This belief is centered around Dighton Rock, a 40-ton boulder originally embedded in the Taunton River covered in petroglyphs and curious markings that have sparked interest in its origins since 1680. At that time, Reverend John Danforth made a drawing of these markings, which was published in part by Reverend Cotton Mather in his book The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated (1689). Since then, scholars from around the world have puzzled over the rock’s meaning, with theories that assign the carvings to Native American, ancient Phoenician, Norse, and Chinese origins.
|Drawing of the carvings as made by John Danforth in 1680|
In the early 20th century, Edmund Burke Delabarre of Brown University introduced a new theory that tied Dighton Rock to a 15th century Portuguese explorer who never made it home. Miguel Corte-Real set out to explore the western Atlantic and had previously made it to the Coast of Labrador with his brother Gaspar. At the end of the 1500 expedition, Miguel was sent back to Portugal and Gaspar stayed behind, never to be seen again. In 1502, Miguel set out on a second expedition to find his brother, and he too disappeared. Historian Delabarre believed that the stone was marked by Miguel Corte-Real, whose voyages had brought him along the coast of North American to what is now Taunton. According to his research, Delabarre believes that the rocks states, “Miguel Cortereal. 1511. By the Will of God, leader of the natives of India in this place” in Latin followed by the Portuguese coat of arms.
|Pictures of the inscriptions taken and outlined by Edmund|
Burke Delabarre and published in the Bulletin of the Society
for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
Members of the Massachusetts Portuguese communities were instantly captivated with this theory. The Miguel Corte Real Memorial Society, formed in the 1950s, claimed Dighton Rock and fought the Department of Natural Resources, ordering them to surrender the rock to the historical society. These two organizations would continue to clash throughout the mid-1950s. First, the historical society had acquired about 50 acres of land near Dighton Rock to create a park in 1952, but a year before the Massachusetts Legislature had expropriated the same land for a state park. Later, these two organizations clashed again regarding how the rock should be preserved: the Department of Natural Resources wanted to remove the boulder to higher ground, while the historical society wished to build a coffer-dam around its original location in the Taunton River. Today, Dighton Rock is housed inside a small museum at Dighton Rock State Park.
Maritime historian and Harvard professor Samuel Eliot Morrison refuted the Corte Real theory in his book Portuguese Voyages to American in the Fifteenth Century and later in a Letter to the Editor in the Boston Herald, in which he wrote that “It is, of course, possible that Miguel Cortereal visited these coasts in the early 16th century, and it is very gratifying to our Portuguese citizens to feel that one of their heroes was here more than a century before the Pilgrim Fathers. But there are a good many arguments against accepting Professor Delabarre’s interpretation as authentic.” To this day, there is no definitive theory regarding the origin of the petroglyphs on Dighton Rock, though many Portuguese-Americans remain convinced that it is an important part of Portuguese maritime history and American history in general.
- “How Portuguese Immigrants Came to New England” published by the New England Historical Society (http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/how-portuguese-immigrants-came-to-new-england/)
- Portuguese Spinner: An American Story edited by Marsha L. McCabe and Joseph D. Thomas (https://bark.cwmars.org/eg/opac/record/1106599?locg=111)
- Dighton Rock: a study of the written rocks of New England by Edmund Burke Delabarre (1928) (https://archive.org/details/dightonrockstudy00dela)
- “Da Silva defends Dighton Rock Portuguese theory in his 511th presentation” by Marc Larocque, Wicked Local (2012) (http://www.wickedlocal.com/x1587349409/Da-Silva-defends-Dighton-Rock-Portuguese-theory-in-his-511th-presentation)