold in quantities beyond their wildest dreams. It also filled the seas with the ships of other nations, eager to wrest from the Spanish ships upon the Main the wealth that the conquistadores had filched from Mexico and Peru.

Piratical appropriation of Spain's ill-gotten wealth was not the only maritime pursuit of other nations. Much legitimate exploration was planned and accomplished. France in particular was active. Nothing much beyond fishing expeditions to the Newfoundland Banks was attempted until after Francis I came to the throne. True, John Denis, of Honfleur, had in 1506 explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence; Thomas Aubert, of Dieppe, had visited Cape Breton island in 1508--accompanied, it is said, by Verrazzano--and the Baron de Lery had, in 1518, landed some cattle on Sable Island and made an abortive attempt to settle a colony on that island but these, if not connected with the fishing enterprises, were at least private ventures unrecognized by the French Government. But after the surviving ship of Magellan's circumnavigating fleet reached Spain in 1522, and the problem of reaching the East by sailing westward had been forever solved, most European nations, envious of Spain, yearned to find a shorter northern passage past America to the Indies. They were not disposed to permit Spain and Portugal to divide the world. They even challenged their right to have the whole of the American continent. His Most Christian Majesty, Francis the First of France, is said to have declared: "Why, these princes coolly divide the New World between them! I should like to see that article in Adam's will which gives them America!" that the King of France did not believe that such an article could be produced was soon demonstrated. In 1523, preparations were made to outfit an expedition which would sail in behalf, and with the sanction, of the King, Francis. In the autumn of that year, therefore, four ships set sail from a port in Brittany.

In command of this fleet was Giovanni da Verrazzano, the Florentine navigator before referred to. Since his first voyage to America, in 1508, Verrazzano had had considerable experience as a navigator--perhaps as a corsair. "He had been called a pirate," writes Parkman, "and he was such in the same sense in which Drake, Hawkins, and other valiant searovers of his own and later times, merited the name; that is to say, he would plunder and kill a Spaniard on the high seas without waiting for a declaration of war." The Spaniard, given the opportunity, would do the same--would rob and kill him without compunction. The high seas in those days constituted a perpetual zone of war. So, when bent upon an important purpose, navigators as a rule preferred to sail in convoy, but a storm soon reduced Verrazzano's command to two ships. Presumably, the other two foundered. After riding out the storm in a port of Brittany, Verrazzano decided to proceed alone, in his caravel the "Dauphine" (Dalfina). He headed for Madeira, and on January 17, 1524, left a barren islet of that group. Forty-nine days later, his ship neared the American coast, not far from the site of Wilmington, in North Carolina, "a newe land,:" wrote the navigator, "never before seen by any man, either auncient or moderne." Seeking a harbor, Verrazzano cruised southward for four degrees, but finding none, turned northward again, at about 32 degrees. When he reached a satisfactory harbor, he sent a boat ashore. The natives made gestures of friendship. "these peoples," writes Verrazzano, "goe altogether naked, except only certain skinnes of beastes like unto marterns (martens), which they fasten onto a narrow girdle made of grasse. They are of colour russet and not much unlike the Saracens, their hayre blacke, thicke, and not very long, which they tye together in a knot behinde, and weare it like a taile."#1

Advancing northward, Verrazzano kidnapped an Indian boy, in return for some kindnesses shown by the natives, and in April, 1524, the "Dauphine," anchored where a deep river flowed into the sea from among steep hills, which river, he found, widened into a lake some leagues in circuit. It is believed that Verrazzano had entered the outer bay of New York and that what he described as a river was The Narrows. Parkman writes: "Rowing up in his boat through the Narrows, under the steep heights of Staten Island, he saw the harbor dotted with canoes of the feathered natives, coming from the shore to welcome him. But what most engaged the eyes of the white men were the fancied signs of mineral wealth in the neighboring hills." #2 Verrazzano described the Bay of Santa Margherita (New York Bay) as a "most beautiful lake," and the region as "attractive." But the ship was somewhat exposed in the outer harbor, and he possibly feared to venture into the inner harbor, in the face of so many canoes. He counted as many as 30 canoes, and so deduced that the adjacent country was "thickly inhabited." True, the natives showed no other desire than to be friendly and hospitable, but he seemed to have preferred to sail away than to take his ship into the inner harbor.

Sailing eastward for 80 degrees, following the coast, Verrazzano--according to one translation, which is not universally accepted--came to an island which American historians have supposed was Block Island. Verrazzano described it as equal in size to the island of Rhodes (in the Levant). This makes at least one good authority #3 to suggest that the island to which Verrazzano referred was Long Island, for the island of Rhodes is about 48 miles in length by about 20 in width, and Block Island is only about five miles by three. Verrazzano named the Island Luisa, and describes also a harbor, which was probably that of Newport. There they stayed for 15 days, hospitably received by the Indians. On the fifth of May they left this harbor (Golfo del Refugio) and explored the New England coast, only once venturing ashore, and then being driven back to their boats by a shower of arrows. Verrazzano coasted northward as far as Newfoundland, whence, "provisions failing, he steered for France." He had explored the American coast from the thirty-fourth degree of the fiftieth, "and at various points had penetrated several degrees into the country."

Verrazzano reached Dieppe in July, and from that port despatched a report of his voyage to the King. The merchants of Lyons were enthusiastic and would perhaps have readily financed another expedition under the successful Florentine navigator, but the King had other matters of grave moment then occupying his mind. While Verrazzano had been at sea France had met with defeat in Italy, losing Milan; the heroic Chevalier Bayard, France's greatest soldier of that time, was dead; and while Verrazzano was writing his report at Dieppe, Provence had been invaded by the Bourbons. A few months later, Francis himself was captured, in the battle of Pavia. France then was without a King, had no army, had an empty treasury, and enemies within and without were giving all responsible officials such a restless time that only immediate pressing home happenings could be considered. Verrazzano had no chance of further employment by France, and apparently would not sail for Spain or Portugal, as he seems to have crossed to England. It is said that he approached Henry the eighth of England, and for him drew a map "which traced the sea-coast of the Western Continent from Cape Breton to Florida"; #4 also that he made a third voyage (in 1526); that he became a corsair; that he was captured and hanged by the Spanish (in 1527); that he was captured by Indians, killed, roasted, and eaten in sight of his shipmates; #5 and also that about 10 years later he was still alive, and in Rome. These conflicting statements indicate that after leaving France, in 1524, little is known of his movements. Biddle, in his "Memoirs of Cabot," think that if Verrazzano made a third voyage, it was in the service of Henry the eighth of England. There can be hardly any doubt that during his second voyage he came into New York waters, and that he claimed the whole region he had surveyed, from 34° to 50° N., for France. He gave tot he territory the name of Francesca. He was evidently impressed by the palisades of the Hudson River, for that portion of Francesca which began at the Grande (Hudson) river, and ended in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was marked on the Verrazzano map as La Terre d'Anormee Berge, meaning The Land of the Grand Scarp.

The veracity of Verrazzano has been questioned, doubts as to his reliability and truthfulness having been voiced, during the nineteenth century, by American students #6 of the Verrazzano papers--this notwithstanding that most of the early writers accepted the Verrazzano letter to Francis I. However, the finding in 1909, of a previously unknown manuscript version of the Verrazzano letter emphasized the probability that certain remarkable variation of the narrative arose from an incorrect copying from the original, in oral dictation, or from "off-hand" translation. In the light of this recently found MSS (in the library of County Giulio Macchi di Cellers at Rome), the inconsistencies can be explained and the Verrazzano papers more confidently accepted.

news of the voyage of Verrazzano in 1524 probably reached Spain quickly. Undoubtedly it excited the Spaniards and perhaps explains the sending of Estevan Gomez northward in 1525, ostensibly to seek the northerly passage to the East. Gomez was a navigator of experience, but not, one would imagine of enviable repute. He was a pilot of Magellan's expedition in 1519, but deserted that great commander before the had entered the Straits of Magellan At least, so the commonly accepted record has it. But Pigliafetta, in his version of the Magellan voyage, calls the Gomez who was a pilot under Magellan Emanual, not Estevan. At all events, Estevan Gomez seemed to be in good favor and repute in Spain in 1524, for he was appointed to the Council of Badajos, which in that year was constituted to settle the conflicting claims of Spain and Portugal in the New World. In February, 1525, Estevan Gomez sailed under a royal commission. He returned to Spain in December of that year, and presumably carried out his commission, which was to look for the passage along the coast from Florida to Newfoundland. In Peter Martyr's "Decades" is a passage which reads: "It is decreed that one Stephanus Gomez, himself a skillful navigator, shall go another way (than that which Magellan took), whereby, between Baccalaos (Newfoundland) and Florida, long since our countries, he says he will find a way to Cataia. Only one ship, a caravel, is furnished for him." . . . . . and "he will have no other thing in charge than to search out whether any passage to the great Chan from among the various windings and vast compassing of this our ocean is to be found." Martyr reports the return of Gomez within ten months, and, while ridiculing this worthy explorer's "vain and frivolous" fancies, in supposing that a strait leading to Cathay lay in the North, he admitted that Gomez had "found pleasant and profitable countries agreeable to our parallels and degrees of the pole." A somewhat illuminating insight into the times is in the reaction of the people to a false report that was spread as to the spoils Gomez had brought from the New World. Upon his arrival, rumor spread quickly, and even reached the Court, that his ship was laden with cloves (clavos). This would indicate that he had reached the Spice Islands, and the inference naturally was that he had found the northern passage to the East.

The informant added "precious stones" to the cloves. "They who believed this story," continued martyr, in informing the Pope, "attentive to this man's foolish and idle report, wearied the whole court with exceeding great applause, cutting the word by apheresis, declaring that for esclavos (slaves) he had brought clavos (cloves), but after the court understood that the story was transformed from cloves to slaves, they broke out in great laughter, to the shame and blushing of favorers, who shouted for joy." This, notwithstanding that in bringing a human cargo Gomez had violated a governmental order, which was "that no man should offer violence to any nation"--a somewhat farcical command, it must be admitted.

It is difficult to trace the course of Gomez, on this voyage. One report had it that he "sailed from North to South to about the latitude of New York," but that "at what point he first touched the continent, in who what bays and rivers he may have entered, there is no positive record." #7 But in Hakluyt's "Voyages" (Vol. III) is Galvano's account, that "the Earl don Fernando de Andrada, and the doctor Beltram, and the merchant Christopher de Serro, furnished a galleon for him, and he went from Grione, in Gallicia, to the Island of Cuba, and to the Cape of Florida, sailing by day because he knew not the land." Also, that he passed the Bay of Angra and the River Enseada, and so "went over to the other side, reaching Cape Razo, in 46° N."

There seems little doubt that Gomez explored New York waters. De Costa #8 thinks that Ribeiro, who drew a map of the North American coast, in 1529, "had pretty full notes of the calculations and observations of Gomez." On the map of Ribeiro, Sandy Hook appears as Cabo de Arenas, the Sandy Cape, exaggerated in size, while Long Island is hardly distinguishable from the coastline. "Montana Vue" is evidently one of the hills of Long Island. On the Verrazzano map the region of Sandy Hook is Lamuetto and Lungaville, while Long Island seems to be part of the mainland, bearing the names of Cabo de Olimpo and Angolesme, the bay of San Germano lying between, writes De Costa, who thinks that Gomez stayed much longer than Verrazzano in New York waters. Inness #9 draws different deductions from the Verazzano map, and thinks that Long Island, as the Island of Luisa, has an important place in the Verrazzano record. The Ribeiro map gives the name Tierra de Estevan Gomez to the region surveyed by Gomez. The lower bay of New York is marked B. de S. Xpoal. The upper bay, or harbor, is marked B. de S. Antonio. A river is indicated as the river San Antonio. De Costa supposes that Gomez discovered the Hudson on the Festival of St. Anthony (January 17), and so named it. He calculates that the expedition sailed from Spain in December, 1524, not February, 1525. If so, he saw the New York region at its most uninviting season. And obviously, Gomez cannot have referred to the New York and New England region in reporting that in the land he surveyed were "many trees and fruits similar to those in Spain." But even so, contemptuously exclaims Peter Martyr: "What need have we of these things that are common to all the people of Europe? To the South! To the South!" he exhorts, "for the great and exceeding riches of the Equinoxial." #10 The lesson he found in the experience of Gomez and other explorers of North American was that "they that seek riches must not to go the cold and frozen North." Spain coveted aromatic spices, precious stones, gold, and , accustomed as they were to the gentle zephyrs of balmy Andalusia, they could not be drawn to think enthusiastically of the rigorous North. This perhaps explains why later Spanish efforts on the American continent were confined to the semi-tropical part of North America and southward. Development of North America in the Temperate zone was destined to rest with the more vigorous national of Northern Europe--the British, French and Teutonic peoples.

Spanish exploration of Florida was pursued in 1528, and 10 years later the great De Soto, "Son of the Sun," began his invasion, which ended in his death and burial in the Mississippi River in 1542. Those were great times for Spain, but her conquistadores had sufficient perplexities in the warmer southern regions to keep their explorative impulses from reaching northward. During the period, both England and France were active.

In 1527, two ships constituted an English expedition which was commanded by Captain John Rut. He explored the American mainland, it being asserted that "after Cabot, this was the second English expedition which sailed along the entire east coast of the United States, as far as South Carolina." Landing parties, "to search the state of these unknown regions," were sent out by Captain Rut, and possibly trod New York territory, but there is no authentic record to prove that they did. One writer, De Costa quoting Dr. Kohl, think sit probably that Rut did not get farther south then Cape Breton.

In the next year the French come again somewhat importantly into the story of the navigators. When the fortunes of Francis brightened and the affairs of France were not so precarious, the King was not averse to giving thought to America. Philippe de Brion-Chabot, a court favorite and now Admiral of France, was permitted to organize an expedition. Chabot chose Jacques Cartier, of St. Malo, as commander. The latter sailed from St. Malo in April, 1534. He headed for Newfoundland, which the French seemed to recognize as their zone of operations. Passing through the Strait of Belle isle, Cartier entered the Gulf of Chaleurs. Planting a cross at Gaspe, and never doubting that he had found the passage to Cathay, he explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence until within sight of the river-mouth at Anticosti. Autumn was now upon them, so, after capturing two young Indians, "lured into their clutches by an act of villainous treachery," as Parkman describes the incident, Cartier turned eastward and sailed for France.

The Indians were the evidence that he had reached America, and the broad St. Lawrence was the hope that made Cartier's report especially attractive. Of course, secrecy was advisable, inasmuch as the Catholic power was great and the Pope had decreed that no other Christian nations than Spain and Portugal should acquire sovereign rights in the New World. Indeed, when, by the papal decree of Pope Alexander VI, a line was drawn, longitudinally, through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it was probably thought that the Spaniards along would profit by the discoveries of Columbus. However, resourcefulness is one of the major qualities of man. So the diplomatic pious Francis was not averse to the suggestion of Chabot that he and other noblemen should take upon their own shoulders the onus of a more pretentious expedition, which might lay the foundations of a New France in the New World, and also find the passage through to the land of spices and gems Hence, in May, 1535, three vessels--the largest not more then 120 tons burthen--sailed from St. Malo, Cartier was in command, but among his officers were several gentlemen of quality, including Claude de Pontbriand and Charles de la Pommeraye. During the voyage, storms scatter the ships, but Cartier's fleet was reunited at Belle Island, and eventually came within sight of Anticosti Island, which Cartier had named Assumption. They came into the small bay opposite Anticosti on the feast-day of St. Lawrence; there fore the bay became the Bay of St. Lawrence.

Cartier had brought with him the two kidnapped Indians, intending that they should pilot the ships up the river, which he named Hochelaga. By careful navigation, or good fortune, they reached the gorge of the Saguenay in September. Passing the Isle aux Coudres and the conspicuous Cape Tourmente, they anchored in a quiet channel between the northern shore and an island. Cartier named it the isle of Bacchus, because of the grapes hung in such heavy enticing clusters from the trees.

Indians soon swarmed around the ships; and the sight of the two young Indians who has seen another world caused the natives as much wonderment as the sight of the white men. The Indian Chief, Donnacona, was not hostile, so Cartier resolved to explore the Hochelaga farther by boat. After he had seen Quebec, or, to be correct, the hamlet of wigwams which stood upon its site, Cartier heard that a more important town lay many days' journey above. The Indians tried to dissuade him from going farther, but of course Cartier would not be turned back. appeals having failed, they tried to intimidate him. When told that the Indian God, Coudouagny, warned the French against the great river, Cartier said that Coudouagny was a fool, and could not harm those who believed in Christ.

Towing the two larger vessels into safe harborage within the mouth of the St. Charles, Cartier departed in the smallest, a galleon of 40 tons, and two open boats. In his party were 50 sailors, besides the gentlemen of quality.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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