Niven Sinclair's article on proofs of Henry Sinclair's voyage
to North America in 1398 was printed in Roslin O Roslin, Spring and Summer
1996 issues (Vol 3 No 3 and 4).
Beyond the shadow of a doubt
by Niven Sinclair
I would like to turn to the "proofs" of the Sinclair voyage
of 1398 to North America. Fourteen points will be offered, each based upon
fact which I have carefully researched.
Before Henry Sinclair left on his voyage, he made certain dispositions
of his lands to his brothers, John and David. He assigned the lands of
Pentland to his brother John, whilst transferring the lands of Auchdale
and Newburgh in Aberdeenshire to David.
To his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who married Sir John Drummond
of Cargill, he left his lands in Norway, provided he died without a male
heir. This would suggest that he took his three sons with him on the voyage,
as they were alive at the time and of an age when they would have been
considered able to accompany a military or naval force.
The Zeno Map
A map of the North Atlantic was drawn up by the Zeno brothers. In 1393,
Henry Sinclair sent Nicolo Zeno to carry out a survey of Greenland. Nicolo
returned to Orkney in 1395, where he died from prolonged exposure to
the Arctic weather. He was succeeded as Henry's admiral by his brother,
Accuracy attested & confirmed
For the next several centuries, the Zeno Map was used by such well-known
cartographers as Ruscelli (1561), Mercator (1569) and Ortelius (1574). And
even subsequent maps made by Hondius (1597), Danckwertz, Corneille, and
Tevernier (1628), and Bellini (1765) were, save for the orientation,
inferior to the Zeno map. The authority for this statement is from
Professor Hobbs of Michigan University.
The so-called Zeno Map had been compared by Professor Hapgood to an
aerial survey of Greenland, carried out recently by the United States Air
Force. Professor Hapgood found 37 points of identity with the Zeno Map.
This is an incredible degree of accuracy.
The Zeno Narrative
In the Words of Professor Taylor of London University, "The
authenticity of the Zeno account has been challenged, but on very flimsy
grounds. It appears to the present writer (Prof. Taylor) that it would be
quite out of the question for any author to invent a story which in every
detail reflects fact about which it would be quite impossible for him to
have been aware. Such is the story of Markland, which Antonio Zeno, then
in the Faeroes, sent back to his brother Carlo in Venice and which a
descendant edited and published in 1558. The later Zeno was personally
known to Ramusio, the great authority of his day on voyages and discoveries,
whom he could have hardly have deceived."
Zeno had never been to Rosslyn
The Zeno Narrative speaks of the "spring of pitch" which the
reconnaissance party of 100 soldiers found at Stellarton and which they
reported back to Prince Henry at Guysborough, both places in Nova Scotia.
On hearing this, Prince Henry considered it was "good omen"
because there was a similar "spring of pitch" at his home at
Rosslyn in Scotland. The "pitch" had been used as medicine against
the Black Death. It is reputed to have saved the Sinclairs from the scourges
of that particular plague, so much so that they erected a shrine over its
Now this story is faithfully recounted in the Zeno Narrative, although
Antonio Zeno had never been to Rosslyn. In other words, he could only have
heard of the "spring of pitch" of Rosslyn from Henry as they both
stood listening to the report of the returning soldiers in Nova Scotia.
Incidentally, the number of men Henry sent out was 100. Those of us who
have been in the army will know that if you can afford to send out a
reconnaissance party of this size, the base camp must have comprised many
times that number.
My personal inspection
I have visited all these places where Prince Henry is understood to have
visited. You could too. If I had to describe the places visited, my
description would have been almost identical to the words used in the Zeno
The Westford Knight in Massachusetts
There is an effigy of a medieval knight carved on a rock ledge. It was
"discovered" by an amateur geologist named Frank Glynn. I now
quote from a report by Professor Lethbridge of Cambridge University:
"The sword carved on the rock can hardly be anything but a medieval
sword. The whole hilt looks about AD 1200-1300. The significance of this is
considerable. I do not see how this particular form of sword could be
anything but European and pre-Columbian."
Opinion of noted expert on Heraldry
Sir Iain Moncrieffe, the Albany Herald and one of Scotland's most
noted authorities on heraldry writes:
"There is, of course, nothing remarkable in the idea that
the Jarl of Orkney, a Scotsman, but also the premier noble of Norway,
should sail to America in the 14th Century, for Norsemen had been crossing
the Atlantic Ocean since at least four centuries before, and the great
Scandinavian houses were all inter-related. Henry Sinclair was also related
to the Gunns, at that time perhaps the next most important family on the
Pentland Firth to the Sinclairs themselves. So the discovery at Westford
of what is apparently an effigy of a fourteenth century knight in a
bascinet, ca-mail and surcoat, with a heater-shaped shield bearing
devices of a Norse-Scottish character such as might have been expected
of a knight in Jarl Henry Sinclair's entourage, and a pommelled sword
of the period is hardly likely to be coincidence. I rather think that
the mighty Jarl stayed awhile and possibly wintered in Massachusetts."
In Rhode Island, the Newport Tower is perhaps the oldest stone building
(not including monuments such as tumuli or dolmens) in America. It is based
on the plan of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which has the
octagon within the circle. Its stone construction is similar in style to the
Norse-Scottish buildings of the Western and Northern Isles. More important,
to allay any doubt as to the identity of the builders, every single
measurement within Newport Tower is based on the Scottish ell which equals
three Norse feet.
It was customary for Knights returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy
Land, to build a church on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We find these round churches all over Europe. Henry was certainly familiar
with them. He had two of them in his island principality at Orphir and
Egilsay in Orkney. He would have seen the round church at Northampton when
he travelled to London in 1392 because he would have stayed with his
Sinclair kin in Northampton Castle close by. He also knew of the round
churches in Norway at Nidaros (now Trondheim) and at Tunsberg because he
visited both places with some regularity. And he would have known of the
five round churches on the island of Bornholm in Denmark where he stayed
between 1363 and 1365. In Greenland, at Karotok, there is also the remains
of a church which has the characteristics of Newport Tower.
Another aspect of the Newport Tower which identifies its origin as
Norse/Scottish is the fireplace on the first floor above ground level. The
majority of the round churches in Scandinavia (18 out of 27) have this
feature. The door is also on the first floor. People gained access by
a ladder which was lowered from the upper floor.
Most historians of early European settlement in America pay scant regard
to Indian legend and language from which we can learn much. An exception is
Professor Roger McLeod of Lowell University in Massachussetts, who has
compiled a huge dictionary of Norse and Gaelic words which have been
assimilated into the language of the indigenous people most particularly
into the language of the Algonkian group of the eastern seaboard of America.
Reider T. Sherwin in his book The Viking and the Red Man also writes about
Norse roots in the Algonkian language. Similarly, Arlington Mallery's book
The Rediscovery of America, has an appendix showing the similarity between
Norse and the language of the East coast tribes.
Whenever and wherever there is trade, there must be an assimilation of
words by both sides in the transaction in order to facilitate that trade.
The very scale of the infiltration of Norse words into the language of the
indigenous population establishes, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that trade
had been taking place for centuries before Columbus. There was even a Indian
Chieftainess with the name of Magnus.
Henry Sinclair called the indigenous people of Nova Scotia "his
beloved sons" or Micmac in Gaelic. Can it be coincidence that
they are known as such to present day [now written Mi'kmaq] or that
there is another tribe known as the Penikuk which is the title of
the district (Penicuik) where Henry's lands were!
Incidentally, the Mi'kmaq Indians were by no means "savages" --
what post-Columbian explorers liked to call indigenous people. They had a
written language which closely resembles hieroglyphics from Egypt. In fact,
so closely are they similar that they are almost indistinguishable. See the
works of Professor Barry Fell, who died recently while I was visiting
America. Furthermore, skeletons have been found in America dating back
to 37,000 BC. It is abundantly clear that the American Continent was visited
by many people well before Columbus.
It is an on-going fact of life that language becomes assimilated when
populations contact one another. For example, we are well aware that the
English language owes much to French, Greek and Latin. We are not so aware
of the Arabic words which we use every day such as alcohol, coffee, summit,
zenith, and cotton. many other words are being absorbed all the time,
especially as we eat at Chinese, Japanese and Indian restaurants. When
I was a boy, I had never heard of pizza! Now it is a part of every child's
vocabulary, if not their diet.
Let us examine some of the legends of the Amerindians. When Henry began
to build a ship from local materials, the Mic-macs tell of how "he
built himself an island, planted trees on it, and sailed away in his stone
canoe". The word "trees" refers to the masts. The word
"stone" obviously refers to the hard deck of Henry's ship, as
opposed to the open canoes of the Mi'kmaqs. When the Narragansett Indians
were asked who built the Newport Tower, they replied, "They were fire
haired men with green eyes who sailed up the river in a ship like a gull
with a broken wing" The "broken wing" is a reference to
a flapping sail. Notice that they used "fire-haired" not
In his book, Prince Henry Sinclair, Frederick Pohl said that
the Mi'kmaqs thought of Henry Pohl as their god Glooskap who taught them
many things. I suspect they likened him to their God rather than assuming
that their God had returned. It is interesting to note that all the
Amerindians have similar stories about their gods "appearing from
the East on a column of "spray" and that they were all tall, fair,
Far across the ocean in Scotland at the Rosslyn Chapel, there are stone
carvings of Indian maize, the American aloe cactus and sassafras. All were
carved before Columbus was born. This proves quite conclusively that someone
from the Sinclair family had travelled to America and had returned with
samples or drawings of the plants which they had found in the New World.
The Hakluyt Society
From the Boston Herald in 1892 one can read:
"Lief Erickson came to the land of North America, built houses,
made friends of the natives and explored the land giving names to places
some of which exist to the present day. These names were placed on the
charts and are the same which Henry St. Clair used, affixed to his maps
now in possession of the Hakluyt Society in London, a reproduction of which
can be found in Redpath's History of America."
From all of the foregoing, it is clear that the proof of Henry Sinclair's
voyage is indelibly hewn in stone on both sides of the Atlantic. It is
recorded in the stories of the Amerindians and has been authenticated by
historians in Europe and America. Whilst the Crew of Christopher Columbus
were on the point of mutiny, we find that Henry Sinclair's Admiral, Antonio
Zeno could write in a letter to brother Carlo in Venice:
"If ever there was man who was worthy of immortal memory, it is
this man because of his great bravery and goodness."
Henry's treatment of the indigenous people was impeccable by the
standards of even today.
Columbus was mercenary with all the greed and brutality of that breed
of man. And yet, it is Columbus who is credited with beginning The Great
Age of Exploration and Discovery! It would be truer to say that he heralded
The Great Age of Exploitation and Extermination.
It is incumbent upon us all to ensure that Prince Henry Sinclair gets
his rightful place in History because whether you are an indigenous or
immigrant American, you have every reason to be proud of this noble Scot
who followed in the wake of his Viking forebears almost 100 years before
The Story of Prince Henry Sinclair's voyage to America is part of our
past, part of our inheritance. Henry combined courage with vision, humility
with greatness, imagination with action. He was a true Prince of Men who
espoused the Templar ideal of chivalry and fraternity.
© Clan Sinclair Association Canada.
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