Theodore de Bry, Richard Hakluyt, and the Business of Books: De Bry’s 1591 Engravings of Florida Timucua Indians

Richard Hakluyt (1552-1616) was well connected to an international network of voyagers, printers, and publishers, and he liaised between German publisher Theodore de Bry and English artist John White for the sale of the latter’s watercolour drawings of Amerindians. This much is well-known. In this fascinating example of historical detective work – the first of two blog posts on De Bry’s 1591 engravings of Florida Timucua Indians – Emeritus Professor Jerald T. Milanich goes further to unravel the links between Hakluyt, De Bry, White, Jacques le Moyne, and Sir Walter Raleigh.

In his 1946 book The New World, the First Pictures of America Stefan Lorant reprinted Theodore de Bry’s engravings of Florida Timucua Indians first published in 1591. Lorant included an English translation of the narrative that had accompanied the engravings in 1591. Lorant maintained that the images were based on paintings done by Jacques le Moyne, a member of a French colony on the St. Johns River in Northeast Florida in 1564-1565. He also attributed the narrative to Le Moyne.


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Since 1946 scholars, museum exhibition designers, and others have treated the engravings as accurate renderings of the Timucua Indians and their material culture. More than one person has referred erroneously to the engravings as having been done by Le Moyne. It is highly likely, however, that De Bry, whose book company published 27 illustrated volumes on the Americas, Africa, and Asia, simply made up the engravings, basing them on his imagination, written accounts, and borrowings from extant images.[i]

Jerald T. Milanich, Emeritus Professor at the University of Florida, is the author of more than twenty books describing the Indian societies of the Americas and their interactions with Europeans during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Presently he divides his time between New York City and the Catskill Mountains.

The story of the images and text involves Sir Walter Raleigh, Richard Hakluyt, English investors, a dead French artist, a live English artist, the lost Roanoke colony, and two French noblemen (one murdered, the other deceased). Events played out from Florida to London to Frankfurt.

milanich-figure-1
Scheme (somewhat tongue in cheek) of the relationships among the principle actors in the story of the Florida engravings. By Jerald T. Milanich.

Those of us across the Atlantic, myself included, now realize that the De Bry Florida engravings are bogus. They are not accurate ethnographic depictions of the Timucua Indians.

De Bry, Hakluyt, and the Business of Books

In the sixteenth century, books about the Americas were hot sellers in Europe. Among them are Hans Staden’s 1557 account of living among the Tupinambá Indians in Brazil (in English: True Story and Description of a Country of Wild, Naked, Grim, Man-eating People in the New World); André Thevet’s three volumes (1557, 1575, and 1584; the 1557 title is: Les Singularitez de la France antarctique); and Richard Hakluyt’s 1582 Divers Voyages.

Hakluyt published additional narratives in his multi-volume opus Principall Navigations of the English Nation, including one by Thomas Harriot about the ill-fated Roanoke colony in coastal North Carolina. Hakluyt also was instrumental in the 1586 publication of René de Laudonnière’s Histoire Notable de la Florida (publishing an English edition the next year; Laudonnière had died in 1574).

How does Theodore de Bry fit into all of this? A successful goldsmith and metallurgist, De Bry was earning an international reputation as a skilled engraver who could create wonderful printed images. Up into the 1560s books had featured wood block prints. The newest rage, copper engravings like those being produced by De Bry, resulted in clearer, more complex images.

In September 1588 De Bry and his family moved to Frankfurt and beginning in 1590 and continuing well into the 1620s they ran a book publishing business that took advantage of copper engravings. At the time Frankfurt was the center of book production in Europe and for nearly four decades the De Bry firm was what Michiel van Groesen calls “one of the most remarkable publishing houses of early modern Europe.”

Prior to moving to Frankfurt, Theodore de Bry spent more than three years in London with his family, having moved there in 1585 from Antwerp. It was in London in 1587 that De Bry celebrated his 60th birthday and where he came into contact with Richard Hakluyt and Jacques le Moyne, whom Hakluyt had met previously and who would apparently provide De Bry (and Hakluyt?) with firsthand knowledge of the French settlement in Florida.

In London, Hakluyt and other Englishmen convinced De Bry to publish a series of illustrated books containing accounts by Europeans who had visited the Americas, many of which Hakluyt had already published or would publish. Hakluyt had access to John White’s paintings of Algonquian Indians in North Carolina and he had the account by Thomas Harriot of the unsuccessful Roanoke colony. Hakluyt also was working on Le Moyne to produce paintings of Florida, suggesting that Sir Walter Raleigh would pay him.

Hakluyt and others, all Protestants with ties to Sir Walter Raleigh, were willing to financially back De Bry in the new publishing venture. De Bry’s first volume was to feature Harriot’s Roanoke narrative illustrated with engravings of John White’s paintings. There were to be English, French, Latin, and German editions.

The four editions of that first volume issued in 1590 were a financial success. The second volume, the account of the French in Florida which Hakluyt also had suggested to De Bry, was published in 1591 in Latin and German editions, and a third volume, with Hans Staden’s account of Brazil appeared in Latin in 1592 and German in 1593. Likely all three volumes were planned with Hakluyt while de Bry was in London.

In subsequent years the De Bry firm published other volumes on the Americas, and then went on to publish books on Africa, southern Asia, and the Far East. Ultimately there would be 13 volumes on the Americas and 14 on Africa and Asia.

Part 2 of this blog will follow shortly


Jerald T. Milanich is Emeritus Professor at the University of Florida. He is the author of more than twenty books describing the Indian societies of the Americas and their interactions with Europeans during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Presently he divides his time between New York City and the Catskill Mountains.


[i] European researchers like Michiel van Groesen, Christian Feest, and others have done much to clarify the sources of de Bry engravings and the le Moyne-de Bry connection. See van Groesen, The Representations of the Overseas World in the De Bry Collection of Voyages (1590-1634) (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Feest, “Jacques Le Moyne Minus Four,” European Review of Native American Studies 1(1):33-38; 1988; John Faupel, “An Appraisal of the Illustrations,” in A Foothold in Florida, The Eye-Witness Account of Four Voyages made by the French to that Region, by Sarah Lawson (East Grinstead, West Sussex, England: Antique Atlas Publications, 1992), pp. 150-178.

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