Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Mohawk Valley
Its Legends and its History
by Max Reid
New York and London G. P. Putman's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press, 1901
with illustrations from photographs by J. Arthur Maney

Chapter I The Mythical City of Norumbega

It may seem strange to readers of a book that purports to be a history of the Mohawk Valley, that the author should go so wide afield as to connect it with a mysterious country a thousand miles away and whose exact locality is unknown to this day. Undoubtedly the mythical city of Norumbega, together with the equally mythical NorthWest Passage to India, was an incentive to early navigators, to visit the shores of the New World and to explore its eastern coast. Mystery and the marvelous is even now, at the beginning of the twentieth century, attractive to the majority of mankind, but how much more so in the sixteenth century, with the imagination quickened by the discoveries of the Spaniards under Cortez and Pizarro and the wonderful treasures secured in Mexico and Peru.

That the northeast coast of America was visited by Breton (1504) and Basque fishermen, in search of fish for the Catholic countries of Europe, before the discovery and naming of the St. Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier in 1534-3, is a matter of history, and that they should have made temporary homes on the shores near their fishing grounds seems natural, and that, in some cases, it became necessary to protect their camps by rude forts, more or less strong, seems reasonable. We are therefore inclined to believe that there may be some truth in the traditionary French (Breton) fort, said to have been located on an island near Albany, many years before the voyages of Henry Hudson.

The land, river, and city of Norumbega seems to have been known to nearly all of the early navigators of the Atlantic, and the incentive for many a quest by Verrazano in 1524, Alleforce under Roberval in 1543, Thevet in 1556, and Champlain in 1603-14.

And is it a wonder, when such a story as the following was told and believed:

An Englishman had left a record of having seen a city bearing the name of Norumbega, and the city was three-quarters of a mile long.

This man, David Ingram, a sailor, had been set on shore by Sir John Hawkins in 1568, at Tampico, on the Gulf of Mexico, with some hundred and twenty others in stress for food. He had wandered all the way across the country, visiting many large Indian towns, and coming at length, in 1569, to the banks of the Norumbega. He sailed from the harbor of St. Mary's (one of the earlier names for Boston Bay) a few hours distant from the Norumbega he visited, and ultimately got back to England, where he again met and was kindly received by Sir John Hawkins. He told a story that surpasses belief. He had seen monarchs borne on golden chairs, and houses with pillars of crystal and silver. He had visited the dwelling of an Indian chief where he saw a quart of pearls; and afterwards increased it to a peck of pearls. He was brought in audience before Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the kinsman of Sir Walter Raleigh. Thevet who had been at Norumbega, on the banks of what he pronounced " one of the most beautiful rivers in all the world," was present and confirmed Ingram in part. (From monograph by Prof. E. N. Horsford, who claimed to have found the site of -Norunibega City, on the banks of the Charles River at Weston, near Boston, and that the Charles was the Norumbega River.)

Whittier, in his poem " Norumbega," makes the weary Christian Knight who is dying in his fruitless search for the mythical city, "at shut of day," see a vision like a pipe dream. " I see, he said, " the domes and spires of Norumbega, town " -- " What sounds are these but chants and holy hymns --- It is a chapel bell that fills the air with its low tones "--" The Christ be praised--He sits for me a blessed cross in sight "-- I fain would look before I die on Norumbega's walls.

Pierre Biard, Lescarbot, and other Jesuits, repeatedly speak of Norumbega as being on the Pentegoet or Penobscot River. In fact, La Saussaye, when he sailed from Port Royal (now Annapolis, Nova Scotia), intended to establish the settlement of St. Sauveur on the Norumbega. or Penobscot, at the place now known as Bangor, Maine, but finally settled on Mount Desert Island.

Champlain sailed up the Penobscot in his search for the city of Norumbega, and his map of 1613 shows the name of Norunibega on the Penobscot in the vicinity of Bangor.

The rnap of Ortelius, 1570, and Solis's map of 1598, shows tbe country of the Montagnes Indians east of Norumbega. (The country of the Montagnes was between Three Rivers and the Saguenay, in the province of Quebec.) If these maps are correct, it would make the Penobscot the Norumbega River.

John Fiske, in his very excellent book called The Dutch and Quaker Colonies of America, by very ingenious reasonmg, and with the help of Maiollo's map of Verrazano's discoveries, 1527, Gastaldi's map of 1550, and Mercator's Duisburg inap of 1569, claims that the Hudson was the Norumbega, and that Manhattan Island was the site of the city and that it was located on the border of the collect or pond now marked by the gloomy prison called the Tombs. He suggests that the name may be a corruption of Anormee Berge, which he says means Grand Scarp in sixteenth-century French, and was applied to the Hudson River by Verrazzano, who describes it as a very broad river running between small steep hills, evidently referring to the Palisades. Fiske says: " What better epithet than Grand Scarp could be applied to those majestic cliffs. It is clear that for a quarter of a century or more after the voyage of Verrazzano (1524) the Hudson River was visited by French fur traders, and that they had block-houses on Manhattan Island and at Albany." This was at least a half-century before the voyage of Henry Hudson and the renaming of the Hudson River.

If the Hudson River was the Norumbega, and if a city three-quarters of a mile long, with domes and spires and pillars of crystal and silver existed, it must have been known to the Aborigines of the Mohawk Valley, but, so far, we have been unable to find any traditionary evidence of the mythical city having been located within the bounds of New York State.

We do not expect, however, to find evidence among the Mohawks, because they are known to have been located at Hochelaga (Montreal) in 1535, and the lower Mohawk Valley was then occupied by tribes of the Algonquin nation, probably the Mohicans, the Abinakas, or the Andastes.

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home