Around the close of the fourteenth century, or about 1380, Nicolo Zeno, wealthy and noble Venetian, fitted out a ship for a voyage to England. Driven by storms further north, he finally arrived at a group of islands called by him "Friesland" and now known to us as the Faroe Islands. These islands had been in the possession of the Northmen since 861.
The Norman, or ruling lord, Zichmni, having revolted against the King of Norway, welcomed Zeno and his ship, and made him prime minister and chief admiral. Nicolo Zeno then invited his brother Antonio, who was living in Venice, to join him in this hospitable group of islands. This invitation Antonio accepted, arriving there in the year 1391. They made voyages and explorations in every direction until 1395 when Nicolo died.
Antonio Zeno continued to live in the north and was so interested in the discoveries and adventures of his brother and himself in these little-known countries, that he wrote, or finished writing, a report concerning them and on a sea chart depicted all the surrounding countries of which he or his brother had knowledge. This was probably considerably augmented by knowledge supplied by fishermen and other Northmen. This volume Antonio sent to a third brother, Carlo Zeno, at Venice. Antonio died in the north in 1401, so the volume must have reached Venice between the years 1395 and 1404.
Carlo Zeno put this valuable contribution to the little-known regions of the north in his archives, as a memorial of his brothers, where it remained undisturbed for one hundred and fifty years. During these one hundred and fifty years the volume decayed and became very greatly damaged. In 1558, after the art of printing came into use, Nicolo Zeno, the younger, rescued what remained of the volume and the chart and had it printed.
It is interesting to note that many of the early discoverers of America were Italians: Notably Columbus, Cabot and Verrazano. Cabot was a Venetian and the Zeni material may have reached his hands.
Antonio Zeno, in the report on his and his brother's voyages, relates that a fishing vessel from "Frisland," being driven by a storm far out to the west, arrived at a country named "Estotiland," the inhabitants of which had commerce with "Engroenelandt" (Greenland). This country; "Estotiland," was very fertile, and had mountains in the interior. The king of the country had in his possession some books written in Latin, which, however, he did not understand. The language which he and his subjects spoke had no similarity to the Norse.
The King of Estotiland, seeing that his guests sailed in much safety with the assistance of an instrument (the compass), persuaded them to make a maritime expedition to another country to the south called "Drogeo" or
"Droceo." There they had the misfortune to fall into the hands of a most barbarous tribe, and they were all killed except one, who was made a slave, but who after a long time, and with many adventures, found his way back to
Greenland and to the Faroe. He related that the country Drogeo stretched far to the south, and was a very large country, like another world, and it was full of savage tribes, who covered themselves with skins and lived by hunting. They had no other weapons than bows and arrows and lived among each other in an eternal warfare. But far off to the south were some more civilized nations which knew the use of the previous metals, and built towns and temples; it was, however, their custom to kill their prisoners and offer them to their gods. This was probably the accumulated knowledge of many voyages and adventures instead of the one lone captive. [Kohl, Me. Hist. Soc. Coll. Doc. Hist., vol. 1, pp. 104-5] These more "civilized nations" may well have been those dwellers in Central America, whose temples and villages Lindbergh has been flying over and exploring during the past year.
On this map we are only interested in the countries "Estotiland" and "Drogeo" or "Droceo." The word "Estotiland" has excited the historians for several centuries, and so far has not been explained satisfactorily. Many have made conjectures as to the meaning of the name. The Frenchman Beauvois wrote a monograph attempting to explain "Estotiland" as a country inhabited by the Scots. He naively changed the t's to c's and called it "Escociland," or land of the Scots. Dr. Kohl has found a German meaning for it, translating it to "East Outland."
If old dictionaries were available we would probably find that "Estotiland" was named as Eric is said to have named "Helluland," "Markland" and "Vinland," after the kind of commodities found there. Probably we should also be able to prove that "Estotiland" was a common or fisherman's term applied to stockfish grounds which was later called "baccalao." In a Spanish dictionary today there is a commercial name for stockfish, which is not dissimilar, in estocafis. Another explanation might be that the word had some connection with the manner of harpooning whales. Estoc is an ancient French term for a rapier.
"Drogeo" or "Droceo," is, according to Dr. Kohl, probably New England. Certainly it has the numerous islands which have always distinguished the coast of Maine on ancient maps. This name seems to have escaped the recorded surmises of the historians. It, too, like Estotiland probably received its name because of its rare commodities-drugs-which later voyagers sought for and found in this locality.
Abraham Ortelius evidently believed the Zeni account for in Theatrum Orbis, fol. 6, he says:
"And here I shall not commit any great inconvenience, or absurdities, in adding unto this History of the New World, certaine particulars as touching the first discoverie thereof, not commonly known, which discoverie al the writers of our time ascribe & that not unworthyily unto Christopher Columbus, For by him it was in a manner first discovered; made knowen, and profitably communicated unto the Christian world, in the yeere of our Lord 1492. Howbeit I finde that the North part thereof called Estotiland (which most of all extendeth toward our Europe and the Islands of the same, namely, Groneland, Island, and Frisland), was long ago found by certain fishers of the Isle of Frisland, driven by tempest upon the shore thereof: and was afterward about the year 1390 discovered a new, by one Antonio Zeno a gentleman of Venice; which sayled thither under the conduct of Zichmni king of saide Isle of Frisland, a prince in those parts of great valour, and renowned for his martiall exploits and victories. Of which expedition or abridgements gathered by Francisco Marcolino out of the letters of M. Nicolo and Antonio Zeni two gentlemen of Venice which lived in those parts. Out of which collections I doe adde concerning the description of Estotiland aforesaid these particulars following: Estotiland (saith he) aboundeth with all things necessary for mankinde. In the mids thereof standeth an exceeding high mountaine, from which issue foure rivers that moisten all the countrie. The inhabitants are wittie and most expert in all mechanical arts. They have a kinde of peculiar language and letters. Howbeit in this Kings Librarie are preserved certaine Latine bookes, which they understand not, being perhaps left there not many years before by some Europeans, which traffiqued thither. They have all kinds of mettals; but especially golde, wherewith they mightly abound. They trafficke with the people of Groneland, from whence they fetch skinnes, pitch and brimstone. The inhabitants report that towardes the South, there are regions abounding with gold, and very populous. They have many and huge woods, from whence they take timber for the building of ships and cities whereof and of castles there are great store. The use of the loadstone for navigation is unknowen unto them.
"They make relation also of a certaine region toward the South, called Drogio, which is inhabited by Cannibals, unto whom mans flesh is delicate meat; whereof being destitute they live by fishing, which they use very much. Beyond this are large regions, and as it were a newe world: but the people are barbarous and goe naked; howbeit against the colde they cloth themselves in beastes skinnes. These have no kinde of metale; and they live by hunting. Their weapons are certaine long staves with sharpe points, and bowes. They wage warres one against another. They have governours, and obey certaine laves. But from hence more towardes the south the climate is much more temperate: and there are cities, and temples of idols, unto whom they sacrifice living men, whose flesh they afterwards devoure. These nations have the use of silver and gold.
"This much of this tract of landes out of the aforesaide collections or abridgements, wherein this also is worthy the observation that even then our European Pilots sayled those seas by the helpe of the loadstone. For concerning the use thereof in Navigation I suppose there is not to be found a more ancient testimonye. And these things I have annexed the rather unto this table of Mar del Zur; considering that none of those Authours which have written the Histories of the Newe World, heve in any part of their writings, mentioned one word thereof. Hitherto Ortelius."
[Hakluyt, 1928 ed., vol. 9, p. 355]
After these legendary voyages, innumerable fishermen, Basque, Spanish, Portuguese, Bretons, must have frequented this region for when the Cabotas or Cabots made their famous voyages, it is recorded that the fish, which nearly impeded the progress of their vessel, was called "baccaloa" by the natives. "Baccaloa" is found in old records and on ancient charts spelled in various ways.
When Francis Parkman was writing his Pioneers of France in the New World he made an extensive search for the origin of this word, "baccaloa." He came to the conclusion that it was Basque, but that at an early period it had been adopted by the Spanish and Portuguese and always meant codfish. To have a word established in the mouths of natives surely signifies that fishermen in numbers and over a space of years must have caught codfish in these waters. The old Spanish is still spoken in Porto Rico and baccaloa, as they call codfish, is one of their chief articles of diet.
Bellet says the Basque had caught codfish (baccalaos) along the Newfoundland coast two hundred years before Columbus touched at Hispaniola. [Sylvester, Sokaki Trail].