Chronicles of America 

John Spark's Chronicle of America

John Sparke, the chronicler of this second voyage, was full of curiosity over every strange sight he met with. He was also blessed with the pen of a ready writer. So we get a story that is more vivacious than Hakluyt's retelling of the first voyage or Hawkins's own account of the third. Sparke saw for the first time in his life blacks, Caribs, Indians, alligators, flying-fish, flamingoes, pelicans, and many other strange sights. Having been told that Florida was full of unicorns he at once concluded that it must also be full of lions; for how could the one kind exist without the other kind to balance it? Sparke was a soldier who never found his sea legs. But his diary, besides its other merits, is particularly interesting as being the first account of America ever written by an English eyewitness.

Hawkins made for Teneriffe in the Canaries, off the west of Africa. There, to everybody's great 'amaze,' the Spaniards 'appeared levelling of bases [small portable cannon] and arquebuses, with divers others, to the number of fourscore, with halberds, pikes, swords, and targets.' But when it was found that Hawkins had been taken for a privateer, and when it is remembered that four hundred privateering vessels--English and Huguenot--had captured seven hundred Spanish prizes during the previous summer of 1563, there was and is less cause for 'amaze.' Once explanations had been made, 'Peter de Ponte gave Master Hawkins as gentle entertainment as if he had been his own brother.' Peter was a trader with a great eye for the main chance.

Sparke was lost in wonder over the famous Arbol Santo tree of Ferro, 'by the dropping whereof the inhabitants and cattle are satisfied with water, for other water they have none on the island.' This is not quite the traveller's tale it appears to be. There are three springs on the island of Teneriffe. But water is scarce, and the Arbol Santo, a sort of gigantic laurel standing alone on a rocky ledge, did actually supply two cisterns, one for men and the other for cattle. The morning mist condensing on the innumerable smooth leaves ran off and was caught in suitable conduits.

In Africa Hawkins took many 'Sapies which do inhabit about Rio Grande [now the Jeba River] which do jag their flesh, both legs, arms, and bodies as workmanlike as a jerkin-maker with us pinketh a jerkin.' It is a nice question whether these Sapies gained or lost by becoming slaves to white men; for they were already slaves to black conquerors who used them as meat with the vegetables they forced them to raise. The Sapies were sleek pacifists who found too late that the warlike Samboses, who inhabited the neighboring desert, were not to be denied.

'In the island of Sambula we found almadies or canoas, which are made of one piece of wood, digged out like a trough, but of a good proportion, being about eight yards long and one in breadth, having a beak-head and a stern very proportionably made, and on the outside artificially carved, and painted red and blue.' Neither "almadie" nor canoa is, of course, an African word. One is Arabic for a cradle ("el-mahd"); the other, from which we get "canoe", is what the natives told Columbus they called their dugouts; and dugout canoes are very like primitive cradles. Thus Sparke was the first man to record in English, from actual experience, the aboriginal craft whose name, both East and West, was suggested to primeval man by the idea of his being literally 'rocked in the cradle of the deep.'

Hawkins did not have it all his own way with the blacks, by whom he once lost seven of his own men killed and twenty-seven wounded. 'But the captain in a singular wise manner carried himself with countenance very cheerful outwardly, although inwardly his heart was broken in pieces for it; done to this end, that the Portugais, being with him, should not presume to resist against him.' After losing five more men, who were eaten by sharks, Hawkins shaped his course westward with a good cargo of blacks and 'other merchandises.' 'Contrary winds and some tornados happened to us very ill. But the Almighty God, who never suffereth His elect to perish, sent us the ordinary Breeze, which never left us till we came to an island of the Cannibals' (Caribs of Dominica), who, by the by, had just eaten a shipload of Spaniards.

Hawkins found the Spanish officials determined to make a show of resisting unauthorized trade. But when 'he prepared 100 men well armed with bows, arrows, arquebuses, and pikes, with which he marched townwards,' the officials let the sale of blacks go on. Hawkins was particularly anxious to get rid of his 'lean blacks,' who might die in his hands and become a dead loss; so he used the 'gunboat argument' to good effect. Sparke kept his eyes open for side-shows and was delighted with the alligators, which he called crocodiles, perhaps for the sake of the crocodile tears. 'His nature is to cry and sob like a Christian to provoke his prey to come to him; and thereupon came this proverb, that is applied unto women when they weep, "lachrymoe crocodili".'

From the West Indies Hawkins made for Florida, which was then an object of exceptional desire among adventurous Englishmen. De Soto, one of Pizarro's lieutenants, had annexed it to Spain and, in 1539, had started off inland to discover the supposed Peru of North America. Three years later he had died while descending the valley of the Mississippi. Six years later again, the first Spanish missionary in Florida 'taking upon him to persuade the people to subjection, was by them taken, and his skin cruelly pulled over his ears, and his flesh eaten.' Hawkins's men had fair warning on the way; for 'they, being ashore, found a dead man, dried in a manner whole, with other heads and bodies of men,' apparently smoked like hams. 'But to return to our purpose,' adds the indefatigable Sparke, 'the captain in the ship's pinnace sailed along the shore and went into every creek, speaking with divers of the "Floridians", because he would understand where the Frenchmen inhabited.' Finally he found them 'in the river of "May" [now St. John's River] and standing in 30 degrees and better.' There was 'great store of maize and mill, and grapes of great bigness. Also deer great plenty, which came upon the sands before them.'

So here were the three rivals overlapping again--the annexing Spaniards, the would-be colonizing French, and the persistently trading English. There were, however, no Spaniards about at that time. This was the second Huguenot colony in Florida. Rene de Laudonniere had founded it in 1564. The first one, founded two years earlier by Jean Ribaut, had failed and Ribaut's men had deserted the place. They had started for home in 1563, had suffered terrible hardships, had been picked up by an English vessel, and taken, some to France and some to England, where the court was all agog about the wealth of Florida. People said there were mines so bright with jewels that they had to be approached at night lest the flashing light should strike men blind. Florida became proverbial; and Elizabethan wits made endless fun of it. "Stolida", or the land of fools, and "Sordida", or the land of muck-worms, were some of their "jeux d'esprit". Everyone was 'bound for Florida,' whether he meant to go there or not, despite Spanish spheres of influence, the native cannibals, and pirates by the way.

Hawkins, on the contrary, did not profess to be bound for Florida. Nevertheless he arrived there, and probably had intended to do so from the first, for he took with him a Frenchman who had been in Ribaut's colony two years before, and Sparke significantly says that 'the land is more than any [one] king Christian is able to inhabit.' However this may be, Hawkins found the second French colony as well as 'a French ship of fourscore ton, and two pinnaces of fifteen ton apiece by her ... and a fort, in which their captain Monsieur Laudonniere was, with certain soldiers therein.' The colony had not been a success. Nor is this to be wondered at when we remember that most of the 'certain soldiers' were ex-pirates, who wanted gold, and 'who would not take the pains so much as to fish in the river before their doors, but would have all things put in their mouths.' Eighty of the original two hundred 'went a-roving' to the West Indies, 'where they spoiled the Spaniards ... and were of such haughty stomachs that they thought their force to be such that no man durst meddle with them.... But God ... did indurate their hearts in such sort that they lingered so long that a [Spanish] ship and galliasse being made out of St. Domingo ... took twenty of them, whereof the most part were hanged ... and twenty-five escaped ... to Florida, where ... they were put into prison [by Laudonniere, against whom they had mutinied] and ... four of the chiefest being condemned, at the request of the soldiers did pass the arquebusers, and then were hanged upon a gibbet.' Sparke got the delightful expression 'at the request of the soldiers did pass the arquebusers' from a 'very polite' Frenchman. Could any one tell you more politely, in mistranslated language, how to stand up and be shot?

Sparke was greatly taken with the unknown art of smoking. 'The Floridians ... have an herb dried, who, with a cane and an earthen cup in the end, with fire and the dried herbs put together, do suck through the cane the smoke thereof, which smoke satisfieth their hunger, and therewith they live four or five days without meat or drink. And this all the Frenchmen used for this purpose; yet do they hold opinion withal that it causeth water and steam to void from their stomachs.' The other 'commodities of the land' were 'more than are yet known to any man.' But Hawkins was bent on trade, not colonizing. He sold the "Tiger", a barque of fifty tons, to Laudonniere for seven hundred crowns and sailed north on the first voyage ever made along the coast of the United States by an all-English crew. Turning east off Newfoundland 'with a good large wind, the 20 September [1565] we came to Padstow, in Cornwall, God be thanked! in safety, with the loss of twenty persons in all the voyage, and with great profit to the venturers, as also to the whole realm, in bringing home both gold, silver, pearls, and other jewels great store. His name, therefore, be praised for evermore. Amen.'

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