The Irish In North America . . . Duhare on the South Atlantic Coast

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

An early 16th Century description that was mocked by scholars

Duhare in De Orbe Novo

The year 1521 AD was one of the most important in the history of Spain.  In 1519 Hernán Cortés had led a band of 550 conquistadors and sailors into the heart of the Aztec Empire, in violation of orders from the Governor of Cuba, Diego Veláquez, In January 1521 he began a siege of the three Aztec capital cities of Texcoco, Tlatalolco and Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs had been greatly weakened by European plagues.  Cut off from food supplies and potable water for weeks, Tenochtitlan, one of the largest cities in the world, fell. The incalculable amount of gold and silver in Mexico soon made Spain a super-power.

In early 1521, Spanish colonists elsewhere assumed that Cortés’ insubordinate invasion of Mexico had failed.  They had no knowledge of the vast wealth of Mexico and were looking around for new locations to found colonies for growing sugar cane and, hopefully, mining gold and silver.  Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo secretly sailed ships to the Carolina coast to capture Native American slaves and scout out potential locations for new colonies.  They captured 70 victims,

One ship sank in a storm on the return voyage to Santo Domingo, causing its human cargo to drown.  When they learned about the abduction, colonial authorities freed the surviving captives.  Word soon spread throughout Dominca that Cortés had obtained unimaginable wealth in Mexico, and that La Florida (southeastern North America) was much larger than explorer Ponce de Leon had imagined

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón, a wealthy sugar cane planter and member of the Audencia (colonial council) interviewed Gordillo and Quejo, plus an especially bright Native that they had attempted to enslave, named by the Spanish, Francisco de Chicora.  De Ayllón then compiled a report to be submitted to the King of Spain that accompanied his petition to be named the Governor of the future Province of La Florida.   King Carlos V granted Ayllón a charter to colonize La Florida at his own expense and be made its hereditary noble.

Peter Martyr

In 1520 Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, a historian and professor, was appointed by Carlos V to be chronicler for the new Council of the Indies. In 1522, he interviewed Francisco de Chicora, Gordillo, Quejo and Ayllón for weeks then submitted a detailed report to the king. Martyr died in 1526, but this report was published posthumously in a book named “De Orbe Novo” (About the New World.)  The book has been published and translated numerous times in the centuries since then.   The passages concerning the land that would become Georgia and the Carolinas were always included, but generally ignored.

After some more exploratory voyages, de Ayllón founded a colony in 1526 at location now believed to be near the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia.  The colony quickly collapsed due to disease and starvation.  Ayllón was one of those who died.   It was abandoned six months after being settled.

The Duhare cheese-makers

While Gordillo and Quejo treated the Chicora Indians with treachery, their relations with the other province along that section of the Atlantic Coast were peaceful.  Peter Martyr recorded its name as Duhare. It was one of the more powerful provinces in the region.

The inhabitants of Duhare were described as having European facial features. They possessed few metal tools.  They had red to brown hair, tan skin and gray eyes.  The men wore full beards and were much taller than the Spanish.  Spanish accounts clearly labeled the Duhare, Europeans, even though their houses and pottery were apparently similar to those of American Indians.

In many respects, the Duhare had similar lifestyles to neighboring American Indian provinces, for one exception . . . they raised many types of livestock including chickens, ducks, geese and deer. According to all Spanish sources, the Duhare maintained large herds of domesticated deer and made cheese from deer milk! The excess male deer population was fattened with corn for butchering. The deer stayed in corrals within the villages at night, but grazed in herds in the day time, accompanied by “deer-herders” and herd dogs.  Neighboring peoples knew not to hunt them. Several Spanish sources, including de  Ayllón, stated that the Duhare owned some horses.  However, when interviewed by Martyr, Francisco de Chicora could not confirm or deny the presence of horses.

The people of Duhare were also skilled farmers. They grew large quantities of Indian corn, plus another grain, which the Spanish did not recognize.  They also grew several varieties of potatoes, some European vegetables, plus all the other vegetables that had been developed in the New World.

The king of Duhare was named Datha.  He was described by the Spanish as being a giant, even when compared to his peers. He had five children and a wife as tall as him.  Datha had brightly colored paint or tattoos on his skin that seemed to distinguish him from the commoners.

Analysis of Peter Martyr’s story

Irish Lullaby: I came across an ancient Irish lullaby entitled “Bainne nam fiadh” – “On milk of deer I was reared. On milk of deer, I was nurtured. On milk of deer beneath the ridge of storms on crest of hill and mountain.”  So there really was such a thing as deer milk.    Was it more in the realm of “fairies” or was it a common practice in Ireland? 

Linguistics:  Chicora is the abbreviation of Apalachicora, the Creek name of a large town where Savannah, GA is today.  The word means “Descendants of people from the ocean.”  By the time Savannah was settled in 1734, Apalachicora had moved upstream about 35 miles.  However, according Georgia Provincial Secretary [Thomas Christie] the Creeks still remember the original Apalachicora being visited by friendly Frenchmen, led by a man with red hair and red beard. [Christie (1735) The Creek Migration Legends]   That was undoubtedly Jean Ribault.

French Archives:  Peter Martyr placed Chicora and Duhare beside each other. For unknown reasons, early 19th century historians in South Carolina placed the province of Chicora in a region around Georgetown, SC or about 61 miles NORTH of Charleston, whereas both French and Spanish eyewitness accounts placed Chicora south of the Port Royal Bay in the vicinity of Savannah, GA.  That’s about 167 miles south of Georgetown, SC.  An exploration party from Fort Caroline visited the capital of Chicora.  In his memoir, Captain René de Laudonnière placed the capital of Chiquola (Chicora), about 16 miles up from the mouth of the Savannah River.  De Laudonnière specifically stated that Chiquola was the same place that the Spaniards call Chicora. [Bennett (2000) Three Voyages, pp. 29-30]

Also, for unknown reasons, Georgia academicians took the false assumptions of the South Carolina academicians as fact.  Several South Carolina archaeologists have looked for Chicora and Duhare around Georgetown and Winyah Bay, SC, but found no evidence of either.  Chicora is briefly mentioned in the Georgia History textbook, but placed in South Carolina.  Duhare is not mentioned at all.

Spanish Archives:  After Santa Elena was founded in Port Royal Sound, SC in 1567, the Spanish dispatched a couple expeditions to attack Chicora about 35 miles to the south.   The Spanish were soundly defeated, but the townsite was soon abandoned and moved upstream.  Because of the hostility and sheer numbers of the Proto-Creeks in what is now Georgia, the Spanish only rarely entered the interior of the region.

First History of Georgia:  In 1847, the History of Georgia was published by William Bacon Stevens just before he moved back north and became a Episcopalian vicar in Philadelphia.  The book opens with the statement, “The early history of Georgia is obscure and unsatisfactory. Its Ante-Columbian period reaches backward five hundred years before the voyage of the Genoese navigator, an embraces, in its annuals, the fables and traditions of the wild and sea-faring Northmen.”

Karl Rafn

The second paragraph mentions the possibility of settlement in Georgia and South Carolina of Irish refugees.  It refers to the mention of Whitmannsland (White Man’s Land) or Great Ireland on certain maps and in certain chronicles then references the research of Danish historian Karl Kristian Rafn. Later in the book, Stevens mentioned briefly that early settlers in Georgia and South Carolina encountered light skinned Creek Indians, who spoke a dialect of Irish.

19th century European scholars: Rafn’s thorough research of Icelandic literature was astonishing, but has been generally ignored in the 21st century by North American academicians. In his book, Antiquitates Americanae,  Rafn documented numerous voyages of Scandinavians to Vinland and Whitmannsland in the 1000s and early 1100s, which were followed by Norse and Irish colonists in the late 1100s.    

Discovery of some forgotten medieval manuscripts in France during the 1890s renewed the interest of French scholars in North America’s Pre-Hispanic history.   The information somehow never reached the western shores of the Atlantic. In 1904 French historian, Eugène Beauvois, wrote “La Grande-Irlande ou Pays des Blancs Précolombiens du Nouveau-Monde” (Great Ireland or the Pre-Columbian White Nation in the New World.)  It was published in the French Journal de la Société des Américanistes, but never published in the United States or Canada.

Beauvois had found manuscripts in French monasteries that collaborated with the information extracted by Carl Rafn from Icelandic scripts.  However, the French sources went a step further.  They located the Irish colonies on the South Atlantic Coast . . . exactly where Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo encountered the Province of Duhare.

I did some more research and found that between 1160 and 1190, the Anglo-Normans severely persecuted the Norse around Dublin and Wexford, who were Arian Christians and the Irish in Leinster and Osrey, who adhered to the practices of the Old Gaelic Christian Church, whose traditions included a married clergy and very simple liturgy.  The persecution included some priests and bishops being burned at the stake as heretics.  So . . . there was a very real incentive for the people of eastern Ireland to risk their lives to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Fact-checking North American academicians

In the five centuries since the Peter Martyr’s book, scholars in North America have completed discounted Martyr’s description of Duhare because of the detailed description of its deer cheese production.   Having spent almost two decades, making commercial goat cheese, I strongly suspected that the people were milking Alpine type dairy goats.   I was going to investigate the matter.

The Spanish slave raiders’ description of deer husbandry and cheese making seemed far too accurate to have been made by mariners, who dreamed up a tall yarn.  This author started one of the first licensed goat cheese creameries in the United States.  The story also intrigued me because the personal names of the Duhare sounded Gaelic, even though the Spaniards made no mention of the ethnicity of these people.

Not knowing any Gaelic and only a smattering Early Irish History, I contacted the Irish Consulate in Atlanta.  Consul Paul Gleeson directed me to the Cultural Attaché Office of the Republic of Ireland. It was given the details and personal names of this chapter of Martyr’s book. 

My first big surprise from conversing with the Irish scholars was that dairy deer were commonplace in Ireland until the Late Middle Ages.  Why didn’t any of the scholars, who dissed the story of Duhare, ever talk to their counterparts in Ireland?   In the 1000s AD, Norse settlers introduced dairy goats to the eastern edge of Ireland and in the 1200s,  English and French monks introduced dairy cattle to Ireland. However, the Osrey (Deer People) held on to the tradition of deer milk cheese longer than anyone else. So we had a connection.  A people known for making deer cheese were the victims of Anglo-Norman persecution in the late 1100s.  

After referring the matter to some professors in Ireland, the Cultural Attaché responded that the personal names were all typical of Early Medieval Ireland.  The Spanish word, Duhare, was very close to the Early Medieval Gaelic word for Irish, Du H’áire.   Datha is the Medieval Irish adjective, meaning “painted.”  The Spanish said that he was painted.  There is no way that the two Spanish slave raiders would have known medieval Gaelic!

The Warren Wilson Village site had a corral in its center!

During the 1980s, there was a very odd archaeological discovery made on the campus of Warren Wilson College near Asheville, NC.  What appeared to be a Native American village contained what was essentially a corral in its central area.  The village had a palisade around its exterior made of large timbers, but the inner palisade was constructed of saplings . . . like a fence.  The mention by the Spaniards of the dairy deer being contained in the village at night seemed to be related to this corral.  This village was abandoned around 1500 AD, only eight years after Columbus’s voyage.


The evidence is increasing that Irish Christians, fleeing persecution by foreign bishops, who were trying to enforce Roman Catholic practices on the Celtic Church, fled to North America in the 11th and 12th centuries.  According to Icelandic and French monastic archives, Norse mariners provided them the transportation across the Atlantic.   Supposedly, they settled south of where the Norse were colonizing, in what is now the Southeastern United States. They called their new home, Mór in Áire (Great Ireland) or DuH’áire.  Scandinavians called their colony Står Irland (Great Ireland) or Vitmannsland (White Man’s Land.”  During the 1600s, most of the mixed ancestry descendants of these Irish colonists apparently were absorbed into old Kingdom of Apalache in Northeast Georgia, which later evolved into the Creek Indian Confederacy.

The testimonies of two Spanish slave raiders and linguistic evidence cannot be construed as absolute facts until actual Irish village sites are identified along the Eastern Seaboard of North America.  This is an identical situation to that of the tradition of Norse settlements on the coasts of New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.  These traditions were considered to be myths by many historians and archaeologists until Norwegian archaeologists, Helge and Anne Ingstad, unearthed a Viking hamlet on the coast of Newfoundland.   The Duhare matter seems to be in limbo until a similar discovery is made in Georgia or South Carolina.

The evidence of Irish colonization in the Southeastern United States goes much farther back in years than Duhare. In the next part of this series, we will look at the similarity between the petroglyphs in the gold-bearing regions of Ireland and the State of Georgia.


  1. Richard– Very interesting, this fits the narrative of a book I’m reading called The Lost Colony of the Templars by Steven Sora published in 2004. The book digs into possible evidence for Norse, Norman, etc. exploration and settlement of North America beyond L’Anse aux Meadows. Much of Sora’s book involves people from Scotland and Ireland. It does seem likely that someone would have made use of the Vikings’ experience in Newfoundland long before Columbus’ expeditions. Sora’s five-page bibliography might interest you as much as the book itself.

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  2. Richard, Thanks for the articles. Yes it must make you wonder how all of this got left out of the history books financed by factors in Europe. People have been crossing the Atlantic since the Clovis people days (12,000 BC). The elders of the Native people stated there were “white tribes” over here but not found in any history book as of yet. “Du” is a possible connection with the Indo-European word for GOD “Dudan” and “Hara” could be a connection with the word for Earth “Dhara” (GOD’S Earth people). The ancient verdic words must go way back before 3500 BC as they are found with so many peoples all over the world.

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      1. Richard, “from a island”…it seems to me that some words used by the Native Americans are from an ancient connection to the Verdic speaking peoples that left from an island…it could be the Azores islands (ancient step pyramids) that made seaports connected to the (stone to copper age) people of Mexico, Ireland, France, Sardinia, Malta, Russia to a possible Verdic origin spread location of the Black Sea around 4000-4500 BC. That would connect the Mega stone works of Europe peoples (possible Native Americans?) with some Verdic Bronze peoples.


  3. Fantastic work, I am greatly thankful! The truth of our history is finally starting to come to light, and this is only the beginning, thanks to people like yourself Richard! As I recover from a long time illness, I hope to aid in the field research and discovery of much more information/artifacts. Best wishes to you!

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