Although The Web of Time is an American magazine, we are always pleased to bring you contributions by authors in other countries who have something interesting to tell us about New World history. We are delighted, therefore, to introduce the British historical novelist Simon Pashoe the author of A Painter in the Wilderness. The research for that recently published book provided the factual basis both for it and the substance of his article.
DID A CHANCE MEETING IN LONDON OVER 400 YEARS AGO
CHANGE THE COURSE OF AMERICAN COLONIAL HISTORY?
|The meeting occurred about the year 1586. It took place between two Protestant exiles, who for very different reasons happened to be in London
at the same time.
One was a Flemish engraver named Theodore de Bry
[left]. He had gone to London to work on the copperplates for the English
edition of a Dutch sea atlas.
The other was a French painter named Jacques le
Moyne, who, over twenty years earlier had been with the Huguenot colony at Fort Caroline in Florida. Whilst there, he had explored the interior of that land and painted the indigenous peoples and their
strange ways of living.
In fact, he was probably the first European artist
ever to do ethnographic studies of the North American Indians. Lamentably, his work was
almost certainly left behind and destroyed by the Spanish when, one miserable September dawn in 1565, they attacked
the Huguenot fort and le Moyne narrowly escaped slaughter by leaping over the ramparts and disappearing into the
gloom of the surrounding woods.
The collection of paintings of Indians he brought to this meeting in London years later had been worked up from memory, but de Bry was, nevertheless, greatly impressed by them. Two years later, when he had acquired them from le Moyne’s widow, he was to write: I have on hand the history of Florida...a victory doubtless so rare as I think the likes hath not been heard nor seen.
|DeBry, however, knew little about publishing and at this meeting
agreed only to transcribe le Moyne’s paintings onto copperplate for him. Le Moyne needed these plates
so that he could publish the illustrated work on Florida himself. This is evident from a reference
to the work made by that distinguished historian and writer Richard Hakluyt, the following year when he wrote:
Things of chiefest importance are lively drawn
in colour at your no small charge by the skilful painter James Morgues [the English derivation of Jacques le Moyne], yet living in the Blacke-fryers in London, which was an eye-witness to the goodness and fertility
of those regions...which he meaneth to publish together with the purtraitures before it be long...
But that was not to be, for shortly after this reference appeared in print, le Moyne died. By this time, however, de Bry was so involved with the project that he decided he should take on the publication himself, regardless of his lack of experience of such matters. Naturally he turned to Hakluyt for advice on how to do so.
It is quite likely that Hakluyt, who had long hoped that North America should be colonized by the Protestant peoples of Europe, immediately saw this intended publication as a way of promoting his own dream and gave de Bry every encouragement. In fact, he quickly realized that this Florida publication might make an excellent companion work to a similar publication on Virginia. After all, the artist John White had recently returned from that part of the world and had brought back with him many watercolours of Indians, similar to those of le Moyne’s. Moreover, the brilliant young scholar Thomas Hariot, who had been on that same expedition with White, had just written his own little book on the subject of Virginia which: Set downe alll the comodities which wee know the countrey by our experience doeth yeld of it self.
This text, Hakluyt suggested to de Bry, could conveniently be reissued to introduce John White’s illustrations. In that way, English Protestants might believe, by right of discovery, that Virginia belonged to the English. Similarly, the French Huguenots might feel Florida was rightfully theirs. But Hakluyt was probably preaching to the converted for de Bry had suffered persecution years earlier under Spanish rule in the Low Countries and hated the Catholics. Thus, he probably needed little persuasion to take on this second publication. His timing was perfect for it was in that same year that the Spanish Armada suffered its greatest defeat. It was a blow from which the Spanish Crown never really recovered. Its stranglehold on the Americas was suddenly released and the door for Protestants to colonize North America was now wide open. All that was required was the right kind of publicity to encourage them to do so.
In any event, the outcome of de Bry’s collaboration with Hakluyt, Hariot and White was that in 1590 Admiranda Narratio...Virginæ, appeared in print, followed a year later by Brevis Narratio...Florida. Both volumes contained an introductory text, followed by a beautifully engraved map and plate illustrations mainly showing Indians and how they lived. In quality and style, these books were a dramatic improvement on anything previously published about the New World. Indeed, not many books about that land had been published and those few that had illustrations were usually in crude woodcut with subject matter based on hearsay or fantasy.
The English settlers reach Roanoke Island
|For most Europeans, America less than a hundred years after
Columbus, was still a land of complete mystery and there must have been an insatiable curiosity to learn about
that ‘vast land across the Western Sea.’ It is difficult to exaggerate
the impact that these two magnificent volumes must have had on the readership of Europe. Their influence on the thinking
of men of learning and power alike was immeasurable.
The Virginia volume, for example, was published in 1590 in Latin, German, French, and English and, as a result of popular demand, was reissued in many editions and states over the next forty-four years. The Florida volume, published in 1591, in Latin and German, was not quite so popular but was, nevertheless, still being reprinted in abridged form over fifty years later. Together they graced the shelves of all the finest libraries of Christendom.
In contrast to Catholic Spain, which was still quite secretive about its discoveries in the New World, these two works must have encouraged untold numbers of Protestants to go forth and colonize North America. Just how deliberately all this was planned by the publisher is difficult to assess, but there are a few clues.
The French arrive in Florida
|The first illustration in the Virginia Volume, for example,
is entitled The English arrive in Virginia. In the Florida Volume it is The
French arrive in Florida. To the uninitiated, these visual statements might suggest by right of discovery that Virginia belonged
to the English and Florida to the French. There are no references to
the earlier explorations of the Spanish. And, even though de Bry implied
that the illustrations in these books had been faithfully transcribed from the paintings of John White and Jacques
le Moyne, no trace of manuscript counterparts to either of these two engravings has ever been found. Moreover, their styles are more reminiscent of engravings from later volumes of de Bry, which we
know he himself composed.
Further, since de Bry’s geographical knowledge of North America was somewhat limited, he probably believed the two maps together covered the whole of the Eastern Seaboard. This might conveniently suggest that all the land of North America was discovered, either by the English or by the French. Although, the Virginia map seems to have been faithfully transcribed from Hariot’s marvelously accurate survey from Chesapeake to Onslow Bay, it has no degrees of latitude marked on it, and de Bry may have believed it covered much more of the Eastern Seaboard than it actually did. After all, he boldly wrote, in his introduction to the Virginia volume that that part of the World, which is between the Florida and Cape Breton [is] now named Virginia.
The Florida map, however, has quite a different provenance. It does, for example, show degrees of latitude, and the coast is drawn from about 34ºN to the tip of the Florida peninsula and beyond. Since latitude 34ºN goes through the southern end of Onslow Bay, the Florida map conveniently starts where the Virginia map finishes. Thus de Bry may have believed that the two maps together covered the whole of the Eastern Seaboard, from Cape Breton to the tip of Florida.
But the story behind the Florida map is more complicated than the Virginia map. It seems likely that, at best, le Moyne had drawn only a sketch showing the location of Fort Caroline and some of the surrounding Indian villages, perhaps also a little of the St. Johns river. The French certainly did not explore much more than this. But such a sketch would never do for de Bry’s publication. He, therefore, probably tried to incorporate it into a much more extensive Spanish map of the Southeast, then change all the names into Latin so as to disguise their Spanish origin. He even claimed in the title cartouche to the resulting composite map that the author, Jacques le Moyne...diligently surveyed the interior and sea coasts of the region...and very accurately measured the distances between each of the rivers as he himself showed on his return to Charles IX, King of the French dominions.
One can only conclude from this that the composite map was a deliberate attempt to mislead the public into believing the whole of that region was part of the French Dominions.
Unfortunately, we shall never know to what extent the two famous de Bry publications contributed to the spread of Protestantism in North America. It is, nevertheless, still interesting to speculate about how different things might have been had those two Protestant exiles not been in London at the same time.