The new book The Extraordinary Journey of David Ingram: An Elizabethan Sailor in Native North America (Oxford University Press, 2023) by Dean Snow rights the record on a shipwrecked sailor who traversed the length of the North American continent only to be maligned as deceitful storyteller.
In the autumn of 1569, a French ship rescued David Ingram and two other English sailors from the shore of the Gulf of Maine. The men had walked over 3,000 miles in less than a year after being marooned near Tampico, Mexico. They were the only three men to escape alive and uncaptured, out of a hundred put ashore at the close of John Hawkins’s disastrous third slaving expedition.
A dozen years later, Ingram was called in for questioning by Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. In 1589, the historian Richard Hakluyt published his version of Ingram’s story based on the records of that interrogation. For four centuries historians have used that publication as evidence that Ingram was an egregious travel liar, an unreliable early source for information about the people of interior eastern North America before severe historic epidemics devastated them.
In The Extraordinary Journey of David Ingram, author and archaeologist Dean Snow shows that Ingram was not a fraud, contradicting the longstanding narrative of his life. Snow’s careful examination of three long-neglected surviving records of Ingram’s interrogation reveals that the confusion in the 1589 publication was the result of disorganization by court recorders and poor editing by Richard Hakluyt.
Restoration of Ingram’s testimony has reinstated him as a trustworthy source on the peoples of West Africa, the Caribbean, and eastern North America in the middle sixteenth century. Ingram’s life story, with his long traverse through North America at its core, can now finally be understood and appreciated for what it was: the tale of a unique, bold adventurer.
Dean Snow received his BA from the University of Minnesota and his PhD from the University of Oregon. He taught at the University of Maine and the University at Albany before assuming the headship of the Department of Anthropology at Penn State in 1995. He is an anthropological archaeologist and an ethnohistorian who has conducted field research in Mexico, the US, France, and Spain. He has served as president of the Society for American Archaeology and the American Society for Ethnohistory, as well as serving as an officer in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and three regional associations.
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