Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Norumbega Ponderings

For about a week now, I have been pondering Jean Allefonsce's (Alfonse) description of his sailing to Norumbega in 1542.  The Internet is filled with theories on the location of Norumbega ranging from the Hudson River all the way to the Penobscot River, including numerous other rivers and bays in between.
What I found intriguing was the description attributed to Jean Allefonsce who was Roberval's pilot or navigator.  At some point in Roberval's 1542 voyage to the St. Lawrence River, he either sent or allowed Allefonsce to undertake a separate voyage of discovery, and this was when he visited Norumbega.  Because Allefonsce was regarded as a competent navigator, I believe his mention of specific distances must be given serious consideration.  The first distance that caught my attention was the "said river is more than forty leagues broad at its mouth".  That is more than 120 miles wide and there aren't any rivers that I know of that come close to having that width at their mouths, except for the St. Lawrence and they already knew about that river.  Next, he stated the river "extends this width inward thirty or forty leagues".  Again, there are no rivers that size that I can find.  All last week I mulled over these dimensions and kept looking at maps with no success until yesterday morning I awoke with the thought of where this great river might be located.  Opening my atlas and finding my new candidate, I measured the width at the mouth and found it to be pretty close to 40 leagues.  Next I checked that it held its width for thirty to forty leagues and found, once again, it is fairly close.  Thinking that I may be on to something, I searched the Internet for a more complete account of his description and found his having reported sailing 140 leagues southwest from Cape Breton to Cape Sable, and then another 25 leagues to the river.  He reported that Cape Sable was "at 45 degrees of the height of the artic pole" and later says that the river, only 25 leagues beyond, is "at 42 degrees of the height of the artic pole".  Perhaps this was an error in transcription?  Another dimension provided is that said river "is salt for more than 40 leagues inward".  My new candidate seems to conform well to all of his listed criteria.  However, it is not a river by our present definition.  It is a bay, specifically the Bay of Fundy.  I can understand how he may have thought of it as a great river.  At any rate, he said that "15 leagues within this river is a city which is called Norombergue".  If Norumbega was on the west side it may have been near the mouth of the St. Croix River or, if on the east side, perhaps near Digby.  This map by Abraham Ortelius from 1570 shows a location that looks very much like the Bay of Fundy.  Actually, I don't see how it could be anything but the Bay of Fundy, since such a large body of water couldn't be simply omitted from a map.
Another good map is by Cornelius Wytfliet from 1597.  This one can be viewed full-screen and is zoomable.
I'm sure the mystery will continue into the future.  Now, I can get back to my Skipper's Annual Report since it is not looking good for any more 2010 trash patrols.

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