The first refugees, 1685

An ingenious deception at sea

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We did the best we could, one finding shelter here, another there, and we experienced much greater humanity from the fishermen’s wives than from the rich people; and in the cottages of the former we spent the next four or five days…

In the world of British genealogy, there’s a certain cachet in claiming Huguenot roots (I have an unproven claim to them myself, as it happens) – we think of them as industrious craftspeople, who had overcome persecution and soon became part of the fabric of London and many of our regional cities. But that persecution is easily overlooked in this romantic vision.

I’m not going to go into great detail about the background, but the Huguenots of course were French Protestants, and by the late 16th century accounted for as much as 10% of the country’s population. After the horrors of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, which saw thousands of them killed, the peace-keeping Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes of 1598 granted them considerable rights in this firmly Catholic nation. But a century later, the tide had turned again, and the autocratic Louis XIV revoked the law in the Edict of Fontainebleau of October 1685. Now, suddenly, violent persecution ruled, and hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled, many to England (and thence Ireland or America) or the Protestant countries of northern Europe. It would be a whole century again before their descendants could return to France.

These were the people who first gave us the word ‘refugee’, from the French refugié. (History of course has seen many waves of refugees of one kind or another before and since, and boats crammed with desperate, persecuted people sadly still arrive frequently via France more than 300 years after the Huguenots came in significant numbers.)

Over the next few issues of Histories, I’m going to explore some first-hand accounts of the Huguenots who came to Britain and Ireland, as well as looking at the variety of reception they received. This week, please meet Jaques de la Fontaine (1658–1728), later known as the Rev James Fontaine.

He was born in Royan in south-west France into a land-owning family, studied at college and trained as a Protestant minister. When Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, such ministers had only 15 days to recant or flee, or face death. Jaques fled with his sister Elizabeth, his fiancée Anne (more about her next week) and his niece Janette. Within a couple of years in England he had established a cloth-weaving business, and later moved to Ireland – again, there’s more to tell next time.

In 1722, James wrote a memoir of his life before and after exile. It was first translated and published by Ann Maury, daughter of a US diplomat and descended from a family related to the Fontaines, in 1838 as Memoirs of a French Refugee Family.1 Here, then, is Jaques’ nail-biting account of how his family fled France under the noses of their persecutors, which brings to mind the plight of Jewish families fleeing Germany in the late 1930s.

In the month of October, 1685, the Edict of Nantes was actually revoked. Of course there was no choice left, flight was the only alternative, and I went to Marennes to make preparations in good earnest, and was fortunate in finding an English Captain with whom I was able to make a bargain. He agreed to take me, and four or five persons in addition, at the rate of ten pistoles each, and we were to assemble at Tremblade for embarkation… I mentioned our project to some few persons who I thought would gladly have availed themselves of it, but their fear was stronger than their hope, and they dared not venture to encounter so many dangers, the Coast being carefully guarded both by sea and land to prevent emigration. We lodged at the house of a drunkard in Tremblade, who being able to speak the English language was to be our pilot…

We set off in the night and had two horses to carry our little baggage. In the course of the following day upwards of fifty persons assembled on the sands hoping to embark with us; and most of them being very young, they had not taken due precaution to conceal their intention, and it had reached the ears of the Papists, who very promptly obtained an order from the Custom House, to prevent the vessel sailing. We waited anxiously all day…

At night horses were sent down for us to return to Tremblade, and fifteen or twenty of our number were taken in by a citizen who had changed his religion. He was in a dreadful fright, for there was a fine of 1,000 crowns for harbouring a Protestant; and the houses of suspected persons were liable to be searched at any moment. After concealing us the whole day, his fear got the better of his humanity, and towards night he turned us out of his house; saying, “I have damned my own soul to save my property, and I am not going to run the risk of losing it to save your souls. You must do as I have done or take your chance elsewhere.” …

We had not left his house more than half an hour before a magistrate and some soldiers went to it, and examined every part most carefully in search of secreted Protestants. We did the best we could, one finding shelter here, another there, and we experienced much greater humanity from the fishermen’s wives than from the rich people; and in the cottages of the former we spent the next four or five days.

The Captain came to us again to say that he would sail most certainly on the following day; that he would pass between the Islands of Re and Oleron, and if we were disposed to venture out to sea in small boats, he would take us on board after he had got rid of all visitors, Custom House officers, &c. and that he could not assist us in any other way. That very evening the 30th. Nov., 1685, we embarked in a little shallop as soon as it was dusk… We had instructed our boatmen that if we were pursued they were immediately to run the boat ashore, abandon her, and then ‘sauve qui petit.’ …

We had agreed with the English Captain that when we saw him, we should make ourselves known by hoisting a sail and letting it fall three times, and he was to answer our signal by lowering his mizzensail three times. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon we first espied the vessel; she had the official visitors and pilot still on board. On reaching the extreme point of the Isle of Oleron we saw her cast anchor, put out the visitors and pilot, take her boat on board, get under weigh, and sail towards us. We now felt a confidence that we had surmounted every difficulty, and expected in a very few minutes to be under full sail for England. Our joy was of short duration, a King’s Frigate came in sight, and gradually approached us; she was one of those vessels constantly employed on the Coast to prevent Protestants leaving the Kingdom, and all who were found were seized, and the men sent to the galleys, the women to convents. No language can describe our consternation at this sudden change in our prospects; a moment before the cup of joy, was at our lips, and now dashed to the ground. We were at the distance of a cannon shot from the Frigate, and what must she think of us; a little bit of a boat at anchor in a place which did not afford safe anchorage even for large shipping. She cast anchor, ordered the English vessel to do the like, boarded her, and searched every nook and corner without finding any French Protestants except a Minister and his family, whose departure was authorised by law. What a blessing that we were not on board at this time! Had the Frigate been only one hour later in appearing we should all have been lost. After the search, the Englishman was ordered to sail immediately, the wind was favourable, and he could make no excuse, and we had the misery of seeing him leave us behind.

Our situation was dreadful, we were in perfect despair, and knew not what to do. To remain where we were would infallibly excite suspicion, and the Frigate would send to overhaul us. If we attempted to return to Tremblade, the chances were a hundred to one against our succeeding, and to add to our dismay our poor boatmen and his son (our whole crew) wept aloud, deploring their misery, for they having already abjured, knew well that nothing short of a halter awaited them if detected in the act of aiding Protestants to make their escape…

All at once I thought of a feint which, thank God, proved successful and effected our deliverance. Having considered that the wind was fair to Rochelle, and contrary to Tremblade, I said to the boatmen:

“Cover us all up in the bottom of the boat with an old sail, then hoist your sail, and go right towards the Frigate, pretending to endeavour to gain Tremblade; and if they should hail you from the Frigate, you must say you are from Rochelle, and going to Tremblade; if they ask what you have on board; say, nothing but ballast; and it would be well that you and your son should counterfeit drunkenness, tumbling about in the boat, and then you can, as if by accident, let the sail fall three times, and so inform the English Captain who we are.”

He determined to abide by my counsel, and after covering us up, he actually sailed within pistol shot of the Frigate.

As I expected, she hailed him, and asked whence he came, whither he was going, and what he had on board. To all which he replied as I had instructed him…

From the Frigate they entreated our boatman not to think of making for Tremblade, that night was approaching and he would inevitably be lost, but recommended him to return to Rochelle with the fair wind. This was exactly the advice we wished to receive. Our course was altered, the boat was put before the wind, and we bade them adieu very cordially. In the mean time, the English vessel had answered our signal and was getting fairly out to sea, we dared not follow her because the Frigate remained at anchor; but about twilight the boatman said we must make the attempt before night, or we should be swallowed up by the waves… A few minutes put an end to our anxiety, for we saw the Frigate steering towards Rochfort; so we again changed our course, the English vessel slackened her rate; we overtook her, and were taken on board before the Frigate was out of sight. A day never to be forgotten by us, who effected our escape from enemies, who had not only power to kill the body but have destroyed an infinite number of souls also…

We had contrary winds, and were eleven days on the voyage; we suffered somewhat from a shortness of provisions, especially water, but we dared not put into any French port for a supply.

We landed on the 1st. December, 1685,2 (English or old style) at Appledore, a small town in the Bristol Channel, below the river Taw which goes up to Barnstaple. After paying for our passage, I had only twenty gold pistoles left, but God had not conducted us in safety to a haven there to leave us to perish with hunger; the good people of Barnstaple had compassion upon us, took us into their houses, and treated us with the greatest kindness; thus God raised up for us fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, in a strange land.

(Next week, life in England.)


The text is widely available online, including here. It is known to focus on showcasing Jaques’ piety at the expense of faithfulness to his original. You can see images of his handwritten memoir here and a more modern translation was published in 1997 by the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland.


The date here is only one day after that of departure to account for his switching from the Gregorian calendar in France to the Julian in England, still in use there until 1752.

How to catch a moose, 1663

… but avoid the Squnck!

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The poor Creature groans, and walks on heavily, for a space, then sinks and falls down like a ruined building, making the Earth to quake…

Over the last two weeks, we’ve followed the 17th century English traveller John Josselyn (c.1608–c.1700?), on the first of his voyages (in 1638) to North America, where he met some interesting wildlife and heard some tall tales. If you’ll indulge me one last time, this week I’m going to present a dramatic scene from his second trip.

This journey, recorded in his 1674 collection Two Voyages to New-England, took place more than 20 years after the first, in 1663, and this time he stayed for several years, again to be with his older brother Henry, a colonial agent. Although I’ve enjoyed teasing him for his credulity, John was a very observant visitor, and recorded great swathes of detail about the flora and fauna of the youthful United States, and its people. Indeed, the Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine was founded in 1895 in his honour and was still going in the 1990s. Henry David Thoreau was also a fan, and wrote in his own journal of 1855:

What a strong and healthy, but reckless, hit-or-miss style had some of those early writers of New England, like Josselyn and Wood1 and others elsewhere in those days; as if they spoke with a relish, smacking their lips like a coach-whip, caring more to speak heartily than scientifically true. They are not to be caught napping by wonders of Nature in a new country…

We know little of John’s life in England, but the intervening years between his voyages encompassed both the inescapable upheaval of the English Civil War and the subsequent Restoration of the monarchy. Henry’s life across the Pond had seen its fair share of turmoil, too: now chief justice of Maine, he became involved in various local political and legal battles, as well as losing his estates to a Puritan businessman. John himself was no fan of the Puritans – he occasionally rails against their hypocrisy, and on three occasions during this extended stay in Maine, he was fined for failing to attend church. He appears to have been keen to curry favour with the Crown, and drops a hint that he received royal patronage when he returned to his homeland.

His account of this second visit is much more extensive than the first. Around 10% is devoted to detailing the plants he found in New England, and another quarter to the animals of land and sea. Here’s one of my favourite passages:

The Squnck is almost as big as a Racoon, perfect black and white or pye-bald, with bush-tail like a Fox, an offensive Carion; the Urine of this Creature is of so strong a scent, that if it light upon any thing, there is no abiding of it, it will make a man smell… and so sharp if he do but whisk his bush which he pisseth upon in the face of a dogg hunting of him, and that any of it light in his eyes it will make him almost mad with the smart thereof.

With typical colonial arrogance, he then proceeds to describe the Native Americans in the same appraising fashion, although he does provide a fascinating amount of detail about their homes, diet and culture, before his book continues with a gazetteer of North American settlements.

This week, then, here’s Josselyn’s visitor’s view of an Indian moose hunt, told in his usual breathless style (I’ve added a few paragraph breaks to aid reading)…

Their exercises are hunting and fishing, in both they will take abundance of pains. When the snow will bear them, the young and lustie Indians, (leaving their papouses and old people at home) go forth to hunt Moose, Deere, Bear and Beaver, Thirty or forty miles up into the Countrey.

When they light upon a Moose they run him down, which is sometimes in half a day, sometimes a whole day, but never give him over till they have tyred him, the snow being usually four foot deep, and the Beast very heavie he sinks every step, and as he runs sometimes bears down Arms of Trees that hang in his way, with his horns, as big as a mans thigh; other whiles, if any of their dogs (which are but small) come near, jerking out his heels (for he strikes like a horse) if a small Tree be in the way he breaks it quite asunder with one stroak, at last they get up to him on each side and transpierce him with their Lances, which formerly were no other but a staff of a yard and half pointed with a Fishes bone made sharp at the end, but since they put on pieces of sword-blades which they purchase of the French, and having a strap of leather fastned to the but end of the staff which they bring down to the midst of it, they dart it into his sides…

The poor Creature groans, and walks on heavily, for a space, then sinks and falls down like a ruined building, making the Earth to quake; then presently in come the Victors, who having cut the throat of the slain take off his skin, their young webbs by this time are walking towards them with heavie bags and kettles at their backs, who laying down their burdens fall to work upon the Carkass, take out the heart, and from that the bone, cut off the left foot behind, draw out the sinews, and cut out his tongue &c. and as much of the Venison as will serve to satiate the hungry mawes of the Company.

Mean while the men pitch upon a place near some spring, and with their snow shoos shovel the snow away to the bare Earth in a circle, making round about a wall of snow; in the midst they make their Vulcan or fire near to a great Tree, upon the snags whereof they hang their kettes fil'd with the Venison; whilst that boils, the men after they have refresht themselves with a pipe of Tobacco dispose themselves to sleep. The women tend the Cookerie, some of them scrape the slime and fat from the skin, cleanse the sinews, and stretch them and the like, when the venison is boiled the men awake, and opening of their bags take out as much Indian meal as will serve their turns for the present.

They eat their broth with spoons, and their flesh they divide into gobbets, eating now and then with it as much meal as they can hold betwixt three fingers, their drink they fetch from the spring, and were not acquainted with other, untill the French and English traded with that cursed liquor called Rum, Rum-bullion, or kill-Devil, which is stronger than spirit of Wine, and is drawn from the dross of Sugar and Sugar Canes, this they love dearly, and will part with all they have to their bare skins for it, being perpetually drunk with it, as long as it is to be had, it hath killed many of them, especially old women who have dyed when dead drunk. This instead of bringing of them to the knowledge of Christianitie, we have taught them to commit the beastly and crying sins of our Nation, for a little profit.

When the Indians have stuft their paunches, if it be fair weather and about midday they venture forth again, but if it be foul and far spent, they betake themselves to their field-bed at the sign of the Star, expecting the opening of the Eastern window, which if it promise serenity, they truss up their fardles, and away for another Moose, this course they continue for six weeks or two moneths, making their Webbs their Mules to carry their luggage, they do not trouble themselves with the horns of Moose or other Deer, unless it be near an English plantation; because they are weighty & cumbersome…

When the Indians are gone, there gathers to the Carkass of the Moose thousands of Mattrises,2 of which there are but few or none near the Sea-coasts to be seen, these devour the remainder in a quarter of the time that they were hunting of it.

Josselyn concludes his book with a short account of his return to Britain in 1671: “The year being now well spent, and the Government of the province turned topsiturvy, being heartily weary and expecting the approach of winter, I took my leave…” And there we shall do the same.


This is William Wood, antiquarian and naturalist – see here, for example.


While it is tempting for Douglas Adams fans to imagine these as the mattresses of Squornshellous Zeta, historians believe Josselyn is referring to wolverines!

Strange beasts of New England, 1638-9

Don't touch the pineapple!

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Many other stories they told me, the credit whereof I will neither impeach nor inforce, but shall satisfie my self, and I hope the Reader hereof, with the saying of a wise, learned and honourable Knight, that there are many stranger things in the world, than are to be seen between London and Staines…

Are the first-hand accounts from the past which have come down to us ‘reliable’? Well, is anything anyone says reliable, I suppose? We know that diarists often convey their prejudices and opinions, and that all of us write of our encounters in life mediated through the lenses of personality and wider culture. Any historical account has to be considered on these terms, but some present more challenges than others, especially when the writer might be considered… a trifle gullible.

Last week we met the traveller John Josselyn (c.1608-c.1700?), on his way from Olde England to New England to visit his brother Henry in Maine. John was described by one editor as “a writer of almost incredible credulity” for his descriptions of mermen, sea monsters and lions in North America – yet his detailed descriptions of that continent’s flora and fauna have contributed significantly to natural history and the science of his era. It is sometimes hard to tease out the fact from the fiction in his writing, partly because they are presented equally neutrally and because he doesn’t seem to question what he is told by others. But as another editor, Paul J. Lindholdt, has written: “Above all, he is just plain fun to read.”1

We rejoin John this week as he steps out across this New World, only 18 years after the Mayflower sailed. His journal entries are more sporadic after his 11-week voyage, but here are some highlights, focusing mainly on encounters with local wildlife.

About the Tenth of August, I hapned to walk into the Woods, not far from the Sea-side, and falling upon a piece of ground over-grown with bushes, called there black Currence [i.e. blackcurrants], but differing from our Garden Currence, they being ripe and hanging in lovely bunches; I set up my piece [i.e. his gun] against a stately Oake, with a resolution to fill my belly, being near half a mile from the house; of a sudden I heard a hollow thumping noise upon the Rocks approaching towards me, which made me presently to recover my piece, which I had no sooner cock’d, than a great and grim over-grown she-Wolf appears, at whom I shot, and finding her belly stuft with flesh newly taken in, I began presently to suspect that she had fallen foul upon our Goats, which were then valued (our she Goats) at Five pound a Goat; Therefore to make further discovery, I descended (it being low water) upon the Sea sands, with an intent to walk round about a neck of land where the Goats usually kept. I had not gone far before I found the footing of two Wolves, and one Goat betwixt them, whom they had driven into a hollow, betwixt two Rocks, hither I followed their footing, and perceiving by the Crowes, that there was the place of slaughter, I hung my piece upon my back, and upon all four clambered up to the top of the Rock, where I made ready my piece and shot at the dog Wolf, who was feeding upon the remainder of the Goat, which was only the fore shoulders, head and horns, the rest being devoured by the she-Wolf, even to the very hair of the Goat: and it is very observable, that when the Wolves have kill’d a Beast, or a Hog, not a Dog-Wolf amongst them offers to eat any of it, till the she-Wolves have fill’d their paunches.

The Twenty fourth of September, being Munday about 4 of the clock in the afternoon, a fearful storm of wind began to rage, called a Hurricane. It is an impetuous wind that goes commonly about the Compass in the space of 24 hours, it began from the W. N. W. and continued till next morning, the greatest mischief it did us, was the wracking of our Shallop [= sloop], and the blowing down of many tall Trees, in some places a mile together…

1639. May, which fell out to be extream hot and foggie, about the middle of May I kill’d within a stones throw of our house, above four score Snakes, some of them as big as the small of my leg, black of colour, and three yards long, with a sharp horn on the tip of their tail two inches in length.

June the Six and twentieth day, very stormie, Lightning and Thunder. I heard now two of the greatest and fearfullest thunder-claps that ever were heard, I am confident. At this time we had some neighbouring Gentlemen in our house, who came to welcome me into the Countrey; where amongst variety of discourse they told me of a young Lyon (not long before) kill’d at Piscataway by an Indian, of a Sea-Serpent or Snake, that lay quoiled up like a Cable upon a Rock at Cape-Ann: a Boat passing by with English aboard, and two Indians, they would have shot the Serpent, but the Indians disswaded them, saying, that if he were not kill’d out-right, they would be all in danger of their lives.

One Mr. Mittin related of a Triton or Mereman which he saw in Cascebay, the Gentleman was a great Fouler, and used to goe out with a small Boat or Canow, and fetching a compass about a small Island, (there being many small Islands in the Bay) for the advantage of a shot, was encountred with a Triton, who laying his hands upon the side of the Canow, had one of them chopt off with a Hatchet by Mr. Mittin, which was in all respects like the hand of a man, the Triton presently sunk, dying the water with his purple blood, and was no more seen.

[Another story of ghostly figures dancing on the sand is told by a Mr Foxwell, and John, perhaps a little self-conscious at recounting these tales, comments…]

… these with many other stories they told me, the credit whereof I will neither impeach nor inforce, but shall satisfie my self, and I hope the Reader hereof, with the saying of a wise, learned and honourable Knight, that there are many stranger things in the world, than are to be seen between London and Stanes. [i.e. Staines, about 20 miles from London]

[Another entry refers to a Maine farmer whose fat sow was killed, only for it to be discovered she had 25 piglets in her, and this prompts a story from Virginia of a sow giving birth to six offspring which were half lion, half pig!]

The Seven and twentieth day [of September] being Fryday, we Anchored in the afternoon in the Massachusets-bay… I went ashore to Boston, where I refreshed my self at an Ordinary [inn]. Next morning… I met with Captain Jackson2 and others, walking on the back side we spied a rattle Snake a yard and half long, and as thick in the middle as the small of a mans leg, on the belly yellow, her back spotted with black, russet, yellow and green, placed like scales, at her tail she had a rattle which is nothing but a hollow shelly bussiness joynted, look how many years old she is, so many rattles she hath in her tail, her neck seemed to be no bigger than ones Thumb; yet she swallowed a live Chicken, as big as one they give 4 pence for in England, presently as we were looking on. In the afternoon I returned to our Ship, being no sooner aboard but we had the sight of an Indian-Pinnace sailing by us made of Birch-bark, scwed together with the roots of spruse and white Cedar (drawn out into threads) with a deck, and trimmed with sails top and top gallant very sumptuously.

[The ‘monster’ John then refers to was born to Mary Dyer, a Quaker later executed (one of the Boston Martyrs). Her severely deformed stillborn child of 11th October 1637 was documented by other sources at the time – although, of course, the descriptions were typically embellished, especially by Mary’s Puritan detractors.]

The Thirtieth day of September, I went ashore upon Noddles-Island [where he had originally landed, now East Boston], where when I was come to Mr. Mavericks he would not let me go aboard no more, until the Ship was ready to set sail; the next day a grave and sober person described the Monster to me, that was born at Boston of one Mrs. Dyer a great Sectarie, the Nine and twentieth of June, it was (it should seem) without a head, but having horns like a Beast, and ears, scales on a rough skin like a fish called a Thornback, legs and claws like a Hawke, and in other respects as a Woman-child.

[John returned to Britain in mid-October, and I’ll finish with one last amusing little vignette, again an encounter with local wildlife, from his days in New England.]

The Second of October… In the afternoon I walked into the Woods on the back side of the house, and happening into a fine broad walk (which was a sledg-way) I wandered till I chanc’t to spye a fruit as I thought like a pine Apple plated with scales, it was as big as the crown of a Womans hat; I made bold to step unto it, with an intent to have gathered it, no sooner had I toucht it, but hundreds of Wasps were about me; at last I cleared my self from them, being stung only by one upon the upper lip, glad I was that I scaped so well; But by that time I was come into the house my lip was swell’d so extreamly, that they hardly knew me but by my Garments.

When John Josselyn begins his account of his second voyage to New England, almost 25 years after the first, he seems self-conscious again and stung by apparent criticism over the ‘wonders’ he has described hitherto. “It would be difficult to please all,” he notes, “for all mens eyes, ears, faith, judgement, are not of a size. There be a sort of stagnant stinking spirits, who, like flyes, lye sucking at the botches of carnal pleasures… will desperately censure the relations of the greatest Travellers. It was a good proviso of a learned man, never to report wonders, for in so doing, of the greatest he will be sure not to be believed, but laughed at…”

As I’ve said so many times before, you’ll have to make up your own mind.


From the introduction to his 1988 edition, John Josselyn, Colonial Traveler: A Critical Edition of Two Voyages to New-England (University Press of New England)


This is the notable pirate William Jackson.

Islands of ice, 1638

Adventures in the Atlantic

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The wind took us a stayes with a gust, rain, thunder and lightning, and now a Servant of one of the passengers sickned of the small pox…

This week’s Histories is really just a scene-setter for the next couple of weeks, as I explore the intriguing writings of a 17th century traveller. This week we’re following him as he sets out – I’ll be coming back to some of his more peculiar adventures and discoveries.

Enter John Josselyn (c.1608–c.1700?). We know little of Josselyn’s life. He appears to have been born in Essex around 1608, his father being Sir Thomas Josselyn, who managed his estates badly and was serially impecunious. John’s range of reference in his writings suggests he was well educated, and trained as a physician. He was particularly versed in botany.

John’s elder brother Henry (1606–1683 – he spelled his surname Jocelyn) was at Cambridge University in 1623 and in 1631 became an agent for the Council of New England, a business focused on colonisation created by Sir Ferdinando Gorges (who never went to New England himself, despite being declared its ‘Lord Governor’ by Charles I in 1635). Henry travelled across the Atlantic and settled in what is now Scarborough, Maine.

John and his elderly father set sail to visit Henry in 1638. It was an eventful voyage, as we’ll see shortly, plagued by disease and storms. They stayed for around 15 months before returning to Britain. But 24 years later (in 1663), John returned to New England, and spent several years there. In 1671 he published an account of the region’s flora and fauna called New England’s Rarities, and its positive reception prompted him to publish An Account of Two Voyages to New-England in 1674.1 This week, I’m dipping into his shorter first voyage, the account being taken from his own journal of the trip. This part of his narrative is generally quite terse, but has some enjoyable details, and certainly gives a flavour of the dangers of long sea voyages.

ANNO Dom. 1638. April the 26th being Thursday, I came to Gravesend and went aboard the New Supply, alias, the Nicholas of London, a Ship of good force, of 300 Tuns burden, carrying 20 Sacre and Minion [small cannons], man’d with 48 Sailers, the Master Robert Taylor, the Merchant or undertaker Mr. Edward Tinge, with 164 Passengers men, women and children.

At Gravesend I began my Journal, from whence we departed on the 26. of April, about Six of the clock at night, and went down into the Hope.

The 27. being Fryday, we set sail out of the Hope…

The 28. we twined into the Downs… Here we had good store of Flounders from the Fishermen, new taken out of the Sea and living, which being readily gutted, were fry’d while they were warm; me thoughts I never tasted of a delicater Fish in all my life before.

The Third of May being Ascension day, in the afternoon… we past Sandwich in the Hope, Sandown-Castle, Deal, So we steered away for Doniesse [i.e. Dungeness in Kent], from thence we steered S. W. ½ S. for the Beachie [Head], about one of the clock at night the wind took us a stayes with a gust, rain, thunder and lightning, and now a Servant of one of the passengers sickned of the small pox.

The Fifth day… we were becalmed from 7 of the clock in the morning, till 12 of the clock at noon, where we took good store of Whitings, and half a score Gurnets, this afternoon an infinite number of Porpisces shewed themselves above water round about the Ship, as far as we could kenn, the night proved tempestuous with much lightning and thunder…

The Eighth day, one Boremans man a passenger was duck’d at the main yards arm (for being drunk with his Masters strong waters which he stole) thrice… Two mighty Whales we now saw, the one spouted water through two great holes in her head into the Air a great height, and making a great noise with pussing and blowing…; the other was further off, about a league from the Ship, fighting with the Sword-fish, and the Flailfish [probably a ray], whose stroakes with a fin that growes upon her back like a flail, upon the back of the Whale, we heard with amazement: when presently some more than half as far again we spied a spout from above, it came pouring down like a River of water… In the afternoon the Mariners struck a Porpisce, called also a Marsovius or Sea-hogg, with an harping Iron, and hoisted her aboard, they cut some of it into thin pieces, and fryed, it tasts like rusty Bacon, or hung Beef, if not worse; but the Liver boiled and soused sometime in Vinegar is more grateful to the pallat. About 8 of the clock at night, a flame settled upon the main mast, it was about the bigness of a great Candle, and is called by our Seamen St. Elmes fire, it comes before a storm, and is commonly thought to be a Spirit…

The Ninth day, about two of the clock in the afternoon, we found the head of our main mast close to the cap twisted and shivered, and we presently after found the foretop-mast crackt a little above the cap… and about two of the clock in the morning 7 new long Boat oars brake away from our Star-board quarter with a horrid crack.

The Twelfth day being Whitsunday… the partie that was sick of the small pox now dyed, whom we buried in the Sea, tying a bullet (as the manner is) to his neck, and another to his leggs, turned him out at a Port-hole, giving fire to a great Gun. In the afternoon one Martin Ivy a stripling, servant to Captain Thomas Cammock was whipt naked at the Cap-stern, with a Cat with Nine tails, for filching 9 great Lemmons out of the Chirurgeons Cabbin, which he eat rinds and all in less than an hours time.…

The Thirteenth day we took a Sharke, a great one, and hoisted him aboard with his two Companions (for there is never a Sharke, but hath a mate or two) that is the Pilot fish or Pilgrim, which lay upon his back close to a long finn; the other fish (some what bigger than the Pilot) about two foot long, called a Remora, it hath no scales and sticks close for the Sharkes belly… The Seamen divided the Sharke into quarters, and made more quarter about it than the Purser, when he makes five quarters of an Oxe, and after they had cooked him, he proved very rough Grain’d, not worthy of wholesome preferment; but in the afternoon we took store of Bonitoes, or Spanish Dolphins, a fish about the size of a large Mackarel, beautified with admirable varietie of glittering colours in the water, and was excellent food.

The Fourteenth day we spake with a Plimouth man (about dinner time) bound for New-found-land, who having gone up west-ward sprang a leak, and now bore back for Plimouth. Now was Silly [i.e. the Isles of Scilly] 50 leagues off, and now many of the passengers fall sick of the small Pox and Calenture [fever]

[A month passes as they finally leave British waters and head towards Newfoundland; on the way, there are more deaths from smallpox and consumption (tuberculosis).]

The Fourteenth day of June, very foggie weather, we sailed by an Island of Ice (which lay on the Star-board side) three leagues in length mountain high, in form of land, with Bayes and Capes like high clift land, and a River pouring off it into the Sea. We saw likewise two or three Foxes, or Devils skipping upon it. These Islands of Ice are congealed in the North, and brought down in the spring-time with the Current to the banks on this side New-found-land, and there stopt, where they dissolve at last to water; by that time we had sailed half way by it, we met with a French Pickeroon [pirate ship]. Here it was as cold as in the middle of January in England, and so continued till we were some leagues beyond it.

The Nine and twentieth day, sounded at night, and found 120 fathome water, the head of the Ship struck against a rock; At 4 of the clock we descryed two sail bound for New-found-land, and so for the Streights, they told us of a general Earth-quake in New-England, of the Birth of a Monster at Boston, in the Massachusets-Bay a mortality, and now we are two leagues off Cape Ann…

John set foot on land at ‘Noddles Island’ (now part of East Boston) on 10th July. Before recounting some of his American adventures, he devotes several pages to describing the provisions one needs for a sea voyage and their costs. He describes the standard provisions as “Beef or Porke, Fish, Butter, Cheese, Pease, Pottage, Water-gruel, Bisket, and six shilling Beer” and even details clothing and medicinal herbs. Having got his land legs back, John went to Boston, where he met the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. Next week, strange encounters on land…


The Internet Archive has a scan of the first edition here, and there have been various transcriptions, the first in 1833.

A pair of queens, 1865

A friendship at royal level

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She was dressed in just the same widow’s weeds as I wear. I took her into the White Drawingroom, where I asked her to sit down next to me on the sofa…

In last week’s Histories we met Queen Emma of Hawaii (1836–1885), whose journals and letters recorded a ‘grand tour’ around Europe and America in 1865–66, after the death of her husband Kamehameha IV. I focused on her impressions of France. One reason she headed towards the Mediterranean was a nasty case of bronchitis picked up in her stay in London – there she had lived in Kensington for a few months, and then in Claridge’s hotel, which had already welcomed a royal guest five years earlier in the form of Empress Eugénie of France, wife of Napoleon III.

Emma’s London sojourn enabled her to cement a friendship – with none other than Queen Victoria herself. Victoria was 17 years older and had had nine children by the time Emma’s only son died in 1862. He had been Victoria’s godson, and the loss brought the two queens together in spirit if not in person yet – and in that year they began what was to become a 20-year correspondence.

In Emma’s first letter to Victoria, on 10th September 1862, she wrote: “With that depth of feeling which is fully known to the heart of none but a mother, I pray Your Majesty to accept my thanks for Your Royal benevolence towards me and mine”.1 Victoria’s reply didn’t come until February 1863, but was certainly personal:

As a Mother you will understand how fully I am able to appreciate the depth of your grief, at the sad loss which so soon succeeded to the Holy Ceremony. As a wife I can sincerely hope that you may be spared the heavier blow which has plunged me into life long sorrow,—but which makes my heart tenderly alive to all the sorrows of others.

By the time of Emma’s visit to London, both women were widowed, emphasising a common bond. Emma, of course, had received a very English upbringing in the Rooke household, but one also very much in the context of her Hawaiian roots, so the queens had certainly had different experiences too.

The two queens finally met in person on 9th September 1865, and we have a record of each of their impressions. (For another of Victoria’s notable encounters, see the previous Histories article about her meeting with Buffalo Bill.)

[On 9th September, Victoria wrote in her journal…]

After luncheon I received Queen Emma, the widowed Queen of the Sandwich Islands of Hawaii. Met her in the Corridor & nothing could be nicer or more dignified than her manner. She is dark, but not more so than an Indian, with fine features & splendid soft eyes. She was dressed in just the same widow’s weeds as I wear. I took her into the White Drawingroom, where I asked her to sit down next to me on the sofa. She was much moved when I spoke of her great misfortune in losing her husband and only child. She was very discreet and would only remain a few minutes. She presented her lady, whose husband is her Chaplain, both being Hawaiians…

[Emma didn’t record the meeting in her diary, but she did write this in a letter to King Kamehameha V, her late husband’s brother and successor…]

I have this moment returned from Windsor Castle where the Queen received me most affectionately, most sisterly.

[A few weeks later, Victoria invited Emma to spend a night at Windsor Castle. Again, Victoria gives us the details…]

November 27. Went with Vicky & Fritz [Victoria’s eldest daughter and her husband, the Crown Prince of Prussia] to see Queen Emma, who has come for the night. She is not looking well, & coughs poor thing, for which reason she is ordered to go to the south of France, to Hyeres… The Queen sat between Vicky and me. She was amiable, clever, & nice in all she said, speaking of her own country, which she said had originally been very mountainous. There were no animals, but small dogs and pigs, and these only since they had been imported and introduced in the time of Van Couvers [sic]—the same with flowers. The people were now always dressed like Europeans & were all nominally Christians, but not very fervently so. . . . Took the Queen to her room remaining a little with her.

November 28. …Directly after breakfast, we went to wish good Queen Emma goodbye & I gave her a bracelet with my miniature and hair. She thanked me much for my kindness, & for consenting to be godmother to her poor little child.

[By mid-December, Emma was in the south of France, convalescing from that cough, and a letter she wrote to Victoria shows the continued warmth between the women…]

When I was last at Windsor you most kindly made me promise to write and tell you of my journey and safe arrival to this place… I reached Hyere on Saturday last after five days traveling from London. The journey through France was very pleasant and every thing was new and interesting. At Boulogne through the courtesy of Earl Russell [the British prime minister] I was met by Your Majesty’s consul with every offer of assistance and mark of attention. Lyon, Avignon, Marse[i]lle, all were new to me and my attention was constantly occupied. This appears to be a warm snug little place although the residents are complaining of its being unusually cold at present… Allow me to say with how much gratitude and affection I shall always cherish the remembrance of you and yours…

And so their letters continued, exchanging gifts and news of their families. The last letter we know Emma sent to Victoria was on 9th April 1882, after Roderick Maclean had tried to shoot the British monarch. (“How shall I express my horror and grief over the narrow escape Your Majesty’s valuable life had met at the hands of an insane person,” Emma wrote, and Victoria’s grateful reply has also survived.) In the end, Victoria would outlive Emma by almost 16 years; the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893, and in 1898 the fledgling republic was annexed by the United States, although it only officially became the 50th state in 1959.


My source for this correspondence is Rhoda E.A. Hackler’s 1988 article in the Hawaiian Journal of History, ‘“My Dear Friend”: Letters of Queen Victoria and Queen Emma’. My other source, as for last week, is Alfons L. Korn’s The Victorian Visitors: An Account of the Hawaiian Kingdom, 1861–1866 (University of Hawaii Press, 1958).

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