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very late September

palisades

The farther upriver we went, the friendlier the natives.  One day we enjoyed a northerly and  sailed 60 miles.  Over 100 miles up , I went ashore in a canoe and met an old man, a chief.  About 40 men and 17 woman gathered there.  They killed some doves and a fat dog and skinned it with shells out of the water.

The land is the finest for cultivation that I have ever set foot upon, and it abounds in trees of every description:  a great  many handsome oak, walnut, chestnut, yew.  In addition, there is much slate  and other good stone for houses.  The natives are a very good people.  When they supposed I was afraid, they took their arrows, broke them in pieces, and threw them into the fire.  But our intentions of peace . . . our self-restraint, our tolerance of misunderstood difference, these things were not to last.

And when we failed as ship-borne explorers and discoverers, we had to turn south.  Either that or dredge and then dig a trench through dry valleys to Cathay.  Failures as of that moment.  A botched, bungled bumping into the bankruptcy of our ideas.  Bankrupted myself, as well, given the ire I face from officers of the VOC.

And as ambassadors, we didn’t manage things so well either.  A few days south into our retreat from finding Cathay,  we witnessed a person of the mountains jump from his canoe into the stern cabin window.  As he left with clothing and bandoliers, a hot-headed member of my crew shot and killed him.  This precipitated an attack by men in two canoes, one on either side.  We returned fire with muskets and killed two or three of them.  They continued to assault us, so we killed more of them with the cannon.  And this was to be a voyage of exploration, one I imagined would result in communing with the people of Cathay.  Communing, not massacring.

Near Manna-hata we anchored in a safe place.  A cliff close by has a white-green color as though it were a copper or silver mine.  No people there came to trouble us and we rode quietly all night, although with much wind and rain.

I confess it troubles me that our relations with the native people have not been what I imagined we’d have with those of Cathay.  It troubles me even more deeply that I seem alone in my distress.  I’ve seen this river leads nowhere toward Cathay;  I am fearful for the path we have blazed between the Algonquins and our people.

A postscript:  our ship’s Cat . . . Cathay seems to have gone missing.  I loved that cat, but after searching from the bilges to the mastheads, I’m certain Cathay has not been spotted since  the attacks upriver.

(Painting: retouched image of Sanford R. Gifford’s Sunset on the Hudson, 1876)

early September 1609

When I came on shore, the swarthy natives all stood around and sung in their fashion;  their clothing consisted of the skins of foxes and other animals, which they dress and make the skins into garments of various sorts.  Their food is Turkish wheat, which they cook by baking, and it is excellent eating.  They always carry with them green tobacco, which is strong and good for use.  They appear to be a friendly people.

It is as pleasant a land as one need tread upon; very abundant in all kinds of timber suitable for shipbuilding, and for making large casks or vats.

ship canoesYet as Mr Juet is right in saying . . . as we lay at anchor behind a sheltered sandy hook, five of our men took the ship’s boat and sailed the Narrowing of islands and into a large anchorage.  As they returned, about a dozen natives in two canoes attacked the boat and with an arrow through the throat killed the leader, John Colman.

A few days on, the people of the country came aboard.  They showed signs of love, gave us tobacco and wheat, and departed.  How far can we trust each other? How can we avoid all intent of treachery?

late August 1609

I fear ambush, although better judgment tells me Juet has gotten under my skin, into my head.  Day after day, and night after night he urges me to set more men on watch, expecting the people of the country to come over the bulwarks.

extraordinaryfish

I see nothing by night, and by day my eyes detect shoals at every turn.  Juet, in the attracting pull of the new continent, has been so thoroughly transformed that I suspect he’s no longer the same man.  Days before, we caught a most extraordinary fish. As Juet struggled to bring the fish in, he spoke of dominating this new people. He’s a new soul, his old soul having been banished back to England by the spirits of these waters.

Cathay, the ship’s cat, knows it.  As captain, I’m resisting it, denying  any distraction.

Bend on more sail, tomorrow I’ll tell the men.  Full speed ahead;  drive us northward and then on to Cathay, ye zephyrs of August.

(Painting: retouched image of Frederic Edwin Church’s Grand Manan Island, Bay of Fundy, 1852)

early August 1609

Two weeks out of the St George for the south, and I’m still preoccupied with our meeting the people of the new land, this new race and civilization.  So much food for thought was this encounter that in a perfect, unhurried world, I’d have our ship put to sea for a  thousand days so that I could process this fantastic exchange.  So wondrous were the Algonquin that I’ve thought this place may be as fascinating as Cathay.

dinnertalk

Juet has been mulling it over too, but for him the encounter has  generated sheer terror.  At dinners in my cabin, he wants to talk exclusively of weapons:  cannon, knives, and hooks.

I confess I’ve indulged him, as he goes on about “besting the new people.”  His every imagining relates to better catching to kill every beast, fowl, and fish.   I’ve never seen him smile more than when he talks of sailing as a teen  and seeing his captain then beating a sailor.  Along the sandy coast, he spoke incessantly of firing grape into the Algonquin’s wigwams.

late July 1609

Now I have seen the savages.  Ship’s mate Juet calls them that:  savages, uncivilized people of the woods, fierce.  In my journeys now I’ve seen icebears and walrus and maybe mermaids … although reports of these always follow extra grog rations for the crew.  On the docks I’ve seen men like Pernomo—very gentle souls—from the warm Spice Indies.  But now I’ve seen savages. Real ones . . . of the woodlands.  Self-assured, fearless outlandish men in their own camps, sailing and paddling their own waters in vessels of their hands and design.

A few speak French. Francais!  But that makes them no more French than they would be if they spoke English . . . or Dutch.   I’m glad some speak French, for otherwise we’d have no idea what they want; no one of our crew speak their tongue.

What they want is clear–

eyes

—trade . . . their beaver pelts and info about gold, silver, and copper to trade for our beads, metal knives and hatchets, and red gowns.  Of this latter, we carried none and had to use force to stop them from climbing our rigging to take our VOC flag.  Juet says we must not trust them and keeps his knife always in his hand.

But Juet trusts no one and never has.  In fact, I know he mistrusts me.

I watch these woodlands men eat from our table, drink our grog.  I’ve shared finfish and shellfish with them and watched their group rules.  I study how they watch us, study us.  I suspect they have their own civilization and language—confound us that no one speaks it!.  Of course, I write that here never to share with Juet, who even now is scheming treacherous business with the savages.

(Painting: retouched image of George Caleb Bingham’s The Storm, 1850)

early July 1609

Sail away to the west!!   Twice now in the past fortnight our watch has spotted sail.  First on 25th of June a sail we spied and gave chase, thinking only to discover local knowledge from and compare position plotting with this vessel.  For whatever reason, they sped away and were more expeditious than we.
grandbanks
This morning as dawn broke we saw three vessels a few leagues to west southwest and two other to the south.  At first I suspected they might be Basque, but through the glass, we see by the vessels’ design, they likely are French.  The bottom when we sounded was at 30 fathoms;  these must be the Grand Banks.  Previously when we sounded, we found no bottom.  The men wanted to strike sail for a few hours and fish;  they are happier now that they’ve eaten fat fresh bacalao from the famed Banks.  The fish was so agreeable to Cathay, our fine ship’s feline,  that she’s purring, curled up on the capstan, happy we’ve left the cold, wet storms, ecstatic we’re no longer plumbing the icy NorthEast Passage.

late June 1609

Crash!  Tear!   Rend!  Rip!  Thwack! all sounds of terror added to wind and thunder in the darkness before dawn!  Horrors for any mariner until reason intervenes and fights back.  So it was when the foremast splintered and crashed into the sea last night, leaving the foredeck a confused jungle of rigging.  Any crew tangled in this web would have found himself dragged to his peril as waves pulled the debris away from the ship, mostly away.  Crew took up knives and axes and quickly severed the fibers, keeping the colluding wind and water from capsizing our ship. . . .

dismasted
No one was injured although Cathay, the ship’s cat, was saved only by pouncing back onto the deck as her favorite spar was about to plunge into the wild seas.  Lucky Cathay.  Her previous near-communication-with-the-sea came at Nord Kap, where she leapt from the foremast to the forehouse, not realizing it was sheer ice, and nearly slid into the chilling seas.

As the crew labors to fashion a temporary foremast, I realize that for the first time in weeks  the crew have put aside their feuds, their divisions; they ceased cursing each other in their different languages.  With united purpose, we can juryrig a foremast that’ll get us to the forests described by Champlain and Smith, where we’ll fashion a new mast, new spars.  By my calculations and give or take a few hundred leagues, we are at latitude 48 north and now closer to North America than to Nord Kap where we turned.    With this new unity of mission, we will soon reach the rocky pine coast, make repairs, and begin the next leg of our journey to Cathay.

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