Saturday, October 17, 2015

An Irishman, and "pearls and diamonds" in Virginia

         Enclosed with Ambassador Velasco’s September 1610 letter to King Philip was a Spanish translation of a report from an Irishman, one Francisco Maguel [McGill?] who purported to have been a spy in Virginia for eight months. Who was he? How did he get there? There is no name resembling his on any of the lists of Virginia colonists. But Maguel somehow found his way to Madrid and to a meeting with Florencio Conryo, who claimed to be the Archbishop of Tuam, a town near Galway, Ireland. (Ireland was then under English control, and the Irish Catholics hoped to serve their cause by aiding Spain against their common enemy.)
         The Irish spy’s report gave a detailed account of Virginia’s geography, including the best way to get there by sea. He described bays and rivers, Jamestown fort, and the land’s resources—but much of the account is sprinkled with falsehoods (there are pearls, coral, and perhaps diamonds in Virginia; the English plan to settle twenty or thirty thousand colonists there) and half-truths (Indians are devil-worshipers). 
         Maguel warned that the English “want nothing more than they want to make themselves masters of the South Sea, so as to have their share of the riches of the Indies and be in the way of the traffic of the King of Spain, and to seek other new worlds for themselves.” Whether the mysterious Francisco Maguel, who hoped “to serve his Catholic Majesty” ever did so, is not known, but his report was enough to make Ambassador Velasco very nervous.

         It had a similar effect on King Philip III.

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