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INGRAM, DAVID, English mariner, who claimed to have walked from Mexico to Acadia, 1568–69; fl. 1523–83.

Ingram, a native of Barking, Essex, was one of 100 seamen who were set ashore, 8 Oct. 1568, on the Gulf of Mexico, near the mouth of the Tampico River, by John Hawkins, after his disastrous defeat by the Spaniards near Vera Cruz. The party divided, some going north, and a sub-group, according to Ingram, consisting of himself, Richard Browne, and Richard Twide (both conveniently dead before Ingram published his tale in 1583) walked northward, keeping within 20 or 30 miles of the coast, and covering, he estimated, 2,000 miles in 11 or 12 months before they were rescued by Capt. Champion (or Champaigne) of the ship Gargarine of Le Havre. Brought to the Lizard in 20 days, and then to Le Havre, Ingram reached England by the end of the year and was rewarded, he said, by Hawkins in January 1569/70.

David Ingram told his story to a group of men, headed by the secretary of state, Sir Francis Walsingham, and including Sir George Peckham, in August and September 1582, when they were collecting material on North America for Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s projected settlement there. The story was evidently considered plausible since it was published in 1583 and Ingram, who accompanied Gilbert to Newfoundland that year, returned with his reputation untarnished. Richard Hakluyt, who reprinted Ingram in his Principall navigations (1589), left him out (as unreliable) in the second edition of 1598–1600.

The case for accepting Ingram’s story that he walked to Cape Breton rests solely on his own statements. There are some discrepancies in his more general statements – 11 or 12 months for the length of the journey; 50 leagues (150 miles) or 60 leagues (180 miles) for the distance he was from Cape Breton when rescued, but these, in themselves, are not serious. His claim that he had walked on the north side of America, and was told by the Indians about European-like ships with sails, is consistent with his encountering Micmac Indians on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. An accidental meeting with a Norman vessel in this region (west or south of Cape Breton) was possible and the 20-day voyage to the English Channel plausible.

The case against acceptance is much stronger. The full distance cannot have been less than 3,000 miles: this requires a rate of march which, averaging nearly 9 miles a day, with stops of some days and even weeks at certain places (even if we could admit that the travellers followed a direct route), seems incredible. Moreover, Ingram admitted under close examination that not more than three months were spent north of the “River of May” (St. Johns River, Florida), which telescopes his progress northwards still further and impugns his credit as he had elsewhere given seven months for this part of the journey. The name of this river and of a bay and river of St. Mary’s are the only place-names found in other documents of the time. His discrepancies in naming places are serious, e.g., he was rescued on the “River of Banda,” at the head of a river called “Garinda.” Such instances clearly demonstrate the farcical nature of much of his information. No reputable Indian scholar has been able to correlate his information on Indian life and nomenclature with that of other travellers (though play has been made with a few of his names and incidents): some part of it appears to be derived from African and Caribbean observations, the rest, largely garbled or invented in the 13 years after his return.

It is, however, difficult to deny some basis for Ingram’s tale. Hawkins was still alive in 1582–83 and could well have denounced Ingram as a liar (though it is not certain that he did not). The framework of the story has some degree of plausibility, even if the details have little coherence. Ingram could, less incredibly, have walked to some part of the coast north of the Spanish posts scattered from St. Augustine to Santa Elena on Port Royal Sound: in 1568 Dominique de Gourges had shattered the forts of the St. Johns River and between then and 1580 the French were trading and refitting their ships along the coast of what is now South Carolina. An accidental meeting with a French ship on this coast is credible, the distance less unlikely. More plausibly still he could have been picked up by a French privateer on the Gulf of Mexico and have gone with her to take water and fuel along the coast of the Carolinas, conceivable ending up with a call near Cape Breton before sailing for Europe.

Ingram lied in things greater or smaller, but his tales of North America in the 1560’s may have just sufficient substance to repay some further research by scholars with time on their hands.

David B. Quinn

Ingram’s narrative of his alleged travels, A true discourse of the adventures and travailes of David Ingram, was published in 1583, but no copy is known to survive (see W. A. Jackson, “Humphrey Dyson’s library,” Amer. Biblio. Soc. Papers, XLIX (1949), 285, and Roanoke voyages (Quinn), I, 3–4). It was reprinted by Richard Hakluyt in Principall navigations (1589), 557-62, only (and in Voyages of Gilbert (Quinn), II, 283-96). Another version is in BM, Sloane MS 1447, ff.1–11 (printed in P. C. G. Weston, Documents connected with the history of South Carolina (London, 1956), 7–19, and collated in Quinn, supra). A third version is in the Bodleian Library, Tanner MS 79, ff.172–80 (printed in Mag. Amer. Hist., IX (1883), 200–8). “Certaine questions to be demanded of Davy Ingram,” PRO, S.P. 12/175–95 (printed in Voyages of Gilbert (Quinn), II, 281–83), and his detailed replies, dating from the autumn of 1582, are in “Reportes of ye contrie Sir Humfrey Gilbert goes to discover,” PRO C.O. 1/1, 2. There is another version in Calthorpe MS 162 (now BM, Add. MS 48151), ff.161–66, collated in Voyages of Gilbert (Quinn), II, 296–309. Ingram is also cited in Peckham, A true report.

For varying views of the credibility of Ingram’s tale, see: B. F. DeCosta, “Ingram’s journey through North America in 1567–69,” Mag. Amer. Hist., IX (1883), 168–76 (credulous but scholarly). Voyages of Gilbert (Quinn), I, 64–65 (highly sceptical). Rayner Unwin, The defeat of Sir John Hawkins (London, 1960) (half sceptical, half romantic). H. Wendt, I sought Adam (London, 1955) (somewhat credulous). J. A. Williamson, Sir John Hawkins: the time and the man (Oxford, 1927), 237–38 (scornful).

General Bibliography


David B. Quinn, “INGRAM, DAVID,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 20, 2017, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ingram_david_1E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/ingram_david_1E.html
Author of Article: David B. Quinn
Title of Article: INGRAM, DAVID
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1966
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: October 20, 2017