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Richard Hakluyt’s Remarkable Descriptions of 16th Century America

Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552 –1616) was one of the most intellectually curious scholars of Elizabethan England. He was the driving force behind the founding of both the Roanoke and Jamestown Colonies. It was his idea to bring John Rolfe and Pocahontas to visit the Court of King James  I  so that the English nobility would realize that Native Americans were intelligent and civil.

He was a personal friend of René de Laudonniére, commander of Fort Caroline. Both men viewed Native Americans as potential trading partners, whose increased commerce would be mutually beneficial. That sure beat the Spanish approach of making serfs out of anyone they didn’t burn at the stake. He was highly educated in many sciences and multi-lingual. However, guess what he called himself on the face page of his books? . . . a preacher! He was an ordained minister of the Church of England, who was also a member of the Puritan Movement.   At that time, there was not concept of the Puritans being a separate denomination.

Hakluyt’s books on the exploration of the world by Europeans during the 1500s are fascinating, because they are essentially eyewitness accounts, the type stuff that we like to use in our research. Book Nine of the 1904 reprinting of The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries . . . is particularly valuable. It contains a complete translation of René de Laudonniére’s memoir, accounts of Master John Hawkins’ voyages in the New World and translations of reports from two Spaniards who lived in the Santa Elena (Parris Island, SC) colony. His books cover the full story of European exploration in the Americas, Asia and Africa during the 1500s. His last book is a detailed description of de Soto’s exploration of the Southeast. It contains details missing from the late 20th century translation. The URL to download his books

Many thanks to Michael Jacobs, senior planner at the Southern Georgia Regional Commission, for providing us this free online source for downloading Hakluyt’s books!

Great Copal

The translated reports of Pedro Moreles and Nicholas Burgiognon describe repeated journeys from Santa Elena to the Georgia Mountains to trade with the Apalachee’s for gold. The Spaniards stated that the capital of this province was a great city in these mountains named “Great Copal.” The descriptions seem to match those of the great city on the side of a mountain in “The Migration Legend of the Creek People” and the Florida Indians’ stories of a great city named Yupaha in the Georgia Mountains. Obviously, Great Copal was probably the half square mile ruins at Track Rock Gap.

French exploration in the Southeast

Richard Hakuyt’s book, Four Voyages, provided many details that are missing from the 2001 translation of René de Laudonniére’s by Charles C. Bennett that was named Three Voyages. There are many more Native America words, descriptions of Native American towns and details about Fort Caroline’s true location. We learn that the Aleckmani were cultivating quinine trees and trading salt to peoples living upstream.

In particular, the detailed account in Hakuyt’s book of the privately sponsored French expedition in 1568 to avenge the massacre at Fort Caroline provides information not found in contemporary texts. It provides geographical details that clearly eliminate the possibility of Fort Caroline being in the State of Florida. It places the Native village of Sehoy on the Satilla River in Georgia. By 1568, the Spanish had THREE forts at the mouth of the Altamaha River. The largest was Fort San Mateo on the site of Fort Caroline. At that time, they planned to make SAN MATEO the capital of La Florida. St. Augustine was essentially a life guard station until Santa Elena was abandoned. This explains why a 1578 Spanish map shows the town of San Mateo to be larger than either Santa Elena or St. Augustine.


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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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