Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mistakes of Our Ancestors

John Ogilby (1600–1676), by William Faithorne
Today, we live with the errors made by our ancestors and their partners who explored America.  We tend to lionize our ancestors into something larger than reality.  Indeed, as we debate the wisdom of America's founding fathers in our politics, it helps to understand just how human these people actually were.  Errors were quite common in history and some still persist today.  Here is presented just one of those errors from an early map that has remained in the present.

John Ogilby (1600-1676), noted as a publisher and geographer, did not begin his career as such.  As a young man, his father died, leaving a debt which John paid with money from a lottery secured by the Virginia Company in March 1612.  Seven years later, he was apprenticed to John Draper, a London dancing master.  It appears that this was his first trade.  The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography tells that John Ogilby spent his professional life under various titles: "dancing-master, courtier, and theatre owner between about 1620 and 1641; poet and translator from 1649; and, from about 1669, compiler of geographical works and atlases, culminating in his Britannia (1675)."  Ogilby only became a cartographer in 1670, soon receiving a commission from the Lords Proprietors of Carolina for a map of their province in America.  The Oxford DNB goes on to say, "he conceived of a series of atlases to cover the whole world, to be funded through lotteries, subscription plans, and advertisements. The first, Africa, appeared in 1670. Others followed soon after: Atlas Japannensis (1670), America (1671), Atlas Chinensis (1671), and Asia (1673)."  The most important part of understanding John Ogilsby 1671 map of Carolina is the next line from the DNB:  "These were not the fruits of Ogilby's own work but rather well-produced compilations of extant translations and others' accounts, a common practice at that time."

1671 Ogilby Map of Carolina, titled "First Lords Proprietors' Map; New description of Carolina by the order of the Lords Proprietors"

By the title of John Ogilby's 1671 map, "First Lords Proprietors' Map; New description of Carolina by the order of the Lords Proprietors," we can glean that the Proprietors had not yet made a map of their territory and desired to know what their holdings entailed.  They had only owned Carolina for less than a decade (a very short period of time in the 17th century).  Still, there were accounts from various expeditions by Englishmen to Carolina, or through Carolina from Virginia.  Merchants had plied these waters probably since the founding of Jamestown in 1607.  Ogilby had access to many of these details as he prepared his 1671 map.  Undoubtedly, he relied heavily on Richard Hakluyt's information concerning the Roanoke voyages.  He read of Governor John White's avenging the death of George Howe by attacking Indians on the shores of the mainland just west of Roanoke Island.  Of course, White discovered then that they had made a mistake and attacked their friends from the island of Croatoan (today's Hatteras) and not the intended hostiles of Dasamonquepeuk.  As you can see, Ogilby marked "Croatan" on his map to indicate where future explorers may find the renowned friendly Indians of that nearly century-old tale. 

However, Ogilby may not have read that account clearly enough to realize that the Croatoan Indians did not actually live in that location on the mainland, but instead, went there simply to gather the corn left by the hostile Indians that had fled English vengeance.  The weather was unseasonably hot and dry.  Crops did not grow well without water and they were hungry on their tiny island far from the mainland.  Ogilby made a mistake.

That was not his only mistake on this map.  In the area of the "Clarendon" River, now known as the Cape Fear River, he clearly understood and drew the area of the "thoroughfare" across from the present Wilmington in North Carolina today.  By 1671, the Barbadoes Adventurers led by Sir John Yeamans had already planted a town on that river.  They had difficulty there and abandoned the settlement.  Many other cartographers refer to this settlement as "Charles Town," not to be confused with the "Charles Town" settled in 1671 further south by the same group.

Ogilby produced this map in 1671 and probably had no knowledge of the Barbadian plans to settle Carolina again.  Still, he had heard of the settlement in the area of Old Town Creek south of today's Wilmington.  Note where Ogilby marked "New Town" on his map.  It is much farther inland from the "thoroughfare" than Wilmington... NOT where the first "Charles Town" was actually founded.  He has "New Town" even farther north of Stag Park, about the area of today's Burgaw.  There was not a settlement that we know of there by 1671.

Portion of 1709 map made by John Lawson and John Senex

No mention of this "New Town" is ever made on later maps.  However, John Lawson used Ogilsby's map, made for the Lords Proprietors, to make his own map, again addressed to the Lords Proprietors, in 1709.  The map was made to accompany his book, A New Voyage to Carolina, in which he described in great detail the plants, animals, and customs of native inhabitants of the Proprietor's lands.  He repeated the erroneous "Croatan" labeling across from Roanoke Island.  He even went so far as to call the Indians of Hatteras Island, "Hatteras Indians," well... because the Croatan lived elsewhere, right?  Wrong.  The error stuck.


1820 Brazier-Fulton map of Croatan and Roanoke Sounds
The very name of "Croatan" was used on many later maps and it even gave its name (again) to the body of water that separated the mainland from Roanoke Island, "Croatan Sound."  It is still called this today, as shown on the Google Earth image below:


Google Earth image showing "Croatan Sound"
One can imagine the thoughts of the Croatoan Indians on Hatteras at the silly-sounding Englishmen as they continued to refer to this area as "Croatan."  They had probably forgotten the mistaken event in 1587 that started it... the easy mistake that John White had made and apologized for as he visited Hatteras Island to plead with his friends, Manteo's people and his mother, chief of the Croatoan people.

Clearly, our ancestors, including our founding fathers in America, have made many mistakes.  Of course, most United States citizens today will say that the British made this mistake, somehow disconnecting themselves from the ones who made these simple errors.  That is not to say that we do not still make mistakes, just that our advancing technology prevents these larger ones.  Speedier communication afforded by satellite and the internet helps a great deal when you imagine that it took weeks and even months to get a message across the 17th-century Atlantic.  One has to also imagine a time without television, xerox, and a plethora of computer graphic formats.  Our society has much to be thankful for.


The study of history reveals many mistakes.  It sometimes makes history quite enjoyable and entertaining, contrary to the impression given by most high school students.  Think of how you were drawn to this blog entry.  :)

John Ogilby could have avoided this mistake by reading Hakluyt more carefully.  He did not.  Why, we can only guess.  Perhaps he had dance classes coming up and had to prepare lessons for his students.  Obilby had a life that interfered with his hobbies, after all.  His mistake in 1671 became translated to our modern generation as "Croatan Sound."  We probably shouldn't go into the name of the "Croatan National Forest," located also NOT on the Outer Banks, but near New Bern in Craven County... on the mainland once again.

If I were a Croatoan Indian, I would feel kind of annoyed.  :)

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