Beach Town in a Forest

Beach Town in a Forest
Beach Town in a Forest, Pine Knoll Shores located in Carteret County on North Carolina's Crysal Coast. Photo compliments of Bill Flexman and Dave Prutzman

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Was Verrazano Here?

How far back can we trace the history of the section of Bogue Banks we know as Pine Knoll Shores? We have evidence that native Americans camped and fished here, but the earliest recorded history of a westerner visiting may be when the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano arrived in the 16th century.

Giovanni da Verrazano (also spelled Verrazzano and Verazano) may or may not have made landfall in Pine Knoll Shores, but a letter he wrote to King Francis I of France, dated July 8, 1524, indicates that Verrazano did sail along our coast. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources highway marker ID: C-59, on the corner of Highway 58 and Pine Knoll Boulevard, honors his passage.

Francis I along with Italian merchants and French bankers sponsored Verrazano’s navigational venture to find a northwest passage to Asia. Several years earlier, Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon, both sailing in a similar search under the Spanish flag, had made famous landings in North America.

Verrazano began his cross-Atlantic voyage with three vessels—the Brittany, the Normandy and the Dauphine—but only the Dauphine survived to make it to our shores. It’s believed he first came to the tip of Cape Fear and continued up the coast to the Pine Knoll Shores’ section of Bogue Banks.

National Humanities Center[i]

In his letter to the French King, Verrazano described campfires along the coast. When he and his crew first came ashore, he marveled at what he saw:

The seashore is completely covered with fine sand XV feet deep, which arises in the forms of small hills about fifty paces wide. After climbing farther, we found other streams and inlets from the sea, which come in by several mouths, and follow the ins and outs of the shoreline. Nearby we could see a stretch of country much higher than the sandy shore, with many beautiful fields and plains full of great forests, some sparse and some dense; and the trees have so many colors, and are so beautiful and delightful that they defy description. [ii]

Was he down by the mouth of the Cape Fear River or right here along the shores of Bogue Banks?

Verrazano also described a native population he and his crew encountered:

They go completely naked except that around their loins they wear skins of small animals like martens, with a narrow belt of grass around the body, to which they tie various tails of other animals, which hang down to the knees; the rest of the body is bare, and so is the head. Some of them wear garlands of birds’ feathers. They are dark in color, not unlike the Ethiopians, with thick black hair, not very long, tied back behind the head like a small tail. As for the physique of these men, they are well proportioned, of medium height, a little taller than we are. They have broad chests, strong arms, and the legs and other parts of the body are well composed. There is nothing else, except that they tend to be rather broad in the face: but not all, for we saw many with angular faces. They have big black eyes, and an attentive and open look.[iii]

Are these early residents of Pine Knoll Shores?

The Department of Cultural Resources does consider the possibility that Verrazano could be describing a coastal area further south: “Cases can be made for Brunswick and Onslow Counties as well as Carteret County. In recent years, in fact, a real estate development in the Cape Fear region has taken the name ‘Landfall’ for the event.” But, in finally making the decision that Verrazano was describing Bogue Banks, those working with the Highway Marker Program relied heavily on one important detail—specifically, Verrazano’s observation that after he and his crew made their first landing the coast “veered” eastward.

A portion of the letter showing Verrazano’s handwriting.
National Humanities Center

In the translation used to support the highway marker, Verrazano is quoted as saying, We departed this place still running along the coast, which we found to trend toward the east.” And, “In defense of the Pine Knoll Shores site in Carteret it is pointed out that the geographical landmass on Bogue Banks is the only spot along the explorer’s route where the land ‘trend[s]’ toward the east.” [iv]

This said, “The text of the marker was crafted to avoid making a claim for any one location.”[v] It simply identifies Verrazano and his achievement: “Florentine sailing under French flag. His voyage along the coast in 1524 marked the first recorded European contact with North Carolina.”
If we are confused today about where Verrazano first landed, he was clearly even more confused. Following the land as it “veered toward the east,” Verrazano, we think, sailed on to Cape Lookout.  But, he thought he was seeing “an isthmus” and named it “Annunciata.” He mistook the Pamlico Sound for an “eastern sea,” which could lead to “the tip of India, China and Cathay.”

Screenshot of 1582 Map and NASA Satellite Shot of Pamlico Sound
Michael Lok, Illustri Viro, 1582, depicting the “Mare de Verrazana”
National Humanities Center

In fact, the remainder of his voyage was to take him up the coast all the way to Newfoundland. He made important stops along the way. The following map shows how he saw New York Harbor:

National Humanities Center

The naming of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island in New York State is a tribute to him as is the Statue of Verrazano in Battery Park.


Statue in Battery Park [vi]

Giovanni da Verrazano was born in Tuscany near Florence, where he received a good education. He lived in Dieppe, France, as a young man and entered the French maritime service, making several voyages for France to Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. After his failed attempt to find a northwest passage to Asia by crossing the ocean and traveling along our coast, he made another voyage in 1527 to the West Indies and the coast of South America, where, it is believed, natives in the Lesser Antilles killed him.
National Humanities Center
 Giovanni da Verrazano is not as well known as other explorers who came to the coast of North America. But, thanks to a historic marker, we remember him here in Pine Knoll Shores. We also appreciate his descriptions of the natural beauty he saw and the natives he encountered when he first came ashore.

Post Authors: Barbara Milhaven and Phyllis Makuck
Phyllis Makuck modified Barbara Milhaven’s original article, which appeared in The Shoreline.

To contact the authors or the History Committee

Excerpted and images added by the National Humanities Center, 2006, Translated from the Italian by Susan Tarrow; in Lawrence C. Wroth, ed., The Voyages of Giovanni da Verrazzano, 1524-1528 (New Haven: Published for The Pierpont Morgan Library by Yale University Press, 1970). Reproduced by permission. Some paragraphing added by NHC. Full text (translation by Joseph Cogswell) in American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts of Early American Exploration and Settlement (Wisconsin Historical Society) at Complete image credits at imagecredits.htm.
[iv] North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, NC Highway Marker Program.
[v] North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, NC Highway Marker Program.
[vi] Fazl Shaikh February 11, 2008. Posted on Wikispaces.