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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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Chapter III. — France Enters the Field of Discovery. Verrazani, an Italian in Her Service, Discovers the Coast from the Latitude of Tropical Plants to New York and New England. He Lands in the Great Bay of Manhattan.


THE next reconnoissance of the Vesperic Atlantic coast tribes was made by John De Verrazani. France was not unobservant of events passing in the West Indies and Florida, and determined to share North America with Spain. Florida was then a geographical term, which comprehended all North America north of the Gulf of Mexico. [26] Verrazani was a noted mariner in her service, an Italian, a native of Florence, who had been employed by France for some time, with four public vessels, in cruising against the Spanish commerce. Separated from his consorts in a tempest, he resolved to undertake a voyage of discovery, and reconnoissance, of the then unbounded region of Florida, on the North Atlantic. He left the outer isle of the Madeira group of barren isles, called the Deserters, on the 17th January, 1524. About the middle of March he made the coast, in latitude 34°, which is about the present position of Wilmington, North Carolina. [27] Thence he sailed south in search of a harbor, to the appearance of "Palm trees," consequently to the area of South Carolina or Georgia. He then changed his course, holding towards the north, and, running down the coast, with occasional landings, till he reached his former latitude, found himself passing a flat diluvial coast of sand hills and islets, peopled with Indians, but without a harbor; he anchored off the coast, and landed. The Indians were in the greatest excitement, running to and fro in wonder and fear. Having, by signs of friendship, induced some of them to approach, they were gradually quieted, and brought him some provisions. They were naked, save an azian, or small apron of furs. They ornamented their heads with bunches of feathers.

They were well shaped, with black eyes, and straight black hair, and were very swift of

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foot. It is impossible, from so generic a description, to tell what group of tribes he was among, or what latitude he was in. If he saw, at this landing, "cypress, laurels, and palm trees," he had but hardly retraced his steps to latitude 34°, and, from the descriptions, was off the low sandy coasts of North Carolina, not remote from Cape Hatteras. Still sailing on, and coming to a part of the coast trending east, and seeing many fires ashore, and the natives friendly, he sent his boat ashore, but the surf was too violent to permit landing. One of the sailors here offered to swim ashore with some presents, but when he came near his fears prevailed, and, throwing out his presents, he attempted to return to the ship; but the waves cast him on the strand half-dead, and quite senseless. The Indians immediately ran to his assistance, carried him ashore, dried his clothes before a fire, and did everything to restore him. His alarm, however, was excessive. When they pulled off his clothes to dry them, he thought they were going to sacrifice him to the sun, which then shone prominent over the hills. He trembled with dread. As soon as he was restored, they gently led him to the shore, and then retired to a distance, until the ship's boat had been sent for him, and they saw him safely get on board.

Verrazani now went on, and observed the coast still trending northward. After a run of fifty leagues, he anchored off a fine forest country, where twenty of his men landed, and went two leagues into the interior. The Indians fled into the forest. The sailors caught an old woman and a young woman, hid in the grass. The old woman carried a child on her back, and had, besides, two little boys. The young woman had charge of three female children. Both shrieked vociferously as soon as they were discovered. The elder gave them to understand that the men had fled to the woods. She accepted something to eat at their hands, but the young woman refused it with scorn. She was a tall and well shaped person, and they tried to take her with them, but she made such cries and struggles, it was impossible. They took one of the boys.

These coast Indians had nets. Their canoes were made from solid trees, burned out with fire. Their arrows were pointed with bone. They were partly clothed with a vegetable tissue. No houses were seen. The trees denoted a more northerly climate, but had vines climbing to their very tops. Three days were spent in the reconnoissance of these manifestly ichtheopagi. He was now, evidently, on the coasts north of the capes of the Chesapeake, or of the Delaware, which were inhabited by numerous small tribes of the Algonquin family, who were without forest meats; subsisting chiefly on the productions of the sea coasts; who navigated the inlets and shores with log canoes, and used bone, and not flint, or hornstone, or jasper, as the material of
fishing, hunting, and war. These bands stretched, apparently, along the entire Maryland and New Jersey coasts, to the Navasink mountain, and the Metoacs.

He continued his voyage along these coasts, until he came to the out-flow of a "large river," and, entering it, found a good harbor in north latitude 41°. This,

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historians determine to have been the bay of New York. [28] It was thus an Italian footstep that was first planted on these shores. [29] the surrounding country is described as being very pleasant. The Indians, who are pronounced a very fine race, showed him where the deep water was. A storm coming up, they landed on a well-cultivated island (probably Staten Island), beyond which spread the harbor, where they observed numerous canoes. We are indebted to Hackluyt, for preserving Verrazani's description of this harbor. [30]

"This land is situated in the parallel of Rome, in forty-one degrees, two tierces, but somewhat more cold by accidental causes. The mouth of the haven lieth open to the south, half a league broad, and, being entered within it, between the east and the north, it stretcheth twelve leagues, when it weareth broader and broader, and maketh a gulf about twenty leagues in compass, wherein are five small islands, very fruitful and pleasant, full of high and broad trees, among the which islands any great navy may ride safe, without any fear of tempest or other danger." [31]

In this ample harbor he remained fifteen days, during which he frequently sent his boat and men, and went ashore himself, to obtain supplies and examine the country. Some of the men stayed two or three days on one of the islands. Their excursions extended five or six leagues into the interior, which was found to be "pleasant, and well adapted to the purposes of agriculture."

With the natives, who were, as we now know, of the Mohican family of the Algonquins, he had frequent intercourse, and he speaks of them with kindness. They were uniformly friendly, [32] and always accompanied his parties, in more or less numbers, ashore. He describes them as of a russet color, with large black eyes, black hair, of a good stature, well favored, of a cheerful look, quick witted, nimble and athletic. He compared them to Saracens and Chinese. The women wore ornaments of wrought copper; wood only was used in the construction of their wigwams, which were covered with coarse matting, called by him "straw."

This is the first description we have, of the great Algonquin family of the shores of the north Atlantic. Verrazani appears to have had an aptitude for observing the character and condition of the natives, and the geographical features of the country. The strong physical traits noticed by him, were confirmed by the observations, a hundred years later, of the respective landings in Virginia, under Raleigh, by Hudson in New York, and the English in Massachusetts.

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Having refreshed himself, and recruited his provisions at this point, on the 5th of May he continued his voyage northward; after a run of one hundred and fifty leagues, [33] he discovered high lands overgrown with forests. The Indians were found to be of savage habits. They lived on roots and other spontaneous products. A large party of the crew, who landed here, were received with a volley of arrows. He continued his voyage to north latitude 56°, which, Forster observes, is about the position of Nain, on the coast of Labrador, and, having given the name of New France to his discoveries, he returned to Dieppe, whence he writes his letter to Francis I., bearing date 8th July, 1524.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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