Lionel Wafer, A Description of the Isthmus of Darien.


With William Dampier, Lionel Wafer joined the first big privateering venture into the South Seas in 1680, under the leadership of Bartholomew Sharp; and like Dampier he is an acute observer of strange places and unprecedented events, writing of them in a finely paced laconic style. In the following extract (taken from Knapton's 1729 edition) Wafer describes his adventures on the three months' trip back across the Darien isthmus from the South into the 'North' Seas, beginning with the injury to his leg, which makes necessary his sojourn with the Cuna Indians, and ending with his eventual reunion with Dampier and their resumption of privateering. He assembles a good deal of information about the natural history of the isthmus, supplying fascinating details of the tribe he lived with, including an extraordinary account of shamanism, a description of how perfectly he fooled his European companions when he met them disguised in Indian body-paint and ornamented with a nose-ring, and a short vocabulary of their language. It was owing to his knowledge of the region, particularly a fine stand of Nicaragua wood, and to his close links with the Cuna, that the Darien Company employed him as a consultant when it was planning its settlement there in 1698.

Both in terms of narrow commercial interests and the larger views of ethnography, Wafer exerted considerable influence. As well as advising the Darien Company, his 'Secret Report' to the British Government (reprinted in the Elliott Joyce edition) appears to be the first carefully considered estimate of England's options for planting a colony in the South Seas. Besides listing the the main harbours on the mainland coasts of Peru and Chile, Wafer recommends Juan Fernandez as a tolerable achorage and a fit place for settlement, having stopped there in 1680 (the scene of Sharp's usurpation by Watling), in 1684 (picking up Will the Mosquito Indian), and again in 1687 (when Davis lands the men Simson will write about). He numbers up its advantages: 'Part of the Hill[s] are covered with Woods and itt is well watered with small Rivalets; there I met with greatest Quantity of Fish I ever see. . . . Here may Black Cattle, Sheep and Goats be Easely Breed, and itt is a good place for a Look Out or to Sett Wounded or Sick Men on Shore, In order for their Recovery' (Elliott Joyce 1933: 144). He is an early contributor to the debate about a trading base in the Pacific, soon to become urgent with the formation of the South Sea Company in 1711, when Defoe raises the question first on Harley's account in his pamphlet An Essay on the South Sea Trade (1712), and later on his own in Robinson Crusoe (1719) and again in his propagandising vision of trade routes and stations in the Pacific, A New Voyage Round the World (1724). Wafer has the same facility as Defoe and Dampier in stating, as he puts it, 'the True State of the Affaire as itt Lyes in Truth and Fact that he that Runnes may Read, the Rest being all Tautoligy and Supurfluous' (Elliott Joyce 1933: 151). However, his terseness feeds, like theirs, a dream of incalculable riches in still to be discovered territories that begins with de Quiros and peters out with Dalymple, fuelling speculation first in the Darien Company and then in the South Sea Company, with dire results for the investors as well as the public credit of Scotland and England.

His reports of the customs and language of the Cuna people is a different order of information: 'a precious document of ethnohistory' (Spate 1983: 2.157). Although his description of pawawing, and of the remarkable powers of vaticination it induces in the Indian shamans, was greeted with scepticism, causing Wafer to corroborate his account of 'the Indian way of conjuring' with the testimony of the Scots settlers (Wafer 1729: 268), his data struck ethnographers as an important contribution to European knowledge of 'savage' culture. Fletcher of Saltoun, Adam Ferguson and Johann Gottfried Herder are all interested in Wafer's eyewitness accounts, not least for the connexions they suggest between the structure of hunter-gatherer communities and the concept of political virtue in classical republican theory. Fletcher of course was a leading light of the Darien Company, but he dined with Wafer, and made much of him, more as a philosopher than as an adventurer (Elliott Joyce 1933: l; check Fletcher's other work). Herder quotes from A New Voyage to forge an ambitious link between the remote areas of America and the forests of Germany in terms of 'that proud savage love of liberty and war': 'A few centuries only have elapsed since the inhabitants of Germany were patagonians' (Herder 1800: 158-64). Ferguson cites Wafer along with Charlevoix and Colden as an authority on property relations among Indian tribes (Ferguson 1995: 84 n), sharing with him a knowledge of Gaelic and the customs of the Highlands that makes them especially sensitive to the parallels between clansfolk and Indians. Wafer confessed, 'In my Youth I was well acquainted with the High-Land, or Primitive Irish Language; both as it is spoken in the North of Ireland, particularly at the Navan upon the Boyne, and about the Town of Virgini upon Lough Rammer in the Barony of Castle Raghen, in the County of Cavan; and also in the High-Lands of Scotland, where I have been up and down in several Places' (Wafer 1903: 170). If this explains the speed at which Wafer adjusted to the language and customs of the Cuna, it also supplies a corollary for Ferguson's interest in the patriotism of primitive cultures, especially of the American Indians, which J.G.A. Pocock has ascribed to his Highland background and his command of Gaelic (Pocock ?). The sentimental reunion between Will the Miskito Indian and Robin, his cousin, at Juan Fernandez, described by Dampier and witnessed by Wafer, is one of Ferguson's favourite examples of the ardent affection that binds primitive friendships (Ferguson 1995: 18).

Lionel Wafer, A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America.

My first going abroad was in the Great Anne of London, Capt. Zachary Browne Commander, bound for Bantam in the Isle of Java, in the East-Indies; in the Year 1677. I was in the Service of the Surgeon of the Ship; but being then very young, I made no great Observations in that Voyage. My Stay at Bantam was not above a Month, we being sent from thence to Jamby in the Isle of Sumatra. At that Time there was a War between the Malayans of Iihor on the Promontory of Malacca, and those of Jamby; and a Fleet of Proe's from Iihor block'd up the Mouth of the River of Jamby. The Town of Jamby is about 100 Mile up the River: But within 4 or 5 Mile of the Sea, it hath a Port Town on the River, consisting of about 15 or 20 Houses, built on Posts, as the Fashion of that Country is: The Name of this Port is Quolla; though this seems rather an Apellative than a proper Name, for they generally call a Port Quolla: And `tis usual with our English Seamen in those Parts, when they have been at a Landing-place, to say they have been at the Quolla, calling it so in Imitation of the Natives; as the Portugueze call their Landing-places, Barcadero's. This War was some Hindrance to our Trade there; and we were forc'd to stay about 4 Months in the Road, before we could get in our Lading of Pepper: And thence we return'd to Bantam, to take in the rest of our Lading. While I was ashore there, the Ship sail'd for England: So I got a Passage home in another Ship, the Bombay, Capt. White Commander; who being Chief Mate, succeeded Capt. Bennet, who dy'd in the Voyage.

I arrived in England again in the Year 1679, and after about a Month's Stay, I entred my Self on a 2d Voyage, in a Vessel commanded by Capt. Buckenham, bound for the West-Indies. I was there also in the Service of the Surgeon of the Ship: But when we came to Jamaica, the Season of Sugars being not yet come, the Captain was willing to make a short Voyage, in the mean while to the Bay of Campeachy, to fetch Logwood: But having no Mind to go further with him, I staid in Jamaica. It proved well for me that I did so; for in that Expedition, the Captain was taken by the Spaniards, and carried Prisoner to Mexico: Where one Russel saw him, who was then also a Prisoner there, and after made his Escape. He told me he saw Capt. Buckenham, with a Log chain'd to his Leg, and a Basket at his Back, crying Bread about the Streets for a Baker his Master. The Spaniards would never consent to the ramsoming him, though he was a Gentleman who had Friends of a considerable Fortune, and would have given them a very large Sum of Mony.

I had a Brother in Jamaica, who was imployed under Sir Thomas Muddiford, in his Plantation at the Angels: And my chief Inducement in undertaking this Voyage was to see him. I staid some time with him, and he settled me in a House at Port-Royal, where I followed my Business of Surgery for some Months. But in a while I met with Capt. Cook, and Capt. Linch, 2 Privateers who were going out from Port-Royal, toward the Coast of Cartagena, and took me along with them. We met other Privateers, on that Coast; but being parted from them by Stress of Weather about Golden-Island, in the Samballoe's, we stood away to the Bastimento's, where we met them again, and several others, who had been at the taking of Portobel, and were rendesvouzed there. Here I first met with Mr. Dampier, and was with him in the Expedition into the S. Seas. For in short, having muster'd up our Forces at Golden-Island, and landed on the Isthmus, we march'd over Land, and took Santa Maria; and made those Excursions into the S. Seas, which Mr. Ringrose relates in the 4th Part of the History of the Buccaniers.

Mr. Dampier has told, in his Introduction to his Voyage Round the World, in what Manner the Company divided with Reference to Capt. Sharp. I was of Mr. Dampier's Side in that Matter, and of the Number of those who chose rather to return in Boats to the Isthmus, and go back again a toilsome Journey over Land, than stay under a Captain in whom we experienc'd neither Courage nor Conduct. He hath given also an Account of what befel us in that Return, till such Time as by the Carelessness of our Company, my Knee was so scorch'd with gunpowder, that after a few Days further March, I was left behind among the Wild-Indians, in the Isthmus of Darien.

It was the 5th Day of our Journey when this Accident befel me; being also the 5th of May, in the Year 1681. I was sitting on the Ground near one of our Men, who was drying of Gun-powder in a Silver Plate: But not managing it as he should, it blew up and scorch'd my Knee to that Degree, that the Bone was left bare, the Flesh being torn away, and my Thigh burnt for a great Way above it. I applyed to it immediately such Remedies as I had in my Knapsack: And being unwilling to be left behind my Companions, I made hard shift to jog on, and bear them Company for a few Days; during which our Slaves ran away from us, and among them a Negro whom the Company had allow'd me for my particular Attendant, to carry my Medicines. He took them away with him, together with the rest of my Things, and thereby left me depriv'd of wherewithal to dress my Sore; insomuch that my Pain increasing upon me, and being not able to trudge it further through Rivers and Woods, I took leave of my Company, and set up my Rest among the Darien Indians.

This was on the 10th Day; and there staid with me Mr. Richard Gopson, who had served an Apprenticeship to a Druggist in London. He was an ingenious Man, and a good Scholar; he had with him a Greek Testament which he frequently read, and would translate extempore into English to such of the Company as were dispos'd to hear him. Another who staid behind with me was John Hingson Mariner: They were both so fatigued with the Journey, that they could go no further. There had been an Order made among us at our first Landing to kill any who should flag in the Journey: But this was made only to terrify any from loitering, and being taken by the Spaniards; who by Tortures might extort from them a Discovery of our March. But this rigourous Order was not executed; but the Company took a very kind Leave both of these, and of me. Before this we had lost the Company of 2 more of our Men, Robert Spratlin and William Bowman, who parted with us at the River Congo, the Day after my being scorch'd with Gun-powder. The Passage of that River was very deep, and the Stream violent; by which Means I was born down the Current, for several Paces, to an Eddy in the bending of the River. Yet I got over; but these two being the hindmost, and seeing with what Difficulty I cross'd the River, which was still rising, they were discourag'd from attempting it, and chose rather to stay where they were. These 2 came to me; and the other 2 soon after the Company's Departure for the North Sea, as I shall have Occasion to mention; so that there were 5 of us in all who were left behind among the Indians.

Being now forc'd to stay among them, and having no Means to alleviate the Anguish of my Wound, the Indians undertook to cure me; and apply'd to my Knee some Herbs, which they first chew'd in their Mouths to the Consistency of a Paste, and putting it on a Plantain-Leaf, laid it upon the Sore. This prov'd so effectual, that in about 20 Days Use of this Poultess, which they applied fresh every Day, I was perfectly cured; except only a Weakness in that Knee, which remain'd long after, and a Benummedness which I sometimes find in it to this Day. Yet they were not altogether so kind in other Respects; for some of them look'd on us very scurvily, throwing green Plantains to us, as we sat cringing and shivering, as you would Bones to a Dog. This was but sorry Food; yet we were forc'd to be contented with it: But to mend our Commons, the young Indian, at whose House we were left, would often give us some ripe Plantains, unknown to his Neighbours; and these were a great Refreshment to us. This Indian, in his Childhood was taken Prisoner by the Spaniards; and having liv'd some time among them, he had learn'd a pretty deal of their Language, under the Bishop of Panama, whom he serv'd there; till finding Means to escape, he was got again among his own Country-men. This was of good Use to us; for we having a smattering of Spanish, and a little of the Indian's Tongue also, by passing their Country before, between both these, and with the additional Use of Signs, we found it no very difficult Matter to understand one another. He was truly generous and hospitable towards us; and so careful of us, that if in the Day-time we had no other Provision than a few sorry green Plantains, he would rise in the Night, and go out by Stealth to the Neighbouring Plantain-walk, and fetch a Bundle of ripe ones from thence, which he would distribute among us unknown to his Country-men. Not that they were naturally inclin'd to use us thus roughly, for they are generally a kind and free-hearted People; but they had taken some particular Offence, upon the Account of our Friends who left us, who had in a Manner awed the Indian Guides they took with them for the Remainder of their Journey, and made them go with them very much against their Wills; the Severity of the rainy Season being then so great, that even the Indians themselves had no Mind for travelling, tho' they are little curious either as to the Weather or Ways.

When Gopson, Hingson, and I had lived 3 or 4 Days in this Manner, the other 2, Spratlin and Bowman, whom we left behind at the River Congo, on the 6th Day of our Journey, found their way to us; being exceedingly fatigued with rambling so long among the wild Woods and Rivers without Guides, and having no other Sustenance but a few Plantains they found here and there. They told us of George Gainy's Disaster, whose drowning Mr. Dampier relates p. 17. They saw him lie dead on the Shore which the Floods were gone off from, with the Rope twisted about him, and his Money at his Neck; but they were so fatigued, they car'd not to meddle with it. These after their coming up to us, continued with us for about a Fortnight longer, at the same Plantation where the main Body of our Company had left us; and our Provision was still at the same Rate, and the Countenances of the Indians as stern towards us as ever, having yet no News of their Friends whom our Men had taken as their Guides. Yet notwithstanding their Disgust, they took care of my Wound; which by this Time was pretty well healed, and I was enabled to walk about. But at length not finding their Men return as they expected, they were out of Patience, and seem'd resolved to revenge on us the Injuries which they supposed our Friends had done to theirs. To this End they held frequent Consultations how they should dispose of us: Some were for killing us, others for keeping us among them, and others for carrying us to the Spaniards, thereby to ingratiate themselves with them. But the greatest Part of them mortally hating the Spaniards, this last Project was soon laid aside; and they came to this Resolution, to forbear doing any thing to us, till so much Time were expir'd as they thought might reasonably be allow'd for the Return of their Friends, whom our Men had taken with them as Guides to the North Sea-Coast; and this, as they computed would be 10 Days, reckoning it up to us on their Fingers.

The Time was now almost expir'd, and having no News of the Guides, the Indians began to suspect that our Men had either murther'd them, or carried them away with them; and seem'd resolv'd thereupon to destroy us. To this end they prepared a great Pile of Wood to burn us, on the 10th Day; and told us what we must trust to when the Sun went down; for they would not execute us till then.

But it so happened that Lacenta, their Chief, passing that way, disswaded them from that Cruelty, and proposed to them to send us down towards the North-side, and 2 Indians with us, who might inform themselves from the Indians near the Coast, what was become of the Guides. They readily hearkn'd to this Proposal, and immediately chose 2 Men to conduct us to the North-side. One of these had been all along, an inveterate Enemy to us; but the other was the kind Indian, who was so much our Friend as to rise in the Night and get us ripe Plantains.

The next Day therefore we were dismissed with our 2 Guides, and marched joyfully for 3 Days; being well assured we should not find that our Men had done any Hurt to their Guides. The first 3 Days we march'd through nothing but Swamps, having great Rains, with much Thundering and Lightning; and lodg'd every Night under the dropping Trees, upon the cold Ground. The third Night we lodg'd on a small Hill, which by the next Morning was become an Island: For those great Rains had made such a Flood, that all the low Land about it was cover'd deep with Water. All this while we had no Provision, except a Handful of dry Maiz our Indian Guides gave us the first 2 Days: But this being spent, they return'd Home again, and left us to shift for our selves.

At this Hill we remain'd the 4th Day; and on the 5th, the Waters being abated, we set forward, steering North by a Pocket Compass, and marched till 6 a Clock at Night: At which Time we arrived at a River about 40 Foot wide, and very deep. Here we found a Tree fallen cross the River, and so we believ'd our Men had past that way; therefore here we sat down, and consulted what Course we should take.

And having debated the Matter, it was concluded upon to cross the river, and seek the Path in which they had travelled: For this River running somewhat Northward in this Place we perswaded our selves we were past the main Ridge of Land that divded the North-part of the Isthmus from the South; and consequently that we were not very far from the North-Sea. Besides, we did not consider that the great Rains were the only Cause of the sudden Rising and Falling of the River; but thought the Tide might contribute to it, and that we were not very far from the Sea. We went therefore over the River by the Help of the Tree: But the Rain had made it so slippery, that `twas with great Difficulty that we could get over it astride, for there was no walking on it: And tho' 4 of us got pretty well over, yet Bowman, who was the last, slipt off, and the Stream hurried him out of Sight in a Moment, so that we concluded he was drown'd. To add to our Affliction for the Loss of our Consort, we sought about for a Path, but found none; for the late Flood had fill'd all the Land with Mud and Oaze, and therefore since we could not find a Path, we returned again, and passed over the River on the same Tree by which we cross'd it at first; intending to pass down by the Side of this River, which we still thought discharged it self into the North-Sea. But when we were over, and had gone down with the Stream a Quarter of a Mile, we espy'd our Companion setting on the Bank of the River; who when we came to him, told us that the Violence of the Stream hurried him thither, and there, being in an Eddy, he had Time to consider where he was; and that by the Help of some Boughs that hung in the Water, he had got out. This Man had at this time 400 Pieces of Eight at his Back: He was a weakly Man, a Taylor by Trade.

Here we lay all Night; and the next Day, being the 5th of our present Journey, we march'd further down by the Side of the River, thro' Thickets of hollow Bamboes and Brambles, being also very weak for want of Food: But Providence suffer'd us not to perish, tho' Hunger and Weariness had brought us even to Death's Door: For we found there a Maccaw Tree, which afforded us Berries, of which we eat greedily; and having therewith somewhat satisfied our Hunger, we carried a Bundle of them away with us, and continued our march till Night.

The next Day, being the 6th, we marched till 4 in the Afternoon, when we arrived at another River, which join'd with that we had hitherto coasted; and we were now inclos'd between them on a little Hill at the Conflux of them. This last River was as wide and deep as the former; so that here we were put to a Non-plus, not being able to find means to ford either of them, and they being here too wide for a Tree to go a-cross, unless a greater Tree than we were able to cut down; having no Tool with us but a Macheat or long Knife. This last River also we set by the Compass, and found it run due North: Which confirmed us in our mistake, that we were on the North-side of the main Ridge of Mountains; and therefore we resolv'd upon making two Bark-logs, to float us down the River, which we unanimously concluded would bring us to the North-Sea Coast. The Woods afforded us hollow Bamboes fit for our purpose; and we cut them into proper lengths, and tied them together with Twigs of a Shrub like a Vine, a great many on the Top of one Another.

By that time we had finished our Bark-logs it was Night, and we took up our Lodging on a small Hill, where we gathered about a Cartload of Wood, and made a Fire, intending to set out with our Bark-logs the next Morning. But not long after Sun-set, it fell a Raining as if Heaven and Earth would meet; which Storm was accompanied with horrid Claps of Thunder, and such Flashes of Lightning, of a sulphurous Smell, that we were almost stifled in the open Air.

Thus it continued till 12 a-Clock at Night; when to our great Terror, we could hear the Rivers roaring on both sides us; but `twas so dark, that we could see nothing but the Fire we had made, except when a flash of Lightning came. Then we could see all over the Hill, and perceive the Water approaching us; which in less than half an Hour carried away our Fire. This drove us all to our shifts, every Man seeking some means to save himself from the threatning Deluge. We also sought for small Trees to climb: For the place abounded with great Cotton Trees, of a prodigious bigness from the Root upward, and at least 40 or 50 Foot clear without Branches, so that there was no climbing up them.

For my own Part, I was in a great Consternation, and running to save my Life, I very opportunely met with a large Cotton Tree, which by some accident, or thro' Age, was become Rotten, and hollow on one Side; having a Hole in it at about the Height of 4 Foot from the Ground. I immediately got up it as well as I could: And in the Cavity I found a Knob, which serv'd me for a Stool; and there I sat down almost Head and Heels together, not having room enough to stand or sit upright. In this condition I sat wishing for Day: but being fatigued with Travel, though very hungry withal, and cold, I fell asleep: But was soon awaken'd by the Noise of great Trees which were brought down by the Flood; and came with such force against the Tree, that they made it shake.

When I awoke I found my Knees in the Water, though the lowest Part of my hollow Trunk was, as I said, 4 Foot above the Ground; and the Water was running as swift, as it `twere in the middle of the River. The Night was still very Dark, but only when the flashes of Lightning came: which made it so dreadful and terrible, that I forgot my Hunger, and was wholly taken up with praying to God to spare my Life. While I was praying and meditating thus on my sad Condition, I saw the Morning-Star appear; by which I knew that Day was at hand: This cheared my drooping Spirits; and in less than half an Hour the Day began to dawn, the Rain and Lightning ceased, and the Waters abated, insomuch that by that time the Sun was up, the Water was gone off from my Tree.

Then I ventur'd out of my cold Lodging; but being stiff and the Ground slippery, I could scarce stand: Yet I made a shift to ramble to the Place where we had made our fire, but found no Body there. Then I call'd out aloud, but was answer'd only with my own Eccho; which struck such Terror into me, that I fell down as dead, being oppress'd both with Grief and Hunger; this being the 7th Day of our Fast, save only the Maccaw-berries before related.

Being in this Condition, despairing of Comfort for want of my Consorts, I lay sometime on the wet Ground, till at last I heard a Voice hard by me which in some sort revived me; but especially when I saw Mr. Hingson one of my Companions, and the rest found us presently after; having all sav'd themselves by climbing small Trees. We greeted each other with Tears in our Eyes, and returned Thanks to God for our deliverance.

The first thing we did in the Morning was to look after our Bark-logs or Rafts which we had left tied to a Tree, in order to prosecute our Voyage down the River; but coming to the Place where we left them, we found them sunk and full of Water, which had got into the hollow of the Bamboes, contrary to our Expectation; for we thought they would not have admitted so much as Air, but have been like large Bladders full blown: But it seems there were Cracks in them which we did not perceive, and perhaps made in them by our Carelesness in working them; for the Vessels made of these hollow Bamboes are wont to hold Water very well.

This was a new Vexation to us, and how to proceed farther we knew not; but Providence still directed all for the better: For if we had gone down this River, which we afterwards understood to be a River that runs into the River of Cheapo, and so towards the Bay of Panama and the South Sea, it would have carried us into the midst of our Enemies, the Spaniards, from whom we could expect no Mercy.

The Neighbourhood of the Mountains, and Steepness of the Descent, is the cause that the Rivers rise thus suddenly after these violent Rains; but for the same Reason they as suddenly fall again.

But to return to my Story: being thus frustrated of our Design of going down the Stream, or of crossing either of these Rivers, by Reason of the sinking of our Bark-logs, we were glad to think of returning back to the Indian-Settlement, and Coasted up the River-side in the same Track we came down by. As our Hunger was ready to carry our Eyes to any Object that might afford us some Relief, it hapned that we espied a Deer fast asleep: Which we design'd if possible to get, and in order to it we came so very near, that we might almost have thrown our selves on him: But one of our Men putting the Muzzle of his Gun close to him, and the shot not being wadded, tumbled out, just before the Gun went off, and did the Deer no hurt; but starting up at the Noise, he took the River and swam over. As long as our way lay by the River side, we made a shift to keep it well enough: But being now to take leave of the River, in order to seek for the Indians Habitation, we were much at a loss. This was the Eighth Day, and we had no Sustenence beside the Maccaw-Berries we had got, and the Pith of a Bibby-Tree we met with, which we split and eat very favourly.

After a little Consideration what Course to steer next, we concluded it best to follow the Track of a Pecary or Wild-Hog, hoping it might bring us to some old Plantain-Walk or Potato-Piece, which these Creatures often resort to, to look for Food: This brought us, according to our expectations, to an old Plantation, and in sight of a new one. But here again fear overwhelmed us, being between two Straights, either to starve or venture up to the Indian Houses, whom being so near, we were now afraid of again, not knowing how they would receive us. But since there was no avoiding it, it was concluded that one should go up to the House, while the rest staid behind to see the Issue. In conclusion I went to the Plantation, and it proved the same that we came from. The Indians were all amazed to see me, and began to ask many Questions: But I prevented them by falling into a Swoon, occasion'd by the heat of the House, and the scent of the Meat that was boyling over the Fire. The Indians were very officious to help me in this Extremity, and when I revived they gave me a little to eat. Then they enquir'd of me for the other 4 Men; for whom they presently sent, and brought all but Gobson, who was left a little further off, and treated us all very kindly: For our long-expected Guides were now returned from the North-side, and gave large Commendations of the Kindness and Generosity of our Men; by which means all the Indians were become now again our very good Friends. The Indian who was so particulary kind to us, perceiving Mr. Gobson was not yet arrived at the Plantation, carried out Victuals to him, and after he was a little refreshed with that, brought him up to us. So that now we were all together again, and had a great deal of care taken of us.

Here we stayed 7 Days to refresh our selves, and then took our March again: For we were desirous to get to the North-Seas as soon as we could, and they were now more willing to guide us than ever before; since the Guides our Party took with them, had not only been dismiss'd civilly, but with Presents also of Axes, Beads, &c. The Indians therefore of the Village where we now were, order'd 4 lusty young Men to conduct us down again to the River, over which the Tree was fallen, who going now with a good will, carried us thither in one Day; whereas we were 3 Days the first time in going thither. When we came thither, we marched about a Mile up the River, where lay a Canoa, into which we all imbarked, and the Indians guided us up the same River which we before thro' mistake, had strove to go down. The Indians padled stoutly against the Stream till Night, and then we lodged at a House, where these Men gave such large Commendations of our Men, who were gone to the North-Sea, that the Master of the House treated us after the best Manner. The next Day we set out again with 2 Indians more, who made 6 in all, to row or paddle us; and our Condition now was well altered.

In 6 Days time after this, they brought us to Lacenta's House, who had before saved our Lives.

This House is situated on a fine little Hill, on which grows the stateliest Grove of Cotton Trees that ever I saw. The Bodies of these Trees were generally 6 Foot in Diameter, nay some 8, 9, 10, 11; for 4 Indians and my self took hand in hand round a Tree, and could not fathom it by 3 Foot. Here was likewise a stately Plantain-walk, and a Grove of other small Trees, that would make a Pleasant artificial Wilderness, if Industry and Art were bestowed on it.

The Circumference of this pleasant little Hill, contains at least 100 Acres of Land; and is a Peninsula of an oval Form, almost surrounded with 2 great Rivers, one coming from the East, the other from the West; which approaching within 40 Foot of each other, at the Front of the Peninsula, separate again, embracing the Hill, and meet on the other Side, making there one pretty large River which runs very swift. There is therefore but one Way to come in towards this Seat; which as I before observed is not above 40 Foot wide, between the Rivers on each Side; and `tis fenced with hollow Bamboes, Popes-heads and Prickle-pears, so thick set from one Side the Neck of Land to the other, that `tis impossible for an Enemy to approach it.

On this Hill live 50 principal Men of the Country, all under Lacenta's Command, who is a Prince over all the South-part of the Isthmus of Darien; the Indians both there and on the North-side also, paying him great Respect: But the South-side is his Country, and this Hill his Seat or Palace. There is only one Canoa belonging to it, which serves to ferry over Lacenta and the rest of them.

When we were arrived at this Place, Lacenta discharged our Guides, and sent them back again, telling us, that `twas not possible for us to travel to the North-side at this Season; for the rainy Season was now in its Heighth, and Travelling very bad; but told us we should stay with him, and he would take care of us: And we were forc'd to comply with him.

We had not been long here before an Occurrence happen'd, which tended much to the increasing the good Opinion Lacenta and his People had conceiv'd of us, and brought me into particular Esteem with them.

It so happen'd, that one of Lacenta's Wives being indisposed, was to be let Blood; which the Indians perform in this Manner: The Patient is seated on a Stone in the River, and one with a small Bow shoots little Arrows in the naked Body of the Patient, up and down; shooting them as fast as he can, and not missing any Part. But the Arrows are gaged, so that they penetrate no farther than we generally thrust our Lancets: And if by chance they hit a Vein which is full of Wind and the Blood spurts out a little they will leap and skip about, shewing many Antick Gestures, by way of Rejoycing and Triumph.

I was by while this was performing on Lacenta's Lady: And perceiving their Ignorance told Lacenta, that if he pleased, I would shew him a better way, without putting the Patient to so much Torment. Let me see, says he; and at his Command I bound up her Arm with a Piece of Bark, and with my Lancet breathed a Vein: But this rash Attempt had like to have cost me my Life. For Lacenta seeing the Blood issue out in a Stream, which us'd to come Drop by Drop, got hold of his Lance and swore by his Tooth, that if she did any otherwise than well, he would have my Heart's Blood. I was not moved, but desired him to be patient, and I drew off about 12 Ounces, and bound up her Arm, and desired she might rest till the next Day: By which Means the Fever abated, and she had not another Fit. This gain'd me so much Reputation, that Lacenta came to me, and before all his Attendants, bowed and kiss'd my Hand. Then the rest came thick about me, and some kissed my Hand, others my Knee, and some my Foot: After which I was taken up in a Hammock, and carried on Men's Shoulders, Lacenta himself making a Speech in my Praise, and commending me as much superiour to any of their Doctors. Thus I was carried about from Plantation to Plantation, and lived in great Splendour and Repute, administring both Physick and Phlebotomy to those that wanted. For though I lost my Salves and Plaisters, when the Negro ran away with my Knapsack, yet I preserv'd a Box of Instruments, and a few Medicaments wrapt up in an Oil Cloth, by having them in my Pocket, where I generally carried them.

I lived thus some Months among the Indians, who in a Manner ador'd me. Some of these Indians had been Slaves to the Spaniards, and had made their Escapes; which I suppose was the Cause of their expressing a Desire of Baptism: But more to have an European Name given them than for any thing they know of Christianity.

During my Abode with Lacenta, I often accompanied him a Hunting, wherein he took great Delight, here being good Game. I was one Time about the Beginning of the dry Season, accompanying him toward the South-East part of the Country, and we pass'd by a River where the Spaniards were gathering Gold. I took this River to be one of those which comes from the Gulph of St. Michael. When we came near the Place where they wrought, we stole softly through the Woods, and placing our selves behind the great Trees, looked on them a good while, they not seeing us. The Manner of their getting Gold is as follows. They have little wooden Dishes which they dip softly into the Water, and take it up half full of Sand, which they draw gently out of the Water; and every dipping they take up Gold mix'd with the Sand Water, more or less. This they shake, and the Sand riseth, and goes over the Brims of the Dish with the Water; but the Gold settles to the Bottom. This done they bring it out and dry it in the Sun, and then pound it in a Mortar. Then they take it out and spread it on Paper, and having a Load-stone they move that over it, which draws all the Iron, &c. from it, and then leaves the Gold clean from Ore or Filth; and this they bottle up in Gourds or Calabashes. In this Manner they work during the dry Season, which is 3 Months; for in the wet Time the Gold is washed from the Mountains by violent Rains, and then commonly the Rivers are very deep; but now in the gathering Season, when they are fallen again, they are not above a Foot deep. Having spent the dry Season in gathering, they imbark in small Vessels for Santa Maria Town; and if they meet with good Success and a favourable Time, they carry with them, by Report (for I learnt these Particulars of a Spaniard whom we took at Santa Maria under Captain Sharp) 18 or 20000 Pound Weight of Gold: But whether they gather more or less, `tis incredible to report the Store of Gold which is yearly wash'd down out of these Rivers.

During these Progresses I made with Lacenta, my 4 Companions staid behind at his Seat; but I had by this Time so far ingratiated my self with Lacenta, that he would never go any where without me, and I plainly perceiv'd he intended to keep me in this Country all the Days of my Life; which raised some anxious Thoughts in me, but I conceal'd them as well as I could.

Pursuing our Sport one Day, it hapned we started a Pecary, which held the Indians and their Dogs in Play the greatest Part of the Day; till Lacenta was almost spent for want of Victuals, and was so troubled at his ill Success that he impatiently wish'd for some better Way of managing this Sort of Game.

I now understood their Language pretty well, and finding what troubled him, I took this Opportunity to attempt the getting my Liberty to depart, by commending to him our English Dogs, and making an Offer of bringing him a few of them from England, if he would suffer me to go thither for a short Time. He demurr'd at this Motion a-while; but at length he swore by his Tooth, laying his Fingers on it, that I should have my Liberty, and for my Sake the other 4 with me; provided I would promise and swear by my Tooth, that I would return and marry among them; for he had made me a Promise of his Daughter in Marriage, but she was not then marriageable. I accepted of the Conditions: And he further promised, that at my Return he would do for me beyond my Expectation.

I return'd him Thanks, and was the next Day dismiss'd under the Convoy of 7 lusty Fellows; and we had 4 Women to carry our Provisions, and my Cloaths, which were only a Linnen Frock and a pair of Breeches. These I saved to cover my Nakedness, if ever I should come among Christians again; for at this Time I went naked as the Salvages, and was painted by their Women; but I would not suffer them to prick my Skin, to rub the Paint in, as they use to do, but only to lay it on in little Specks.

Thus we departed from the Neighbourhood of the South Seas, where Lacenta was hunting, to his Seat or Palace, where I arrived in about 15 Days, to the great Joy of my Consorts; who had staid there during this hunting Expedition I made with Lacenta to the South-East.

After many Salutations on both Sides, and some joyful Tears, I told them how I got my Liberty of Lacenta, and what I promised at my Return; and they were very glad at the Hopes of getting away, after so long a Stay in a Salvage Country.

I staid here some few Days till I was refreshed, and then with my Companions marched away for the North-Seas, having a strong Convoy of armed Indians for our Guides.

We travelled over many very high Mountains; at last we came to one surpassing the rest in Heighth, to which we were 4 Days gradually ascending, tho' now and then with some Descent between while. Being on the Top, I perceiv'd a strange Giddiness in my Head; and enquiring both of my Companions, and the Indians, they all assured me there were in the like Condition; which I can only impute to the Height of the Mountains, and the Clearness of the Air. I take this part of the Mountains to have been higher than either that which we cross'd with Captain Sharp, or that which Mr. Dampier and the rest of our Party cross'd in their Return: For from this Eminence, the Tops of the Mountains over which we passed before, seem'd very much below us, and sometimes we could not see them for the Clouds between; but when the Clouds flew over the Tops of the Hill, they would break, and then we could discern them, looking as it were thro' so many Loop-holes.

I desired 2 Men to lie on my Legs, while I laid my Head over that Side of the Mountain which was most perpendicular; but could see no Ground for the Clouds that were between. The Indians carried us over a Ridge so narrow that we were forced to straddle over on our Breeches; and the Indians took the same Care of themselves, handing their Bows, Arrows, and Luggage, from one to another. As we descended we were all cured of our Giddiness.

When we came to the Foot of the Mountain we found a River that ran into the North-Seas, and near the Side of it were a few Indian Houses, which afforded us indifferent good Entertainment. Here we lay one Night, it being the first House I had seen for 6 Days; my Lodging by the way being a Hammock made fast to 2 Trees, and my covering a Plantain-Leaf.

The next Morning we set forward, and in 2 Days Time arrived at the Sea-side, and were met by 40 of the best Sort of Indians in the Country, who congratulated our coming and welcom'd us to their Houses. They were all in their finest Robes, which are long white Gowns, reaching to their Ancles, with Fringes at the Bottom, and in their Hands they had half Pikes. But of these Things, and such other Particulars as I observ'd during my Abode in this Country, I shall say more when I come to describe it.

We presently enquired of these Indians when they expected any Ships? They told us they knew not, but would enquire; and therefore they sent for one of their Conjurers, who immediately went to work to raise the Devil, to enquire of him at what Time a Ship would arrive here; for they are very expert and skilful in their Sort of Diabolical Conjurations. We were in the House with them, and they first began to work with making a Partition with Hammocks, that the Pawawers, for so they call these Conjurers, might be by themselves. They continued some time at their Exercise, and we could hear them make most hideous Yellings and Shrieks; imitating the Voices of all their kind of Birds and Beasts. With their own Noise, they joyn'd that of several Stones struck together, and of Conch-shells, and of a sorry Sort of Drums made of hollow Bamboes, which they beat upon; making a jarring Noise also with Strings fasten'd to the larger Bones of Beasts. And every now and then they would make a dreadful Exclamation, and clattering all of a sudden, would as suddenly make a Pause and a profound Silence. But finding that after a considerable Time no Answer was made them, they concluded that `twas because we were in the House, and so turn'd us out, and went to work again. But still finding no Return, after an Hour or more, they made a new Search in our Apartment; and finding some of our Cloaths hanging up in a Basket against the Wall, they threw `em out of Doors in great Disdain. Then they fell once more to their Pawawing; and after a little time they came out with their Answer, but all in a Muck-sweat; so that they first went down to the River and washed themselves, and then came and deliver'd the Oracle to us, which was to this Effect: That the 10th Day from that Time there would arrive 2 Ships; and that in the Morning of the 10th Day we should hear first one Gun, and sometime after that another; that one of us should die soon after; and that going aboard we should lose one of our Guns: All which fell out exactly according to the Prediction.

For on the 10th Day in the Morning we heard the Guns, first one, and then another, in the Manner that was told us; and one of our Guns or Fusees was lost in going aboard the Ships; For we 5, and 3 of the Indians went off to the Ships in a Canoa; but as we cross'd the Bar of the River it overset, where Mr. Gopson, one of my Consorts, was like to be drowned; and tho' we recover'd him out of the Water, yet he lost his Gun according to the Prediction. I know not how this happen'd as to his Gun; but ours were all lash'd down to the Side of the Canoa: And in the West-Indies we never go into a Canoa but a little Matter oversets, but we make fast our Guns to the Sides or Seats: And I suppose Mr. Gopson, who was a very careful and sensible Man, had lash'd down his also, tho' not fast enough.

Being over-set, and our Canoa turn'd upside down, we got to Shore as well as we could, and dragg'd Mr. Gopson with us, tho' with Difficulty. Then we put off again, and kept more along the Shore, and at length stood over to La Sound's Key, where the 2 Ships lay, an English Sloop, and a Spanish Tartan, which the English had taken but 2 or 3 Days before. We knew by the Make of this last that it was a Spanish Vessel, before we came up with it: But seeing it in Company with an English one, we thought they must be Consorts; and whether the Spanish Vessel should prove to be under the English one, or the English under that, we were resolv'd to put it to the Venture, and get aboard, being quite tir'd with our Stay among the wild Indians. The Indians were more afraid of its being a Vessel of Spaniards, their Enemies as well as ours: For this was another Particular they told us 10 Days before, when they were Pawawing, that when their Oracle inform'd them that 2 Vessels would arrive at this Time, they understood by their Daemons Answer, that one of them would be an English one; but as to the other, he spake so dubiously, that they were much afraid it would be a Spanish one; and `twas not without great Difficulty that we now perswaded them to go aboard with us; which was another remarkable Circumstance, since this Vessel was not only a Spanish one, but actually under the Command of the Spaniards at the Time of the Pawawing, and some Days after, till taken by the English.

We went aboard the English Sloop, and our Indians Friends with us, and were receiv'd with a very hearty Welcome. The 4 Englishmen with me were presently known and caress'd by the Ship's Crew; but I sat a while cringing upon my Hams among the Indians, after their Fashion, painted as they were, and all naked but only about the Waist, and with my Nose-piece (of which more hereafter) hanging over my Mouth. I was willing to try if they knew me in this Disguise; and `twas the better Part of an Hour before one of the Crew, looking more narrowly upon me, cry'd out, Here's our Doctor; and immediately they all congratulated my Arrival among them. I did what I could presently to wash off my Paint; but `twas near a Month before I could get tolerably rid of it, having had my Skin so long stain'd with it, and the Pigment dry'd on in the Sun: And when it did come off, `twas usually with the peeling off of Skin and all. As for Mr. Gopson, we brought him alive to the Ship, yet he did not recover his Fatigues, and his drenching in the Water, but having languish'd aboard about 3 Days, he died there at La Sound's Key; and his Death verify'd another Part of the Pawawer's Prediction. Our Indians, having been kindly entertained aboard for about 6 or 7 Days; and many others of them, who went to and fro with their Wives and Children, and Lacenta among them, visiting us about a Fortnight or 3 Weeks, we at length took leave of them, except 2 or 3 of them who would needs go with us to Windward; and we set sail, with the Tartan in our Company, first to the more Eastern Isles of the Samballoes, and then towards the Coast of Cartagene.

But I shall not enter into the Discourse of our Voyage after this, Mr. Dampier, who was in the same Vessel, having done it particularly. It may suffice just to intimate, That I was cruising with him up and down the West-India Coast and Islands, partly under Capt. Wright, and partly under Capt. Yanky; till such time as Capt. Yanky left Mr. Dampier and the rest under Capt. Wright, at the Isle of Salt Tortuga, as Mr. Dampier relates in the 3d Chapter of his Voyage round the World, p. 58. I went then away with Capt. Yanky first to the Isle of Ash where the French took us, as he relates occasionally, Chap. 4. p. 68. as also their turning us there ashore; our being taken in by Capt. Tristian another French Man; his carrying us with him almost to Petit-Guaves; our Men seizing the Ship when he was gone ashore, carrying it back to the Isle of Ash, and there taking in the rest of our Crew: The taking the French Ship with Wines, and the other in which Capt. Cook, who was then of our Crew, went afterwards to the South-Seas, after having first been at Virginia: So that we arrived in Virginia with these Prizes about 8 or 9 Months after Mr. Dampier came thither. I set out with him also in that new Expedition to the South-Seas under Capt. Cook, though he forgot to mention me in that Part of his Voyages. We went round Terra del Fuego, and so up the South-Sea Coast, along Chili, Peru, and Mexico, as he relates at large in his 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Chapters. There, p. 223, he tells how Capt. Davis, who had succeeded Capt. Cook at his Death, broke off Consortship with Capt. Swan, whom we had met with in the South-Seas. That himself being desirous to stand over to the East-Indies, went aboard Capt. Swan: But I remain'd aboard the same Ship, now under Capt. Davis, and return'd with him the way I came. Some few Particulars that I observ'd in that Return, I shall speak of at the Conclusion of the Book: In the mean while, having given this Summary account of the Course of my Travels, from my first parting with Mr. Dampier in the Isthmus, till my last leaving him in the South-Seas, I shall now go on with the particular Description of the Isthmus of America, which was the main Thing I intended publishing in these Relations.


Anon., An Enquiry into the Causes of the Miscarriage of the Scots Colony at Darien (Glasgow, 1700).

Ayres, Philip, The Voyages and Adventures of Captain Bartholomew Sharp (London, 1694).

Borland, Francis, Memoirs of Darien (Glasgow, 1715).

Dampier, William, A New Voyage Round the World (London: J. Knapton, 1697-1703).

Exquemelin, Alexandre Olivier, Bucaniers of America, 2nd ed. (London: W. Crooke, 1684-85).

Ferguson, Adam, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1995).

Herder, Johann Gottfried, Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man, trans. T. Churchill (New York: Bergman, 1800).

Herries, Walter, A Defense of the Scots Abdicating Darien (Glasgow, 1700).

McPhail, Bridget. "Through a Glass, Darkly: Scots and Indians Converge at Darien." Eighteenth-Century Life 18 (Nov. 1994): 129-47.

Spate, O. H. K., The Pacific since Magellan II: Monopolists and Freebooters (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983 ).

Wafer, Lionel, A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, edited by L.E. Elliott Joyce (Oxford: Hakluyt Society, 1933).

----------------- A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America, ed. G.P. Winship (Cleveland: Burrows, 1903).

Woodward, R.L., Robinson Crusoe's Island: A History of the Juan Fernandez Islands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969).