LAND JOURNEY FROM THE SOUTH TO THE NORTH SEA, OVER THE ISTHMUS OF DARIENby William Dampier
We landed on May 1. We began our march about 3pm towards north-east via our pocket compasses. After about 2 miles, we came to the foot of a hill where we built small huts and lay all night; having excessive rains till 12 o’clock.
The 2nd day in the morning having fair weather we ascended the hill, and found a small Indian path which we followed till we found it run too much easterly, and then, doubting it would carry us out of the way, we climbed some of the highest trees on the hill, which was not meanly furnished with as large and tall trees as ever I saw: at length we discovered some houses in a valley on the north side of the hill, but it being steep could not descend on that side, but followed the small path which led us down the hill on the east side, where we presently found several other Indian houses.
The first that we came to at the foot of the hill had none but women at home who could not speak Spanish, but gave each of us a good calabash or shell-full of corn-drink. The other houses had some men at home, but none that spoke Spanish; yet we made a shift to buy such food as their houses or plantations afforded, which we dressed and ate all together; having all sorts of our provision in common, because none should live better than others, or pay dearer for anything than it was worth. This day we had marched 6 mile.
In the evening the husbands of those women came home and told us in broken Spanish that they had been on board of the guard-ship, which we fled from 2 days before, that we were now not above 3 mile from the mouth of the river Congo, and that they could go from thence aboard the guard-ship in half a tide’s time.
This evening we supped plentifully on fowls and peccary; a sort of wild hogs which we bought of the Indians; yams, potatoes, and plantains served us for bread, whereof we had enough. After supper we agreed with one of these Indians to guide us a day’s march into the country, towards the north side; he was to have for his pains a hatchet, and his bargain was to bring us to a certain Indian’s habitation, who could speak Spanish, from whom we were in hopes to be better satisfied of our journey.
The 3rd day having fair weather we began to stir betimes, and set out between 6 and 7 o’clock, marching through several old ruined plantations. This morning one of our men being tired gave us the slip. By 12 o’clock we had gone 8 mile, and arrived at the Indian’s house, who lived on the bank of the river Congo and spoke very good Spanish; to whom we declared the reason of this visit.
At first he seemed to be very dubious of entertaining any discourse with us, and gave impertinent answers to the questions that we demanded of him; he told us he knew no way to the north side of the country, but could carry us to Cheapo, or Santa Maria, which we knew to be Spanish garrisons; the one lying to the eastward of us, the other to the westward: either of them at least 20 miles out of our way. We could get no other answer from him, and all his discourse was in such an angry tone as plainly declared he was not our friend. However we were forced to make a virtue of necessity and humour him, for it was neither time nor place to be angry with the Indians; all our lives lying in their hand.
We were now at a great loss, not knowing what course to take, for we tempted him with beads, money, hatchets, machetes, or long knives; but nothing would work on him, till one of our men took a sky-coloured petticoat out of his bag and put it on his wife; who was so much pleased with the present that she immediately began to chatter to her husband, and soon brought him into a better humour. He could then tell us that he knew the way to the north side, and would have gone with us, but that he had cut his foot two days before, which made him incapable of serving us himself: but he would take care that we should not want a guide; and therefore he hired the same Indian who brought us hither to conduct us two days’ march further for another hatchet. The old man would have stayed us here all the day because it rained very hard; but our business required more haste, our enemies lying so near us, for he told us that he could go from his house aboard the guard-ship in a tide’s time; and this was the 4th day since they saw us. So we marched 3 miles farther, and then built huts, where we stayed all night; it rained all the afternoon, and the greatest part of the night.
The 4th day we began our march betimes, for the forenoons were commonly fair, but much rain after noon: though whether it rained or shined it was much at one with us, for I verily believe we crossed the rivers 30 times this day: the Indians having no paths to travel from one part of the country to another; and therefore guided themselves by the rivers. We marched this day 12 miles, and then built our hut, and lay down to sleep; but we always kept two men on the watch; otherwise our own slaves might have knocked us on the head while we slept. It rained violently all the afternoon and most part of the night. We had much ado to kindle a fire this evening: our huts were but very mean or ordinary, and our fire small, so that we could not dry our clothes, scarce warm ourselves, and no sort of food for the belly; all which made it very hard with us. I confess these hardships quite expelled the thoughts of an enemy, for now, having been 4 days in the country, we began to have but few other cares than how to get guides and food, the Spaniards were seldom in our thoughts.
The 5th day we set out in the morning betimes, and, having travelled 7 miles in those wild pathless woods, by 10 o’clock in the morning we arrived at a young Spanish Indian’s house, who had formerly lived with the Bishop of Panama. The young Indian was very brisk, spoke very good Spanish, and received us very kindly. This plantation afforded us store of provisions, yams, and potatoes, but nothing of any flesh besides 2 fat monkeys we shot, part whereof we distributed to some of our company, who were weak and sickly; for others we got eggs and such refreshments as the Indians had, for we still provided for the sick and weak. We had a Spanish Indian in our company, who first took up arms with Captain Sawkins, and had been with us ever since his death. He was persuaded to live here by the master of the house, who promised him his sister in marriage, and to be assistant to him in clearing a plantation: but we would not consent to part from him here for fear of some treachery, but promised to release him in two or three days, when we were certainly out of danger of our enemies. We stayed here all the afternoon, and dried our clothes and ammunition, cleared our guns, and provided ourselves for a march the next morning.
Our surgeon, Mr. Wafer, came to a sad disaster here: being drying his powder, a careless fellow passed by with his pipe lighted and set fire to his powder, which blew up and scorched his knee, and reduced him to that condition that he was not able to march; wherefore we allowed him a slave to carry his things, being all of us the more concerned at the accident, because liable ourselves every moment to misfortune, and none to look after us but him. This Indian plantation was seated on the bank of the river Congo, in a very fat soil, and thus far we might have come in our canoe if I could have persuaded them to it.
The 6th day we set out again, having hired another guide. Here we first crossed the river Congo in a canoe, having been from our first landing on the west side of the river, and, being over, we marched to the eastward two miles, and came to another river, which we forded several times though it was very deep. Two of our men were not able to keep company with us, but came after us as they were able. The last time we forded the river it was so deep that our tallest men stood in the deepest place and handed the sick, weak and short men; by which means we all got over safe, except those two who were behind. Foreseeing a necessity of wading through rivers frequently in our land-march, I took care before I left the ship to provide myself a large joint of bamboo, which I stopped at both ends, closing it with wax, so as to keep out any water. In this I preserved my journal and other writings from being wet, though I was often forced to swim. When we were over this river, we sat down to wait the coming of our consorts who were left behind, and in half an hour they came. But the river by that time was so high that they could not get over it, neither could we help them over, but bid them be of good comfort, and stay till the river did fall: but we marched two miles farther by the side of the river, and there built our huts, having gone this day six miles. We had scarce finished our huts before the river rose much higher, and, overflowing the banks, obliged us to remove into higher ground: but the next night came on before we could build more huts, so we lay straggling in the woods, some under one tree, some under another, as we could find conveniency, which might have been indifferent comfortable if the weather had been fair; but the greatest part of the night we had extraordinary hard rain, with much lightning, and terrible claps of thunder. These hardships and inconveniencies made us all careless, and there was no watch kept (though I believe nobody did sleep) so our slaves, taking the opportunity, went away in the night; all but one who was hid in some hole and knew nothing of their design, or else fell asleep. Those that went away carried with them our surgeon’s gun and all his money.
The next morning being the 8th day, we went to the river’s side, and found it much fallen; and here our guide would have us ford it again, which, being deep and the current running swift, we could not. Then we contrived to swim over; those that could not swim we were resolved to help over as well as we could: but this was not so feasible: for we should not be able to get all our things over. At length we concluded to send one man over with a line, who should haul over all our things first, and then get the men over. This being agreed on, one George Gayny took the end of a line and made it fast about his neck, and left the other end ashore, and one man stood by the line to clear it away to him. But when Gayny was in the midst of the water the, line in drawing after him, chanced to kink or grow entangled; and he that stood by to clear it away stopped the line, which turned Gayny on his back, and he that had the line in his hand threw it all into the river after him, thinking he might recover himself; but the stream running very swift, and the man having three hundred dollars at his back, was carried down, and never seen more by us. Those two men whom we left behind the day before, told us afterwards that they found him lying dead in a creek where the eddy had driven him ashore, and the money on his back; but they meddled not with any of it, being only in care how to work their way through a wild unknown country. This put a period to that contrivance. This was the fourth man that we lost in this land-journey; for these two men that we left the day before did not come to us till we were in the North Seas, so we yielded them also for lost. Being frustrated at getting over the river this way, we looked about for a tree to fell across the river. At length we found one, which we cut down, and it reached clear over: on this we passed to the other side, where we found a small plantain-walk, which we soon ransacked.
While we were busy getting plantains our guide was gone, but in less than two hours came to us again, and brought with him an old Indian to whom he delivered up his charge; and we gave him a hatchet and dismissed him, and entered ourselves under the conduct of our new guide: who immediately led us away, and crossed another river, and entered into a large valley of the fattest land I did ever take notice of; the trees were not very thick, but the largest that I saw in all my travels; we saw great tracks which were made by the peccaries, but saw none of them. We marched in this pleasant country till 3 o’clock in the afternoon, in all about 4 miles, and then arrived at the old man’s country house, which was only a habitation for hunting: there was a small plantain-walk, some yams, and potatoes. Here we took up our quarters for this day and refreshed ourselves with such food as the place afforded, and dried our clothes and ammunition. At this place our young Spanish Indian provided to leave us, for now we thought ourselves past danger. This was he that was persuaded to stay at the last house we came from, to marry the young man’s sister; and we dismissed him according to our promise.
The 9th day the old man conducted us towards his own habitation. We marched about 5 miles in this valley; and then ascended a hill and travelled about 5 miles farther over two or three small hills before we came to any settlement. Half a mile before we came to the plantations we light of a path, which carried us to the Indians habitations. We saw many wooden crosses erected in the way, which created some jealousy in us that here were some Spaniards: therefore we new-primed all our guns, and provided ourselves for an enemy; but coming into the town found none but Indians, who were all got together in a large house to receive us: for the old man had a little boy with him that he sent before.
They made us welcome to such as they had, which was very mean; for these were new plantations, the corn being not eared. Potatoes, yams, and plantains they had none but what they brought from their old plantations. There was none of them spoke good Spanish: two young men could speak a little, it caused us to take more notice of them. To these we made a present, and desired them to get us a guide to conduct us to the north side, or part of the way, which they promised to do themselves; if we would reward them for it, but told us we must lie still the next day. But we thought ourselves nearer the North Sea than we were, and proposed to go without a guide rather than stay here a whole day: however some of our men who were tired resolved to stay behind; and Mr. Wafer our surgeon, who marched in great pain ever since his knee was burned with powder, was resolved to stay with them.
The 10th day we got up betimes, resolving to march, but the Indians opposed it as much as they could; but, seeing they could not persuade us to stay, they came with us; and, having taken leave of our friends, we set out.
Here therefore we left the surgeon and two more, as we said, and marched away to the eastward following our guides. But we often looked on our pocket compasses and showed them to the guides, pointing at the way that we would go, which made them shake their heads and say they were pretty things, but not convenient for us. After we had descended the hills on which the town stood we came down into a valley, and guided ourselves by a river, which we crossed 22 times; and, having marched 9 miles, we built huts and lay there all night: this evening I killed a quaum, a large bird as big as a turkey, wherewith we treated our guides, for we brought no provision with us. This night our last slave ran away.
The eleventh day we marched 10 mile farther, and built huts at night; but went supperless to bed.
The twelfth in the morning we crossed a deep river, passing over it on a tree, and marched 7 mile in a low swampy ground; and came to the side of a great deep river, but could not get over. We built huts upon its banks and lay there all night, upon our borbecus, or frames of sticks raised about 3 foot from the ground.
The thirteenth day when we turned out the river had overflowed its banks, and was 2 foot deep in our huts, and our guides went from us, not telling us their intent, which made us think they were returned home again. Now we began to repent our haste in coming from the settlements, for we had no food since we came from thence. Indeed we got macaw-berries in this place, wherewith we satisfied ourselves this day though coarsely.
The fourteenth day in the morning betimes our guides came to us again; and, the waters being fallen within their bounds, they carried us to a tree that stood on the bank of the river, and told us if we could fell that tree across it we might pass: if not, we could pass no farther. Therefore we set two of the best axe-men that we had, who felled it exactly across the river, and the boughs just reached over; on this we passed very safe. We afterwards crossed another river three times, with much difficulty, and at 3 o’clock in the afternoon we came to an Indian settlement, where we met a drove of monkeys, and killed 4 of them, and stayed here all night, having marched this day 6 miles. Here we got plantains enough, and a kind reception of the Indian that lived here all alone, except one boy to wait on him.
The fifteenth day when we set out, the kind Indian and his boy went with us in a canoe, and set us over such places as we could not ford: and, being past those great rivers, he returned back again, having helped us at least 2 mile. We marched afterwards 5 mile, and came to large plantain-walks, where we took up our quarters that night; we there fed plentifully on plantains, both ripe and green, and had fair weather all the day and night. I think these were the largest plantain-walks, and the biggest plantains that ever I saw, but no house near them: we gathered what we pleased by our guide’s orders.
The sixteenth day we marched 3 mile and came to a large settlement where we abode all day: not a man of us but wished the journey at an end; our feet being blistered, and our thighs stripped with wading through so many rivers; the way being almost continually through rivers or pathless woods. In the afternoon five of us went to seek for game and killed 3 monkeys, which we dressed for supper. Here we first began to have fair weather, which continued with us till we came to the North Seas.
The eighteenth day we set out at 10 o’clock, and the Indians with 5 canoes carried us a league up a river; and when we landed the kind Indians went with us and carried our burdens. We marched 3 mile farther, and then built our huts, having travelled from the last settlements 6 mile.
The nineteenth day our guides lost their way, and we did not march above 2 mile.
The twentieth day by 12 o’clock we came to Cheapo River. The rivers we crossed hitherto run all into the South Seas; and this of Cheapo was the last we met with that run that way. Here an old man who came from the last settlements distributed his burthen of plantains amongst us and, taking his leave, returned home. Afterward we forded the river and marched to the foot of a very high mountain, where we lay all night. This day we marched about 9 miles.
The 21st day some of the Indians returned back, and we marched up a very high mountain; being on the top, we went some miles on a ridge, and steep on both sides; then descended a little, and came to a fine spring, where we lay all night, having gone this day about 9 miles, the weather still very fair and clear.
The 22nd day we marched over another very high mountain, keeping on the ridge 5 miles. When we came to the north end we, to our great comfort, saw the sea; then we descended, and parted ourselves into 3 companies, and lay by the side of a river, which was the first we met that runs into the North Sea.
The 23rd day we came through several large plantain-walks, and at 10 o’clock came to an Indian habitation not far from the North Seas. Here we got canoes to carry as down the river Concepcion to the seaside; having gone this day 7 miles. We found a great many Indians at the mouth of the river. They had settled themselves here for the benefit of trade with the privateers; and their commodities were yams, potatoes, plantains, sugarcane, fowls, and eggs.
The Indians told us that there had been a great many English and French ships here, which were all gone but one barcolongo, a French privateer that lay at La Sounds Key or Island. This island is about 3 leagues from the mouth of the river Concepcion, and is one of the Samballoes, a range of islands reaching for about 20 leagues from Point Samballas to Golden Island eastward. These islands or keys, as we call them, were first made the rendezvous of privateers in the year 1679, being very convenient for careening, and had names given to some of them by the captains of the privateers: as this La Sounds Key particularly.
Thus we finished our journey from the South Sea to the North in 23 days; in which time by my account we travelled 110 miles, crossing some very high mountains; but our common march was in the valleys among deep and dangerous rivers. At our first landing in this country, we were told that the Indians were our enemies; we knew the rivers to be deep, the wet season to be coming in; yet, excepting those we left behind, we lost but one man, who was drowned, as I said. Our first landing place on the south coast was very disadvantageous, for we travelled at least fifty miles more than we need to have done, could we have gone up Cheapo River, or Santa Maria River; for at either of these places a man may pass from sea to sea in three days time with ease. The Indians can do it in a day and a half, by which you may see how easy it is for a party of men to travel over. I must confess the Indians did assist us very much, and I question whether ever we had got over without their assistance, because they brought us from time to time to their plantations where we always got provision, which else we should have wanted. But if a party of 500 or 600 men or more were minded to travel from the North to the South Seas they may do it without asking leave of the Indians; though it be much better to be friends with them.
The 24th of May (having lain one night at the river’s mouth) we all went on board the privateer, who lay at La Sound’s Key. It was a French vessel, Captain Tristian commander. The first thing we did was to get such things as we could to gratify our Indian guides, for we were resolved to reward them to their hearts’ content. This we did by giving them beads, knives, scissors, and looking-glasses, which we bought of the privateer’s crew: and half a dollar a man from each of us; which we would have bestowed in goods also, but could not get any, the privateer having no more toys. They were so well satisfied with these that they returned with joy to their friends; and were very kind to our consorts whom we left behind; as Mr. Wafer our surgeon and the rest of them told us when they came to us some months afterwards, as shall be said hereafter.
I might have given a further account of several things relating to this country; the inland parts of which are so little known to the Europeans. But I shall leave this province to Mr. Wafer, who made a longer abode in it than I, and is better able to do it than any man that I know, and is now preparing a particular description of this country for the press.