This paper deals with the first Croatians, members of the Dubrovnik fleet serving under the command of the Spanish navy, who set foot on the American soil. There are exact data and sources in Croatian and foreign archives, written documents dating as far as the 12th century among them. There are descriptions of the Dubrovnik fleet at the time of the discovery of America and the finding of the inscription in modern day North Carolina from the 16th century. There are also several language clues found in a letter written by a Croatian emigrant to the mayor of the city of Dubrovnik (1936).
As I have recently visited North America, namely New York City, I remembered a dear friend of mine, a doctor from Dubrovnik, who had given me an ancient document on the first Croatians who, supposedly, set foot on the American soil. Naturally, it was about the Dubrovnik fleet that, serving under the command of the Spanish fleet, participated in the discovery of America and on the Indians incorrectly named so as it had been believed to be India. I consider that parts of this work should be shared with the Croatian public (and others if interested) since I find this matter quite fascinating.
DUBROVNIK FLEET AT THE TIME OF THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA
Written texts regarding the Dubrovnik maritime transport, some dating as far as the 12th century, are kept at the National Archives in Dubrovnik. At first, ships from Dubrovnik sailed across the Mediterranean Sea. Later on, when the sea route to India around Africa was discovered and especially after the discovery of America, the center of the international trading moved towards the oceans. The Dubrovnik fleet adjusted to the new circumstances and built big transoceanic vessels.
From the mid-15th and particularly during the 16th century, the Dubrovnik fleet became one of the largest in the world. Only the Spanish and the Dutch fleets were bigger. At the beginning of the 16th century, Palladius Foscus wrote that not one corner of Europe was too distant for the merchants of Dubrovnik, who had had over three hundred ships.
In 1573 in Venice, Ivan M. Sagri published a book on sea currents in the Atlantic Ocean. It was written by his brother Nikola Sagri, the captain of the largest Dubrovnik ship called «S. Spiritus et Sancta Maria di Loreto». Among other things, it reported of the Dubrovnik fleet, which consisted of almost one hundred ships, stating that their ships «cut the waves across the seas all over the world». One of the biggest ships from Dubrovnik was described by Serafin Razzi, an Italian humanist and writer. On September 11, 1557 he visited the ship that had been brought to anchor in the city of Vasto in Abruzo, Italy. He said it had been the largest ship sailing the seas, carrying 1200 cartloads of grain, with the crew of 140 men. He admired its grandeur and beauty: its main room had a carved, painted and gilded ceiling.The adjacent room was a saloon where the ceiling was painted «in roses». The ship had three masts with baskets on top and rope ladders for climbing.
From all the above it is obvious that in the 16th century Dubrovnik had one of the most powerful fleets in the world. In addition to numerous coastal vessels that sailed the Adriatic sea, Dubrovnik had huge transoceanic ships that sailed across the world and their seamen’s knowledge of the Atlantic ocean was exceptional.
Thanks to their sailing qualities and accomplishments, our sailors gained an outstanding reputation at the time and were even spoken of by Shakespeare.This powerful fleet never had any invasive colonial tendencies nor goals like Spain, Portugal, France, Netherlands and England. It only had one interest – to profit from maritime transport.
Spain, being the first to discoved America, took possession of the entire New World, with the Roman Pope’s blessing, thus becoming the most important Western European country and the ruler of the seas, controlling several coastal countries and territories. The Dubrovnik ships, under the command of the Spanish navy, were involved in Spanish expeditions and sea wars. Consequently, as the seamen from Dubrovnik were included in conquering the city of Corunna (1532), Algeria (1541), the expedition to Tunisia etc., it can be assumed that our seamen were among the first to arrive at the newly discovered territories, including the Americas. The Dubrovnik ships also took part in the battle of Levant in 1571, serving to the Spanish.
A member of the Martolosić family from the island of Lopud, participated in the discovery of the continent as a pilot. Members of the Ohmučević family also worked for the Spanish and Petar Ohmučević-Ivelja took part in the siege of Lisbon and some actions in America, called India at the time. He was appointed the General captain of India.
Another distinguished seaman Vice Bune from the island of Lopud was highly respected by the Spanish king who had sent him to India as his emissary and even appointed him the Viceking of Mexico. For such services, the Republic of Dubrovnik was granted special privileges regarding free sailing and trading. Some ten certified copies of these privileges are kept in the National Archives in Dubrovnik.
Other seamen from Dubrovnik who served under the Spanish command were treated with great honours and respect by the Spanish. Spain forbade other nations all trade in the New World, firmly guarding its newly acquired possessions in the West Indies or elswhere. Only Spanish and Dubrovnik ships were allowed to visit Spanish properties and lands in the New World. In 1597 and 1588 captain Mateo Letiele from Dubrovnik sailed from Cadisco to India, modern day America. The document relating to these voyages was signed by Pavao Ivanov Malitia and Marko Petrov, both from Dubrovnik, situated in Cadisco at the time.
In his book «Land of Silent People» St John mentioned ships from Dubrovnik, saying that sailors from Dubrovnik – known as the «Aragosy» – had been among the first to come to the San Francisco Bay. According to that, we can draw a conclusion that karaka ships from Dubrovnik, with as many as 140 crew members, sailed the seas, suffered damages or were destroyed by hurricanes, sailing along the undiscovered east coast, all the way to North America. Those who survived most probably swam ashore the unknown land and settled there.
There are documents from the 16th century reporting on several men from Dubrovnik who emigrated and settled in the newly discovered territories in America. In 1520 two brothers Mato and Dominiko Konkegjević emigrated from the island of Koločep and went to the West Indies (America) and lived there for more than thirty years.
FINDING OF THE MYSTERIOUS INSCRIPTION «CROATOAN»
As the first Europeans arrived at modern day America, they met tribes which apparently belonged to the same race of Asian origins , their civilizations at different stages of development. Among many native tribes that lived along the Atlantic Ocean coastline, there was one called Virginia. According to Ptolemai’s geography book «Apalchen» from 1598, the state of Virginia was named after this tribe. Explorers called all the native groups Indians because the geographers of the time believed India had been situated in the western Atlantic.
Following the age of Christopher Columbus and especially during the 16th century, a large number of daring seamen explored the new continents. First English expeditions aiming to establish new colonies in modern day North Carolina were fruitless. First English colonies had disappeared without trace and the only thing left behind was the word «CROATAN» carved into a tree trunk.
In 1581 Sir Walter Raleigh appeared at the English Court. He rose rapidly in the favour of queen Elizabeth I and soon became famous for his engagement in the suppression of Irish rebellions. His dream was to found an English colony to match and oppose Spanish expansion in the New World. In order to do so, he asked for a permission from the queen for an expedition to North America to found English settlements. He was granted a royal charter by the queen authorizing him to explore and colonise any new territories. Sir Raleigh was not put in charge of the expedition. The first English expedition was led by Philip Adams and Arthur Barlow and they found a colony on the island of Roanoka in 1584 known as «Roanoka colony». The Indian tribes they found there were called Manteo and Wanchese. Reports from a book called «Voyages» state: « We saw children who had had the finest chestnut hue skin and brownish hair». Based on these first reports, Hawks concluded that the Europeans had most probably already been among the natives before the arrival of Adams and Barlow. Other natives’ complexion was yellowish-brown, their faces flat, their hair thick and black like the Mongolians’. The natives explained as follows:
«Twenty five years ago, in 1558, an unknown ship carrying white people was destroyed near Secotan… Some of the crew members were saved by the natives … After spending several weeks on Wocoton (Ocroake), they tried to sail on a fragile natives’ raft. Perhaps they died. Their boats were soon found aground on another island not far from Wocoton».
The natives reported of yet another wreck on shore from the shipwreck some six years previously and that could have been in 1564. No one survived but the Indians. Two months later the expedition went back to England and took Manteo and Wanches with them. On arriving to England, the two of them were introduced at Court.
Another English expedition, which took Manteo and Wanches back home, reached the island of Roanoke on July 3rd, 1584.. In the reports on this expedition the name «Croatan» showed up for the first time. It related to Manteo’s place of birth – an island by the same name. Indeed, some old maps marked an island called Croatoan lying between the Cookon horn and the Hatteras horn, the island of Ocracoke south of it.
The third English expedition, also organised and equipped by Sir Walter Raleigh and led by J.White in 1587, sailed in the same direction. When they reached their destination, they learned from some friendly Indians that the fifteen men left from the previous expedition had all died. Manteo was baptised on August 13th, 1587 and given the title of the Lord of Roanoka by White who had been appointed the Governor of the New Territories. In addition to that, Manteo became the chieftain of the Roanoka tribe. Five days later White’s granddaughter Eleonor gave birth to a baby girl. To honour the first white child born and baptised in North America, she was named Virginia Dare. J.White returned to England on August 27th, 1587 leaving the colony on the island. Three years later, on August 15th,1590 he came back with the supplies. However, he found nothing but grass and a smouldering hearth. There were letters CRO carved into one of the tree trunks and the word CROATOAN into another.
Unfortunately, stormy weather prevented them from further exploration and they had to return to England. Nobody knows what happened to the first Anglo-Saxon colonists and why they disappeared. The first attempt to establish an English colony was unsuccessful.
Apart from the unexplained historical data regarding the word CROATOAN, there are also certain fascinating language clues found in a letter written by Josip Cuculić, an imigrant from Chicago, to the mayor of the city of Dubrovnik on May 31st, 1936. In one of the Chicago libraries Mr Cuculić has found a small book written by an officer of the USA army some hundred years previously. In it, Cuculić read about the Croatan Indians and wrote: »…and now what intrigues me more than an average American is that I have found lots of words similar to Croatian words in the book. Their similarity is fascinating. They coincide in meaning, spelling and pronunciation. I believe you will also find it interesting so I here present some of them.
Gundulić’s dialect of Croatian language has been used so I’m confident that the vessel had come from Dubrovnik.»
The following are some of the Croatian words used by the Croatan Indians from the above mentioned book:
With the Atlantic, they don’t pronounce «r» as «r» but as «j» a sin YOURNAL (jojnal).
HROATAN (CROATIAN) ISLAND CRATIAN ISLAND
The descendants of Kroat (Croatan) Indians still live in the USA. According to Josip Cuculić’s letter, the above book also stated that a ship came near the Hatteras Horn in 1541 but broke against the reefs and the shipwreck victims went ashore. Eventually they became friends with the natives, married their girls and called themselves Croatan Indians. In time, their descendants spread all over the USA and Canada, reaching some 800 000 to 2 million in number.
Some became congressmen and senators. It is said that the former president of the USA Coolidge (1923-1929) was one of them, his surname possibly originating from Kulić or Kucić.
Many American politicians wanted to classify the Croatan Indians as black people (which used to be a degrading status but would be quite the opposite today with the president Obama in the White House) but they have always opposed such classification and finally the politicians gave in. Nowdays, these white descendants live in Virginia and have 30 national schools in Robinson and Sampson Counties. Louis Adamich, an American writer of Yugoslavian origin, wrote a book on all the nations populating the USA. At page 235 of his book, talking about Americans from Yugoslavia (the book had been written before Yugoslavia dissolved) he stated that our nations (without specifying the nations from former Yugoslavia) were the integral part of the history of the USA. As the above documents testify, Croatoan Indians were involved in the stories (translated as Croatian Indians) and the word CROATAN was inscribed in a tree so we are inclined to believe that it must be the Croatian nation.
According to his book, the Croatan Indians live in Robeson County in North Carolina where there are still people who call themselves Croats and assert to be the descendants of Croatan tribes. Another branch of the descendants lives in West Virginia and the Cumberland area in Maryland.
Manteo, one of the Croatan Indians, eventually returned to his homeland, became a chieftain and titled Lord. His name could be a variety of Croatian male names Mateo or Mate, quite frequent names in Dalmatia.
Another matter worth mentioning is as follows. Some of our constructors were involved in the building of the Suez Canal (1859-1869). They stayed in Port Tewfik near a place called Suez, in a quarter called «Croati» and this quarter still exists under the same name.
This points out that our nation has always been connected with the names CROATOAN, CROATAN and CROATI in all the corners of the world.
The above mentioned book on Croatan Indians found in a Chicago library by Josip Cuculić should be given proper attention and carefully examined.
Thomas Hariot, a scientist who participated in the second expedition, took Manteo under his wing, taught him English and learned some basics of Croatian language from Manteo. Hariot studied people of the region and on returning to England in 1588 he wrote a book «Brefe and a True Report on the Newly Discovered Land of Virginia «. This book too should be taken into consideration as a source of historical data regarding the first white settlers in the region around the Hatteras Horn, in spite of many foreign scientists’ opinion (as they are not necessarily right). There is a strong possibility that our sailors were the first white people who populated the area around the Hatteras Horn in the USA. It is up to our scientists to do their job and research this matter properly knowing that – being a maritime nation – the Croatians have been quite interested in it.
This work is based on written documents and pieces of information whose credibility is unquestionable. They have been kept in national libraries, Croatian as well as foreign.
The select bibliography is as follows.
1. G.M. Sagri: Debating the diversity of the western ocean Nicole Sagria Collection, Venice, 1574th,
2. Manuscripts Serafino Razzi, Travel, preswerved in the National Library in Florence,
3. M. Resetar, Dubrovnik ship XVI century, Dubrovnik 1908th, no. 13, pages 1-3,
4. S. Razzi, A trip to Abruzzo, Firenze 1969,
5. S. Krasic, Serafin razzi and Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik horizons, Zagreb 1971., No. 7-8, pages 26-30,
6. Foretić, Our share of people in general to foreign navies and maritime affairs through the centuries, maritime antology, I, Zagreb, 1962., pages: 269-301
7. J. Tadic: The first immigrants to America, Politics, Belgrade, Easter number, 1940., page 8,
8. Ptolomy: Geography, Universal description of the country, Venezia, D.M. 1598th, Chapter XXXIII, America or description „Indian“ on page 205,
9. A. Maurois: History of the United States, 1942nd to 1952nd, Naprijed, Zagreb, 1960., page 12,
10. Francais L. Hawks: History of North Carolina, Fayetevile: E.J. Hale&Son, 1857., I, page 80, Full report of Amadas and Barlow, re-inscribed by R. Hakluyt, Travel, III, 246 f., pages 69-88,
11. George J. Prpic: Early Croatian Contacts with America and mystery of Kroatan, Journal of Croatian Studies, vol. I, 1960., page 16,
12. National Geography: Ghost Fleet of the Outer Banks, no. 3, September 1969th, page 19
13. J. White: A letter written to Richard Haklout on February 4th, 1593. in the Hakluyt’s Primacy of the Navigation (Mac Lehose, NY) VIII, p. 418, Stefan Lorant, edition; The New World; First Pictures of the America