Chapter 7

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Dighton Rock in it's original site at midtide 


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The position of Dighton Rock is 41.48° North, 71.7° West. It is located on the Atlantic Coast of the United States of America, in the southern part of Massachusetts. It rests on the left bank of Taunton River, 30 miles from the mouth of Narragansett Bay, within the boundaries of the town of Berkley. (The town of Berkley was formerly a part of Dighton. Dighton Rock faces the town of Dighton on the right side of the Taunton River.

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Dighton Rock is 9 miles from Fall River, 8 miles from Taunton, 20 miles from New Bedford, 50 miles from Boston, and 210 miles from New York City. (It can be reached by Mass. Route 21. Exit 10.)

In November, 1952, the Miguel Corte Real Memorial Society of New York City acquired 49 1/2 acres of land ($5,0OO) adjacent to the Rock for the purpose of creating a park. However, in 1951 the Massachusetts Legislature expropriated the same land for a State Park. Many more acres were purchased and Dighton Rock State Park now has an area of 100 acres. The vicinity of Dighton Rock has been beautified and furnished with parking and picnic facilities.


Up until August, 1963, Dighton Rock was situated on the left bank of the Taunton River between the flow of the high and low tides. At high tide, the top of the rock was covered by three to four feet of water. During the winter when the river was frozen, the rock could not be seen because of the thick ice cap. In the past the rock was covered by tidal water about 20 hours daily. Only during the period when the tide was sufficiently low (during new and full moon) could the  inscriptions be satisfactorily studied but only for two hours each day.

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White Man's brook, near Dighton Rock

For centuries this monument was covered with mud and exposed to all kinds of weather conditions. Ironically,  because the inscriptions were covered by water most of the day, vandalism such as the throwing of stones or bottles or the engraving of initials and dates, was discouraged.


Since 1 829, there were many proposals to remove the rock to various museums in Fall River, Boston, and even as far as Denmark. Only in 1955 was action taken to relocate the rock. However, because the cables of the crane damaged the rock, a court injunction was obtained to stop the removal.

In 1963, the Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources ended a long controversy by proving that the rock was a boulder and not a ledge. The Department then built a coffer dam at a cost of $50,000. The rock is now situated on the cofferdam,  eleven feet above its original level, and protected by a fence.

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Dighton Rock, covered by winter ice cap


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Damage to Dighton Rock from the 1st removal attempt in 1955


Dighton Rock is approximately the form of a parallelepiped 5 feet high, 9 1/2 feet wide, and 11 feet long. The face of the rock overlooks the river, and has a trapezoidal surface, 11 feet long and 5 feet high. When the rock was in its original site, the face was inclined at an angle of 39 degrees to the vertical. Now, it is inclined at 70 degrees it continues to face northwest as before.

087.jpg (72829 bytes)Dighton Rock being removed from its original site (1963)

088.jpg (53940 bytes)Dighton Rock on Cofferdam. (1963) The inscriptions face the river.

089.jpg (129169 bytes)All the engravings on Dighton Rock delineated by Delabarre in 1927

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Dighton Rock is a gray-brown feldspathic sandstone of medium to coarse density. It does not have a strong consistency. Weather and vandals have erased or obscured some of the original engravings. It has a density of 2.45 g /cm3 and a volume of 500 + cubic feet. Therefore, it weighs approximately 40 tons.


The first documents written about Dighton Rock refer to it as the “Dighton Writing Rock”. Perhaps. students of Dighton Rock use the word “writing’’ to better convey the fact that the rock has on it many inscriptions similar to a blackboard, with one writing on top of another.  The depth of engraving runs from 2 to 7 millimeters The markings on the rock are not doodlings or cracks due to weathering. All the lilies carved on Dighton Rock were done by human hands, using sharp instruments of metal or hard stone


There are two main reasons why the inscriptions have been a puzzle for so many years and to so many scholars:


Professor Edmund Delabarre published in 1927 a photograph of the face of the rock on which lie delineated all the lines en graved up until 1920.  If we examine this photo graph. we are immediately overcome by a tangled net of lines. This mesh of lines and curves suggested to several scholars Greek, Japanese, or Hieroglyphic forms.

To sonic scholars, the inscriptions became a joke. The attitude of the shortsighted scholar was expressed in this one sentence: “I believe the mystery of the inscriptions will never be interpreted.’’ That is what was said of Champollion and the Rosetta Stone.

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Edmund Burke Delabarre (1920)



Around 1913 Professor Edmund Burke Delabarre became interested in the study of Dighton Rock because:

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Hathaway photo on which Delabarre first saw the date 1511. (Dec 2 1918)

It took Delabarre two years to compile all the research concerning Dighton Rock. He found hundreds of articles dealing with the inscriptions: In 1915 he wrote the first volume entitled "Early interest in Dighton Rock’’ which was published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. In 1 916 he completed the "Middle Period of Dighton Rock History” and in 1919 "The Recent History of Dighton Rock”.

In all three publications. Delabarre discussed the various theories, analyzing them without formulating any theory of his own. His investigation of Dighton Rock was impartial. Perhaps this was the reason why, after studying more than twenty distinct theories, an entirely new theory occurred to Delabarre: “It may well be imagined with what astonishment on examining the Hathaway Photograph for the hundredth time on December 2, 1918.

I saw in it clearly and undoubtedly the date 1511. No one had ever seen it before, on rock or photograph: yet once seen, its genuine presence on the rock cannot be doubted. The date 1511 was the earliest date engraved on the rock. This date gave Delabarre an exact period of World History to examine and led him to research navigators or explorers who might have landed in New England just before or on that date.

He began searching through European History and soon discovered that there existed in Lisbon, Portugal. royal charters attesting to the fact that Gaspar Corte Real came to North America in 1501—his second voyage—and never returned to Portugal. He further uncovered the fact that Miguel Cone Real, Gaspar’s brother left Lisbon on May 10. 1502 in his search. Both navigators, however, shared a similar fate, and never returned to their home land.
With this in formation available,  Delabarre once more began to review all of the drawings, paintings, and photographs of Dighton Rock in order to formulate a new diagnosis.

Delabarre then verified that the date 1511 composed of shortened 's (ones) with serifs, and the 5, like a capital "S" could easily be deciphered: 

‘‘Out of: twenty-seven drawings and chalking's of this part of the inscriptions, twenty one include both the initial and the final figures 1 , and only one omit them both."

Following the same line of investigation, he easily proved that the capital letters MI and CORT were undoubtedly a part of Miguel Corte Real’s name. It should be noted that the last drawing made of the inscriptions (Rhode Island Historical Society, 1830) reveals more letters of Miguel Corte Real’s name, but were not recognized as such.

A total of eight letters can be clearly seen on drawings and photographs made before 1918, that is, made by men who, (a) represented rival theories, (b) never gave any indication that they had ever thought of the Corte Real theory.

As he continued to familiarize himself with Portuguese history and national symbols, Professor Delabarre eventually detected the ‘V” shaped Portuguese coat-of-arms inscribed on the lower south side of the face of the rock.  Delabarre reports that this shield within a shield could be seen in drawings of the inscriptions as far back as 1 768, but was never recognized as the Portuguese coat-of-arms.

As the originator of the Corte Real theory, Delabarre made the three basic discoveries:

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(A) Miguel Corte Real (Folsom, 1868)
(B) Miguel Corte Real (Blake 1876)


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(C) Miguel Corte Real - at daylight (Delabarre 1920)
(D) Miguel Corte Real - (Delabarre, 1920) with flash light
(E) Miguel Corte Real delineated by Delabarre (1920)


Because he firmly established the Corte Real theory, Delabarre was awarded the Cross of the Order of Christ by the Portuguese government. This decoration contains the same 45 degrees cross as appears on Dighton Rock. Even while wearing the Cross of the Order of Christ on his chest, Delabarre, unfortunately, missed making the diagnosis of the same Cross engraved on Dighton Rock.

Delabarre also proposed that the letters A.D. were engraved near the date 1511, and that a message in abbreviated Latin (V. Dei hic Dux Ind = By Grace of God, Chief of the Indians, here.), could be seen near the V shaped coat of arms. These additions to the theory are not correct as we shall see later.

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First photograph of Dighton Rock by Capt. Seth Eastman (1853)



Joseph Dâmaso Fragoso became interested in Dighton Rock in 1928, and 2 years later invited Prof. Delabarre to New York City to lecture on his findings. Fragoso studied the history of Dighton Rock for more than 20 years. He organized the Miguel Corte Real Memorial Society which bought 49 1/2 acres of land adjacent to the rock, and also founded a magazine entitled “The Portuguese World” to campaign for the establishment of a park to preserve the rock.

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Joseph Dâmaso Fragoso. He became the center of much controversy even sustaining bodily injuries while defending his beliefs about the Dighton Rock inscriptions.

While a language instructor (Portuguese)  at New York University, Fragoso wrote in 1951 a small article in which he describes the Cross of the Order of Christ on Dighton Rock. He stated that:

Though Fragoso never made a drawing or a photograph of Dighton Rock in an attempt to explain his findings, examination of the early drawing reveals clearly that in the first document  made by Rev. John Danforth in 1680, what he called a ‘‘ship without masts’’ is indeed the Cross of the Order of Christ. 

Fragoso's discovery of the Cross of the Order of Christ was the decisive contribution to the Corte Real theory. Actually, when we review all of the drawings from 1680 to 1919, the  parts most consistent of the inscriptions are those belonging to the Cross of the Order of Christ.


After giving serious consideration to Delabarre’s and Fragoso's theory, this author (then a Fellow in Internal Medicine at famous Lahey Clinic, in Boston) presented an exhaustive interpretation of the Dighton  Rock at the First Inter national of the History of the Discoveries held in Lisbon, Portugal. (September 8, 1960).

In this presentation the author concluded that:

(a) The abbreviated forms were too hypothetical, 

(b) The letter's have an inconsistent size and shape (e.g. not all capital letters),

(c) Other Portuguese land markers do not have Latin inscriptions, 

(d) The lines attributed to the X and N form part of the angles of the Cross of the Order of Christ.

(5) There  are four Crosses of the Order of Christ,  one  U-shaped Portuguese Coat of Arms, and one  V-shaped Portuguese Coat of Arms, engraved  on Dighton Rock.

With all respect to Professor Delabarre, as he was the first to give a correct interpretation to some of the engravings the author believes that his “message in Latin’’ has been a hindrance to the acceptance of the Corte Real Theory. This “Latin message’’ unfortunately, has been an error that continues to be repeated by those who are not familiar with the Cross of The Order of Christ,  or by scholars who desire to exaggerate doubts, because they do not want to accept a Portuguese theory.

In respect to Fragoso's, who first discovered the Crosses of Order of Christ on Dighton Rock, the author must criticize his adherence to Delabarre’s non-existing Latin message, and also his failure to point out the fragments of another Cross of the Order of Christ which lies parallel to the one he had described above Miguel Corte Real’s name.

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Delabarre's "message in Latin"


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What Delabarre thought to be an "N" and "X" are fragments of the Cross of the Order of Christ.

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THE COMPLETE CORTE REAL THEORY: Photo by da Silva, (Nov 1959)


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The following table lists the four groups of symbols attributed to Dighton Rock. Keeping these four characteristics in mind, we can proceed to examine the most outstanding reproductions of the Dighton Rock inscriptions.

The first recorded document of the Dighton Rock inscriptions was produced by Reverend John Danforth in 1680. Danforth drew only the upper half of the inscriptions, perhaps because the lower half was covered by tidal water most of the day. Danforth’s interpretation of his drawing was described as follows:

 “It is reported from the tradition of the old Indians, that there came a wooden house (and men of another country in it) swimming up the river Assonet, that fought the Indians and slew their Saunchem (Sachem) . Some interpret the figures here to be hieroglyphical. The first figure representing a ship, without masts, and a meer (mere) wreack cast upon the Shoales. The second representing an head of land, possibly a cape with a peninsula. Hence a gulf.”

  In 1732. the Royal Society of London requested and received Danforth’s copy of Dighton Rock and later presented it to the British Museum where it is preserved today.


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The first document of Dighton Rock was made by John Danforth in 1680


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It can be readily seen that what Danforth called “a ship without masts” or a “peninsula” are indeed sections of the Cross of the Order of Christ.  


The fact that so many fragments of the Cross of the Order of Christ appeared on the first drawing is sufficient evidence to eliminate any suspicion that the Cross was engraved in recent times to support the Portuguese theory.

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In 1788, James Winthrop placed a large sheet of paper across the face of Dighton Rock and obtained a rubbing of the inscriptions. Afterwards  he made a reduced copy in the same scale as the original.

105-06.jpg (172811 bytes) In this Winthrop copy we can distinguish a more complete Cross of the Order of Christ on the upper center of the inscriptions. On the north side appears the base of another cross and the so-called “face of a mermaid” which is actually the Quinas of Portugal. On the south side, the V within a V-shaped shield and the lower branch of another cross begin to take shape.


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The Stephen Sewell copy made in 1788 depicts some of the letters and the complete V-shaped shield.


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Two years later, in 1790, Baylies and Goodwin drew a complete M, and a diamond shaped Gothic 0, an R, and part of a T. The entire V-shaped shield was drawn, but was not recognized as the Portuguese symbol.


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In 1830, a copy of the inscriptions was commissioned by the Rhode Island Historical Society . In this reproduction, the letters M, I, part of the C and  0 (both Gothic), R, T, and part of E were revealed. This copy again delineates the fragments of the Cross of the Order of Christ, and the U- and V-shaped Portuguese coat of arms. And once again, the students of Dighton Rock failed to discover that these symbols were Portuguese.

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The Rhode Island Historical Society drawing, together with a sketch of the Dighton Rock and its surroundings, were sent in 1834 to Professor Charles C. Rafn of Denmark who had requested in 1829 evidence of Norse voyages to North America.  Wishing to substantiate his preconceived Norse theory, Rafn, who never came to America, proceeded to interpret the letters in Corte Real’s name as Runic for Thorfinn, a Norse explorer.

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Bartlett's view or sketch 1834


Rafn, unfortunately, influenced public opinion in favor of the Norse theory by encouraging a hysterical rather than a historical controversy. He not only attributed the Dighton Rock inscriptions to the Norsemen, but further claimed that the Newport Tower was also built by the Vikings.

Rafn based his claim for Newport Tower on the Viking theory for Dighton Rock, but later Delabarre proved that the Norsemen had nothing to do with the Dighton Rock inscriptions.


In the following series of copies, we observe progressively greater detail recorded from one copy to another. Paradoxically, as the engravings continued to weather over the centuries, the copies became more complete in detail. If we were to superimpose these copies, one upon another, we would obtain a composite of all the lines which make up the engravings carved by Miguel Corte Real, in 1511.

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and close-ups of the face of Dighton Rock 



Dighton Rock is approximately 3,000 nautical miles from Lisbon, Portugal. Yellala Rock is 5000 nautical miles from Lisbon. It is located 147 miles from the mouth of the Congo River, and has inscriptions on it made by Diogo Căo in 1484

These inscriptions are typical of the Portuguese landmarkers, and show the transition from the high type cross to the Cross of the Order of Christ with concave base extremities. The Yellala inscriptions states in Portuguese: “The ships of wise King John II arrived here Diogo Căo, Pero Anes, Pero da Costa.”


The St. Laurence Rock, in Ceylon, is approximately 10,000 nautical miles from Lisbon. The Cross engraved there is the early form of the Cross of the Order of Christ with straight base extremities. The date 1501 on the St. Laurence Rock is illustrative of the form in which the Arabic numerals were written in Portugal. The digit one (1) is short and with serifs. The numeral 5 is in the form of a large capital 5, and the zero is made small to conform with the concept of emptiness.

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ASIAN "CONTINENT": St Lawrence Rock (10,000 miles from Lisbon) Notice the date 1501 with short ones and the fives like a capitol "S" 


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AFRICAN CONTINENT:  Yellala Rock (5,000 miles from Lisbon.)


The similarity of these three landmarkers, so many thousands of miles away from each other, is indeed striking. They have engraved on them the same Portuguese coat of arms, the same Cross of the Order of Christ, and the same style of numerals.

The uniform use of these Portuguese national and religious symbols is a result of the fact that the Portuguese navigators received the same training and education at the School of Prince Henry the Navigator. In contrast to the early forms of the Cross engraved on the St. Laurence and the Yellala Rock, the Cross of the Order of Christ on Dighton Rock has the mature form of 45 degree extremities,  the only cross of its kind in the world.

We consider the Dighton Rock inscriptions primary evidence for the Corte Real theory. In the next four chapters we present the secondary evidence for the Portuguese theory.


Return To Index                          Chapter 8