Giovanni da Verrazzano
Letter to King Francis 1 of France 8 July 1524
Reporting on his voyage to the New World*
Del Viaggio del Verazzano Nobile
Fiorentino al Servizio di Francesco
I, Ri de Francia, fatto nel 1524
♦ Verrazzano’s marginal notes are italicized and bracketed within the text. ♦
Since the storm that we encountered in the northern regions, Most Serene King, I have not written to tell Your Majesty of what happened to the four ships which you sent out over the Ocean to explore new lands, as I thought that you had already been informed of everything how we were forced by the fury of the winds to return in distress to Brittany with only the Normandy and the Dauphine, and that after undergoing repairs there, we began our voyage with these two ships, equipped for war, following the coasts of Spain, as Your Most Serene Majesty will have heard; and then according to our new plan, we continued the original voyage with only the Dauphine; now on our return from this voyage, I will tell Your Majesty of what we found.
We set sail with the Dauphine from the deserted rock near the Island of Madeira, which belongs to the Most Serene King of Portugal [at the beginning of 1524], on the XVII day of January last; we had fifty men, and were provided with food for eight months, with arms and other articles of war, and naval munitions; we sailed westward on the gentle breath of a light easterly wind. In XXV days we covered eight hundred leagues. On the XXIIII day of February [for about 16 hours] we went through a storm as violent as ever [a] sailing man encountered. We were delivered from it with the divine help and goodness of the ship, whose glorious name and happy destiny enabled her to endure the violent waves of the sea. We continued on our westerly course, keeping rather to the north.
In another XXV days we sailed more than four hundred leagues, where there appeared a new land which had never been seen before by any man, either ancient or modern. At first it appeared to be rather low-lying; having approached to within a quarter of a league, we realized that it was inhabited, for huge fires had been built on the seashore. We saw that the land stretched southward, and coasted along it in search of some port where we might anchor the ship and investigate the nature of the land, but in fifty leagues we found no harbor or place where we could stop with the ship. Seeing that the land continued to the south [so as not to meet with the Spaniards], we decided to turn and skirt it toward the north, where we found the land we had sighted earlier. So we anchored off the coast and sent the small boat in to land. We had seen many people coming to the seashore, but they fled when they saw us approaching; several times they stopped and turned around to look at us in great wonderment. We reassured them with various signs, and some of them came up, showing great delight at seeing us and marveling at our clothes, appearance, and our whiteness; they showed us by various signs where we could most easily secure the boat, and offered us some of their food. We were on land, and I shall now tell Your Majesty briefly what we were able to learn of their life and customs.
They go completely naked except that around their loins they wear skins of small animals like martens, with a narrow belt of grass around the body, to which they tie various tails of other animals which hang down to the knees; the rest of the body is bare, and so is the head. Some of them wear garlands of birds’ feathers. They are dark in color, not unlike the Ethiopians, with thick black hair, not very long, tied back behind the head like a small tail. As for the physique of these men, they are well proportioned, of medium height, a little taller than we are.
They have broad chests, strong arms, and the legs and other parts of the body are well composed. There is nothing else, except that they tend to be rather broad in the face: but not all, for we saw many with angular faces. They have big black eyes, and an attentive and open look. They are not very strong, but they have a sharp cunning, and are agile and swift runners. From what we could tell from observation, in the last two respects they resemble the Orientals, particularly those from the farthest Sinarian regions. We could not learn the details of the life and customs of these people because of the short time we spent on land, due to the fact that there were few men, and the ship was anchored on the high seas.
Not far from these people, we found others on the shore whose way of life we think is similar. I will now tell Your Majesty about it, and describe the situation and nature of this land. The seashore is completely covered with fine sand XV feet deep, which arises in the forms of small hills about fifty paces wide. After climbing farther, we found other streams and inlets from the sea which come in by several mouths, and follow the ins and outs of the shoreline. Nearby we could see a stretch of country much higher than the sandy shore, with many beautiful fields and plains full of great forests, some sparse and some dense; and the trees have so many colors, and are so beautiful and delightful that they defy description. And do not think, Your Majesty, that these forests are like the Hyrcanian Forest or the wild wastelands of Scythia and the northern countries, full of common trees; they are adorned and clothed with palms, laurel, cypress, and other varieties of tree unknown in our Europe. And these trees emit a sweet fragrance over a large area [We smelled the fragrance a hundred leagues away, and even farther when they were burning the cedars and the winds were blowing from the land.] the nature of which we could not examine for the reason stated above, not because we found it difficult to get through the forests indeed, they are nowhere so dense as to be impenetrable. We think that they belong to the Orient by virtue of the surroundings, and that they are not without some kind of narcotic or aromatic liquor. There are other riches, like gold, which ground of such a color usually denotes. There is an abundance of animals, stags, deer, hares; and also of lakes and pools of running water with various types of bird, perfect for all the delights and pleasures of the hunt. This land lies at 34 degrees [like Carthage and Damascus]. The air is salubrious and pure, and free from the extremes of heat and cold; gentle winds blow in these regions, and the prevailing winds in summertime, which was beginning when we were there [in those regions], are northwest and westerly; the sky is clear and cloudless, with infrequent rain, and if occasionally the south winds bring in clouds and murkiness, they are dispelled in an instant, and the sky is once more clear and bright; the sea is calm and unruffled, its waves gentle. . . .
We left this place and continued to follow the coast, which we found veered to the east. All along it we saw great fires because of the numerous inhabitants; we anchored off the shore, since there was no harbor, and because we needed water we sent the small boat ashore with XXV men. The sea along the coast was churned up by enormous waves because of the open beach, and so it was impossible to put anyone ashore without endangering the boat. We saw many people on the beach making various friendly signs, and beckoning us ashore; and there I saw a magnificent deed, as Your Majesty will hear.
We sent one of our young sailors swimming ashore to take the people some trinkets, such as little bells, mirrors, and other trifles, and when he came within four fathoms of them, he threw them the goods and tried to turn back, but he was so tossed about by the waves that he was carried up onto the beach half dead. Seeing this, the native people immediately ran up; they took him by the head, the legs, and arms and carried him some distance away. Whereupon the youth, realizing he was being carried away like this, was seized with terror, and began to utter loud cries.
They answered him in their language to show him he should not be afraid. Then they placed him on the ground in the sun, at the foot of a small hill, and made gestures of great admiration, looking at the whiteness of his flesh and examining him from head to foot. They took off his shirt and shoes and hose, leaving him naked, then made a huge fire next to him, placing him near the heat. When the sailors in the boat saw this, they were filled with terror, as always when something new occurs, and thought the people wanted to roast him for food.
After remaining with them for a while, he regained his strength, and showed them by signs that he wanted to return to the ship. With the greatest kindness, they accompanied him to the sea, holding him close and embracing him; and then to reassure him, they withdrew to a high hill and stood watching him until he was in the boat. The youth learned the following about these people: they are dark in color like the other [tribes], their skin is very glossy, they are of medium height, their faces are more clear-cut, their body and other limbs much more delicate and much less powerful, but they are more quick-witted. He saw nothing else.
We left this place [We called it “Annunciata” from the day of arrival, and found there an isthmus one mile wide and about two hundred miles long, in which we could see the eastern sea from the ship, halfway between west 5 and north. This is doubtless the one which goes around the tip of India, China, and Cathay. We sailed along this isthmus, hoping all the time to find some strait to the end of or real promontory where the land might end toward the north, and we could reach those blessed shores of Cathay. This isthmus was named by the discoverer “Varazanio,” just as all the land we found was called “Francesca” after our Francis.] still following the coast which veered somewhat to the north, and after fifty leagues we reached another land which seemed much more beautiful and full of great forests.