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Virginia Indians: The manner of making their boats

Fine copper plate engraving showing Theodore De Bry's version of John White's painting.

White stated in his report:

The manner of makinge their boats in Virginia is verye wonderfull. For wheras they want Instruments of yron, or other like vnto ours, yet they knowe howe to make them as handsomelye, to saile with whear they liste in their riuers, and to fishe with all, as ours. First they choose some longe, and thicke tree, according to the bignes of the boate which they would frame, and make a fyre on the grownd about the Roote thereof, kindlinge the same by little, and little with drie mosse of trees, and chipps of woode that the flame should not mounte opp to highe, and burne to muche of the lengthe of the tree when yt is almost burnt through, and readye to fall of yt owne accord. Then burninge of the Topp, and bowghs of the tree in suche wyse that the bodie of the same may Retayne his iust lengthe, they raise yt vppon potes laid ouer cross wise vppon forked posts, as suche a reasonable height as they may handsomiye worke vppon yt. Then take they of the barke with certayne shells: thy reserue the innermost part of the lennke [trunk], for the nethermost parte of the boate. On the other side they make a fyre accordingle to the length of the bodye of the tree, saunge at both endes. That which they think is sufficientlye burned they qu[e]nche andscrape away with shells, and makinge a new fyre they burne yt agayne, and soe they continne somtymes burninge and sometimes scrapinge, vntill the boate haue sufficient bothownes. This god indueth thise sauage people with sufficient reason to make thinges necessarie to serue their turnes.

In 1585, Governor John White, was part of a voyage from England to the Outer Banks of North Carolina under a plan of Sir Walter Raleigh to settle "Virginia." White was at Roanoke Island for about thirteen months before returning to England for more supplies. During this period he made a series of over seventy watercolor drawings of indigenous people, plants, and animals. The purpose of his drawings was to give those back home an accurate idea of the inhabitants and environment in the New World. The earliest images derived from White's original drawings were made in 1590, when Theodor De Bry made engravings from White's drawings to be printed in Thomas Hariot's account of the journey. Hariot, a mathematician, had also been part of the 1585 voyage.

Theodor De Bry Biography

Theodor de Bry (1528-1598) was a prominent Flemish engraver and publisher best known for his engravings of the New World. Born in Liege, de Bry hailed from the portion of Flanders then controlled by Spain. The de Brys were a family of jewelers and engravers, and young Theodor was trained in those artisanal trades.

As a Lutheran, however, his life and livelihood were threatened when the Spanish Inquisition cracked down on non-Catholics. De Bry was banished and his goods seized in 1570. He fled to Strasbourg, where he studied under the Huguenot engraver Etienne Delaune. He also traveled to Antwerp, London, and Frankfurt, where he settled with his family.

In 1590, de Bry began to publish his Les Grands Voyages, which would eventually stretch to thirty volumes released by de Bry and his two sons. The volumes contained not only important engraved images of the New World, the first many had seen of the geographic novelties, but also several important maps. He also published a collection focused on India Orientalis. Les Grands Voyages was published in German, Latin, French, and English, extending de Bry’s fame and his view of the New World.