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De Bry's Grand Voyages. Early Expeditions To The New World.

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Theodor De Bry's Grand Voyages
Early Expeditions To The New World

Histories of the volumes

[ Virginia Colony | Florida Colony | Brazilian Indians | Spanish in America | El Dorado ]
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Theodor De Bry is best known for his wonderful series of volumes chronicling many of the earliest expeditions to the Americas. De Bry, a Frankfurt goldsmith, engraver, print-seller and book-seller, started the project in 1590 when he reissued Thomas Hariot's narration of the first English settlement in "Virginia." This volume, to which De Bry added illustrations, was a success and it was followed the next year by a similar volume on the first French attempt at colonizing Florida. From then until his death in 1598, De Bry published other illustrated volumes and the series was continued until 1634 by his family, extending to 25 parts and including voyages to Asia as well as the Americas.

Each volume of the De Bry series was accompanied by graphic illustrations of the events, many made from first hand observations. These very rare prints are some of the earliest authentic images of the New World, for previous accounts either contained no illustrations or their images were crude and mostly imaginary. Thus, De Bry's prints provide an important contemporary view of the history of the nascent days of European conquest and settlement in America. The pictures show detailed scenes of native customs, culture and warfare, and episodes in the history of European contact with these natives and their world. As Michael Alexander said, De Bry's work "brought to the European public the first realistic visualization of the exotic world opened up across the Atlantic by the explorers, conquerors and settlers." (Discovering the New World, p. 7)

[ Virginia Colony | Florida Colony | Brazilian Indians | Spanish in America | El Dorado ]
[ DeBry home page ]


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"A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia."

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Volume I of Theodor De Bry's Grand Voyages.

In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh sent out an expedition under the command of Sir Richard Grenville to found a colony, which Queen Elizabeth allowed to be named "Virginia" in her honor. The chief scientist in the expedition was Thomas Hariot who was instructed to study the Indian culture and the natural resources of the region. Hariot was accompanied by John White as surveyor and artist. The colonists settled on Roanoke Island in Pamlico Sound, where they built a fort. Grenville went back for England to get supplies, leaving 107 men under the command of Ralph Lane. Relationships with the Indians deteriorated, and this combined with dwindling supplies led the colonists to return to England with Sir Francis Drake, who happened to call by after a raid in the West Indies. Ironically, a resupply ship turned up almost immediately thereafter, followed within two weeks by Grenville with more ships and supplies. Finding the colonists gone, Grenville left fifteen men to retain English possession of the region.

Raleigh did not give up with this failure, but put together a second expedition to settle further north on the Chesapeake. In 1587 these colonists, now under the command of John White, landed at Roanoke Island to look for the men left by Grenville the year before. No trace of these men was found, and the new colonist were unable to proceed north to the Chesapeake because of the refusal to do so by the master of the fleet, Simon Fernandes, who was more interested in hunting for the Spanish treasure ships. White spent only about a month at Roanoke before he was persuaded to head back to England to obtain more supplies. Through a series of misadventures, White was unable to return to Roanoke until 1590. When he finally arrived back in America, White discovered that the colonists were missing. The only clue left by the colonists was the word "CROATOAN" carved into a post, but White was unable to proceed to that island to look for them. Thus the fate of this "lost colony" has never been learned.

The prints from this series are based upon John White's drawings made during the first attempt to form a colony, and the text is based upon Thomas Hariot's A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, which was issued in 1588 in order to promote Raleigh's continued efforts at founding his colony. These prints provide a unique and remarkably accurate picture of the Indian culture in the Carolina region at the time of the first contacts of this culture with Europeans.

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The French Attempt To Establish A Colony In Florida

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Volume II of Theodor De Bry's Grand Voyages.

In 1562, Jean Ribaut led a French expedition of reconnaissance to 'la Florida.' Ribaut left thirty volunteers behind when he went back to France, and they established a fort at "Charlesfort," near Beaufort, South Carolina. Ribaut promised to return in six months, but he was unable to because of the religious civil war then raging in France. The men of Charlesfort eventually abandoned the settlement, built a ship and set off for home, finally being picked up by an English ship in the Atlantic. In the meantime the Spanish had heard of this attempted settlement, and they set off to destroy it. By the time they arrived, the French were gone so the Spanish satisfied themselves by burning Charlesfort and destroying one of the columns that Ribaut had erected.

Ironically, at this very time a second French expedition was under sail for Florida. This group, under the command of René de Laudonnière, landed south of Charlesfort where they built a new fort named Caroline. Things did not go well, and the French were again about to sail off when Ribaut arrived to take over command. By the time Ribaut had arrived, the Spanish got wind of this second French settlement and sent a force under the command of Pedro Menendez de Avilez to wipe out the French. The Spanish landed south of Fort Caroline, where they constructed a fort named St. Augustine, and so founded the longest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States. The Spanish marched north and massacred the French, with only Laudonnière and an artist named Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues escaping. It is to these two survivors that we owe this record of these French expeditions. The text was written by Laudonnière and the illustrations were copied by De Bry from water colors by Le Moyne, who had been sent specifically to draw images of the New World. We are lucky that not only Le Moyne but also his paintings survived to be recorded so wonderfully by De Bry. As Michael Alexander said, De Bry's work "brought to the European public the first realistic visualization of the exotic world opened up across the Atlantic by the explorers, conquerors and settlers." (Discovering the New World, p. 7)

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Hans Staden with the cannibals in Brazil

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Volume III of Theodor De Bry's Grand Voyages


Hans Staden on a sixteenth century voyage to Brazil was captured by a tribe of cannibals. He eventually escaped and returned to Europe. His account was of great interest to Europeans, for whom cannibals were one of the most fascinating aspects of the exotic nature of the New World, and so De Bry issued his account, accompanied by graphic images, as Volume III of the Grand Voyages.

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The Spanish in the New World

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Volume IV, V, & VI of Theodor De Bry's Grand Voyages

In volumes IV through Vi, De Bry printed a series of account and illustrations describing the contact between Europeans and Native Americans in the sixteenth century. This was based on Girolamo Benzoni's history of the Spanish in the New World. Benzoni, an Italian, spent fifteen years wandering around the Spanish territories of Central and South America and much of his account is based on his direct experiences. His history was first published in 1565, and this was the source which De Bry used for his edition. De Bry's work included engraved illustrations after Joannes Stradanus. These prints were very influential in establishing the image of the New World in the minds of readers in Europe.

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The Search for El Dorado

Volume VIII of Theodor De Bry's Grand Voyages.

The story of El Dorado was one of the most influential myths connected with the 'New World.' The legend first appeared in the 1530s or 40s as a story of an Indian chief who was rich enough to cover himself with gold dust during certain ceremonies; this chief was the golden man, "El Hombre Dorado." The legend had its source in the Colombian highlands, near present-day Bogota, but when the Spanish conquistadors reached this region they found no such rich chief or kingdom. The legend didn't die, however, but instead transformed itself and moved slowly across the continent. After an amazing series of horrific and unsuccessful searches for El Dorado, the myth finally solidified as a story about a rich city of El Dorado, called Manoa by the natives, located on a huge lake in the highlands of Guiana.

In 1595, Sir Walter Raleigh set sail to find El Dorado. His search was unsuccessful, but Raleigh continued to believe in the city, and the report he wrote on the subject was the first popularization of the legend. This is De Bry's version of Raleigh's account of his expedition in search of El Dorado. It uses Raleigh's text which appeared earlier, but with its greater distribution and its inclusion of the first images of El Dorado, De Bry's version had a significant impact on the European imagination. As Michael Alexander said, De Bry's work "brought to the European public the first realistic visualization of the exotic world opened up across the Atlantic by the explorers, conquerors and settlers." (Discovering the New World, p. 7). These illustrations are imaginary, but they do give us a unique view of how this most famous of legends was understood at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

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