- Historic Sites
The Enigma Of Dighton Rock
For nearly three centuries men have speculated on its mysterious inscription
June 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 4
The following year, beyond any reasonable doubt, Miguel Cortereal sailed west in search of his brother. His two vessels reached Newfoundland in the early summer of 1502 and then separated, agreeing to a rendezvous on August 20. When Miguel failed to reach the rendezvous, the other ship returned to Portugal without him. Nothing more was ever heard of Miguel either—unless Delabarre was right in believing that Dighton Rock records his final message to the civilization he left behind.
Perhaps, Delabarre speculated—on the basis of local Indian traditions and other clues—Miguel Cortereal reached Mount Hope Bay in 1502 and sent men ashore near the site of Dighton Rock. Perhaps there was a battle with the Wampanoag Indians, perhaps a shipwreck, or perhaps for other reasons Miguel joined the Wampanoags. Because he possessed firearms and other marvelous equipment and skills, he was an obvious candidate for leadership. No doubt he kept close watch for vessels along the coast; but by 1511, his hopes of rescue having dimmed, he carved the message on the rock where it would stand for future generations.
Delabarre’s theory is widely accepted in Portugal; he was decorated by the Portuguese government for his researches, and his name is still held in affection among the large Portuguese-speaking population centered around Fall River, Massachusetts, half a dozen miles from the rock. The rock has even become a local political football in the Taunton-Fall River-New Bedford area; anyone in those parts who casts doubt on the Portuguese origin of the inscription is in danger ot being viewed almost as a traitor. Thanks to this renewed interest, steps are at last under way to preserve the rock for future generations.
In 1857 the rock and the acre of tideland on which it stands were purchased for Ole Bull, the worldrenowned Scandinavian violinist; and in 1860 they were presented as a gift to Denmark’s Royal Society of Antiquarians, but no arrangements were made to safeguard the inscription from weathering, tidal erosion, or casual carvings by vandals or thoughtless tourists. In 1889 title passed from the Royal Society to the Old Colony Historical Society of Taunton, Massachusetts; and a collection of photographs and documents concerning the rock was assembled in the society’s museum on Church Green, in Taunton, where they are open to inspection by the public. In 1955 the society deeded the rock to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and the Massachusetts legislature appropriated the necessary funds to convert the area into a new state park, with the rock to be moved to higher ground, out of reach of the tides and readily accessible from the new Fall River-Boston Expressway a few miles away. Construction of the new park is under way.
Was Delabarre right in assigning the writings on the rock to Miguel Cortereal? Or was he, too, a victim of the rock’s hypnotic spell?
Where scholars disagree, laymen are left to form their own opinions. So study the photograph and drawings of Dighton Rock for yourself. Do you, like Professor Delabarre, see Cortereal’s name and the date 1511? Or do you (again like Professor Delabarre) see there something else which no one has ever seen before, on rock or photograph, but which, once seen, cannot thereafter be doubted?