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Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Anne Arundel 100

A Diary: First Colonists Head for Mary Land

Written by Father Andrew White

Father Andrew White, Society of Jesus, traveled to Maryland with the first colonists aboard the Ark, accompanied by the smaller Dove between 1633-1634. Below are excerpts of his diaries, translated from Latin. Courtesy of Historic St. Mary’s City.


We Sail From Cowes

On the 22nd of November, 1633, St. Cecilia’s Day, with a southeast wind softly blowing, we sailed from Cowes, which is a port on the Isle of Wight. After we had placed the main parts of the ship under the protection of God first, and then of His Most Holy Mother, of St. Ignatius, and of all the angels of Maryland, we sailed for a short time between the two shores. When the wind was failing us, we cast anchor opposite Yarmouth Castle, which is situated toward the northwest of the same island. Here we were received with public cannon salutes; and yet fear was not absent. For the sailors were muttering among themselves that they were expecting a messenger and a letter from London, and for that reason they also seemed to be devising delays. But God destroyed their evil plans. Indeed that very night, when a favorable, but powerful wind was blowing, a French cutter (which had moored in the same port together with us) was forced to sail, and came close to running into our pinnace [i.e., the Dove]. Therefore the latter, having cut away and lost one anchor, set sail as fast as possible in order not to be crushed; and since it was a dangerous place to drift, she hurried out to sea. And so, lest we might lose sight of our pinnace, we decided to follow. In this way the plans that the sailors considered against us were foiled. This happened on the 23rd of November, the feast of St. Clement.

The Scilly Isles

That day, which fell on a Sabbath [Saturday], and during the following night, we enjoyed such favorable winds that early the next day, around the ninth hour, we left the western promontory of England and the Scilly Isles behind us, and, having turned with a gentle tack more toward the west, we traversed the mouth of the English Channel; but we did not sail as fast as we could have, so that we would not get too far ahead of the pinnace, lest she might become a prey to the Turks and pirates, who were mainly responsible for making the sea dangerous.

Tossed in a Storm
Then on Sunday, the 24th and Monday, the 25th of November, we enjoyed fair sailing until evening. At that time, however, the winds turned northerly, and such a storm arose that the London merchant ship, which I mentioned, reversed its course and returned to England and the port at Falmouth. Since our pinnace was a vessel of only 40 tons, she, too, began to lose confi dence in her strength and, sailing close to us, advised us, that she would indicate, with lights displayed on the masthead, fear of shipwreck. Meanwhile we were sailing in a strong ship of 300 tons [the Ark]—a better one could not be built of wood and iron. We had employed a very experienced captain, who had the option of returning, if he wished, to England, or of further contending with the winds. If he should submit to them, the nearby Irish coast, infamous for its hidden rocks and very frequent shipwrecks awaited us. The bold spirit of the captain won out nonetheless, as did his desire to test how sturdy the new ship was, which he was handling for the fi rst time. He decided to try the sea, which he admitted to be more dangerous the narrower it became.

The Pinnace Lost

Danger was not long away. Around the middle of the night in fact, as the winds were swelling up and the sea became rough, we saw the pinnace at a distance displaying two lights on her masthead. At the time we were certain that she was lost and that she had been swallowed up in the deep whirlpools, for she had passed out of sight in an instant, and no news of her reached us until six weeks later. Therefore everyone was convinced that the pinnace had sunk; however, God had better things in store; for the pinnace, realizing early on that she was no match for the waves, avoided St. George’s Channel, against which we were already struggling, and returned to England and the Scilly Isles; making a fresh start from there, she caught up with us at the Antilles, with God, who cares even for the least, looking out for her as leader and guardian.

Ship Abandoned to the Waves

But since we were ignorant of this outcome, pain and fear were pressing us hard indeed. The abominable night, full of frequent terrors, increased our fear. At daybreak, though we had the southwest wind blowing against us, we were slowly advancing through many tacks, since [the wind] was rather mild. So Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday went by with variable winds and small progress. On Friday, when the south wind prevailed and was driving thick grey clouds together, such a tempest broke forth towards evening, that it seemed that we would be enveloped by the waves with every motion. Nor did the following day, the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, promise milder weather. The clouds were collecting on all sides in a terrifying manner and, before they finally dispersed, they frightened those gazing at them and created the opinion that all the mischievous storm spirits and evil genii of Maryland had appeared in battle lines against us.

Vows and Prayers

At this point the spirit of even the bravest, whether passenger or sailor, was alarmed, for they admitted that they had seen tall ships wrecked in a smaller tempest. But this storm kindled the prayers and vows of the Catholics in honor of the Most Blessed Virgin Mother. And everyone was hastening to purify his soul through the Sacrament of Penance; for when we had lost control over the rudder, the vessel, abandoned to the waves and winds, soon tossed about like a quoit, until God opened a path for her safety.

Reassured of Safety

And so, after the sea had then ceased to rage, the remaining three months’ voyage was so very calm, that the captain with his crew asserted that they had never seen a more pleasant or calmer voyage; for we did not suffer an inconvenience of even one hour. But when I speak about three months, I am not saying that we were at sea for so long, but I am counting the whole journey and the stopovers, which we spend on the Antilles; for the voyage itself lasted only seven weeks and two days, and this is considered a quick passage.

St. Mary’s City, St. George’s River

When we had advanced from St. Clement’s about nine leagues, we sailed into the mouth of a river. This river runs forward from south to north about 20 miles before it is absorbed by the salt water from the sea, not unlike the Thames. In its mouth, one can see two bays, able to hold 300 ships of huge size. One bay we dedicated to St. George, the other one, more inward, to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. The left side of the river was the seat of the king of Yaocomico. We went up from the coast inland on the right side, and about a thousand paces removed from the shore, we gave the name of St. Mary’s to the designated city, and in order to prevent any pretext for injury or occasion for enmity, we bought 30 miles of that land from the chieftain in exchange for hatchets, axes, hoes and some amount of cloth.