The Smugglers' City
Department of History, University of Bristol


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John Day letter to the Lord Grand Admiral, Winter 1497/8

Source: L.A. Vigneras, 'The Cape Breton landfall: 1494 or 1497. Note on a letter from John Day' , Canadian Historical Review, 38 (1957), pp. 219-28. The Spanish text of the letter was published by Vigneras in Hispanic American Historical Review, 36 (1956), pp. 503-9
Manuscript: Archivo General de Simancas, Estado de Castilla, leg. 2, fol. 6.
Web version by: Emily Rowlinson
Online Editor: Dr Jeff Reed, Washington D.C. (Jeff Reed is currently producing an volume of Vigneras' published and unpublished papers, with the consent of Vigneras' heirs, under the title: The Search for Paradise, the Atlantic Islands, and other Essays).

p. 226

Your Lordship's servant brought me your letter. I have seen its contents
and I would be most desirous and most happy to serve you. I do not find
the book Inventio Fortunata , and I thought that I (or he) was bringing it
with my things, and I am very sorry not find it because I wanted very much
to serve you. I am sending the other book of Marco Polo and a copy of the
land which has been found. I do not send the map because I am not satisfied

p. 227

with it, for my many occupations forced me to make it in a hurry at the time
of my departure; but from the said copy your Lordship will learn what you
wish to know, for in it are named the capes of the mainland and the islands,
and thus you will see where land was first sighted, since most of the land
was discovered after turning back. Thus your Lordship will know that the
cape nearest to Ireland is 1800 miles west of Dursey Head which is in Ireland,
and the southernmost part of the Island of the Seven Cities is west of
Bordeaux River, and your Lordship will know that he landed at only one
spot of the mainland, near the place where land was first sighted, and they
disembarked there with a crucifix and raised banners with the arms of the
Holy Father and those of the King of England, my master; and they found
tall trees of the kind masts are made, and other smaller trees, and the country
is very rich in grass. In that particular spot, as I told your Lordship, they
found a trail that went inland, they saw a site where a fire had been made,
they saw manure of animals which they thought to be farm animals, and they
saw a stick half a yard long pierced at both ends, carved and painted with
brazil, and by such signs they believe the land to be inhabited. Since he was
with just a few people, he did not dare advance inland beyond the shooting
distance of a cross­bow, and after taking in fresh water he returned to his
ship. All along the coast they found many fish like those which in Iceland are
dried in the open and sold in England and other countries, and these fish are
called in English 'stockfish'; and thus following the shore they saw two
forms running on land one after the other, but they could not tell if they were
human beings or animals; and it seemed to them that there were fields where
they thought might also be villages, and they saw a forest whose foliage
looked beautiful. They left England toward the end of May, and must have
been on the way 35 days before sighting land; the wind was east-north-east
and the sea calm going and coming back, except for one day when he
ran into a storm two or three days before finding land; and going so far
out, his compass needle failed to point north and marked two thumbs below.
They spent about one month discovering the coast and from the above
mentioned cape of the mainland which is nearest to Ireland, they returned
to the coast of Europe in fifteen days. They had the wind behind them, and

p. 228

he reached Brittany because the sailors confused him, saying that he was
heading too far north. From there he came to Bristol, and he went to see the
King to report to him all the above mentioned; and the King granted him an
annual pension of twenty pounds sterling to sustain himself until the time
comes when more will be known of this business, since with God's help it
is hoped to push through plans for exploring the said land more thoroughly
next year with ten or twelve vessels-because in his voyage he had only one
ship of fifty `toneles' and twenty men and food for seven or eight months-
and they want to carry out this new project. It is considered certain that the
cape of the said land was found and discovered in the past by the men from
Bristol who found 'Brasil' as your Lordship well knows. It was called the
Island of Brasil, and it is assumed and believed to be the mainland that the men from Bristol found.

Since your Lordship wants information relating to the first voyage, here is
what happened: he went with one ship, his crew confused him, he was short
of supplies and ran into bad weather, and he decided to turn back.

Magnificent Lord, as to other things pertaining to the case, I would like
to serve your Lordship if I were not prevented in doing so by occupations of
great importance relating to shipments and deeds for England which must
be attended to at once and which keep me from serving you: but rest assured,
Magnificent Lord, of my desire and natural intention to serve you, and when
I find myself in other circumstances and more at leisure, I will take pains to
do so; and when I get news from England about the matters referred to above -
for I am sure that everything has to come to my knowledge - I will inform
your Lordship of all that would not be prejudicial to the King my master.
In payment for some services which I hope to render you, I beg your Lordship
to kindly write me about such matters, because the favour you will thus do
me will greatly stimulate my memory to serve you in all the things that may
come to my knowledge. May God keep prospering your Lordship's magnificent
state according to your merits. Whenever your Lordship should find it con-
venient, please remit the book or order it to be given to Master George.

I kiss your Lordship's hands,


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