J. G. (Johann Georg) Kohl.

A popular history of the discovery of America, from Columbus to Franklin online

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one man retires from the arena, his successor takes the
torch from his hand and carries its light still farther.

The English, in the greatest work which they have
accomplished in America, the exploration and colo-
nisation of the United States, have, in many cases, been
the scholars and successors of the French. The ac-
counts which the latter gave of the beauty and fertihty
of this region, and its fitness for man to dwell on, of its
abundant harbours and rivers, and its temperate Euro-
pean-like climate, first kindled the desire of the English
for the undertaking. They not only received this intel-
ligence by means of the printing-press, but also by word
of mouth ; for many of the French fugitives and
Huguenots came in person from Florida to England,
where they were presented to Queen Elizabeth. These
Frenchmen, too, who, at that time, were far better
acquainted with the Atlantic Ocean than the English,
frequently served them as pilots and steersmen in their
voyages to the west. I could here give particulars to

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show how the English, in their earliest distant voyages,
were always very desirous of having some of these French
pilots on board their ships.

Even the famous statesman. Sir Walter Raleigh, who
afterwards did so much for the east coast of America,
received his inspiration from the French. In his youth
he fought on the side of the Huguenots, and it is pro-
bable that he made the acquaintance of Admiral Ooligny,
whose Ufe and deeds so much resemble his own.

Previous to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the English
had taken but Uttle part in the transatlantic expeditions.
At the period when the discoveries of the Spaniards and
Portuguese most flourished, England, for forty years,
was ruled by a narrow-minded despot, who, principally
occupied with domestic affairs and internal dissensions,
was little suited to inspire his subjects with a Uvely spirit
of enterprise. The maritime trade of England was also,
at that time, for the most part in the hands of the Hanse-
atic merchants, and England had neither so important a
merchant service nor a navy as the Spaniards, or even
as the French, had long possessed. All that Henry VIII.
could do was to free the commerce of his country from
dependence on foreigners, and lay the foundation of a
future navy.

Even in the period following the death of this despot,
though the navy gradually increased, yet the condition

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of the country was little favourable to great enterprises.
Many rulers followed each other in rapid succession, and
just at the time when the French, as the declared ene-
mies of Spain, were busy in forwarding the work of dis-
covery in America, the Queen of England, by a marriage
with Philip n., prevented the English from coming for-
ward as discoverers or conquerors on a continent which
the King of Spain considered to belong to him from one
end to the other. Such opportunities were only opened
to them when they, like the French, became the declared
enemies of the possessors of the new world.

This salutary change, this enmity, the English owed
to their anti-Oatholic queen, Elizabeth, whose reign
commenced in 1558. Under this energetic and popular
princess, the long-checked energies of the people, that
had been gradually though silently preparing for action,
suddenly burst forth, and she it was, also, who fostered
the youthful efforts of the nation in navigation and dis-
covery. She it was who built England's wooden walls ;
the gracious queen, like Peter the Great, often busying
herself personally with their construction. She went
herself on board the newly built ships, shook their rough
captains by the haiid, and drank with them a cup at
parting. She consecrated their flags, and she, the
Maiden Queen, stood on the balcony of her palace at
Greenwich, amidst the thunder of cannon, when her sea-

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captains sailed past, waving her handkerchief to them as
a sign of good wishes.

If they returned victorious, with her own hands she
hung chains of gold round their necks, and knighted
them. She thus inspired them with self-sacrificing zeal
and heroism, and many a British seaman in foreign lands,
when surrounded by difficulties and dangers, found, in
his enthusiasm for his energetic maiden queen, new
strength and courage. In this respect, they resembled
Columbus, to whom the thoughts of his gentle queen
Isabella always gave support.

The first naval hero of Elizabeth's time of any import-
ance, of whom it can be said that he placed himself at
the head of the movement, is Sir John Hawkins. He
might be called the English discoverer of the West
Indies, or the British Columbus. His life, his first
attempts, and his final successes, present, in many
respects, parallels to the life of Columbus, and to his
trials and experiences. It is curious to remark how
almost all the seafaring nations who took part in
the discovery of America, each in its turn has passed,
step by step, through the same phases as the Spar-

The French, the British, and the Dutch, each accom-
plished their own discovery of America after the example
of the Spaniards. They each found their way first to

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the Azores, to the Canary Islands, and then to the An-
tilles, and thence further.

Hawkins, too, began with small voyages to the Canary-
Islands, and there he made zealous inquiries about the
condition of the West Indian Islands. In 1562, from
the Canaries he crossed the ocean, in the old route of
Columbus, by the aid of the trade winds, and, like him,
too, he returned by way of the Azores to England. In
a second voyage, in 1565, he extended the field of his
operations, and, again like Columbus, he sailed into the
middle of the Central American Archipelago, made his
way through all the Spanish possessions round Cuba,
and reached the coast of Florida at a. time when it was
still occupied by the French Protestants. He was the
first Englishman who conferred with them, and gathered
from them a knowledge of the condition and advantages
of the country ; and he was likewise the first to convey
such knowledge to England and spread it abroad.

These reports, which he brought home were, to be
sure, very exaggerated, but they were naturally on that
account only the more attractive to the English. The
east coast of America was described as a second Eden ;
myrrh, frankincense, storax, gums and spices, of course
were there in abundance; and, moreover, gold, pearls,
and silver ; and scarcely any of the creatures of Paradise
were said to be wanting, not even the unicorn.

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"For/' said the reporter to Hawkins's expedition, "as
it is proved that there are Hops and tigers in this country
and that nature invariably follows the rule of placing
inimical races of animals together — ^the dog near the cat,
the falcon near the sparrow, and the rhinoceros near the
elephant — so it is evident that the unicorn, the deadly
enemy of lions and tigers, must be found in North
America." "And one may suppose," he continues,
^^ that in a land which contains the veritable unicorn,
many other prodigies and treasures may be discovered,
aU of which, with God's help, time will yet disclose

By means of similar arguments and reports the Eng-
lish were allured to the country, which subsequently be-
came famous for their colonisation.

A succession of naval heroes followed on the track of
Hawkins, as they had done on that of Columbus. These
expeditions resembled each other in a great degree in
respect to their line of route as well as in the objects to
be gained. They generally went straight from England
to the Canary Islands, and thence to the coast of Africa,
Here they htmted down negroes, and filling their ships
with a cargo of these wretched slaves, so welcome to the
Spanish colonists, and avoiding the Spanish fleets on
reaching the West Indies, they sold their slaves, or with
threats they forced them on the planters for whatever


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jHice tbey chose to give. After this they pursued the
Spanish ships, and if they found themselyes strong
enough for an attack, they lay in wait for the royal
silver fleets, and they g^ierally returned to Europe,
laden with plunder, througi the West Indian Gibraltar,
the Straits of Florida.

As the age of the Portuguese and Spanish heroes was
already past, the youthful English navy gained ground
with great rapidity. It soon was seen in the South
Atlantic Ocean, and, in the year 1577, the English Ma-
gellan entered upon the scene.

Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman who sailed
round the world, again found the straits that had been
discovered by Magellan. He unfurled the English flag
in the Pacific Ocean, and sailed round the whole of the
great continent of America as far as California, which
he called New Albion, going up much farther to the
north than any Spaniard had done before him. The
American discoveries made by Hawkins, Drake, and
their contemporaries were partly re-discoveries of tracts
of land which the Spaniards had already begun to
neglect ; they were, however, in many cases, disclosures
of regions never seen before. They burst upon the
whole Spanish possessions like a tempest, and, like it,
more destructively than beneficially. They overshot
their mark, as is usually the case in the first vigour and

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pride of youth. Like the Spaniards themselves, who
had begun in the new world by plundering the Aztecs
and Incas before they founded new settlements, the
English first begun by plundering the Spaniards in the
hemisphere belonging to them; and their easy con-
quest caused them to overlook things of much greater
importance. More than twenty years of Elizabeth's
reign were consumed before any one thought of esta-
blishing a solid, useful, permanent, and agricultural

Such an idea was first fully and clearly developed in
the minds of two brothers — Sir Humphrey Gilbert and
Sir Walter Baleigh — one of whom met with his death in
attempting its realisation, whilst the other, during his
whole life, made the most strenuous efforts in the cause.
Both were bom in the family and on the estate of
a country gentleman, in the western extremity of
Southern England, where, from childhood, the ocean
had worked upon their yoimg imaginations and in-
fluenced their boyish sports. Both made themselves
acquainted, by diligent study, with* the history of that
ocean ; in other words, with the history of the Spanish
discoveries in America; and both perceived in which
direction the largest field for English colonisation and
conquest was to be found.

When they attained the age of manhood, they both of

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them wrote down their views on this subject, and pub-
lished them. The elder brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert,
succeeded at last in gaining the support of the Queen,
who sanctioned his undertaking, and gave him a small
fleet. This was the first fleet which ever left the shores
of England not freighted with over-rapacious, slave-
hunting men, but with workmen, handicraftsmen, miners,
engineers, and scholars — ^the true seed for a colony.

Their destination was the barren east coast of the
country which had been so attractively described by the
French, and was still called Florida. Sir Humphrey
proposed to reach it on the northern track by way of the
banks of Newfoundland, and not by the Spanish course
through the Antilles. Unfortunately, he did not get
much beyond these banks. His largest vessel went to
pieces on the coast of that desolate island. Nova Scotia,
and all the elements of colonisation were scattered on its
beach. This island, so celebrated for shipwrecks, was
called by the English « Sable Island."

Sir Humphrey Gilbert himself, however, in attempting
to return to England with the remainder of his followers
in two small vessels, was overtaken by a storm in the
middle of the ocean, and swallowed up by the waves.
It was in this storm, and shortly before he sank for ever,
that he called out to his terrified companions, " Brothers I
be consoled, we are as near Heaven on the sea as on

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kaleigh's exertions. %1

diore." These memorable words have become proverbial
in the English navy.

I may here remark that many of the pithy and
striking sayings current amongst English seamen were
first pronounced by the naval heroes of Queen Eliza-
beth's time on their expeditions to America.

Only one small vessel returned to England with the
news of the destruction of the father of the project of
colonisation in North America.

But the brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the much
more celebrated Sir Walter Raleigh, the knightly lover
and powerful favourite of Queen Elizabeth, prevented
the plans of his shipwrecked brother from falling to the
ground. He it was who steadfastly supported every
naval enterprise, and he may well be called the Coligny
of England. For a long course of years he employed all
his energies, his influence with the queen, and his
capital, whicn had been greatly increased by the queen's
bounty, in the furtherance of these plans.

Year after year Raleigh equipped and sent forth so
many small fleets to the east coast of America in the
cause of exploration and colonisation, that the English
poet Spenger, in one of his odes, gave him the title of
" The Shepherd of the Ocean."

His captains discovered in especial that portion of the
coast which now belongs to North Carolina. And in

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the great bays and sonnds of this coast^ which we at
present call the Sounds of Pamlico and Albemarle, on
a little island called Eoanoke, the first English colony in
America was fonnded, and called the City of Sir Walter
Ealeigh. From this basis the surrounding country, with
its rivers, inlets, and harbours, was carefully explored.

Their descriptions of this region, like aU the first
descriptions of the discoverers in America, were in the
highest degree inviting. It seemed as if a paradise had
been discovered.

The maiden Queen of England, at whose feet Baleigh
laid this Eden, never yet trodden by the foot of greedy
Spaniard, and inhabited only by the children of nature,
called it Virginia — Ae virgin land — and she bestowed it
upon her beloved Ealeigh, that he might explore, con-
quer, colonise, and govern it.

The name Virginia was soon extended to the whole
east coast, to the north as far as Newfoundland, and to
the south to the peninsula of Florida ; for the queen and
Ealeigh claimed this whole extent of country (although
they only knew one part of it) as belonging to the Eng-
lish since the time of Cabot.

It is to be regretted that this beautiful name of Vir-
ginia, which recals many flattering hopes and pleasant
circumstances connected with its origin, has not con-
tinued to designate the whole of the United States, in-

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stead of a limited portion of them only. It wotdd hare
suited those who love to call their native land " a virgin
coxmtry^ — ^and who, in manj respects, have aright to do
so — even better than the name of Florida.

The progress of the En^sh in this virgin country
was, however, very slow. Ndther Baleigh nor Eliza-
beth gained any advantage whatever from their costly
efforts, thenr fine inventions, and their colonial settle-
ments. Before the daughter-country could be esta-
blished the mother-country had to defend herself against
an attack of the Spaniards which threatened her destruc-
tion. Ejng Philip prepared his great Armada to con-
quer the British Islands, and thus at once to put an end
to the source of so much mischief to his possessions in

The queen was obliged to call in her Drakes, her
Frobishers, her Grenvilles, and other sea-heroes, from
all parts of the ocean ; and, by the help of these brave
men and an opportune storm, the naval forces of the
Spaniards were dispersed. But, after this, such a rage
for capturing or destroying the ships, harbours, and
colonies of the enemy seized the English navigators, who
followed close on the heels of the Spaniards, that for the
remainder of the century, and Elizabeths reign, the
peaceful colony of Virginia was entirely forgotten. In
the midst of all these storms, however, Raleigh himself

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constantly thought of the city on the Koanoke, named
after himself ; but it was difficult for him to collect money
for new equipments and the succours so much required.

Sbipovmers and capitalists found it much more ad-
vantageous to fit out privateers to bring back richly-
laden Spanish galleons than to invest thdr money in
the purchase of agricultural implements, cattle, and
seeds, which only after the lapse of years could return
interest for the outlay. Even the commanders and
crews of the new expeditions which Baleigh managed to
fit out and send off, together with the emigrants, either
changed their minds on the way, or at sight of the
desolate coast of North America, and, carried away by
the universal passion, they degenerated into pirates,
turned their helms about, and sailed to the south to take
part in the chase of the Spanish silver galleons.

His colonists and pioneers in Virginia were conse-
quently destroyed by hunger, by want of every kind,
and by the attacks of the now irritated natives.
Twenty years later it was found out that in a general
revolt of the Indians all the colonists had been slain, just
as the Huguenots of Coligny had been destroyed by the

The end of both these great men resembled the fate
of their colonies: Coligny was murdered by his king
because he was a Protestant, and Haleigh's monarch,

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James I., brought him to the scaffold on the pretext of
his being a traitor. Notwithstanding that in the begin-
ning of the seventeenth century Baleigh's Virginia was
but an empty name, a barbarous uninhabited coast,
strewn with wrecks and the bodies of European colonists,
yet he had not lived or striven for it in vain. His own
and his brother^s projects of colonisation had been im-
parted to many minds. He had awakened in his native
land a general interest for such schemes destined to be
displayed as soon as the storms and the war-fever against
Spain should become somewhat abated.

If the seeds which he had planted in the new world
had not come to maturity, yet his ideas had taken root
in the old, and were ready to put forth, fresh buds under
favourable circumstances. The English have been re-
peatedly praised for their capacity for exploring and
colonising new countries. No one would wish to deny
them this aptitude, but it must at least be acknowledged
that they attained it very slowly, and after many
unlucky attempts; more gradually, indeed, than other
nations. The first Spanish colony which Columbus
founded at Hayti had certainly as unfortunate a fate as
almost any of the first settlements of the Europeans in
America. But in the following year the Spaniards
at once founded new colonies, which soon so increased
in prosperity, making such constant progress that there

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never could be any idea of their being abandoned*
Thirty years after the landing of Cohunbns, Hayti,
Cuba, and other countries of the West Indies^ abounded
not only in mines and pearl-fisheries^ bat in settlements^
gardens, sugar plantations, pasturages, and a number of
small but promising towns.

One hundred and thirteen years after the first voy-
ages of their Cabot along the coast of the United
States, and forty years after their queen had given
to the country the name of Virginia, the undertakings
of the English on the coast often hung by a thread, and
were frequently on the point of being abandoned.
And from this date more than two hundred years
had to pass over before any considerable advance into
the interior of the coimtry was made.

The discoveries of the Spanish and Portuguese, when
compared to the progress made by the English, are like
the flight of an eagle.

Li regard to the latter, however, with greater justice
might be applied the words of our poet, Schlegel, on the
growth of the Soman empire :

'^ Bat Layiniam was first founded, then Alba,
Of Rome, no imortal yet had heard ;
Its birth dawned slowly into light,
No greater ere was seen. The fates strove all they conld/*

Besides the causes already adduced, this tardiness and

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the whole pectiliarly piecemeal development of the
English power on the east coast were partly owing to
the natural conditions and the original political state
of this region. The extension of the Spanish domi-
nion was, as I have said, often rendered easy by the
fact that they here and there found states of great
extent ready organised, and when once they obtained
possession of their rulers and the centres of their power,
their sway immediately became equally great.

The English, on the other hand, found on their east
coast a multitude of small and disunited savage tribes,
whose different languages and customs they were obliged
to learn, and with whom they had to wage a guerilla
warfare — ^^gular campaigns or expeditions not being

The Spaniards, moreover, on the Orinoco and the La
Plata, and the French on the St. Lawrence and the
Mississippi, met with vast navigable rivers, which, when
they had been once discovered, forthwith opened a way
for hundreds of miles into the interior. The discoverer,
who reached the mouth of one such river, sailed imme-
diately upwards gaining with one blow an empire.

On the east coast of the United States, there were no
such noble far-extending rivers. This coast is, as it
were, divided by nature into small parcels. There were
innumerable small rivers, which, at a litUe distance from'

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the coast, are partly broken up by cataracts. Every-
where there are small bays, inlets, and harbours, one
seeming to be as good as another, and no one fitted to
attract attention by its great superiority ; as, for example,
the Bay of Guayaquil on the coast of Peru, or the es-
tuary of the La Plata on the coast of Brazil. And not
far from the coast, a sixfold barrier of rude thickly-
wooded mountains extends.

The character of the coast-lands, so broken up and
separated from one another, rendered them little suited
to be taken possession of by any monarch or heroical
adventurer. They were, so to say, organised by Nature
for a republic ; and, like the detached valleys of Swit-
zerland, they were favourable to the establishment of
many little communities, which communities, however,
could only take root along the coast, and had to gain
strength and to become united before they could break
through the barrier which cut them off from the interior.
Accordingly, in the course of the seventeenth century,
we see a succession of expeditions, often consisting of
but a few vessels, sometimes of one ship only, go forth
laden with discoverers and colonists to settle — ^like swal-
lows on the eaves of a long building — on one or other
point of the coast. These floating cradles which were
rocked across the ocean, carrying with them the germs
of a new state, belonged for the most part to the

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English, who first began the work, and who were finally
destined to keep the whole for themselves. But other
nations thronged to those parts of America likewise : the
Dutch, Swedes, the Germans ; indeed, all the branches
of the Germanic race and of Protestant faith, whose
desire for civil and religious liberty drdve them to
abandon their old homes.

It is not my business here to enter into all the in-
teresting details of these most remarkable and eventful
American expeditions, their various motives and aims;
but, in so far as necessary to the completion of the
history of discovery in America, I must call the attention
of the reader to the principal points as tersely as possible,
and, as nearly as I can, in chronological order.

The first solid, and in the end successful, colony
(though often near to dedtruction), was established by
the English at the entrance of that combination of
harbours, inlets, and rivers, which we now call Chesa-

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Online LibraryJ. G. (Johann Georg) KohlA popular history of the discovery of America, from Columbus to Franklin → online text (page 2 of 17)