Richard Hakluyt’s remarkable descriptions of 16th century America

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

Richard Hakluyt (c. 1552 –1616) was one of the most intellectually curious scholars of Elizabethan England.  He was the driving force behind the founding of both the Roanoke and Jamestown Colonies.  It was his idea to bring John Rolfe and Pocahontas to visit the Court of King James 1 so that the English nobility would realize that Native Americans were intelligent and civil.  He was a personal friend of René de Laudonnière, former commander of Fort Caroline.  Both men viewed Native Americans as potential trading partners, whose increased commerce would be mutually beneficial. That sure beat the Spanish approach of making serfs out of anyone they didn’t burn at the stake. He was highly educated in many sciences and multi-lingual.  However, guess what he called himself on the face page of his books?  . . . a preacher!  He was an ordained minister of the Church of England, who was a member of the Puritan Movement.

Hakluyt’s books on the exploration of the world by Europeans during the 1500s are fascinating, because they are essentially eyewitness accounts, the type stuff that we like to use in our research.  Book Nine of the 1904 reprinting of The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries . . . is particularly valuable.  It contains a complete translation of René de memoir, accounts of Master John Hawkins’ voyages in the New World and translations of reports from two Spaniards who lived in the Santa Elena (Parris Island, SC) colony.  His books cover the full story of European exploration in the Americas, Asia and Africa during the 1500s.  His last book is a detailed description of de Soto’s exploration of the Southeast.  It contains details missing from the late 20th century translation.   The URL to download his books is:

Many thanks to Michael Jacobs, senior planner at the Southern Georgia Regional Commission, for providing us this free online source for downloading Hakluyt’s books!

Great Copal

The translated reports of Pedro Moreles and Nicholas Burgiognon describe repeated journeys from Santa Elena to the Georgia Mountains to trade with the Apalache for gold.  The Spaniards stated that the capital of this province was a great city in these mountains named “Great Copal.”    The descriptions seem to match those of the great city on the side of a mountain in “The Migration Legend of the Creek People” and the Florida Indians’ stories of a great city named Yupaha in the Georgia Mountains. Probably, Great Copal was probably the half square mile ruins at Track Rock Gap, but it may be the even larger town of Itsate, 21 miles to the Southeast in the Nacoochee Valley.

French exploration in the Southeast

Richard Hakuyt’s book, Four Voyages, provided many details that are missing from the 2001 translation of René de Laudonnière’s by Charles C. Bennett that was named Three Voyages.  There are many more Native America words, descriptions of Native American towns and details about Fort Caroline’s true location.   We learn that the Aleckmani were cultivating quinine trees and trading salt to peoples living upstream.

In particular, the detailed account in Hakuyt’s book of the privately sponsored French expedition in 1568 to avenge the massacre at Fort Caroline provides information not found in contemporary texts.  It provides geographical details that clearly eliminate the possibility of Fort Caroline being in the State of Florida. It places the Native village of Sehoy on the Satilla River in Georgia. By 1568, the Spanish had THREE forts at the mouth of the Altamaha River.  The largest was Fort San Mateo on the site of Fort Caroline. At that time, they planned to make SAN MATEO the capital of La Florida. St. Augustine was essentially a life guard station until Santa Elena was abandoned. This explains why a 1578 Spanish map shows the town of San Mateo to be larger than either Santa Elena or St. Augustine. 


  1. The word “Copal” rang a bell… Natural Healing With Copal
    copal resin
    Natural rainforest Copal Resin
    What Is Copal
    Copal is tree resin identified with the aromatic resins used by the cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica as ceremonially burned incense and other purposes. The term copal describes resinous substances in an intermediate stage of polymerization between gummier resins and amber. The word copal is derived from the Nahuatl language word copalli, meaning “incense”. To the pre-Columbian Maya and contemporary Maya peoples it is known in the various Maya languages as pom. Copal is used by a number of indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America as an incense and communal ceremonies. Copal has been used in ancient Maya and Aztec ceremony as a ritual offering to the gods. The secondary and less well-known use of copal is as medicine. I was already familiar with the concept of “evil eye” and “spiritual cleansing” from my own cultural background and so the use of copal for these purposes came as no surprise to me. However, whilst working as a medical doctor at the Santa Ana Clinic in Toledo, I stumbled across some other medicinal uses of copal: I found that it was not uncommon for a Mayan to seek medical attention at the clinic before going to see the bush doctor.

    Copal Scientific Name: Protium copal Common Name: Copal, Pom

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    1. Most people don’t know that the imported copal bushes adapted to the climate of the Southern Appalachians. In particular, it grows along streams in Fannin and Gilmer Counties, GA. It was used as a headache remedy and painkiller by mountain families. Too much consumption of copal causes humans to literally turn into zombies for a few days. That is the cause of the periodic reports of “hillbilly zombies” wandering around the landscape of Fannin and Gilmer Counties. Wikipedia also does not mention that there is a dwarf variety of the copal tree that is indigenous to the Caribbean Basin and southern Florida. I suspect that this is the one that was grown in the Georgia Mountains. Copal likes moist, shady locations, which would explain the northwest orientation of many terraces at Track Rock Gap.

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