CORTE-REAL, MIGUEL, Portuguese explorer, second son of João Vaz Corte-Real, m. Isabel de Castro, two daughters; b. c. 1450; probably d. 1502.
Miguel invested large sums in fitting out the 1500 and 1501 expeditions [see Gaspar Corte-Real] and in return Gaspar promised to share with him the lands he might discover. Miguel, however, did not accompany his brother but commanded one of the vessels sent by King Manoel to help the Venetians against the Turks in the summer of 1501.
During the winter of 1501–2, after his brother had failed to return from Newfoundland, Miguel organized a relief expedition. In confirmation of his previous agreement with Gaspar, King Manoel granted Miguel the captaincy of any fresh lands he might discover on his present voyage. Miguel sailed from Lisbon May 1502 with three ships in search of his brother. He apparently reached the shores explored by Gaspar the year before. There the three ships separated to widen the search but agreed on a rendezvous for 20 August at a spot identified by Biggar as St. John’s Harbour on the south coast of Newfoundland. While two of the caravels came to the rendezvous at the appointed time, the other, with Miguel Corte-Real on board, failed to appear and was never heard of again.
In the following year, Vasco Añes Corte-Real planned an expedition to look for his missing brothers but the king would not let him sail, fearing that he might share their fate. Two ships were sent, however, which returned in the fall. Although their search had been in vain, Vasco Añes did not give up his claims to Newfoundland and had them confirmed by the king at various times.
Some 40 years ago Prof. Delabarre put forward the controversial hypothesis that an inscription on the Dighton Rock (in southern New England on the banks of the Taunton River) gives evidence of Miguel’s fate. Delabarre deciphered the inscription as follows: miguel cortereal v dei hic dux ind a d 1511. He saw in it a “proof” that Miguel had become chief of an Indian tribe and that he was still living in 1511. It must be remembered that in the 18th and 19th centuries some historians fancied that they had seen runic characters on the same stone, a “proof” that the Norsemen had been there. The Dighton rock is covered with scratches, drawings, and inscriptions, and it is hard to tell whether they are authentic or the work of pranksters. The inscription relating to Miguel Corte-Real is subject to other interpretations.
See works cited for Gaspar Corte-Real. E. B. Delabarre, Dighton rock (New York, 1928). F. F. Lopes, The brothers Corte Real, tr. F. de Andrade (Lisboa, 1957). G. S. Marques, Pedra de Dighton (New York, 1930).