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The Transatlantic through 1621



Foregrounds: Circumpolar Contacts, Controversies, Mysteries

How and where does the human story begin in the Americas after the last Ice Age? Well-attested Native traditions older than the word Europe describe their own peoples’ Creation(s) here. Some Northeastern tribes say that Great Spirit (or sometimes, Glooskap) created human beings from the trees.

Meanwhile, new generations and methods in the Western sciences (based in physical remains, high tech and DNA) have proven most fruitful where Native Americans are respected partners---from finding the important places to understanding the many dimensions of what they teach. As later colonist Thomas Morton remarked, the civilizations on this immense frontier had to learn and keep learning “a mixed language” that speaks all sides.

This Time Line marks frontiers of the “Historic” period. But there are worlds of research available today on Transatlantic foregrounds, from at least 900 A.D. The natural basis for Transatlantic contact was the vast ellipse of east-and-west-running winds that sweep the whole Atlantic by the seasons, creating in time the accidents of contact and, after them, adventure and trade. The scholars of these evidences are as international, many-sided, diverse and hard-nosed as those with the benefit of text and written records. “Spectacular” ceremonial sites are the norm.

Which side of the Atlantic built boats first, and skirted the edges of the Arctic to reach the far continent? Wherever we begin, we find people following people before them. “Red Paint Peoples” and “Paleo-Europeans” alike were pioneers and traders. Standing-stones along these shores, raised to guide them, became their monuments.



There are claims of Minoan Linear A writing on a stone found in Massachusetts’ Assawompset Pond. A hand-sized “talking stone” to be published by David Wagner/David Ostrowski appears to show a an ancient-Mediterranean ship passing a seaside village. North to south, New England is filled with Stone Chambers --- individual sites and vast complexes of them, diverse yet connected in their forms. Thanks to years of NEARA and Mass. Archaeological Society research, it begins to emerge that they appear to be most numerous around Webster Lake.

 In Weymouth (MA) there are Viking-style runes cut into stones at known Native sites. In Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, Micmac elders celebrate memories held in common with the venerable descendants of Scotsman Henry Sinclair, who may have reached North America in 1398 and directed construction of Newport Tower (Rhode Island) --- a structure at the center of intense international study.



Not every artifact has stood unexplained in plain sight for hundreds of years. There are demonstrations of several kinds suggesting that Newport Tower, erected by a Sinclair expedition, trumps Columbus by almost a century. Others argue it to be a less historic windmill from a 1700s estate. Below, distinguished NEARA scholar Suzanne Carlson sums up many Transatlantic frontiers:

Did the ancestors of Metacomet, the New World’s King Philip, share their knowledge with astronomers from across the Ocean? Did a line of students of the Icelandic astronomer Star Oddi carry the information to Vinland for further use? Did the legendary inhabitants of Vitramannaland apply Druidic lore to aid newly arrived Christian brothers in laying out the Tower? Had the surviving Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem defected to a new Paradise in the wake of the Vikings? Had they been accompanied by Cistercian monks, who were known to be skilled architects, engineers and astronomers, to help realize their dreams? Were their refuges known to later brethren --- now surviving as Scottish masons, or Portuguese Knights of Christ --- known to Henry Sinclair or Miguel Cortereal?

                                                               (“Loose Threads,” NEARA Journal Summer 2001)




1400s-1500s: Native Northeastern “Late Woodland” cultures enter the “Historic” period: est. pop. reaches 100-135,000 as they expand agriculture, build vast fish-weirs, burn underbrush (swidden). Intense trade fed by land-routes (Mohawk Trail) and by water (Connecticut River), exchanging exotic coastal goods incl. wampum-shell for choice furs and metals.

Intermarriages and feuds solidify and complicate territories and power-relations. Soon (by some sources) future Pequots and Mohegans migrate from Hudson River regions into CT. With increasing wealth, some Sachemships become hereditary: in time, some build defensive palisades around villages, as at Mystic and Weinshauks.



By late 1400s, Basque whalers reach Belle Isle and St. Lawrence River regions in their chalupas (later called “shallops” or coastal boats, see Hieberg)

1455    Two years after Muslims regain Constantinople, Spain & Portugal quarrel over West African “discoveries,” and Pope Nicholas V issues official “Bull” (Jan. 8: in Davenport 1:23) authorizing them to “ perpetual slavery” all “pagans...and all enemies of Christ whatsoever,” “wheresoever placed” in “the remotest parts unknown to us”; and “to convert them to use and profit” (See Jennings Invasion)

1483   Sir John Mandeville’s Travels, a “popular novel” of “foreign adventures”

1488  Portugal opens a sea-route to Asia.

1492 Cristobal Colon finds the “West Indies.” By 1503-15, “rebels” Annakunna and Enrique sustain long resistances to the Encomienda system; but within 40 years the Native Caribbean’s Tainos, Caribs, and Arawaks are close to extinction

1497-1498   Henry VII of England commissions John & Sebastian Cabot to “conquer, occupy and possess” the New-Found-Lands of “heathens and infidels.”






1500-01   Corte-Real explores New England coast. By 1570s, over 300 ships per year make the voyage (Biggar Early 23). Europe expands its “Renaissance,” coming to terms with Classical learning and American civilizations. The Beothuk of Newfoundland begin to avoid deadly contacts: Micmacs trade, but suffer epidemics

1507   Vespucci’s Mundus Novus on his 1503 voyages

1516   Thomas More’s Utopia based partly on Vespucci’s publications

1519-1523   Cortez and others lead Spanish invasions of Central/South Americas: Magellan begins world circumnavigation voyage

1520?   Joao Fagundes of Portugal sails “Maine” waters, Cape Breton

1524   Verrazano meets Narragansett and Abenaki peoples, reports “the scents of a garden” miles offshore. Northern Natives “moon” the ships in contempt, while southern groups appear “healthy,” “well-proportioned” and “graciously civil”

1525    Estevan Gomez of Spain kidnaps 58 New England Natives (see Brasser 80)

1527  England’s John Rut sails from Newfoundland to West Indies: he counts 10 fishing ships, lands on future “Cape Cod” (Dexter 46)

1528   Spain’s Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked on Gulf Coast: wanders for 6 years

1533   Pizarro executes the Inca of Peru

1534-41   Jacques Cartier of France encounters Beothuk people in Newfoundland

1552   Las Casas publishes his Brief Relation on the Destruction of the Indies, prompting ethical challenges to European doctrine of “Monogenesis” (that there was only one, Biblical, “Creation” and that all other peoples are “lost in darkness”)

1562   French colonists attempt to plant in Florida (and Brazil 1575), as Spain (1564) occupies The Phillippines and builds Manila

1569   Mercator’s map of the world

1570s  England and Spain conflict in the Caribbean

1582   Richard Hakluyt gathers early reports into Diverse Voyages to America

1576   Martin Frobisher’s first North Atlantic Voyage. By 1579, Sir Francis Drake proclaims English sovereignty over “California”

1580   Montaigne’s influential essays “On Cannibals” and “On Coaches”

1584    Ralegh, Barlow in “Virginia”: first Roanoke Colony; Sir Humphrey Gilbert and would-be American poet S. Parmenius lost at sea during second Northeast voyage

1585-87   Davis voyages continue the search for a Northwest Passage to Asia. Drake (1587) raids the “Spanish” Caribbean. The Pueblo Revolt

1588    Defeat of the Spanish Armada off the British Isles: Thomas Harriot/John White publish illustrated Brief & True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia

1596   Ralegh’s Guiana published

1598   English encampment at Sable Island (Newfoundland) fails




1602   Gosnold names “Cape Cod”; camps/trades at Cuttyhunk Island: J. Brereton’s report published. See new edition of Gosnold on this website

1603   Pring’s voyage for New England “sassafrass”; Dutch found New Amsterdam; Queen Elizabeth I dies, James I crowned

1604   French land at St.Croix (Maine), Port Royal (Nova Scotia)

1605   Capt. Waymouth scouts New England for Sir Ferdinando Gorges, kidnaps Native people for information. July: Champlain’s men at Nauset, Cape Cod and Massachusetts Bay: a fight results in deaths on both sides

1606   Challons and Pring voyages: Poutrincourt’s French plant Port Royal. At Cape Cod his men fire on Nausets. Champlain and Lescarbot at Quebec and “New France.” Lescarbot’s masque The Theatre of Neptune is performed at Port Royal: the entertainment includes Native roles

1607   Popham and others at Sagadahoc (Kennebec), Maine. Their promise fails by 1609 as “mistreatment” of Native traders brings attacks (see Vaughan Frontier 17)

1609   Henry Hudson’s voyage for The Netherlands. Virginia Company founded. Jesuits at “Mt. Desert” in Maine

1610   Bristol’s John Guy and others in Newfoundland. English plantations in Ulster, Ireland, and Bermudas by 1611. Argall visits Penobscot, Cape Cod. Adriaen Bloch (Dutch) explores Narragansett Bay, later maps the coast from Virginia to Maine

1611   Capt. Harlow kidnaps Native New Englander Epenow and others. Father Biard in Maine

1612   England’s John Guy meets “amicable” Beothuks in Newfoundland. Soon, French “bounties” paid to Micmacs for Beothuk heads cause decades of bloodshed (Reynolds)

1613-1615   Dutch pursue fur trade at Manhattan and Albany. England’s Argall destroys St. Croix and French missions


Champlain’s map of Cape Anne, Massachusetts coast: “le beau port”

1614   John Smith explores/names “New England”: fights and kills Natives at Cohasset, Patuxet (future Plimoth). Capt. Hunt kidnaps 19 Natives incl. Squanto/Tisquantum: only he returns. Captive Epenow leaps to freedom from ship off Capawac/Martha’s Vineyard. French ship founders off Cape Cod: some survivors wed Native women. Another with his Bible predicts Native dispossession from the region

1615-16   John Mason governs Newfoundland’s “swarming fishermen.” First report of “plague” or epidemic in the Saco, Maine region

1617   Ralegh’s second “El Dorado” voyage fails

1618   By this time (with Nanepashemet of Mystic the Supreme Sachem of southern New England) major destabilizations begin. Massachusett Natives, “upon some distaste given” by French traders at Peddock’s Island/Mass. Bay, attack and burn the ship. And, “great plague” (Wesauash-aumitch), most likely chicken pox w/its infectious shingles, is spreading to decimate up to 90% of Native New England’s peoples. Nanepashemet dies in a Micmac raid, and Wampanoag Ousamequin (Yellow Feather) claims “Massasoit” status even as more numerous Narragansetts contest his territories

1619  Capt. Dermer meets Tisquantum (his Patuxet home wiped out) at Newfoundland, is guided to Wampanoag traders. At Capawac, Dermer sees Epenow, who laughs at former captivity. Soon, Epenow tries to “take” Dermer likewise: Dermer dies of wounds by summer 1620

William Bradford and a company of English “Separatists,” after exile in Holland, negotiate passage to some part of America with London Merchant Adventurers. Despite John Smith’s warnings, they depart late in 1620, with as many non-Puritan “Strangers”; nor is their minister John Robinson allowed to emigrate

1620  Nov. 11 (21st): Mayflower arrives at Cape Cod. Without a land-patent, heated debates “for Virginia” end in a decision to land here. They help themselves to Native corn-stores, dig into graves, skirmish with Nausets. They shelter at Patuxet or Plimoth, south of Mass. Bay. More than half perish by Spring 1621, leaving “about 50” men, women and children

1621  Dutch West Indies Company founded. Spring: Ousamequin/Massasoit of the Pokanoket Wampanoags sends English-speakers Samoset and Tisquantum to begin relations and alliance with struggling Plimoth.



“…To descend from those generals to more particulars. What can be more pleasing to a generous nature than to be exercised in doing public good? Especially when his labor and industry tends to the private good and reputation of himself and posterity. And what monument so durable as the erecting of houses, villages and towns? And what more pious than advancing of Christian religion amongst people who have not known the excellency thereof?

            “But, seeing that works of piety and public good are in this age rather commended by all than acted by any, let us come a little nearer to that which all hearken unto; and that, forsooth, is profit.

“Be it so….But art thou of a greater fortune and more gloriously spirited? I have told thee before what thou mayst be assured of, whereby it may appear thou shalt not want means, nor opportunity, to exercise the excellency of thine own justice, and ingenuity to govern and enact the best things, whether it be for thyself, or such as live under thee, or have their dependency or hopes of happiness upon thy worth and virtue, as their chief.”

---Ferdinando Gorges recounting his early appeals for American-colonial adventurers, Brief Narration (64: 1658)



An early 1600s encounter on the New England coast (by David Wagner) 


Related Pages

The Medlyn Site
A Connecticut Native
Scholar’s Dig
Gosnold, 1602 Transatlantic Ways
Before Pilgrim Arrival


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