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  • American Indians in Twelfth-Century Germany #2: The Portuguese September 20, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback


    First of all a huge thank to those who, two days ago, sent so many interesting emails about this problem. Thanks, particularly, to Wade, the Count, Borky, Kenton and Filip, I now have the original Portuguese, which was on pdf page 44 of the unnumbered book.  This throws up two interesting points, which were hidden in the translation and I’ve added a couple of other comments.

    No anno de 1353 em tempo do emperador Federico Barba roxa, diz q foy ter a Lubres cidade Dalemanha hua nao co certos Indios em hua canoa, qua sam nauios de remo parecense aos tones de Cochim: poré esta canoa deuia [?] de ser da costa da Florida bacalhaos & aquella terra, por estar na mesma altura Dalemanha: de queo os Tuderseos sicaram espantados do tal nauio & gente, por nam saberem donde eram, nem entenderem sua lingo agem, nem terem noticia daquella terra, como agora, porque bem os podia alileuar ho vento & agoa, como vemos que trazem as almadias de Quiloa, Moçambique, Sofala, a ilha de sancta Ielena que he hum ponto de terra, que estaa naquelle gram mar daquella costa & Cabo de boa esperança tam separada.

    This is my work-a-day fallible translation. Corrections welcome: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    In the year 1353 in the time of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, there came to Lubeck, the German city, certain Indians in a canoe, a rowing boat which resembled the boats of Kochi [in India]. But this canoe must have come from the cod coast of Florida and that land, which is on the same latitude. The Germans (Tuderseos) were amazed to see this ship and people, not knowing where they were from, nor understanding their language, for there was not news of that land [i.e. ‘Florida’] as there is now. The wind and the water could carry them from there, as we see that the tiny almadias [small log rafts] brought from Quiloa, Mozambique, Sofala to St Helens, a little point of land that stands in the great sea off the cape of Good Hope, separated thus far.

    Four comments here. First, 1353 is not in the reign of Frederick Barbarossa, 1152-1190. The simple explanation here is surely that there was a printing error and that 1353 replaced 1153. Given the direct reference to Frederick our source or his source certainly believed the reference was to the twelfth century.

    Second, Hakluyt skipped the reference to Kochi in India. The question that is most interesting here is whether António Galvão put this in, or whether his source did. Certainly, the reference sounds very Portuguese. Kochi was for the sixteenth and most of the seventeenth century a Portuguese possession on the west coast of India. However, Hakluyt got rid of it because the reference has to be explained away with a ‘but the boat must have come…’. A wild bit of speculation. Is it possible that Galvão’s source was a Spanish or Portuguese text dating to the period after the Portuguese familiarity with Kochi was established but before it was understood that the lands to the west were a separate continent? That would mean that our putative source was late fifteenth or very early sixteenth century, say 1492-1510. Perhaps this is too much? Note that Pomponius Mela also explained the curious foreigners washed up in Europe as Indians from India. If you don’t know about the intervening continent the error is an understandable one! Or is the reference simply comparative: i.e. there is no claim that the strange people were from India, but the Kochians have canoes.

    Third, this reference seems to have gone unnoticed by those who have looked at trans-Atlantic ‘Indians’. It is not, for example, in Forbes’ American Discovery of Europe.

    Fourth, Beach was just too polite to bring this up last time, but Lubeck is not a great candidate for cross Atlantic drifters given that it is on the wrong side of Denmark! The modern town was founded in 1143. Perhaps Lubeck was just a point of reference for Galvão, for which we should read Baltic or Northern Germany?

    Again a fascinating piece. Stuff like this makes life worth living.


    19 Sept 2013: Alan L writes ‘Lubeck being on the wrong side of Denmark: the Bishopric of Lübeck was a Roman Catholic and, later, Protestant diocese, as well as being a state of the Holy Roman Empire. As such, its territory was much broader than that of the city alone’ Checking this morning the bishopric was founded in the tenth century. Its territory seems to have been extremely irregular ove the centuries! Thanks to AL

    20 Sept 2013: Henry writes: ‘Of course, I cannot prove anything, nor could I tell if any ‘Indians’ were involved at all. Your bizzare little history about ‘Indians in Lubeck’, however, might deserve a bizarre comment: Could it be, for instance, that the ‘cod coast’ in the (lost) original source was in fact western Scandinavia, i.e. instead of ‘Florida’ ? Uninformed people like me have at least heard that dried cod seems to have been a commodity in northern Europe for almost a millenium, with Norway as its main exporter. The folk that we today know as ‘Vikings’ were, as long as they were not engaged in rape murder and pillage, farmers and first of all traders. From the perspective of ‘Emperador Federico’ (I and II), it could have made indeed sense to make a place like Lubeck the center of what later on would become the hanseatic league: If you cannot beat them, start trading with them. To make it short, if ‘Eskimos’ ended up as ‘Indians’ in Lubeck, they could probably have been picked up in Norway or just anywhere in the North Atlantic. LTM writes: Coincidence?  Passamaquoddy and Micmac Indians were the tribes here. Lubec is a town in Washington County, Maine, United States. The population was 1,359 at the 2010 census. Lubec is the easternmost town in the contiguous United States. Located on a peninsula overlooking an excellent ice-free harbor, the town was first settled about 1775. Originally part of Eastport, it was set off and incorporated on June 21, 1811, and named for Lübeck, Germany. At this time there were 20 smokehouses in Lubec producing 50 to 60 thousand boxes of fish annually, bringing employment and prosperity to the town. In 1797, Daniel Ramsdell cured the first herring by smoke, a process of preserving fish he had learned in Nova Scotia. Lubec would become the national leader in smoked herring production. Smokehouses and the many brush weirs that supplied herring lined the shore. Weir construction also brought a measure of prosperity to area farmers who cut the necessary stakes and brush needed to build and refurbish the herring traps. So great was the demand for the large herring preferred by the smokehouses that Lubec began sending vessels to the Magdelen Islands in the quest for fish. The 1855 Maine Register reported: “During the 1850s it was said that the smoked herring business employed every male resident over the age of 10 in the Washington County town of Lubec.”    Thanks Henry and LTM!