- Historic Sites
The Longest Walk: David Ingram’s Amazing Journey
He was the first Englishman to give a detailed description of the North American wilderness. Was it a pack of lies?
April/May 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 3
Consider this. The Relation , as we have seen, has got the three seamen back to England. It has said that about a fortnight after their return they “came to master John Hawkins … and unto eche of them he gave a reward.” And it tells of the manner of death in later years of Twide and Browne. There is then tacked on a new and different version of the conclusion of the seamen’s walk, viz: “Also the sayd Dauid Ingram traueiling towardes the north, found the maine sea upon the Northside of America, and trauailed in the sight thereof the space of two whole dayes, where the people signified unto him, that they had scene shippes on that coast, and did draw upon the ground the shape and figure of shippes, and of their sailes and flagges. Which thing especially proueth the passage of the Northwest, and is agreeable to the experience of Vasques de Coronado, which found a shippe of China or Cataia upon the Northwest of America.”
Clearly this addendum is contrived simply to support Gilbert’s case for a northwest passage. As such, it removes any doubt from my mind that the shift by twelve-hundred miles, by land, of the site at which Hawkins set the men ashore is the work of the interrogators, to make Ingram’s walk more credible. What strikes me at this point is that Hakluyt could not have failed to know that the facts of the landing had been falsified, for in his Principall Navigations the Relation is sandwiched between John Hawkins’ narrative and Miles Phillips’, both of which put the landing north of Tampico. But beginning in 1583, Hakluyt had spent five years serving Walsingham, collecting information in France, while also preparing a “discourse” in favor of English colonization of North America.
That leaves John Hawkins. After the first publication of Ingram’s testimony in 1583, he had years in which to protest the misrepresentation of the landing site, and Hakluyt surely would have published it if he had. Are we to believe that he was somehow brought into line? Or am I on the wrong track altogether?
If we accept the intervention of Walsingham et al. for the purpose of deception, does that mean that Ingram’s hike was fictitious? This brings up an awkward question that must have been on the reader’s mind all along. If the three seamen did not walk where Ingram said they did, how did they get home? David B. Quinn wrote me that “The only theory I have which makes sense is that a French ship picked him up somewhere along the Gulf and went up the North American coast on her way back, calling in as they did at places like St. Helena Sound [South Carolina] … and ultimately at … Cape Breton. … The object of the calls was to get water and fuel and perhaps trade a little with the Indians.” Quinn is an expert—yet I find it hard to see what would take French privateers around the cape of Florida and hundreds of miles beyond; and Sauer says that they did not enter the Gulf (granting, however, that in his history of the period he was able to avoid the problem of getting Ingram home by not mentioning him). Furthermore, the chance of a contact between a rare privateer and three men marching inland of the islands, sounds, and marshes of the coast would seem to be one in many thousands. Doubtless they would be much better along the Atlantic coast of Florida and South Carolina, and Quinn grants the possiblity of the travelers having reached it. If they did, and got home from there, their interrogators simply may have relocated the walk. If so, it was still a history-making march, of some fourteen hundred miles at least, through unknown wilderness. However, while there had been French forts on that coast, they had fallen to the Spanish in 1565, and thereafter the chance of meeting with a friendly ship on the Southeastern littoral would have been exceedingly slim, I should think.
The place where it would have been by far the best lay in just the direction Ingram would have us believe he took. The Newfoundland banks were visited annually by hundreds of ships. The walkers would have known they had to force the pace if they were to reach their goal before the fishing fleet sailed for home and left them to face a Canadian winter. But could they have done it, the distance from the Rio Pánuco being a good three thousand miles? My friend John B. George, who has hiked in Africa through equally wild country almost as untouched by whites, believes they could, with the help of the aborigines. Hundreds of persons have hiked the two-thousand-mile-long Appalachian Trail, up hill and down the whole way, under packs, in less than six months, and two septuagenarians did it in roughly four months and three weeks.
Three survivors out of eight or nine times that number, Ingram and his companions must, however they got home, have had adventures enough for the telling. Why, I ask myself, should they have claimed to walk where they had not, and have risked exposure by the truth following them home from the ship that brought them to France—the Gargarine , Ingram called her. As it was, Ingram declared that “divers” of the seamen in the Gargarine were “yet living in Homflewre,” he thought, “for he did speak with some of them within these three yeares.” Professor Quinn himself says that “There is no doubt that he believed his own story,” pointing out that he not only sailed with Gilbert in 1583 to prove his assertion but that after his return, according to Peckham, “was very desirous to be imployed thither againe.”
And now, reader, it is all yours.