THE POLAR EXPEDITIONS AND THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE, I
After wintering in this place Zeno must have landed the following year on the eastern coast of Greenland at 69° north latitude, in a place "where was a monastery of the order of preaching friars, and a church dedicated to St. Thomas. The cells were warmed by a natural spring of hot water, which the monks used to prepare their food and to bake their bread. The monks had also gardens covered over in the winter season, and warmed by the same means, so that they were able to produce flowers, fruits, and herbs as well as if they had lived in a mild climate." There would seem to be some confirmation of these narratives in the fact that between the years 1828-1830 a captain of the Danish navy met with a population of 600 individuals at 69° north latitude, of a purely European type.
But these adventurous travels in countries of which the climate was so different from that of Venice, proved fatal to Zeno, who died a short time after his return to Frisland.
An old sailor, who had returned with the Venetian, and who said he had been for many long years a prisoner in the countries of the extreme west, gave to Sinclair such precise and tempting details of the fertility and extent of these regions, that the latter resolved to attempt their conquest with Antonio Zeno who had rejoined his brother. But the inhabitants showed themselves everywhere so hostile, and opposed such resistance to the strangers landing, that Sinclair after a long and dangerous voyage was obliged to return to Frisland.
These are all the details that have been left to us, and they make us deeply regret the loss of those that Antonio should have furnished in his letters to his father Carlo, on the subject of the countries which Forster and Malto-Brun have thought may be identified with Newfoundland.
Who knows, if in his voyage to England and during his wanderings as far as Thule, Christopher Columbus may not have heard mentioned the ancient expeditions of the Northmen and the Zeni, and if this information may not have appeared to him a strange confirmation of the theories which he held, and of the ideas for whose realization he came to claim the protection of the King of England?
From the collection of facts which have been here briefly given, it follows that America was known to Europeans and had been colonized before the time of Columbus. But in consequence of various circumstances, and foremost among these must be placed the rarity of communication between the people in the north of Europe and those in the south, the discoveries made by the Northmen were only vaguely known in Spain and Portugal. Judging by appearances, we of the present day know much more on this subject than did the fellow-countrymen and contemporaries of Columbus. If the Genoese mariner had been informed of the existence of some rumours, he classed them with the information he had collected in the Cape de Verd Islands and with his classical recollections of the famous Island of Antilia and the Atlantides of Plato. From this information, which came from so many different sides, the certainty awoke within him that the east could be reached by the western route. However it may be, his glory remains whole and entire; he is really the discoverer of America, and not those who were carried thither in spite of themselves by chances of wind and storm, without their having any intention of reaching the shores of Asia, which Christopher Columbus would have done, had not the way been barred by America.
The information that we are about to give on the family of Cortereal, although it may be much more complete than that which can be met with in biographical Dictionaries, is still extremely vague. Nevertheless we must content ourselves with it, for up to this time history has not collected further details concerning this race of intrepid navigators.
Joao Vaz Cortereal was the natural son of a gentleman named Vasco Annes da Costa, who had received the soubriquet of Cortereal from the King of Portugal, on account of the magnificence of his house and followers. Devoted like so many other gentlemen of this period to sea-faring adventure, Joao Vaz had carried off in Gallicia a young girl named Maria de Abarca, who became his wife. After having been gentleman-usher to the Infante don Fernando, he was sent by the king to the North Atlantic, with Alvaro Martins Homem. The two navigators saw an island known from this time by the name of Terra dos Bacalhaos—the land of cod-fish—which must really have been Newfoundland. The date of this discovery is approximately fixed by the fact that on their return, they landed at Terceira and finding the captainship vacant by the death of Jacome de Bruges, they went to ask for it from the Infanta Doña Brites, the widow of the Infante Don Fernando; she bestowed it upon them on condition that they would divide it between them, a fact which is confirmed by a deed of gift dated from Evora the 2nd of April, 1464. Though one cannot guarantee the authenticity of this discovery of America, it is nevertheless an ascertained fact that Cortereal's voyage must have been signalized by some extraordinary event; donations of such importance as this were only made to those who had rendered some great service to the crown.