Did a Ship of the Spanish Armada Reach the Bay of Fundy?

By Charles Francis The question as to the identity of the first Europeans to explore or attempt to make a permanent home in what would become the Maritime Provinces has fascinated professional and amateur historians alike for decades if not centuries. The very earliest explorers sailing with the official sanctions of England, France and Portugal reported evidence of earlier European presence on Maritime and New England shores. For example, Giovanni da Verrazzano, who coasted these waters in 1524, reported the native population evidenced hostility when his men attempted to land. The natives, Verrazzano noted, would gather on the shore and shout derisively, shoot arrows and even bare their bottoms at the approach of his ship or his ship's small boats. It would seem from these descriptions that native inhabitants had some previous experience with Europeans. As to who they were or where they came from is anyone's guess. The first generally acknowledged attempt at European settlement on Bay of Fundy waters is that of the French on St. Croix Island in 1604. St. Croix is near the head of Passamaquoddy Bay on the St. Croix River not far from the present day cities of St. Stephen, New Brunswick and Calais, Maine. This attempt was a failure, in part, because of the harsh northern winter. Now evidence has come to the fore that perhaps there was an even earlier attempted settlement by Europeans in the Bay of Fundy region, in 1588. The source for this conjecture originates from- of all places- the country of Uruguay and it suggests that a ship or ships from the ill-fated Spanish Armada may have landed somewhere in the Fundy region. The conjecture is based on the most extensive study ever done on atmospheric and tidal conditions at the time of the Armada's defeat at the hands of Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Lord Howard on July 28, 1588 and the resulting flight of the surviving ships, some of which have not been accounted for to this day. In order to appreciate the circumstances surrounding the possible landing of a ship from the Spanish Armada on the shores of the Bay of Fundy and the subsequent attempt by its crew to settle here, it is necessary to take into consideration the nature of the Spanish who took part in the doomed expedition, the winds and currents of the North Atlantic during midsummer 1588 and linguistic evidence pointing to Romance language phonemes in the speech patterns of Bay of Fundy region Native Americans. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, Spain was a major international power, exercising primacy over much of the then known world. Spain's ruler, King Philip II, pledged himself to conquering the Protestant heretics of both England and the Netherlands and converting them to Catholicism. Philip also had a personal hatred for England's Queen Elizabeth as the ruler of a seagoing rival. In order to subdue the English and the Dutch, Philip envisioned a two-pronged assault. 125 Spanish vessels would sail into the English Channel and anchor off Calais. Here they would link up with the Duke of Parma, whose army would then be ferried across the channel to attack and occupy England. The Marquis de Bazan, Philip's chief naval officer, was a brilliant admiral. The Marquis warned Philip of the folly of his plan. He said that the Netherlands should be subdued before the Armada set out, for should storms and high winds come up, the ships would have to seek shelter in Dutch ports. However, Philip would not

listen. Then the Marquis died. As a replacement Philip appointed as Grand Admiral of the Fleet the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. The Duke was terrified. He was an elegant grandee of incontestable lineage and blood and fabulously wealthy. But he was no sailor and knew it. In a long pathetic letter to Philip, the Duke implored that he be released of his command, saying he knew little of war, nothing of seamanship and that he got seasick as soon as he set foot on the deck of a ship. His pleas fell on deaf ears. The Armada now had at its head a golden admiral rather than an iron one. Reaching the English Channel the Armada found itself besieged by English vessels which refused to properly engage at close quarters but rather harassed and picked off stragglers. Finally the fleet reached Calais, where Medina-Sidonia chose to wait for the Duke of Parma, who never showed up. The English saw this as an opportunity. When the wind shifted to the appropriate quarter, they sent fire ships into the tightly packed harbour. Medina-Sidonia then ordered his fleet to attack. After an eight hour long struggle, the Duke, afraid of total defeat, ordered the remnants of the fleet to flee. The harassed and harried Spanish vessels sailed north up the North Sea and rounded the coast of Scotland. Then they sailed down the coast of Ireland. All along the way ships were wrecked on treacherous rocks or driven ashore. Some were driven out to sea never to be heard from again. Finally the few that survived limped back to Spain. It is from among those vessels that were driven out to sea that one or more may have reached the Bay of Fundy. And it is with them that the study done in Uruguay comes to the fore. The Uruguayan study was done by that country's Servicio de Oceanografia (Oceanographic Service) and is titled "Hidrografis de la Armada" ("Hydrographics of the Armada"). It was released in September of 1999. The study included nautical charts, tidal and current predictions, astronomical tables and meteorological information. It is all-inclusive and exhaustive. And, it suggests that it was possible for ships of the Armada to have reached northeastern North America, most likely in the general area of southern Nova Scotia and eastern Maine, in short the Bay of Fundy. As to why Armada ships would chose to head for northeastern North America, the report, in part, attempts to explain as well. The Spanish vessels fleeing English sea dogs like Sir Francis Drake feared nothing so much as another encounter with these vengeful and seeming unstoppable sea raiders. Therefore, even the unknown waters of the North Atlantic were preferable to coasting back to Spain. Moreover, these waters were not entirely a blank slate to the Spanish. King Philip had recently occupied Portugal and all the Portuguese possessions and knowledge of the world's oceans were now available to the Spanish navy. Portuguese explorers like Corte Reale, Fernandes and Fagundes are known to have explored Newfoundland, and Gomes coasted Nova Scotia and New England. Spanish sea captains now had access to the charts of these intrepid navigators. Fernandes, who is referred to as lavrador, is credited with the name for Labrador. And some authorities cite Fagundes as establishing a short-lived colony in the Bay of Fundy. The Uruguayan study points to the importance of Portuguese data in its hydrographic study of the Armada. The study also includes wind and current patterns for midsummer 1588. The latter were all favorable for a voyage to Fundy. Therefore, it is possible that one or more Armada ships made it here. After all that these ships had gone through in their struggles with the English and with their crossing of the North Atlantic, it is highly unlikely that they could have made it back home to Spain. Therefore their crews would have had to make do in their new surroundings.

Having made landfall, the Spanish would have come in contact with some of the indigenous population and there is some evidence they did. The evidence relates to wordings and intonations in the Algonkian language of the area's Native American population that are closer to Romance language phonetics than Algonkian. One example is the word Acadia, which was first used to identify the area around the of the Bay of Fundy and adjacent region and later to identify the entire area stretching from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to New Jersey. The Algonkian phonetic system does not include phonemes or sounds for "cadie." The closest approximation to "cadie" is found in "quoddy." Early Europeans first thought "quoddy" a place name identifying Passamaquoddy Bay. There are other examples like this and all seem to have entered the speech patterns of northeastern Native Americans prior to 1600 when the French began coming in contact with Mi'kmaq and other tribes inhabiting the region. Early French settlers to the Fundy region like de Mons, who came less than two decades after the destruction of the Spanish Armada, fail to record any indication of a Spanish presence here. This can, in part be explained by Spanish attitudes toward native peoples as well as the harshness of the climate. The Spanish in the New World routinely made slaves of any natives they encountered. The Armada seamen would undoubtedly have attempted the same thing, thereby causing the local population to vent their hostilities on the unfortunate survivors of Spain's great naval debacle. In fact, when de Mons attempted his settlement on St. Croix Island, one of his greatest fears was attack by Indians. Given the hostility of northern winter, it is which may have crossed study is correct, that in the Fundy region. some Native Americans as well as the harshness of the little wonder that any remnants of the Spanish Armada, the Atlantic, survived. Yet, it may be, if the Uruguayan Armada seamen began one of the first European settlements

Perhaps, at some future point in time, archaeologists and linguists will take this possibility into consideration as they try to find explanations for discoveries and theories which they cannot place in neat little niches.

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