« AnteriorContinuar »
DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.
IT is believed by many, that the ancients had some imperfect notion of a new world; and several ancient authors are quoted in confirmation of this opinion. In a book ascribed to the philofopher Aristotle, we are told that the Carthaginians discovered an island far beyond the pillars of Hercules, large, fertile, and finely watered with navigable rivers, but uninhabited. This island was distant a few days failing from the Continent; its beauty induced the discoverers to settle there; but the policy of Carthage dislodged the colony, and laid a striet prohibition on all the subjects of the state not to attempt any future establisbment. This account is also confirmed by an historian of no mean credit, who relates, that the Tyrians would have settled a colony on the new-discovered iland, but were oppofed by the Carthaginians for state reafons. Seneca, and other authors are also quoted in support of this belief. But however this may be, nobody ever believed the existence of this continent so firmly as to go in quest of it; at least, there are no accounts well supported that America received any part of its first inhabitants from Europe prior to the 15th century. The Welsh fondly imagine that their country contributed, in 1170, to people the New World, by the adventure of Madoc, son of Owen Gwynedd, who, on the death of his father, failed there, and colonized part of the country. All that is advanced in proof is, a quotation from one of the British Poets, which proves no more than that he had distinguished himself by sea and land. It is pretended that he made two voyages; that failing West, he left Ireland so far to the North, that he came to a land unknown, where he law many strange things; that he returned home, and, making a report of the fruitfulness of the new-discovered country, prevailed on numbers of the Wellh of each sex to accompany him on a second voyage, from which he never returned. The favourers of this opinion assert, that several Welsh words, such as gwrando, “ to hearken or listen;" the ille of Creæs, or “ welcome ;" Cape Breton, from the name of Britain , gwinndwr, or, “the white water;" and peng win, or, " the bird with
« a white
“ a white head;" are to be found in the American language. But likeness of sound in a few words will not be deemed sufficient to es. tablish the fact; especially if the meaning has been evidently perverted : for example, the whole penguin tribe have unfortunately not only black heads, but are not inhabitants of the Northern hemisphere; the name was also bestowed on them by the Dutch, a pinguedine, from their excessive fatness : but the inventor of this, thinking to do honour to his country, inconsiderately caught at a word of European origin, and unheard of in the New World. It may be added, that the Welsh were never a naval people; that the age in which Madoc lived was peculiarly ignorant in navigation; and the most which they could have attempted must have been a mere coasting voyage *.
The Norwegians put in for a share of the glory, on grounds rather better than the Welsh. By their settlements in Iceland and in Greenland, they had arrived within so small a distance of the New World, that there is at least a possibility of its having been touched at by a people fo versed in maritime affairs, and so adventurous, as the ancient Normans were. The proofs are much more numerous than those produced by the British Historians; for the discovery is mentioned in feveral of the Islandic manuscripts. The period was about the year 1002, when it was visited by one Biorn; and the discovery pursued to greater effect by Leif, the son of Eric, the discoverer of Greenland. It does not appear that they reached farther than Labrador ; on which coast they met with the Esquimaux, on whom they bestowed the name of Skrælingues, or dwarfish people, from their small ftature. They were armed witli bows and arrows, and had leathern canoes, such as they have at present. All this is probable; nor should the tale of the German, called Tuckil, one of the crew, invalidate the account. He was one day missing; but foon returned, leaping and singing with all the extravagant marks of joy a bon vivant could show, on discovering the inebriating fruit of his country, the grape: Torfæus even says, that he returned in a state of intoxication. To convince his commander, he brought several bunches, who from that circumstance named that country Vinland. It is not to be denied, that North America produces the true vine ; but it is found in far lower latitudes than our ad. venturers could reach in the time employed in their voyages, which was comprehended in a very small space. There appears no reason to doubt of the discovery; but as the land was never colonized, nor any advantages made of it, it may fairly be conjectured, that they reached no farther than the barren country of Labrador. In short, it is from a much later period that we must date the real discovery of America *.
* If the reader, however, wishes to examine this curious question fill fartber, he will meet with all that can be said upon the subject, in Williams's Enquiry into the truth of the tradition, concerning the Discovery of America by Prince Modog. 8vo.-See allo IML AY's Account of Kentuckey, page 377, 2d Edit.
Towards the close of the 14th century, the navigation of Europe was scarcely extended beyond the limits of the Mediterranean. The mariner's compass had been invented and in common use for more than a century; yet with the help of this sure guide, prompted by the most ardent spirit of discovery, and encouraged by the patronage of princes, the mariners of those days rarely ventured from the fight of land. They acquired great applause by failing along the coast of Africa and discovering fome of the neighbouring islands; and after pushing their researches with the greatest industry and perseverance for more than half a century, the Portuguese, who were the most fortunate and enterprising, extended their discoveries Southward no farther than the equator.
The rich commodities of the East, had for several ages been brought into Europe by the way of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean; and it had now become the object of the Portuguese to find a passage to India, by sailing round the Southern extremity of Africa and then taking an Eastern course. This great object engaged the general attention of mankind, and drew into the Portuguese service adventurers from every maritime nation in Europe. Every year added to their experience in navigation, and seemed to promise a reward to their industry. The prospect, however, of arriving at the Indies was extremely diftant; fifty years perseverance in the same track, had brought them only to the equator, and it was propable that as many more would elapse before they could accomplish their purpose, had not COLUMBUS, by an uncommon exertion of genius, formed a design no less astonishing to the age in which he lived, than beneficial to pofterity,
Among the foreigners whom the fame of the discoveries made by the Portuguese had allured into their service, was Christopher Colon or Columbus, a subject of the republic of Genoa, Neither the time not
* In the 2d Vol. of the Transactions of the Philosophical Society at Philadelphia, Mt. OTTO, in a Memoir on the Discovery of America, ftrenuously contends, that one BIHEM, a German, discovered the American Continent prior to its being discovered by Columbus. For the ingeniows arguments in support of this opinion, the reader is referred to the Memoir.
place place of his birth are known with certainty; but he was descended of an honourable family, though reduced to indigence by various misfortunes. His ancestors having betaken themselves for subsistence to a sca-faring life, Columbus discovered, in his early youth, the peculiar character and talents which mark out a man for that profession. His parents, instead of thwarting this original propensity of his mind, seem to have encouraged and confirmed it, by the education which they gave him. After acquiring some knowledge of the Latin tongue, the only language in which science was taught at that time, he was instructed in geometry, cosmography, astronomy, and the art of drawing. To these he applied with such ardour and predilection, on account of their conneçtion with navigation, his favourite object, that he advanced with rapid proficiency in the study of them. Thus qualified, in the year 1461, he went to sea at the age of fourteen, and began his career on that element which conducted him to so much glory. His early voyages were to those ports in the Mediterranean which his countrymen the Genpcse frequented. This being a sphere too narrow for his active mind, he made an excursion to the northern seas, in 1467, and visited the coasts of Iceland, to which the English and other nations had begun to resort on account of its fishery. As navigation, in every direction, was now become enterprising, he proceeded beyond that island, the Thule of the ancients, and advanced several degrees within the polar circle. Having fatisfied his curiosity by a voyage which tended more to enlarge his knowledge of naval affairs, than to improve his fortune, he entered into the service of a famous sea-captain, of his own name and family.' This man commanded a small squadron, fitted out at his own expence, and by cruising sometimes against the Mahometans, sometimes against the Venetians, the rivals of his country in trade, had acquired both wealth and reputation. With him Columbus continued for several years, no less distinguished for his courage, than for his experience as a failor. At length, in an obstinate engagement, off the coast of Portugal, with some Venetian Caravels, returning richly laden from the Low Countries, the vessel on board which he served took fire, together with one of the enemy's ships, to which it was fast grappled, In this dreadful extremity his intrepidity and presence of mind did not forsake him. He threw himself into the sea, laid hold of a floating oar, and by the support of it, and his dexterity in swimming, he reached the fhore, though above two leagues distant, and saved a life reserved for great undertakings.