"RETURN IMPOSSIBLE . . "
The message from outer-space “ship in serious trouble, return to earth impossible” electrifies the world and for a moment the differences among nations are forgotten. The pulse of the world quickens as the people of all countries share the agony of the astronauts in the pending shipwreck a million miles from the earth. The astronauts are the inspiration of humanity and the sum total of its achievements. In a sense the people are the astronauts and the astronauts are the people.
This S. 0. S. from outer-space might have been heard five hundred years ago, if there had been radios then, for the Portuguese were the astronauts of the world and their voyages into unchartered seas were as hazardous and terrifying as our flights into space. They either returned or did not. But the promised rewards were greater than the dangers and men set out to accomplish the impossible. The man who encouraged the mariners to be even more daring was Prince Henry the Navigator, a gentle and melancholic man who was the intellectual motivating and guiding force of that period.
The Prince was half English and half Portuguese and his per son represents the fusion of two great maritime traditions. ‘With his blessing, the keels of the fast, seaworthy and highly maneuverable caravels criss-crossed the seas and oceans in all latitudes and the red Cross of the Order of Christ could be seen from the torrid waters of the equator to the icy waters of the polar regions. The soft, sonorous, musical Portuguese language became the first modern lingua franca to be spoken on all continents, a cultural achievement matched only by Portuguese sea prowess. With the circum navigation of the globe, Portugal forces the sea to give up its last great secret and the maritime glory of that tiny country reaches its zenith. Through dauntless courage, magnificent seaman ship and the ability! to accomplish the unaccomplishable, the Portuguese, almost single-handed, discovered and explored the face of the globe until it became a mundus portucalensis.
And this brings us to the central theme of Dr. da Silva’s book: the tragic but significant voyages of the Corte Real brothers from the Azores, who built and outfitted ships at their own expense and went sailing for new worlds. Gaspar is the first to sail, and when he fails to return, his brother Miguel goes to search for him. Nothing is ever heard from them.
Centuries later, their “calling card”, a forty ton rock, bearing their name, national symbols of Portugal, and date of arrival, is discovered. These inscriptions are the foundation of the thesis that the Portuguese were the first Pilgrims to set foot on American soil.
The author of this remarkable book is Dr. Manuel Luciano da Silva, Portuguese-American physician from Bristol, R. I. who, through twenty years of research without ally support from historical societies or government grants, was able to rescue the first chapter of American history from oblivion. This shirt-sleeved researcher often donned rubber boots to scrub the Dighton Rock at low tide in order to decipher its inscriptions better.
In 1960 Dr. da Silva presented the results of his research to the First International Congress of the History of the Discoveries, held in Lisbon. His presentation was enthusiastically received.
Dr. da Silva has joined fragmentary but essential pieces of an historical jig-saw puzzle to prove dramatically and conclusively that the Corte-Real Brothers, whom he calls the Portuguese Pilgrims, landed on the New England Coast, together with their crews over a hundred years before the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims.
In addition to reconstructing the exciting missing chapter in American history, he has succeeded in recreating the feverish period of discovery and exploration. He has done this by introducing many historical documents, illustrations and photographs rarely seen in this country. Dr. da Silva often gives us a new point of view and a new perspective on many aspects of the history of discovery and exploration. “Portuguese Pilgrims and Dighton Rock!” with its bite will raise new controversies, infuriate some readers and delight many more. The physician from Bristol makes a significant contribution to the history of discovery and exploration. The history of America is now correct and complete.
T. STEVEN TEGU, Ph.D.
Professor of Modern Languages, Rhode Island College.
March 10, 1971
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