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In 1567, a young English sailor named David Ingram signed up to work on a ship captained by English privateer John Hawkins. They would travel up and down the coasts of Africa and Mexico raiding and trading goods. In November of 1567, Ingram found himself and close to a hundred of his fellow crew mates stranded off the coast of Mexico, in a city called Tampico, just south of the present day Texas/Mexico border. Seeking to avoid capture by the Spanish, Ingram and close to two dozen of his shipmates started walking North. By October of 1568, a French fishing vessel picked up David Ingram and just two of his original party of travelers off the coast of Nova Scotia. 13 years later, Ingram’s account of what happened to himself and those travelers from Tampico to Nova Scotia was written down by Sir Francis Walsingham and published by Richard Hakluyt in his book The Principall Navigations Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation of 1589. Since then, the veracity of Ingram’s story has been debated by scholars across the globe. Today, our guest, Dean Snow, is here to share his research into Ingram and the famous walk from Mexico to Nova Scotia that defends Ingram’s journey as accurate, all of which is cataloged in Dean’s latest book, The Extraordinary Journey of David Ingram.
Today’s episode topic was suggested by our patrons, Jim and Annie Garlinghouse. Thank you Jim and Annie for sending in this excellent idea. We hope you especially enjoy the conversation. Be sure to send our best regards to Benny, the chihuahua, Manot, rag doll cat, and two new kittens, Ariel and Kombucha who I know are there listening with you, too!
Dean Snow received his BA from the University of Minnesota in 1962 and his PhD from the University of Oregon in 1966. He taught at the University of Maine for three years and at the University of Albany for twenty-six years, during which time he established and carried out archaeological research programs in highland Mexico, New England, New York and the British Isles. He is known for his research into the paleodemography of prehistoric populations in all of these areas. Snow moved to The Pennsylvania State University in 1995, where he served as Head of the Department of Anthropology for the following ten years. He served as president of the American Society for Ethnohistory in 1978-1979. He served as Chair of Section H (Anthropology) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 1999-2000 and subsequently as secretary of Section H 2000-2006. In 2005 he was a Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. before returning to Penn State as Professor of Anthropology. He served as President of the Society for American Archaeology 2007-09. In recent years he has carried out research on human sexual dimorphism as expressed in prehistoric hand stencils found in prehistoric art contexts in Europe and many other parts of the world. His recent writing includes 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, which was published in 2016. In 2019 he coauthored a second edition of Archaeology of Native North America. His latest book is The Extraordinary Journey of David Ingram: An Elizabethan Sailor in Native North America, Oxford University Press, 2023.
In this episode, I’ll be asking Dean Snow about:
- Do we know what caused David Ingram and his fellow crew mates to be marooned off the coast of Mexico in the first place?
- Is it physically possible to walk on foot from Mexico to Nova Scotia (that’s close to 3,000 miles!) in 11 months as David Ingram claims to have done?
- What specifics does David Ingram give about what sorts of people he encountered during his journey?
- …and more!
Resources You Can Use to Learn More
Klein, Bernhard (2020) The Minion and Its Travels: Sailing to Guinea in the Sixteenth Century. In: Blakemore, Richard and Davey, James, eds. The Maritime World of Early Modern Britain. Maritime Humanities, 1400-1800. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, Netherlands, pp. 37-65. ISBN 978-94-6372-130-1.
Bromber, Robert (2001) The Liar and the Bard: David Ingram, William Shakespeare and The Tempest. Sociedad Española de Estudios Renacentistas Ingleses 12:123-133.
Kelsey, Harry (2003) Sir John Hawkins. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Quinn, David Beers (1979) Ingram, David. Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Stranded in Vera Cruz, Mexico by a Hurricane
The group of ships of which Ingram’s vessel was a part were caught in a large storm on their journey. The storm caused the sailors to be driven ashore at Vera Cruz, Mexico. While there, the English fleet ran into a skirmish with Spanish vessels that were already in the area. While John Hawkins tried to negotiate a peace, there was eventually a battle known as Battle of San Juan de Ulúa (1568).
“The flagship was sunk after just a few days, except for a couple of them: one got away by being sailed out by the Captain Francis Drake, cousin of John Hawkins. The Minion was still afloat, half the English sailors were killed or captured, and many ended up on the Minion and escaped (but just barely). After a few weeks, they found themselves on the cost of Mexico but Hawkins realized they couldn’t get everyone home onboard the Minion, so Hawkins gave them a choice that was ultimately a 50/50 proposition to take their chances on shore, or to take their chances on the ship going back to England overloaded and low supplied. Ingram and a group tried to get to Jacksonville, Florida, headed there as the only thing they could do. They had bolts of special cloth to use as trading stock on their way, so they became itinerant traders.”
There were 114 men who were forced to disembark at Vera Cruz and take their chances with the natives. Originally, the sailors were attacked by a native Mexican tribe known as the Chichimecs, then they were imprisoned by Spaniards in Tampico, and then transferred to Mexico City. Upon eventual release from prison, the ones that stayed in Mexico lived freely until the Inquisition arrived in the 1570s. At the time of the Inquisition, anyone over the age of 16 at the time of the Battle of San Juan were let off with lenient sentences, but all other sailors were rounded up and persecuted, imprisoned, or executed. By choosing to walk North instead of trying to stay in Mexico, David Ingram very likely avoided death at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition.
David Ingram walking from Mexico to Nova Scotia physically possible?
Not only is the journey possible, but it has been tested and proven by an intrepid Canadian hiker who wanted to prove the plausibility of Ingram’s journey.
“…starting in Nova Scotia, [he walked] south towards Mexico and he did it in the same amount of time. Regular hikers who are used to traveling long distances will walk about 25km or 15 miles per day and this seems to be a sustainable pace for people who are accustomed to hiking. Using this math, Dean comes up with 5800 km it would take if you’re using the trail systems that existed at that time. It was a complicated system and was used by traders at that time. Ingram was plugging himself into a kind of pre-modernized interstate highway system. He would have had at least 80 days in that 11 months that could have been used for rest or trade or other delays and still made the entire journey in the time he suggested he did. “
In his book, Dean Snow outlines some of the particulars about professional hikers and enthusiast hikers who have taken similar journeys to demonstrate that, yes, David Ingram could have walked on foot the distance he suggests he did in 1568.
Animals and People Encountered on the Journey
David Ingram talks about African resources as they were collecting the people that they hauled all the way to the Caribbean. Then he talked about during his interrogation in England, the folks that he saw in the Caribbean and the resources he saw there. Only at the end of his interrogation did he talk about his long walk, but that’s what he was moist interested in. Lead by Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State). They were interested in colonizing the East Coast of America, aside form a few ships that had touched this area. Walsingham knew about Ingram, sailor who survived this long walk from Mexico to New Brunswick so Walsingham brought him in and interrogated him before a panel of investors who were interested in knowing more about Eastern North America. [Ingram’s] descriptions were later confirmed by people that were hired by Walter Raleigh to conduct the colonizing exercise in the 1580s on [the] coast of Virginia/North Carolina. Before the devastating epidemics wiped out so many people here from small pox. At the time that Ingram passed through and that Raleigh first went to America things were doing fine in the Eastern Woodlands and the devastation had not yet begun, so it was a long walk with very few stops. The longest they stayed any one place was “Balma” (Ingram’s name, we aren’t sure where he stopped). Clouded by memory and he was not a linguist, let alone literate, so it’s not surprising his named are inaccurate.
Interestingly, along his journey, Ingram does not detail any conflicts with native tribes other than a few internal tribe on tribe skirmishes that he was warned to avoid as he moved from place to place. Additionally, the trail systems that Ingram was using seem to have been equipped for travelers passing through as he account details supplies like dugout canoes that were left at the sides of major waterways for travelers to use.
“…even some waterways like the Mississippi River, had dugout canoes on either side for anyone to use to travel across the river. They were able to get across with some delay but not great difficulty, the rest of it was well trod trails that these guys could use as well as everybody else was using at the time. They encountered a lot of other travelers along the way, and he must have picked up sign language, because there were hundreds of languages, but he wouldn’t have had trouble communicating once he picked up the sign language and that was effective throughout his journey. We know about it from the Great Plains when it was being use din the 1800s, but it was ubiquitous throughout the US during the time of Ingram, he had an easy time of it, and did not encounter violence, and he was warned about people who might be violent, but these people were fighting amongst themselves periodically and there were some groups that were particularly aggressive but they weren’t aggressive towards [Ingram’s party]. On one occasion early on, the leader of some local town brought him in to interrogate him with his two friends and they took all their clothes off. They wanted to examine them closely because they had beards and light skin, but it wasn’t insulting, since nudity was not a big issue for [that tribe], they were just curious, and they allowed them to but their clothes back on, spend the night, and go on their way the next day.”
David Ingram’s Large Animals Were Likely Not Buffalo, but Manatee.
Dean’s research indicates that Ingram stuck fairly close to the shore on his travels North, with the exception of passing through Louisiana where he seems to have intentionally avoided swampland by traveling around it to the North of the coastline. As a result, Ingram would not have traveled to the interior of the US where the buffalo live. That’s one reason that Dean’s work concludes the large animals detailed in Ingram’s account was likely either manatees of Florida, or it was an amalgamation of his complete journey that includes trips to Africa.
As Dean explains, “[Ingram’s] editor, put all this stuff together incorrectly later on which made a lot of historians decide [Ingram] was a liar because he was not describing animals you would see in North America, like elephants and leopards and things, but the monstrous beast he talks about seeing in North America is actually the manatee including the sensory hairs they have over their body, but the English interrogators had no frame of reference for what he was talking about, because they had no prior experience with these things. This is 1568 when he sees these things and twelve years later, in 1582, when he’s being interrogated and they still did not have any direct information that would allow them to look critically at his account.”
We know about David Ingram’s journey today because Sir Francis Walsingham took down the account and it was subsequently published in Richard Hakluyts The Principall Navigations Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation of 1589. Ingram was an instant celebrity upon his return to London and as a government keen on exploring the North American continent, Francis Walsingham was anxious to know Ingram’s story.
“It was widespread fame that didn’t last very long because Ingram and his buddies had to go back to work, they were sailors and had to make a living, but everyone knew in that community that he had done this, so he was something of a celebrity. Even as his fame became less pronounced, the people who were in the know knew about him and Haklyut in particular had worked for Walsingham.”
Haklyut was writing a large publication intending to feature the amazing stories of several contributors. David Ingram was not able to write himself, so Haklyut wrote his story for him. In printing the story, Haklyut decided to bunch the pieces of Ingram’s tale together by topic. He would put all the animals in one chapter, all the locations in another chapter, and so on. This inaccurate grouping of Ingram’s tale is what Dean Snow explains as the reason Ingram’s tale sounds incorrect or made up:
“…that’s why it became confused because Haklyut organized his notes by topic—trees, animals, etc, and it compiled animals and tress and peoples that were all from different parts of the world instead of keeping it organized by where Ingram was when he saw the various things [Ingram] described.”
Back in England, Ingram’s story was widely circulated and one scholar, Robert Bromberg, even suggests that Shakespeare could have read about Ingram’s story and used some of it in his play, The Tempest.
Robert Bromber, [writes] about the Island of Curacao on the Spanish Main, and he suggests that it looks very much like Shakespeare read this and took advantage of what he was reading in really clever ways. It may be neither here nor there whether Shakespeare believed [Ingram’s story] or not, [Ingram’s tale] remained a good source of ideas. Bromber looked at this last entry in the Haklyut version and realized that it is basically an outline for Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. He published that in 1623, so he might have done it years after Haklyut’s death, we don’t know when Ingram died, but it’s clear to at least one Shakespeare scholar, that Ingram was a source for at least one of Shakespeare’s plays.