Monday, May 22, 2006

Voyagers to the East, Part VII

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

During the first half of the sixteenth century England was a minor maritime power, and few English sailors joined the French and Spanish effort to explore the Americas. One adventurer, though, played a small but significant part in the creation of a trans-Atlantic economy: in the early 1530s William Hawkins of Plymouth (1455-1554) made three voyages to Brazil and West Africa, and introduced the English to Brazilian hardwoods and African ivory. (His son, Admiral Sir John Hawkins, later inaugurated the English slave trade by capturing and selling 300 African slaves from Portuguese traders.) Hawkins returned from his second voyage to Brazil (1531) with a Brazilian "king," who apparently came willingly and became a prized guest at the court of Henry VIII. According to contemporary chroniclers, King Henry's courtiers were particularly impressed with the chief's pierced cheeks and with the great jewel mounted in his "nether lip." Hawkins probably wanted his guest to help inaugurate regular commerce between England and the native peoples of northeastern Brazil, but there's no evidence that the chief learned much English, and in any event he died during the return voyage in 1532. (Alden Vaughan, "Sir Walter Ralegh's Indian Interpreters," William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 59 [April 2002], 344; Giles Milton, Big Chief Elizabeth [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000], 7-8.)

Hawkins's Brazilian king made such a splash that several Englishmen decided they could make a lot of money by kidnapping other Native Americans and putting them on display in London. In 1535-36 a company of wealthy gentlemen, headed by the merchant Thomas Hore, organized an expedition to America to seize human trophies. The adventurers hired the ships William and Trinity, sailed from London in April 1536, paused in Newfoundland in July to take on supplies, then sailed up the coast of Labrador in search of "savages." Finally they encountered a small party of Inuit or Beothuk hunters paddling out to meet their ship, but when the Englishmen attempted to capture the Americans their quarry escaped. The explorers later discovered that the Trinity had suffered so much ice damage that it had to be laid up for repairs; while these were underway the Englishmen ran out of food and some resorted to cannibalism.

Finally, Richard Hore and his followers hailed a French fishing vessel, which they managed to seize from its crew, and returned thereon to England. When the English explorers landed in Saint Ives in October 1536, they returned not in triumph but weak, hungry, disgraced, and empty-handed. Their failure chilled Englishmen's interest in exploring the Americas for another quarter-century. (Milton, op. cit., 9-15. See also Richard Hakluyt's account of the voyage, here.)

For the next entry in this series, click here.

No comments: