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Title: A Description of Greenland
Author: Egede, Hans
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Description of Greenland" ***

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Old Greenland,
_as to its_
Eastern & Western Parts.
Oster Bygd & Wester Bygd

_Engraved for Egedes Greenland_       _by J. Smith, 1 Clements Inn, Strand_

_Pubᵈ. May 1ˢᵗ. 1818 by T. & J. Allman, Princes Street, Hanover

                       DESCRIPTION OF GREENLAND.

                            BY HANS EGEDE,
                          TWENTY-FIVE YEARS.

                            A NEW EDITION.

                                WITH AN
                        HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION
                         A LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.


                            SECOND EDITION.


                     PRINTED FOR T. AND J. ALLMAN,
                           PATERNOSTER ROW.




HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION                                                i

LIFE OF THE AUTHOR                                                 xciii


_Of the Situation and Extent of Greenland. Probability
of its forming Part of America_                                        1


_First Settlement of Greenland, with some Thoughts on
the Extinction of the Norwegian Colonies; and whether
on the East Side no Remainders may be found
of the old Norwegians: also, whether the same Tract
of Land cannot be recovered_                                           7


_Of the Nature of the Soil, Plants, and Minerals of Greenland_        41


_Of the Nature of the Climate, and the Temperament of the Air_        50


_Of the Land Animals, and Land Fowls or Birds of
Greenland; and how they hunt and kill them_                           59


_Of the Greenland Sea Animals, and Sea Fowls and
Fishes_                                                               66


_Of the ordinary Occupations of the Greenlanders, as
Hunting and Fishing: of the Tools and Instruments
necessary for these Employments: of their House Implements
and Utensils_                                                        100


_Of the Inhabitants, their Houses, and House Furniture_              113


_Of the Persons, Complexion, and Temperament of the
Greenlanders_                                                        119


_Of the Customs, Virtues, and Vices, and the Manners
or Way of Life of the Greenlanders_                                  123


_Of their Habits and Way of Dressing_                                130


_Of their Diet, and manner of dressing their Victuals_               135


_Of their Marriages, and Education of their Children_                140


_How the Greenlanders mourn and bury their dead
Friends_                                                             143


_Of their Pastimes and Diversions, as also their Poetry_             154


_Of their Language_                                                  163


_Of the Greenland Trade, and whether in promoting it
there is any advantage to be expected_                               179


_The Religion, or rather Superstition, of the Greenlanders_          183


_The Astronomy of the Greenlanders, or their Thoughts concerning
the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets_                                   206


_The Capacity of the Greenlanders, and their Inclination
towards the Knowledge of God, and the Christian Religion;
and by what Means this may easily be brought about_                  214




The regions in the neighbourhood of the North Pole have lately become
the objects of increased curiosity; and among these regions Greenland
has attracted a more than usual interest. This country was first peopled
by a colony from Iceland, which occupied both the Western and Eastern
parts of the Island. The first settlers in the West appear to have been
destroyed by the natives, who are denominated Skrellings; and though a
communication was preserved for several centuries between the Eastern
coast of Greenland and some parts of the Danish territory, yet it was
interrupted about the close of the fourteenth century by accumulated
masses of ice, which formed an impenetrable barrier of considerable
extent around the shore; and though various attempts have been made, at
different times, to explore a passage through this frozen rampart, yet
there is no definite account of any attempt of this kind which has
hitherto been successful. May we hope that the execution of this
project, which is prompted, not only by curiosity but by philanthropy,
is reserved for the present era, and that it will be finally
accomplished by the nautical skill and enterprise of this country!

As we possess indubitable evidence that a considerable extent of this
coast was formerly occupied by a flourishing colony, and that it
contained numerous villages, with a bishop’s see, we cannot but be
anxious to know what has been the fate of so many human beings, so long
cut off from all intercourse with the more civilized world. Were they
destroyed by an invasion of the natives, like their countrymen on the
Western coast? or have they perished by the inclemency of the climate,
and the sterility of the soil? or do they still subsist? If they
subsist, it must greatly interest our curiosity to learn in what manner
they have vanquished the difficulties with which they have had to
contend, both from the climate and the soil, and the total privation of
all articles of European manufacture. In the novel circumstances in
which they have been placed, have the present race advanced or declined
in the degree of culture which their forefathers possessed? What
proficiency have they made? or what deterioration have they undergone?
Have they remained nearly stationary at the point of civilized existence
at which their ancestors were placed four centuries ago? or have they
entirely degenerated into a savage race, and preserved no memory nor
vestige of their original extraction from, and subsequent communication
with, the continent of civilized Europe? These are certainly points of
interesting research; and to which we cannot well be indifferent as
Christians, or, indeed, as human beings.

In the mean time, though we cannot yet supply any particulars respecting
the present state of the Eastern coast of Greenland, we think that the
readers of this new edition of Egede will not be displeased with us for
furnishing them with all the information which remains, respecting its
past state, as well as with some historical details, which will render
the present volume more complete than it would otherwise have been.

Greenland was first discovered by Eric, surnamed Rufus, or the Red, in
the year 981 or 982[1]. This chieftain was of Norwegian extraction. His
father had fled from Norway, and taken refuge in Iceland, in order to
avoid the vengeance which menaced him, on account of a murder which he
had perpetrated in his native land. Eric appears to have committed in
Iceland a crime similar to that for which his father had fled from
Norway. In endeavouring to escape the pursuit of justice, Eric
accidentally discovered the coast which is the present object of our
inquiry. He took his departure from Iceland at the port of Snæfellzness,
which is situate in a Western promontory of that island. He arrived in
the vicinity of a mountain called Midjokul[2]; or, as it is denominated
by others, Miklajokul. Peyrere interprets this, “_le grand glaçon_,”
the great mountain of ice. Subsequent navigators gave it the name of
Bloeserken, or Blue Smock, and others of Huidserken, or White Smock,
according to the variations in the hue of the ice in different aspects
and at different periods of the year.

Eric passed the first winter after his departure from Iceland in an
island which he called after his own name, Ericscun, and which Torfæus
places in the midst of the cultivated Eastern district. In the following
spring he entered one of the bays of Eastern Greenland, to which he gave
the name of Ericsfiord; and where he formed his first settlement, which
he denominated Brattahlis. In the summer of the same year he explored
parts of the more Western district, and gave names to many of the places
which he visited[3]. He passed the following winter in the island of
Ericscun; and in the succeeding summer he passed over to the main land,
and proceeded along the Northern coast till he reached an immense rock,
which he called Sneefiell, or the Rock of Snow. At this point he gave
the name of Ravensfiord to another bay, on account of the multitudes of
that ill-omened bird with which this spot abounds. Other parts of the
coast derived their appellations from the names of the different
adventurers who accompanied Eric in this expedition, as, Hergulfsness,
Ketillsfiord, Solvadal, Einarsfiord, &c[4].

In the following summer Eric, having conciliated the forgiveness, or
purchased the forbearance, of his enemies in Iceland, returned to that
country to procure an additional supply of inhabitants for his new
settlement. In order to render his proposals more attractive, he named
the country for which he was endeavouring to provide colonists,
Greenland, as if, compared with the rugged sterility of their native
Iceland, it was a region of verdure and delight. He described it as
abounding in cattle, and as rich in every species of game and fish. And
as such delusive representations, when assisted by the vivid eloquence
of enthusiasm, or the unhesitating assurance of effrontery, seldom fail
of their effect, Eric returned to his recent acquisition with numerous
ships, and a large body of settlers, from Iceland.

In less than twenty years after Eric the Red had begun to colonize
Greenland, his son Leiff, who had made a voyage into Norway, renounced
his Pagan errors, and received the baptismal rite. His conversion was
owing to the example and the admonitions of King Olave Tryggwine, or
Trugguerus[5], who had himself recently embraced the same doctrine, and
had been very successful in causing it to be diffused throughout his

Leiff, having passed the winter at the court of the King of Norway,
returned to Greenland, in company with a priest and some other
missionaries, whom the King had commissioned to instruct Eric, and the
other settlers, in the faith which Leiff had embraced. On their voyage
to Greenland they met some mariners, who were floating upon a wreck in
the open sea. These they took on board, and conveyed to the new
settlement. Eric, at first, incensed with his son for having laid open
to strangers the route to the new-discovered country, turned a deaf ear
to his Christian admonitions. But the earnestness of the son, seconded
by the instruction of the missionaries, at last prevailed over the
insensibility of the father, who submitted to the rite of baptism, when
the other Greenlanders followed his example.

The Christian doctrine, which had been thus introduced, was so much
approved, and so generally received, that churches were established in
twelve different parts of East Greenland, and in four of the Western
district. Torfæus makes the year 1000 the era of the conversion of the
Greenland colonists to the Christian faith. This historian of ancient
Greenland has also preserved a list of its bishops, from the year 1021
to 1406, after which period no mention is made of any subsequent
episcopal appointments; and indeed the intercourse between Greenland and
the native region of the first settlers appears to have been previously

A Danish Chronicle, which M. Peyrere had consulted, refers the discovery
of Greenland to a much earlier date than that which has been given upon
the authority of Torfæus; and the earlier date of 770 is more likely to
be true, if, as M. Peyrere mentions, there is a bull of Pope Gregory IV,
in 835, relative to the propagation of the Christian faith in the North
of Europe, in which Iceland and Greenland are particularly mentioned.

The Danish Chronicle, to which Peyrere appeals, states, that the Kings
of Denmark, having been converted to Christianity during the empire of
Louis le Debonaire, Greenland had become an object of general attention
at this period.

The Danish Chronicle relates, that the first settlers in Greenland were
succeeded by a numerous posterity, who penetrated farther into the
country, and discovered, among the rocky heights and icy mountains, some
fertile spots, which were more auspicious to pasturage and cultivation.
They followed the division of Greenland which Eric had established, and
called the two settlements in the East and the West, Osterbygdt and

In the Eastern district the Greenlanders erected a town, to which they
gave the name of Garde, where, according to Peyrere, who refers to the
Chronicle, the Norwegians established a sort of emporium for the deposit
and sale of their merchandize. The town of Garde became also the
residence of their bishops; and the church of St. Nicholas, the patron
of sailors, which was built in the same town, became the cathedral
church of the Greenlanders.

As the temporal jurisdiction in Greenland was subject to the kings of
Norway, so the spiritual power of the bishops was subordinate to that
of the archbishops of Drontheim; and the bishops of Greenland are said
frequently to have passed over to Norway, in order to consult their
ecclesiastical superior.

The Danish Chronicle, which was one of the early documents upon which
Peyrere founded his narrative, relates, that an insurrection broke out
in Greenland, in 1256, when the inhabitants refused any longer to submit
to the tributary exactions of Magnus, King of Norway. On this occasion,
Eric, King of Denmark, at the request of Magnus, who had married his
niece, equipped a naval armament in order to quell the rebels, and
restore the authority of his nephew. The Greenland insurgents no sooner
beheld the flag of the Danish fleet approaching their coast than they
were struck with a panic, and sued for peace.

This peace was ratified in the year 1261. Angrim Jonas, who records the
above-mentioned transaction, gives the names of the three principal
inhabitants of Greenland, who signed the treaty in Norway.
“Declarantes,” says Angrim, as quoted by Peyrere, “_suis factum
auspiciis ut Groenlandi perpetuum tributum Norveguo denuo jurassent_.”
Under their auspices the Greenlanders had been again brought to swear to
pay a perpetual tribute to the Norwegian.

In composing his account of ancient Greenland, Peyrere derived his
principal information from an Icelandic and a Danish Chronicle. The
first was the production of Snorro Sturleson, who was a native of
Iceland, and chief justiciary of that island in 1215. We are also
indebted to him for the compilation of the Edda.

In the Icelandic Chronicle above-mentioned, which appears to be a tissue
of different narratives, one of the chapters is entitled, a Description
of Greenland, which Peyrere has copied into his account as literally as
the difference of languages would admit. There is a similar description
in Torfæus (p. 42, &c.), with particular but unimportant variations.
Both the accounts are founded on the authority of Ivar Bert or Ivar
Bevius, who had, for several years, been steward or maitre d’hotel to
the Bishop of Garde, and was one of the persons who had been selected by
the governor to expel the Skrellings from the Western province of
Greenland or Westerbygdt, which they had invaded and depopulated.

Perhaps it will be best to insert this description of Eastern Greenland,
which was the most flourishing settlement of the Norwegians in this
country, as it is found in the narrative of Peyrere, and in the history
of Torfæus. If the skill, the philanthropy, and the enterprize of some
English navigators should ever obtain an access to this long lost
settlement, and the passage should again become as safe and practicable
as it was in ancient times, it will be an interesting research to
compare the present state of this district with the early accounts.

The most Eastern town in Greenland, says Ivar Bert, as exhibited in the
French version of Peyrere, is called Skagefiord[6], where is an
uninhabitable rock, and farther out in the sea is a shoal, which
prevents ships from entering the bay, except at high water, and it is at
this time, or during a violent storm, that numbers of whales and of
other fish enter the bay and are caught in abundance.

As you proceed a little higher towards the East, there is a port called
Funkabadir, from the name of a page or missionary of St. Olave, King of
Norway, who, with several other persons, suffered shipwreck at that

In a still higher latitude, and close to the mountains of ice, or, as
Torfæus says, “_propius Alpes_,” is an island, named Roansen or
Ranseya[8], which, in early times, appears to have been celebrated for
the quantity of animals, particularly of white bears, which it furnished
for the chace. Torfæus says, that these white bears were not to be
hunted without leave of the bishop. Beyond this spot the land and ocean
are said to present nothing but an accumulation of snow and ice.

To the West of Herjolfsness is Kindilfiord, or, as Peyrere spells it,
Hindelfiord, which is described as a cultivated and well peopled bay.
Upon the right, as you enter the bay, there is a church, called
Krokskirk or Korskirk, with a monastery consecrated to St. Olave and to
St. Augustin, the domain of which extends to Petersvic, where there are
numerous habitations. It also possesses the territory on the opposite
side of the bay.

Next to Kindilfiord is Rumpesinfiord, or Rumpeyarfiord[9], in an
interior recess of which there is a convent, dedicated to St. Olave,
which is proprietary of the whole district to the shore of the bay. This
bay contains many holms or little islands, the property of which the
monastery divides with the episcopal see. Numerous hot springs are found
in these islands, of which both Peyrere and Torfæus say, that they are
so hot as to be inaccessible during the winter, but that in summer the
temperature is so much reduced, that they become the resort of many
persons in a diversity of maladies.

Next to Rumpesinfiord, is Einarsfiord, and between them is a large
mansion, named _Fos_, fit for a king or “regi competens” in the language
of Torfæus[10]. Here is also a large church dedicated to St. Nicholas.
As you enter Lunesfiord, to the left, there is a little promontory
called Klining; and beyond it an arm of the sea, denominated Grantvich.
Farther in the interior is a house[11], named Daller, which belongs to
the bishop’s see. The cathedral is at the end of the bay. Here is a
large wood, in which cattle are left to browse.

The whole of Lunesfiord, with the large island which is called Linseya
by Torfæus, Reyatsen by Peyrere, is appropriated to the cathedral. This
part abounds with rein deer, which are hunted with the consent of the
bishop. The island of Reyatsen contains a species of stone or marble,
out of which they cut bowls, jugs, and different kinds of culinary
vessels, which possess the property of resisting the fire.

More to the West is an island named Langent, where there are eight
farms[12]. In the vicinity is Ericsfiord; and at the entrance of this
arm of the sea there is an island called Herrieven, or the Harbour of
the Lord, half of which belongs to the bishop’s see, and the other half
to the church, which is called Diurnes, which is seen on entering

The country, says Peyrere, copying the Icelandic Chronicle, is unpeopled
and desert between the Osterbygdt and Westerbygdt; and upon the borders
of this desert there is a church, called Strosnes, which was formerly
the metropolitan see, and the residence of the bishops of Greenland. The
Westerbygdt is represented as occupied by the Skrellings[14]. This part
of the country is described as possessing horses, oxen, sheep, goats,
and other animals, but no human beings, either Christian or Pagan.

Such is the account which is given of the ancient state of Greenland by
Ivar Bert, the author of the Chronicle, which is mentioned above, and in
which, if there be some inaccurate representation, there is probably
more truth.

Peyrere remarks, that the Icelandic Chronicle is incorrect in describing
the church of Strosnes as the episcopal see, since that honour always
belonged to the town of Garde. The Danish Chronicle, whilst regretting
the interruption of the communication with Greenland, assures us, that,
if the episcopal residence of Garde[15] were still standing and
accessible, we should find a great number of documents for a complete
and authentic history of Greenland.

The Iceland Chronicle, according to Peyrere, gives a varying and
inconsistent account of the fertility of Greenland. In one part it says,
that the country furnishes the best corn which is to be found in any
part of the world; and that the oaks are of such vast bulk, and such
stately growth, that they produce acorns as large as apples. But in
another passage the same Chronicle affirms, that no seed of any kind,
which is sown in Greenland, will grow on account of the cold; and that
the inhabitants are unacquainted with the use of bread. The latter part
of this account harmonizes with that of the Danish Chronicle, which
affirms, that when the country was first discovered by Eric the Red,
the sterility of the soil obliged him to subsist entirely upon fish.

But in the same Danish Chronicle, which has just been mentioned, we find
it asserted, that, after the death of Eric, his successors, who
penetrated farther into the country, discovered some fertile spots
between the mountains, and fit either for pasture or tillage. The
Icelandic Chronicle contradicts itself when it says, that nothing will
grow in Greenland owing to the intensity of the cold. Peyrere also
remarks, that that part of Greenland, which was peopled by the
Norwegians, is in the same latitude as Upland, which is the most fertile
province in Sweden, and produces fine crops of grain. And the Icelandic
Chronicle itself says, in another place, that the cold in Greenland is
not so great as in Norway; and very good corn is grown in that country.

Greenland, says Peyrere, like other countries, which are composed of
plains and mountains, exhibits great diversities of soil, and though the
close approximation to the farthest North, in many situations, destroys
the process of vegetation, yet there appear to be localities, which are
by no means destitute of fertility. There are pastures possessing
excellent herbage; and amongst the animals, which contribute to the
subsistence of man, or to other uses, we find[16] sheep, oxen, horses,
rein deer, stags, and hares; and of the more savage animals, we find
wolves, foxes, and an abundance of white and black bears. The Icelandic
Chronicle mentions beavers and martens.

Peyrere adds[17], that grey and white falcons abound more here than in
any other part of the world. The superior excellence of these birds
caused them to be formerly sent to the kings of Denmark, who made
presents of them to the kings and princes in the neighbouring countries,
when falconry constituted one of the amusements of the great.

The above-mentioned author, who wrote in the middle of the seventeenth
century[18], says, that in Greenland nature produces a singular
phenomenon, which is described as a sort of miracle in the Icelandic
Chronicle. This phenomenon is no other than what is commonly called the
_Northern Lights_. These lights are mentioned as appearing more
particularly about the time of the new moon; and illuminating the whole
country, as much as if the moon were at the full. “The light is more
bright,” says Peyrere, “in proportion as the night is more dark.”

The Danish Chronicle, which is quoted by Peyrere, relates, that in the
year 1271 a violent hurricane from the North East drove a vast
accumulation of ice upon the coast of Iceland, which was covered with so
many bears and so much wood that it led to the supposition, that the
territory of Greenland was extended more to the North East than had been
hitherto imagined. This circumstance tempted some Northern sailors to
attempt the discovery, but they found nothing but ice. The kings of
Norway and Denmark had long before this fitted out ships for the same
purpose, but without any more success than the Icelanders had
experienced. The principal incitement to these voyages was a received
opinion, or traditionary report, that this country contained numerous
veins of gold, of silver, and precious stones.

The Danish Chronicle pretends, that some adventurous merchants formerly
amassed a large treasure by these expeditions. But regions of silver and
gold have always been amongst the favourite illusions of mankind; and
the imagination has revelled in visionary mines of the precious metals,
not only in the South but in the North; and both at the Equator and the

In the time of St. Olave, King of Norway, some sailors from Friesland,
incited by the thirst of gold, are said to have undertaken a voyage to
the North Eastern extremity of Greenland; but, instead of returning home
with mountains of wealth, they were happy to escape the fury of the
winds on this rocky coast, in any miserable asylum which they could

The Danish Chronicle, which is a mixture of truth and fable, adds, that
the Frieslanders, having made a landing upon the coast, discovered some
wretched cabins just rising above the earth, around which lay heaps of
gold and silver ore. Each of the sailors helped himself to as much as
he could carry away. But, when they were retreating to the shore, in
order to re-embark with their treasure, they saw some human forms, as
ugly as devils, issuing out of their earthen huts, armed with bows and
arrows, and accompanied with dogs of vast size. Before all the sailors
could reach the shore some of them were seized by these frightful
archers, who tore them limb from limb within sight of their companions.
The Danish Chronicle adds, that this region is so rich that it is
peopled only by devils.

Peyrere tells us, that one of the chapters in the Icelandic Chronicle
describes the ancient route between Norway and Greenland, before the
navigation was rendered impracticable by the descent of accumulated
mountains of ice from a more remote point of the North. But what is
mentioned concerning this route contains nothing very definite or

The above-mentioned Icelandic Chronicle has another chapter on the
affairs of Greenland, transcribed from an old book entitled _Speculum
Regale_. This chapter describes some marine monsters of enormous
dimensions, which were formerly seen upon the coast of Greenland. The
Norwegians called the first of these prodigies Haffstramb; and speak of
it as showing itself breast high above the waves. It resembled the human
form in the neck, head, visage, nose, and mouth, except that the head
was more than usually elevated, and terminating in a point. It had wide
shoulders, at the end of which were two stumps of arms, without any
hands. The body tapered downwards, but it was never visible below the
middle. It had a frozen look. The emersion of this phantasm above the
waves was the signal of a hurricane.

The second monster received the appellation of Marguguer. It resembled
the female form as far as the middle. It had large breasts and
dishevelled hair; its stumps of arms were terminated by large hands, the
fingers of which were united by a web like the toes of a goose. It has
been seen holding fish in its hands, and putting them into its mouth.
Its appearance always presaged some violent storm. If it turned its eye
to the sailors, when it plunged into the water, it was a sign, that
they would not suffer shipwreck; but, if it turned its back, it was a
sure omen, that they would perish in the deep.

The third phenomenon received the name of Hafgierdinguer, which was not
properly a monster, but consisted of three large bodies or mountains of
water, which the tempest impelled into that form; and when,
unfortunately, any ships happened to become engaged in the triangular
surface, which these three mountains formed, there was but little chance
of their escape. This marine monster appears to have been engendered by
strong currents conflicting with opposing winds, which suddenly arise
and swallow up the vessels which happen to be within the shock of these
furious elements.

The Danish History relates, that in the year 1348, a great pestilence,
which was called the _black plague_, depopulated a great part of the
North. It carried off most of the sailors and merchants of Norway and
Denmark who were engaged in the trade between Greenland and those
kingdoms. About this period the navigation to Greenland became less
frequent, and the traffic began to be discontinued. But the learned
Wormius assured Peyrere, that he had read in a Danish manuscript, that
down to the year 1484 there was a company of more than forty sailors, at
Bergen, in Norway, who went every year to Greenland and brought back
some valuable products. Some German merchants had come to Bergen for the
purpose of purchasing these products, which the Greenlandmen were not
willing to dispose of; and it is added, that the Germans, resenting this
disappointment, invited the Greenland traders to a supper, at which they
put them treacherously to death. But, as Peyrere remarks, this account
has not much appearance of truth; nor is it probable, that the
navigation between Greenland and Norway was, at this period, so open as
the above details would induce us to suppose. Those details are,
besides, refuted by the following facts.

The revenue accruing from the province of Greenland was, in ancient
times, appropriated to the domestic expenses of the Norwegian king; and
no one could go to Greenland without the royal permission, upon pain of
death. In the year 1389, Henry, Bishop of Garde, in Greenland, embarked
for Denmark, and was present at the meeting of the States of that
kingdom, which were held at Funen in the reign of Queen Margaret, who
united the kingdoms of Denmark and of Norway under the same crown. At
this time some Norwegian merchants, who had gone to Greenland without
leave, were accused of having purloined the revenue which was reserved
for the expenditure of the queen. The queen showed no lenity towards
these merchants, and would have proceeded to take away their lives, if
they had not made oath upon the Holy Evangelists that their voyage to
Greenland was unpremeditated, and that they were forced to that
destination by the violence of a sudden storm. They alleged that they
had brought back only commodities which they had purchased, and that
they had not in the least interfered with the revenue belonging to the
queen. They were accordingly set at liberty; but the danger which they
had escaped, and the more rigorous prohibitions which were issued,
prevented any other individuals from that time from attempting to carry
on any traffic with the interdicted coast.

Some time after this the queen herself dispatched some vessels to
Greenland; but of which no tidings were ever received; and they must
consequently have perished. This disastrous expedition contributed to
put an end to the intercourse with Greenland; and the queen having her
attention occupied by her hostilities with Sweden, lost sight of this
remote colony, or left it to its fate.

The Danish Chronicle relates, that in the year 1406, Eskild, Archbishop
of Drontheim, wishing to exercise the same ecclesiastical authority over
Greenland, which his predecessors had done, sent a prelate named Andrew,
in order to succeed Henry, in the see of Garde, if he were dead, or to
convey some intelligence concerning him if he were living. Nothing more
was ever heard of Bishop Andrew, after his embarkation for Greenland;
nor were any farther tidings ever received of Henry, Bishop of Garde.
After this, the intercourse between Norway or Denmark and Greenland,
suffered an interruption from that period to the present; nor is there
much probability that it will ever be renewed.

Queen Margaret was succeeded, upon the throne of Denmark, by Erick, of
Pomerania, who gave himself little trouble about a settlement so remote
as that of Greenland. His successor, Christopher of Bavaria, was
employed during his whole reign in making war upon the Pomeranians.

The house of Oldenburg began its reign in Denmark in the year 1448.
Christian, who was the first sovereign of that race, and of that name,
neglected his dominions in the North in order to turn his attention to
the South. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he obtained from the Pope
a grant of the country of Ditmarsh, and permission to establish an
academy at Copenhagen.

Christian I was succeeded by Christian II, who, at the period of his
coronation, bound himself by a solemn promise to make every possible
exertion to restore the intercourse between Denmark and Greenland, and
to recover that settlement. But this monarch, instead of recovering what
his predecessors had lost, himself lost part of what they had possessed.
His tyrannical barbarities caused him to be expelled from Sweden, which
Queen Margaret had united with the Danish and Norwegian crown. From
Sweden Christian II retired into Denmark; but the same conduct which had
occasioned his expulsion by the Swedes, soon led to his deposition by
the Danes. It is on this account that he is represented with a shivered
sceptre amongst the Danish kings.

Eric Valkandor, who had been chancellor to Christian II, and was a
Danish gentleman of great and generous sentiments, had been made
Archbishop of Drontheim. After the disgrace of his master, he retired to
his archiepiscopal see, where he exerted himself with great zeal and
activity in order to renew the communication with Greenland, and to
discover the fate of that ancient settlement. This learned prelate made
it his business to read all the books in which it was mentioned, to
examine all the merchants and mariners who had any knowledge of it; and
he also caused a chart to be formed of the route which was supposed to
have been observed. He was on the point of putting his projects in
execution, when, being suspected of favouring the cause of the deposed
monarch, he was deprived of his archbishoprick, and banished from the
Norwegian territory. The benevolent scheme, which he had formed, was
thus disconcerted; and the hopes, which had been excited, vanished in
disappointment. The good Archbishop Valcandor retired to Rome, where he
ended his days.

Frederick I was succeeded by Christian III, who had an expedition fitted
out for the discovery of the lost settlement in Greenland; but this
proved as abortive as similar attempts had previously been. This monarch
now repealed the ordinances which his predecessors had established, by
which all communication with Greenland had been strictly prohibited,
without a special permission from the crown. The intercourse was now
rendered free, without any limitations or restraints. But this act of
royal grace came too late to be of any use; for the Norwegians at this
period had degenerated from the enterprizing valour of their ancestors;
and they were, at the same time, so impoverished that they did not
possess the means of equipping any vessels for such a difficult and
hazardous undertaking.

Frederick II entertained the same project as his father, Christian III,
and he dispatched _Magnus Heigningsen_ to attempt the discovery of
Greenland. This Magnus Heigningsen, if the relation be not fabulous,
actually discovered the long lost land, but was prevented by the
operation of some mysterious cause from reaching the shore. His ship,
without any visible cause, was stopped in its course, though in the
midst of deep water and a fresh breeze, without any obstruction from the
ice. As this Magnus Heigningsen could not advance any farther he was
happy to be able to retreat; and he accordingly sailed back to Denmark.
When he got back to that country he published an account of what had
happened to his ship; and pretended that its farther progress had been
stopped by a great loadstone at the bottom of the sea.

The Danish Chronicle, of which Peyrere has made such liberal use, gives
the following account of the expedition of Sir Martin Frobisher to
Greenland in 1576.

Frobisher set sail from England in the year just mentioned, and
discovered the coast of New Greenland, but did not make any landing till
he returned with another expedition in the following spring. The
inhabitants of that part of the coast where he disembarked, abandoned
their dwellings, and fled in different directions at the approach of the
English. The alarm of some of these natives appears to have been so
great that they clambered up to the tops of some rocky precipices, from
which they threw themselves into the sea.

The English, who found it impossible to allay the suspicions, or
conciliate the confidence of these savages, took possession of the huts
which they had deserted. They were, in fact, tents formed of sealskins,
stretched upon four poles, and sewed together with sinews instead of
thread. All these tents had two entrances, one of which fronted the
West, and the other the South; but they were closed against the winds
from the East and the North, by which they were liable to be the most

The English discovered in these cabins only an ancient matron, who
appeared a picture of hideous deformity, and a young woman, who was in
the family way, and had a little child holding her hand. These two last
they carried off, regardless of the opposition of the old beldam, who
set up a frightful howl. Departing from this point, they steered along
the Eastern coast, where they beheld a marine monster as large as an
ox, with a horn projecting from the snout of more than two yards in
length, which they took for the unicorn. Proceeding in a North-east
direction, they landed on another part of the coast of Greenland, which
they discovered to be subject to earthquakes, that threw great rocks
down into the plain. Here they found some gravel abounding, as they
imagined, with particles of gold, of which they carried off a
considerable quantity.

They spared no pains to conciliate the natives of this part of the
coast, who themselves made a show of a desire to maintain an amicable
correspondence. But these demonstrations of friendship appear to have
been designed only to put the English off their guard; for, when
Frobisher had landed, he was suddenly attacked by a body of savages, who
had concealed themselves behind a bank for that purpose. He retreated to
the shore and eluded their machinations. The savages, however, still
imagined that the strangers might be caught in the snare; and in order
to entrap them, they scattered pieces of raw flesh along the shore, as
they would have done to allure dogs. Finding this attempt fail, they had
recourse to another stratagem. They carried a lame man, or at least one
who feigned to be lame, down to the sea-side; and, having left him
there, they went away and kept themselves entirely out of sight. They
supposed that the English would make an attempt to carry off this lame
man in order to serve them as an interpreter, or to procure some
intelligence by his means. But Frobisher, who suspected some deception,
ordered a shot to be fired over his head, when he instantly sprung up
upon his legs and ran away with precipitate velocity.

The savages now appeared in great numbers, and assailed the English with
a shower of arrows and stones; but they were soon repulsed by a
discharge of great and small guns.

The native Greenlanders are represented as perfidious and cruel, neither
to be softened by caresses nor moved by benefits. This, however, is the
character of very imperfect knowledge and limited observation. They are
described as plump in their appearance, active in their limbs, and with
an aspect of olive hue. Some of them are reported to be as black as
negroes. Their clothes are made out of the skin of the seal, and sewed
with sinews. The women wear their hair loose, but throw it back behind
their ears in order to show the face, which they paint blue and yellow.
They wear no petticoats, but short trousers made of fish-skin, drawn one
over the other; in the pockets of which they carry their knives, little
mirrors, and the working materials, which they procure from foreigners
or obtain from the wrecks which may happen upon their coasts. The shirts
or chemises of both sexes are made from the intestines of fish, and
sewed with fine sinews. They wear their clothes loose, and gird them
with a belt made of fish-skin. They are disgustingly dirty, and covered
with vermin. Their criterion of wealth is the number of bows and
arrows, of slings, boats, and oars, which an individual may possess.
Their bows are small, their arrows thin and armed at the end with a
sharp point of bone or horn. They are expert in the use of the bow and
the sling; and in killing fish with the spear. Their little boats are
covered with sealskin, and can hold only one man. But they have larger
boats formed of wood, covered with the skin of the whale, and which will
carry twenty men. Their sails are made of the same materials as their
shirts; or of the intestines of fish fastened together by fine sinews.
And though they make use of no iron in the construction of their canoes
or boats, they are put together with so much skill, and so well
compacted, that in them they venture out into the wide ocean with
perfect security. They have no venomous reptiles or insects; but are
sometimes infested with swarms of gnats. They make use of very large
dogs for the purpose of drawing their sledges. All the fresh water which
they possess they procure from the melted snow.

Such are the principal particulars which are detailed in the Danish
account of Frobisher’s voyage. We will now proceed to relate some
attempts of the Danes to renew their intercourse with Greenland,
subsequent to those which have been previously mentioned, and which
proved abortive.

Christian IV resolved, if possible, to signalize his reign by the
discovery of that lost settlement, which his father and grandfather had
sought in vain. For this purpose he sent for an experienced mariner from
England, who had the reputation of being well acquainted with the
Northern ocean, and with the route to Greenland. Having procured this
skilful auxiliary, whose name was John Knight, the Danish monarch
equipped three stout ships, which he put under the orders of Godske
Lindenau, who sailed from the Sound on the breaking up of the ice in the
year 1605. The Englishman, who was appointed to the command of one ship,
having reached the latitude he wished, steered his course to the South
West in order to avoid the ice and to make the land with less risk. The
Danish admiral Lindenau, thinking that the English captain was
deviating from the right track by keeping to the South West, continued
his route to the North East, and arrived on the coast of Greenland
without either of the other ships. Admiral Lindenau had no sooner come
to an anchor, than a number of savages put off their boats from the
shore to visit his ship. The admiral gave them a very hospitable
reception, and made them a present of some wine, which, however, was not
agreeable to their taste; and they manifested signs of their dislike.
They saw some whale oil, which they expressed a desire to have; and it
was accordingly poured out for them in large mugs, which they drank with
avidity and delight.

These savages possessed a number of skins of the fox, the bear, and the
seal, with many horns in pieces, ends, and trunks, which they exchanged
with the Danes for knives, needles, looking-glasses, and trifles of
different kinds. They showed no desire for gold or silver money, the
offer of which provoked their ridicule or excited their contempt. They
manifested on the other hand a passionate eagerness for every article of
steel manufacture, which they were willing to purchase by the sacrifice
of their greatest valuables, as of their bows and arrows, their boats
and oars. When they had nothing more to offer in exchange, they stripped
themselves to the skin, and offered to make away with all the clothes
they possessed.

Godske Lindenau remained three days in the road, but it is not said that
he once went ashore. He was probably afraid of trusting the lives of
the small number of persons he had with him in the midst of such a mass
of savages, by whom they were so greatly outnumbered.

He took his departure upon the fourth day; but before he set sail he
secured two of the natives on board his ship in order to carry them to
Denmark; but they made so many violent efforts to escape, that it became
necessary to secure them by cords in order to prevent them from plunging
into the sea. When the savages upon the beach saw two of their
countrymen made prisoners and fastened to the deck of the Danish vessel,
they discharged a shower of stones and arrows upon the Danes, who were
obliged to terrify them to a distance by firing off one of their great
guns. The admiral returned to Denmark by himself, without knowing what
had befallen the other two ships, with which he had originally embarked.

The Danish account of this expedition says, that the English captain
with the two Danish vessels, which had separated from that under
Lindenau, reached the coast at the Southern extremity of Greenland, or
Cape Farewell. It is also certain that the English commander entered
Davis’s Straits, and coasted along the shore to the East. He discovered
a number of good harbours, a fine country, and verdant plains. The
savages in this part of Greenland carried on some traffic with him; as
those upon the other side had done with Lindenau; but they exhibited
more distrust; for they had no sooner received the Danish commodities in
exchange for their own than they took to their boats with as much
precipitation as if they were pursued by an enemy.

The Danes armed themselves for the purpose of making a landing in one of
the bays. The soil, where they went ashore, appeared to be a mixture of
sand and rock, like that of Norway. Some fumes exhaled from the earth
made them suppose that there were mines of sulphur in the neighbourhood;
and they found many pieces of silver ore, which yielded twenty-six
ounces of silver to the hundred weight of ore.

The English captain, who discovered many fine harbours or bays along
this coast, gave them Danish names, and before his departure made a
chart of what he had seen. He also directed four of the best formed
savages, whom the Danes could seize, to be conveyed on board his ship.
One of these four natives became so outrageous, that the Danes, not
being able to haul him along, knocked him on the head with the but end
of their muskets. This intimidated the three others, who followed
without farther resistance.

But the natives of the place, who had beheld one of their companions put
to death, and three made prisoners, united themselves in a body to
avenge the one and to rescue the others. They pursued the Danes to the
shore in order to execute these resolutions, and to prevent their
embarkation. The Danes, however, saved themselves and their boats by a
timely use of their fire-arms, which diffused great terror among the
enemy. They now made good their retreat to their ships, and returned to
Denmark with the three captured Greenlanders, whom they presented to the
king, and who were found to be much better made and more civilized than
those whom Godske Lindenau had imported. They also differed in manners,
language, and dress.

The Danish monarch, who was gratified by the result of this first
expedition, dispatched the same Admiral Lindenau to Greenland with five
stout vessels in the following year, 1606. He departed from the Sound
upon the 8th of May; having on board his ship the three savages whom the
English captain had conveyed away, in order to serve as interpreters and
guides. One of these savages fell sick and died during the voyage; and
his body was thrown overboard. Godske Lindenau took the same route
which the English captain had observed, and passed by Cape Farewell into
Davis’s Straits. One of his five ships was lost sight of in a fog; but
the four others arrived in Greenland. The natives showed themselves in
great numbers upon the coast, but manifested no inclination to trade, or
to trust the Danes, who, in their turn, showed the same want of
confidence. This obliged the latter to proceed higher up the coast,
where they discovered a finer harbour than that which they had left; but
they found the natives as suspicious and intractable as at the former
station, and indicating a determination to resort to force if the Danes
attempted to land.

The Danes, not willing to hazard a landing in such inauspicious
circumstances, sailed to a greater distance. As they proceeded along the
coast, they met some of the natives in their canoes. They surprised six
of these at different times, and took them on board along with their
canoes and little equipments.

The Danes, having afterwards cast anchor in a third bay, one of the
attendants of Godske Lindenau, who was a hardy and enterprising veteran,
solicited the permission of his master to proceed alone to the shore, in
order to reconnoitre the land, and, if possible, to establish some
intercourse with the savages. But this unfortunate valet had no sooner
set his foot upon the beach than he was seized, stabbed, and hacked in
pieces by the natives; who, after this atrocity, retired out of the
reach of the Danish guns.

These savages had knives and swords made of the horns or teeth of that
fish which they call unicorn, and which they ground to an edge upon a
stone; nor were they less sharp than if they had been made of iron or

Godske Lindenau, not finding it practicable to establish any amicable
communication with the people of this district, set sail for Denmark;
but of the six Greenlanders whom he had recently forced on board, one
was pierced with such regret at the thought of never more seeing his
native home, that he threw himself into the ocean in a paroxysm of
despair. Upon their return the Danes had the pleasure of rejoining the
fifth ship, which had disappeared in a fog; but they had been only five
days together when they were all separated by a storm; and a month
elapsed before they could re-unite when the tempest had passed away.
They arrived at Copenhagen upon the 5th of the following October, after
having experienced many awful perils and hairbreadth escapes.

The King of Denmark, who deserves praise for his perseverance, now
determined upon a third expedition to Greenland. He accordingly ordered
two large ships to be fitted out, which he placed under the command of a
Captain Karsten Richkardisen, a native of Holstein, whom he furnished
with some sailors from Norway and Iceland that were acquainted with the
navigation. These vessels sailed from the Sound on the 12th of May, but
the Danish Chronicle has not stated in what year; nor was it known to
Peyrere. On the 8th of June Richkardisen discovered the high points of
the Greenland mountains; but he was prevented from landing by the rocks
of ice which ran out far into the sea and rendered the coast
inaccessible. He was therefore obliged to return without accomplishing
the object of his voyage, as he despaired of being able to penetrate the
icy barrier which blockaded the shore. No similar attempt has hitherto
been successful; and the Eastern coast of Greenland, though for several
centuries well known to, and habitually visited by, the Norwegians and
Danes, is, at present, a _terra incognita_, notwithstanding the spirit
of European adventure and the zeal of modern discovery.

The King of Denmark caused particular attention to be paid to the three
savages who had survived the preceding, and the five who had been
imported by the last expedition to Greenland. They were fed upon milk,
butter, and cheese, as well as upon raw flesh and raw fish, to which
they had been accustomed at home. They appeared to have an invincible
repugnance to our baked bread and dressed meat; nor did they relish any
kind of wine so much as the oil and grease of the whale. They often
turned a wishful and desponding look to the North; and sighed so
anxiously to return to the place of their nativity, that, whenever they
were watched with less vigilance than usual, those who had an
opportunity seized any boat that was at hand and put to sea, regardless
of the dangers they had to encounter. A storm once overtook some of
these intrepid adventurers at ten or twelve leagues from the Sound, and
forced them back to the coast of Schonen, where they were made prisoners
by the peasantry and conveyed back to Copenhagen. This caused them to be
guarded with more rigour, and kept under greater restraint. But three of
them fell sick and died of grief.

Five of these savages were alive and well when a Spanish Ambassador made
his appearance in Denmark; and the Danish Monarch, in order to divert
this stranger, caused these native Greenlanders to exhibit their
manœuvres in their little canoes upon the sea. The Spanish Ambassador
was quite delighted with the address which they displayed, and with the
extraordinary celerity with which they glided over the waves. He made a
present in money to each of the savages, which they expended in
equipping themselves in the Danish fashion. They were accordingly seen
booted and spurred, with large feathers in their hats; and in these
habiliments they proposed to serve in the cavalry of the Danish King.

But these high spirits of the Greenlanders lasted only for a short time;
for they soon relapsed into their usual melancholy. They became entirely
absorbed with the idea of returning to their native country; and two of
them having obtained possession of their little boats put out to sea.
They were pursued, but only one of them was taken, and the other
probably perished in the waves; for it cannot be supposed that he ever
returned to the land of his fathers. With respect to one of the savages,
it was remarked, that he shed tears whenever he beheld a child at the
breast; from which it was supposed, that he had left a wife and children
at home.

Of these surviving savages two pined away with regret. The two others
lived ten or twelve years in Denmark after the decease of their
companions. No pains were spared to reconcile them to their condition,
but without success. One of them died of an illness, brought on by being
employed in diving for the pearl muscle, during the depth of winter. His
companion, who was inconsolable for his loss, again seized a boat and
made an effort to escape from captivity. He had passed the Sound before
he could be retaken, but he lived only a short time after this last
attempt to recover his liberty.

Peyrere says, that an attempt was made to convert these savages to the
Christian faith, but that they could never be brought to learn the
Danish language; and he remarks, with much simplicity, that “la foi
estant de l’oüye, il fut impossible de leur faire comprendre nos
mysteres.” “Faith,” says he, “coming from hearing, it was impossible to
make them comprehend our mysteries.” He adds, that those who narrowly
watched their actions often saw them lift up their eyes to Heaven, and
worship the Sun.

The Danish Monarch desisted from any farther attempt to discover Old
Greenland; but some merchants at Copenhagen formed themselves into a
Greenland Company, for the purpose of establishing a traffic with that
part of the world. In 1636 this Company fitted out two ships, which
visited that part of the coast of New Greenland which is washed by
Davis’s Straits. When they cast anchor, eight savages came off to them
in their little canoes. The Danes had displayed their knives, mirrors,
and other articles upon the deck, to which the savages had also conveyed
their furs, skins, and fish horns; but a gun having been inconsiderately
fired, in order to celebrate the drinking of some particular health,
these native traders were so frightened that they instantly leaped into
the sea, from which they did not emerge till they had proceeded to two
or three hundred yards from the ship.

The Danes at last succeeded in appeasing the apprehensions of the
Greenlanders, and in alluring them again on board their vessels. The
Danish commander having remarked an inlet of the coast where there was a
bank of sand, which bore a strong resemblance to gold, his cupidity made
him imagine, that he had discovered a mine of wealth. He lost no time in
filling his ship with this fancied gold dust, and made the best of his
way to Denmark, exulting in dreams of visionary opulence.

But the master of the Greenland Company, who was less credulous than the
captain of the expedition, having caused this precious sand to be
examined by the goldsmiths at Copenhagen, they were not able to extract
from the whole mass a single particle of gold. The captain was
accordingly ordered, to his great mortification, to throw the whole of
this valuable lading into the sea.

In this last expedition to Greenland the Danes secured and carried off
two of the natives before they left the coast. When they had reached the
open sea, the Danes released these captives from their bonds, when,
finding themselves free from restraint, the love of liberty prevailed
over every other sentiment, and they plunged into the waves in order to
regain their native shore. But that shore was too remote for them to
reach, and they perished in the vain attempt. It is pleasant to
contemplate that sentiment, which attaches us to our native land,
operating alike in all regions and climes, and attaching the human being
to a country of almost invincible sterility and perpetual frost, as well
as to one where there are the richest products and the most genial

In the year 1654 a ship was sent to Greenland, under the command of
David Nelles, the success of which terminated in carrying off three
native women from the open part of the Eastern coast. The last voyage,
which was not more successful than the preceding, was made in the year
1670. This expedition was fitted out by order of Christian V, and was
commanded by Captain Otto Axelson; but Crantz[19] says, “We have no
account of its issue;” and, according to Torfæus, Axelson never returned
to tell what he had seen.

None of the expeditions which have sailed from Denmark, or other
countries, have been successful in recovering the knowledge of that part
of the Eastern coast which was peopled by settlers from Iceland and
Norway, and is denominated Old Greenland. In the account which the
Icelandic Chronicle gives of the ancient route, it is stated, that half
way between Iceland and Greenland there was a cluster of little islands,
or rocks, called Gondebiurne Skeer, which were inhabited by bears. The
drifting ice has probably collected round these islands, and been so
petrified by successive accumulations as to become impenetrable to the

Peyrere, whose account of Greenland has been generally followed in this
Introduction, tells us, that he was once inclined to believe, that
Godske Lindenau had actually reached the coast of Old Greenland in his
first voyage, and that the savages whom he carried off were descendants
of the first Norwegian settlers, whose remains have been so anxiously
sought. But this impression was effaced by the information of many
persons who had seen these savages at Copenhagen, and who assured him,
that they had not the smallest resemblance to the Danes or Norwegians in
their language and manners, and that the Danes and Norwegians could not
understand a word that these native Greenlanders uttered.

In the expedition to Greenland, which was undertaken in the year 1636,
the natives upon the western coast, who had some traffic with the Danes,
were asked, whether there were any inhabitants like themselves beyond
the mountains which were seen in the distance. The savages replied by
signs, that there were more people beyond the mountains than there were
hairs on their heads; and that they were men of large stature, with
great bows and arrows, who destroyed every body that came in their way.

The knowledge which the Danes have at any period acquired respecting the
people or the products of Greenland, never extended beyond a narrow slip
of territory along the coast. They knew nothing of the remote interior
of the country from actual observation; and their settlements occupied
only a very small comparative portion of the whole. Much is still left
to be explored; but the nature of the country itself opposes such an
accumulation of obstacles to the research of the traveller, that they
are not soon likely to be overcome. More, however, of the coast will
probably soon be discovered than has ever previously been explored; or,
if explored, it has at least been concealed for many centuries. When the
enterprizing spirit of an English navigator is directed to that quarter
of the world, we feel a firm confidence, that nothing will be left
untried, which skill or courage can effect, to extend our acquaintance
with these Northern regions, and to make valuable additions to our
present stock of information respecting the countries in the more
immediate vicinity of the North Pole.




The Author of the present Volume was born in Denmark, on the 31st of
January, in the year 1686. He was educated for the Christian ministry,
and became pastor to a congregation at Vogen, in Norway, and appears for
some time to have exercised the same functions at Drontheim, in that
kingdom. In an early period of his ministry he was seized with a strong
desire of making himself acquainted with the fate of the Norwegian
families who had formerly been settled in Greenland, and of whom no
intelligence had been received for several centuries. All the inquiries
which he could make led to the conclusion, that that part of the coast
where these settlements had formerly existed had been rendered
inaccessible by the ice; and that the ancient settlers had been
destroyed either by the effects of the climate or the hostility of the
natives. But these unfavourable representations did not repress the
ardour of Egede to embark in this perilous undertaking; and either to
discover the old Norwegian settlements, or to form a new one, and to
devote his life to the instruction of the barbarous and uncivilized
Greenlanders in the salutary truths of the Christian doctrine.

He was a man of warm temperament, and mingled with such a portion of
enthusiasm as does not readily suffer its exertions to be relaxed by
difficulties, or the hopes which it has conceived to be extinguished by
inauspicious circumstances. For many years he attempted in vain to
interest the Danish government in the furtherance of the scheme which he
had conceived. His memorials were disregarded, and his proposals were
considered as visionary and impracticable. But at last Frederick IV,
King of Denmark, issued an order to the magistrates at Bergen to make
inquiries of all the masters of vessels and traders, who had been in
Davis’s Straits, concerning the state of the traffic with Greenland;
and, at the same time, to learn their opinion about forming a new
settlement upon that coast. But the answer which they returned was not
at all favourable to the wishes of our author, and the project seemed
never likely to be accomplished.

After more ineffectual attempts, his perseverance at last triumphed over
every obstacle; and he persuaded some merchants and others to subscribe
some small sums, out of which he collected a capital of about 2000_l._
Of this inconsiderable sum he himself had furnished about 60_l._, which
constituted his little all. With these slender means, which seemed
totally inadequate to the undertaking, a ship was purchased, called the
Hope, in which Egede was to be conveyed to Greenland, and to lay the
foundation of the meditated establishment. But, in the spring of 1721,
the Danish monarch, who had been brought to think more favourably of the
expedition, appointed Mr. Egede to be pastor of the new colony, and
missionary to the Heathen, with a pension of 60_l._ a year, and 40_l._
for his immediate exigencies.

Egede embarked for Greenland, with his wife and four small children,
upon the 12th of May, 1721; and he landed in Ball’s River, in the 64th
degree of North latitude, upon the 3d of July, in the same year. The
company on board the ship consisted of forty persons. They lost no time
in building a house of stone and earth, upon an island near Kangek,
which they called Haabets Oe, or Hope Island, after the name of the ship
in which they had made the voyage.

The conduct of Egede as a missionary deserves the highest praise. He
conciliated the confidence of the natives, ministered to their wants,
learned their language, and gradually introduced some additional rays of
intellectual light into their minds.

“As soon,” says Crantz, vol. i. p. 286, “as he new the word _kina_, i.
e. what is this? he asked the name of every thing that presented itself
to the senses, and wrote it down.” But his children, by continually
conversing with the children of the natives, learned the language,
particularly the pronunciation, with much more facility than himself;
and he was enabled to make considerable use of their proficiency in the
vernacular tongue of the country, in promoting the purposes of his

Upon the death of Frederick IV, and the accession of Christian VI, the
Danish government, dissatisfied with the expense which the settlement in
Greenland had occasioned, and the faint prospect which appeared of any
adequate remuneration from the trade with that country, issued, in 1731,
a mandate for the relinquishment of the colony, and the return of the
settlers. But this zealous missionary resolved not to abandon the good
work which he had begun; and though most of the settlers left the coast
in the ship which had been sent to conduct them home, he remained behind
with ten seamen whom he had persuaded to adopt the same determination.
The Danish monarch, either sympathising with his constancy, or moved by
his entreaties, assisted him with some supplies in the following year;
and in the year 1733 he was cheered by the assurance that the mission
should be more effectually supported, and the trade with Greenland more
vigorously prosecuted than it had hitherto been.

When the advanced age, or rather the growing infirmities of Egede, which
had been increased by the corporeal toils he had undergone, and the
mental solicitudes he had experienced, no longer permitted him to
continue his former occupation, his eldest son Paul became his successor
in the mission. After an abode of fifteen years in this sterile region
and inclement climate, he returned to Copenhagen in the year 1736.
Though he had relinquished the mission, he was not inattentive to its
interests; for he devoted much of his time, after his return, to the
instruction of young missionaries in the language of Greenland. He also
composed a grammar and a dictionary of that language, into which he
translated the New Testament for the use of the mission and the benefit
of the natives. He published the Description of Greenland, which is
contained in the present Volume, at Copenhagen, in the Danish language,
the year preceding his death, which took place in 1758[20].
















_As I took the freedom most humbly to address to the King your Royal
Father an account of the Greenland Mission’s beginning and propagation,
which his Majesty with so glorious a zeal protects and encourages; so
likewise, with the same most humble submission, I presume to offer to
your most Serene Royal Highness this present survey or Natural History
of Greenland; endeavouring by this means to insinuate and recommend to
your Royal Highness’s favour and protection so pious an undertaking;
because the poor Greenlanders have a right to claim your protection, as
well as the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, and are in hopes of
enjoying, one day, the greatest blessings under your happy reign._

_This little Work cannot fail of a gracious reception from your Royal
Highness, as it aims only at, and is calculated for, the honour of God
and your Royal Family’s exaltation; the last of which wholly depends on
and necessarily follows the first; for when the poor Greenlanders shall
have learned to know and worship God as their Creator and Redeemer,
then they will likewise learn to acknowledge and honour a Christian
Sovereign as their king and ruler, through whose most Christian care and
beneficence they have been brought to the knowledge of Salvation._

_May the Kingdom of God daily increase, and be spread far and wide,
under the government of your Royal House. May the word of God run
swiftly under the sway of its sceptre, as it doth in the East, so also
now in the coldest North._

_That it may please Almighty God to make your Royal Highness’s name as
the name of the great and mighty ones upon Earth; that he may establish
and powerfully support the Royal Hereditary Throne, and place you as a
blessing before his face to all eternity, are the hearty wishes and
prayers of_

                     _Your Serene Royal Highness’s
                            most obedient,
                             most humble,
                               and most devoted
                                 Subject and Servant_,

                                     HANS EGEDE.

Copenhagen, July 20, 1741.



A friend of mine, who lived some time in Greenland, published (unknown
to me) some years ago, a Description of Greenland, under the title of A
New Survey of Old Greenland, which, not long after my arrival in those
parts, I had sketched, to satisfy some of my friends, according to the
knowledge I then had acquired; but having since that time got a fuller
light in these matters, partly by my own observations and partly by
those of my Son Paul Egede, who has been four years missionary in the
North West colony of Greenland, I have found it necessary to perfect and
enlarge this little Work in embryo, under the same title that it made
its first appearance, with some useful Additions, and with a new
contrived Map of the country, that the reader may the better comprehend
what he finds in this Sketch.

Though Greenland be a country of a vast extent, yet it affords but a
narrow field for any observation or remarks of consequence; there being
no strong or well built towns to meet with; no well ordered polity or
civil government; no fine arts and sciences, or the like; but only a
number of mean, wretched, and ignorant Gentiles, who live and improve
the land according to their low capacity.

I must own, that Greenland, in its present state and condition,
compared with other countries, is but very mean and poor, though not yet
so despicable and wretched but it may, using care and industry, not only
richly maintain its own inhabitants, but also communicate to others out
of the remainder of its products.

As for the land in itself, it yields little or nothing, not being
manured or cultivated, but lies altogether waste and untilled;
nevertheless the ancient histories and accounts, yet extant, of the
land, make it appear, that it is not unfit for several products; and
therefore I do not question but it might retrieve the loss of its former
plenty and fruitfulness, should it come to be well settled again, and
cultivated. But as to the seas, they yield more plenty and wealth of all
sorts of animals and fishes than in most other parts of the world,
which may turn to very great profit; witness the exceeding great riches
many nations have gathered, and are still gathering, from the whale
fishery, and the capture of seals and morses, or sea horses.

Thus it is confessed, that Greenland is a country not unworthy of
keeping and improving. And this has been the well grounded opinion of
our late monarchs of Denmark, and many of their chief counsellors, who
have made so much of Greenland, that they have spared no costs in
fitting out several ships for its discovery, of which hereafter farther
notice shall be taken. This discovery has been chiefly undertaken to the
end, that the Christian religion, which has been unfortunately worn out
in these parts of the world, might again be re-established, and the poor
inhabitants, _viz._ the offspring of the old Northern Christians, if
through God’s mercy any such may yet be found there, as true subjects to
Denmark and Norway, might be assisted and comforted both as to body and
soul. And although these most laudable endeavours of those glorious
monarchs, of pious and blessed memory, have not had all the success one
could desire, yet they have opened the way for fresh attempts of the
same nature, which (God be thanked) have not been lost, inasmuch as the
Western coast of Greenland (by the Danes called Westerbygd) not only has
been fully discovered, but also several new lodges have been there
erected, and the holy word of God has been preached, with God’s
blessing, to these ignorant Heathens, that dwell in those places where
Christianity has been quite extinct and forgot. All this ought to
encourage us to continue our endeavours to discover the Eastern shore,
where it is confessed the chief colony has been seated; and perhaps the
offspring of the old Norwegians and Icelanders may be recovered; which I
do not think impossible, provided we go on in the right way, as I hope
to show in the following treatise.

How praiseworthy and glorious an enterprize would it be, to undertake so
great and wholesome a work, chiefly in regard to these unhappy people,
who, by a just judgment of God, now for upwards of three hundred years,
have been debarred all communication with Christians; which to remedy
not only our civil but Christian duty obliges us. It becomes us
therefore heartily to pray God Almighty, that he will be pleased to
appease his wrath kindled against these poor wretches, and to disclose
to our most gracious sovereign, and to other well intentioned
Christians, the best way and means to this country’s discovery and
happy restitution. And though we should fail of success, in still
meeting with the aforesaid offspring of the old Norwegian and Iceland
Christians, who, for aught we know, may be all extinct and destroyed, as
we found it on the West coast; yet, for all that, I should not think all
our labour lost, nor our costs made to no purpose, as long as it may be
for the good and advantage of those ignorant Heathens, that live there;
to whom we have reason to hope our most gracious sovereign will also
extend his fatherly clemency, and Christian zeal, to provide for their
eternal happiness, as he so graciously has done for those on the Western
shore; seeing that by these means the old ruined places might anew be
provided with colonies and inhabitants, which would prove no small
advantage to the king and his dominions. This my well meant project,
that God in his mercy will advance and promote, to the honour of his
most Holy Name, and the enlightening and saving of these poor souls, is
the sincere desire of

                                                            HANS EGEDE.







_Of the Situation and Extent of Greenland._

Greenland lies but forty miles to the West of Iceland, beginning from
59° 50´ North Latitude. The Eastern coast extends itself in the North as
far as Spitzbergen, between 78° and 80°; which is thought to be an
island, separated from the continent of Greenland. The Western shore is
discovered as far as seventy odd degrees. Whether it be a large island,
or borders upon countries to the North, is not yet found out; there
seems great reason to believe it is contiguous to America on the North
West side; because there we meet with the bay or inlet, which in the sea
charts is called Davis’s Straits, from an Englishman, who in the year
1585 was the first discoverer of it; and is yearly frequented by ships
of different nations, on account of the Whale Fishery: but nobody as yet
has been able to find out the bottom of it. And according to the notice
we have endeavoured to gather from those Greenlanders who live farthest
to the North, there is either but a very narrow passage between America
and Greenland, or, as is most likely, they are quite contiguous[21]:
and I am the more inclined to believe this, because the farther you go
Northward in the said Strait, the lower is the land; contrary to what we
observe where it borders on the seas or main ocean, it never wants lofty
promontories. It has been the commonly received opinion, of a long
standing, that Greenland borders upon the Asiatic Tartary and Muscovia
on the North East: what confirms them in this notion is an old story
they give credit to, that a certain Harrald goat did travel by land,
over mountains and rocks, from Greenland to Norway, bringing along with
him a she goat, of whose milk he lived on the journey; by which he got
the surname of Harrald goat. Furthermore, the ancient Greenland
Christians, in their Chronicles, relate, that there were come to them
from the Northern parts, foreign rein deer and sheep, marked upon the
ears, and with some marks tied to their horns; from which they
concluded, that the Northern parts of Greenland were also
inhabited.--Vid. Theodore Torlaccius. But the contrary is proved by
later experiments made by the navigation of Dutchmen and others to the
North.--See Zordrager’s Greenland Fishery, Part ii, ch. 10.

Greenland is a high and rocky country, always covered with ice and snow
(except on the sea side, and in the bays or inlets) which never thaws
nor melts away. You may judge of the height by the prospect they yield
at more than twenty Norway miles distance from the shore. The whole
coast is surrounded with a vast number of large and small islands. There
are a great many inlets and large rivers to be met with, among which the
principal is called Baal’s River, in 64°, and has been navigated
eighteen or twenty Norway miles up the country; where the first Danish
lodge was settled in the year 1721. In all sea charts you will find
laid down Frobisher’s Strait and Baer Sound which they pretend, form two
large islands, adjacent to the main land; which I think are not to be
found, at least not upon the coast of Greenland; for I could not meet
with any thing like it in the voyage I undertook in the year 1723
Southward, going upon discoveries; though I went as far as to 60° that
way: but at present the newer charts lay them down, the Northern strait
in 63°, and the Southern in 62°. Some of the ancients, whom Thormoder
follows in his Greenland History, place them between 61° and 60°. So
that the charts differ mightily in this particular. Besides this, there
is not a word or a syllable mentioned in our ancient records of
Greenland of the aforesaid two straits and large islands: they only
inform us, that after the old Norwegians and Icelanders had began to
settle colonies on the East side of Greenland, over against Iceland,
they continued to spread themselves all along the shore and in the bays,
as far as Baal’s River, where they stopped, and where we find many ruins
of the old Norwegian edifices. And whereas I myself have lately met
with so many stone buildings, so far to the South, I think my conclusion
is good, that the land upon which these houses stand is no particular
island, but contiguous to the main. It is therefore very reasonable to
believe, that whereas the ancients took notice of, and so accurately
described, all those bays and islands that were inhabited, they would
not have passed by in silence these two large islands upon which such
stately buildings were erected. And for this reason I have hereto joined
a new map or delineation of Greenland, to show the contiguity of the
East and West Greenland, agreeably to other new charts of Thormoder and
others, which I follow, as far as I find them not contradictory to the
description of the ancients and to my own experience.


     _First Settlement of Greenland, with some Thoughts on the
     Extinction of the Norwegian Colonies; and whether on the East Side
     no Remainders may be found of the old Norwegians: also, whether the
     same Tract of Land cannot be recovered._

It is undoubted that the ancients, not so much driven by any necessity
or compulsion as led by a natural and inbred curiosity, embarked upon
many strange ventures; as for instance, to discover and settle colonies
in so many formerly quite unknown and uninhabited countries, to whose
discovery what particular accidents have most contributed we learn by
the several histories and descriptions thereof. For the Almighty and
good God, who has not in vain created the vast globe of the Earth, has
also not intended, that any part or province of it should lie buried in
eternal oblivion, useless to mankind. And that Greenland by such means
has been discovered and inhabited by our old Norwegians and Icelanders,
we are fully informed by the annals of Iceland; where we read, that the
brave and valiant Erick Raude (or red) who was the first discoverer of
this country, after he, in company with several other Icelanders, in the
year of our Lord 982, by mere casualty fell in with the land, and had
taken a survey of its present state, he returned to Iceland the next
year, 983, spoke much in commendation of the land, calling it the
Greenland, by which he persuaded many of his countrymen to follow him
thither, in order to find out places fit for dwelling, and to settle
there[22]. They no sooner were arrived and settled here, but they found
God was come along with them; I mean the saving knowledge of his most
holy Word. For the said Erick Raude’s son, called Leif, after he had
been instructed in the Gospel truths by King Olaf (who was the first
Christian king of Norway), brought along with him from Norway to
Greenland a priest, who taught and christened all the inhabitants of the
country. Thus this country has first been settled by Norway and Iceland
colonies, which, in after-times, have increased and been provided with
many churches and convents, bishops and teachers; which lasted as long
as the correspondence and navigation continued between them and Norway,
until the year 1406, when the last bishop was sent over to Greenland.
Yet the Norwegians were not the original natives of the land; for, not
long after their arrival, they met with the old inhabitants, a savage
people dwelling on the Western shore, originally descended from the
Americans, as may with great probability be gathered from the agreement
of their persons, customs, and habits with those who dwell to the North
of Hudson’s Bay; as likewise while those, that inhabited the Northern
parts (now known by the name of Davis’s Straits), advanced nearer and
nearer to the South, and often made war upon the Norwegians. Concerning
the cause of the ruin and total destruction of that so well established
Norwegian colony there is nothing found upon record; the reason of which
I think to be, that after all correspondence and navigation ceased
between Greenland and Norway, partly by the change and translation of
the government in Queen Margaret’s reign, and partly by the next
following continual wars between the Danes and Swedes, which caused the
navigation to those parts to be laid aside, and chiefly by the great
difficulty and innumerable dangers of such navigation; which several
causes cut off all intelligence, that might be had of that country’s
state, as may be seen in Pontanus and Claudius Lyscander.

The ancient historians divide Greenland into two parts or districts,
called West Bygd, and East Bygd. As to the West district, which is said
to have contained four parishes, and one hundred villages, all we find
in the ancient histories amounts to this, viz. that in the fourteenth
century it was sorely infested by a wild nation called Schrellings, and
laid so waste, that when the inhabitants of the Eastern district came to
the assistance of the Christians, and to expel the barbarous nation of
the Schrellings, who were fallen upon the Christians, they found to
their great astonishment the province quite emptied of its inhabitants,
and nothing remaining but some cattle and flocks of sheep, straying wild
and unguarded round about the fields and meadows; whereof they killed a
good number, which they brought home with them in their ships. By which
it appears, that the Norway Christians in the Western district were
destroyed, and Christianity rooted out by the savage Heathens. The
modern inhabitants of West Greenland, being, no doubt, the offspring of
the before mentioned wild and barbarous Schrellings, have no certain
account to give us of this matter; though they will tell you, that the
old decayed dwelling places and villages, whose ruins are yet seen, were
inhabited formerly by a nation quite different from theirs; and they
also affirm, what the ancient histories tell us, that their ancestors
made war with them, and destroyed them[23].

Now, as to the Eastern district, its present state is entirely unknown
to us, as there is no approaching it with any shipping, upon account of
the vast quantity of ice, driven from Spitzbergen and other Northern
coasts upon this shore, which, adhering to the shore, barricades the
land, and renders it wholly inaccessible. We may nevertheless gather
from the above-mentioned expedition of the East Greenlanders against the
Schrellingers, that after the destruction and total overthrow of the
Western district and its colonies, the Eastern were yet standing and
flourishing. But in what year this happened no notice is taken by the
old historians. Nevertheless, from many tokens and remainders of
probable evidence it may be inferred, that the old colony of the Eastern
district is not yet quite extinct. To the confirmation of which,
Thormoder, in his History of Greenland, alledges the following

Bishop Amand, of Shalholt in Iceland (who, anno 1522, had been
consecrated, but, anno 1540, again resigned), once returning from Norway
to Iceland, was by a storm driven Westward upon the coast of Greenland,
which he coasted for some time Northwards, and made land towards the
evening, finding themselves off Herjolsness. They came so near to the
shore, that they could descry the inhabitants driving their flocks in
the pasture grounds: but as the wind soon after proved fair they made
all the sail they could, steering for Iceland, which they reached the
day following, and entered the Bay of St. Patrick, which lies on the
West coast of the island, in the morning early, when they were milking
their cows.

Birn of Skarsaa (as we learn by the aforesaid Thormoder Torfager) gives
the following relation:--

“In our time,” says he, “one named John Greenlander, who for a
considerable time had been employed in the service of the Hamburgh
merchants, in a voyage from thence to Iceland, met with contrary winds
and stormy weather, in which he narrowly escaped being cast away, and
lost with ship and crew upon the dreadful rocks of Greenland, by getting
in at last to a fine bay, which contained many islands, where he happily
came to an anchor under a desert island; and it was not long before he
spied several other islands not far off, that were inhabited; which, for
fear of the inhabitants, he for a while did not dare to approach; till
at last he took courage, and sending his boat on shore, went to the next
house, which seemed but very small and mean. Here he found all the
accoutrements necessary to fit out a fishing boat; he saw also a fishing
booth, or small hut, made up of stones, to dry fish in, as is customary
in Iceland. There lay a dead body of a man extended upon the ground with
his face downwards; a cap sewed together on his head; the rest of his
clothing was made partly of coarse cloth, and partly of seal skin; an
old rusty knife was found at his side, which the captain took, in order
to show it to his friends at his return home to Iceland, to serve for a
token of what he had seen. It is farther said, that this commander was
three times by stress of weather driven upon the coasts of Greenland, by
which he obtained the surname of Greenlander.”

This relation can be of no more than a hundred years standing, as
Theodore Torlack affirms: because the above mentioned annals, in which
we read it, were composed by Biorno of Skarsaa within these thirty

The same author furthermore informs us, that in Iceland there has often
been found, scattered here and there on the sea shore, old broken pieces
of deal boards, parts of the ribs of boats, which on the side were
tacked together, and pasted with a sort of pitch or glue made of the
blubber of seals. Now it is admitted, that this kind of glue is nowhere
made use of but in Greenland; and a boat of this make was in the year
1625 found thrown up, upon a point of land near Reiche Strand, the
structure of which was very artificial, joined together with wooden
nails, not unlike that in which Asmund Kastenrazius, in the year 1189,
in company with twelve men, crossed over from Greenland to Iceland;
which boat was likewise tacked together with wooden nails, and the
sinews of animals. The same historian, in his book De Novitiis
Groenlandorum Indiciis, tell us, that some years ago, they found an oar
upon the Eastern shore of Iceland, whereon these words were carved in
Runick characters: _Oft var ek dascedar ek dro dik_, which signifies,
“Often was I tired, when I carried thee.” Besides this, I find a
relation in a German writer, whose name is Dithmarus Blefkenius,
concerning a certain monk, born in Greenland, who, as companion to the
bishop of the place, in the year 1546 made a voyage into Norway, where
he lived until the year 1564, and where, the author says, he got
acquainted and personally conversed with him. This monk told him many
strange and surprising things of a Dominican convent in Greenland,
called St. Thomas’s Convent; to which his parents sent him in his youth
to become a monk of that order. But the truth of this relation is very
much questioned, being, together with several others of Blefkenius’s
relations, refuted and gainsaid by Arngrim, in his Treatise, entitled
Anatome Blefkeniana. Blefkenius’s relation is nevertheless confirmed by
several other authors. Erasmus Franciscus, in his book called East and
West India State Garden, in a place where he treats of Greenland tells
us, that a captain of a Danish ship, by name Jacob Hall, being ordered
by the King his master to undertake a voyage to Greenland, he touched
first at Iceland, where he from the King’s lieutenant got intelligence
of Greenland, which before was unknown to him. And that he might the
more fully be informed of every thing relating to this matter, a certain
monk was sent for to instruct him herein, who was said to be a native of
Greenland; of whom the said Jacob Hall, in his short description, gives
the following account, according to our above-mentioned author, Erasmus

     “There has formerly been a convent in Iceland, called Helgafield,
     or Holy Mountain, in which, though it was decayed, lived a certain
     friar, native of Greenland, with a broad and tawny face. This friar
     was sent for by the King’s lieutenant, in the presence of Jacob
     Hall, who wanted to be informed of the state of Greenland. The
     friar accordingly told him, that being very young, he was entered
     into this convent by his parents; and that he afterwards was
     commanded by the same bishop, of whom he had received the holy
     orders, to go along with him from thence to Norway, where he
     submitted himself to the bishop of Drontheim, to whose authority
     and jurisdiction all the priests of Iceland were subject; and being
     returned to his native home, he again retired and shut himself up
     in his former convent. This is said to have happened in the year
     1546. He said moreover, that in the convent of St. Thomas, where he
     also had passed some time, there was a well of burning hot water,
     which, through pipes, was conveyed into all the rooms and cells of
     the convent to warm them.”

But I think there is as much reason to question the authenticity of this
relation as of the former, inasmuch as there is no such thing to be
found in our Danish archives or annals. Notwithstanding which, what
concerns St. Thomas’s convent in particular is confessed, and confirmed
by the old histories of Greenland. Nicolas Zenetur, a Venetian by birth,
who served the King of Denmark in the quality of a sea captain, is said
by chance to have been driven upon the coast of Greenland in the year
1380; and to have seen that same Dominican convent. His relation is
alledged by Kircherus in the following words:--

     “Here is also a Dominican convent to be seen, dedicated to St.
     Thomas, in whose neighbourhood there is a volcano of a mountain
     that vomits fire, and at the foot thereof a well of burning hot
     water. This hot water is not only conveyed by pipes into the
     convent, and through all the cells of the friars to keep them warm,
     as with us the rooms are heated by stoves of wood fire or other
     fuel; but here they also boil and bake their meat and bread with
     the same. This volcano, or fiery mountain, throws out such a
     quantity of pumice stone, that it hath furnished materials for the
     construction of the whole convent. There are also fine gardens,
     which reap great benefit from this hot water, adorned with all
     sorts of flowers, and full of fruit. And after the river has
     watered these gardens, it empties itself into the adjoining bay,
     which causes it never to freeze, and great numbers of fish and sea
     fowl flock thither, which yields plentiful provision for the
     nourishment of the inhabitants.”

Of all the attested relations, that of Biorno of Skarsaa, concerning
Bishop Amund of Skalholt, who was driven upon the coast of Greenland,
deserves most to be credited; by which we learn, that the colony of the
Eastern district flourished about one hundred and fifty years after the
commerce and navigation ceased between Norway and Greenland; and, for
aught we know, is not yet wholly destitute of its old Norwegian
inhabitants. We have not been able to get any account of this matter
from the modern Greenlanders, as they entertain no correspondence with
those parts: either being hindered by the ice, which renders them
altogether inaccessible; or else for fear the inhabitants of that
country might kill and devour them; for they represent them as a cruel,
barbarous, and inhuman nation, that destroy and eat all foreigners that
fall into their hands. Yet notwithstanding this, if we may believe the
relation of those adventurers, who have coasted a great part of the
Eastern shore, there is no other sort of inhabitants found on this than
on the Western side. But how it comes to pass, that the Eastern
district, which was so well settled with Norway and Iceland colonies,
that it contained twelve large parishes, and one hundred and ninety
villages, besides one bishop’s see and two convents, and flourished till
the year 1540, at last has been destroyed and laid waste, is what I
cannot conceive. The opinion of some, that the black plague, so called,
which ravaged the Northern countries in the year 1348, also reached
Greenland, and made its havock among its Eastern colonies, is without
any ground or reason; because the commerce was carried into Greenland
until the year 1406; and in 1540 that colony was still subsisting. If
therefore this district be destitute or bereft of its old inhabitants,
it is not unlikely they have undergone the same fatality as the Western
ones, being destroyed by the barbarity of the savage Schrellingers.

A whole century passed from the cessation of all commerce and navigation
between Norway and Greenland, till new adventurers began to apply
themselves to the discovery of the Eastern district. The first of those
who took this affair to heart was Erick Walkendorff, archbishop of
Drontheim, who was resolved, at his own charge, to fit out ships for
this purpose, but was stopped in this pious design by King Christian the
Second, whose disgrace he had incurred. The next was King Frederick the
First, whose mind, as it is reported, was bent upon the said expedition,
but it was never put in execution. Christian the Third (as Lyscander
relates) sent several ships with the same design, but without making any
discovery. Frederick the Second succeeded his royal father, as well in
the government as in his good design about Greenland; on which errand he
sent Mogens Heinson, a renowned seaman in those days. This adventurer,
after he had gone through many difficulties and dangers of storms and
ice, got sight of the land, but could not approach it; whereupon he
returned home again, and pretended, that he might have got on shore, if
his ship had not been stopped in the midst of its course, by some
loadstone rocks hidden in the sea, so that he could not proceed though
he had a very favourable and strong gale of wind, and no ice to hinder
him: which frightened him and made him sail back again to Denmark. But
the true loadstone rocks, in my opinion, was the terrible fright he was
in of not getting safe through the dreadful ice mountains, which
threatened him, or else the strong current, which always runs along the
states promontory with such violence and rapidity, that it often stops a
ship under full sail, so that the ship can make but little or no way at
all against it. The cause by others assigned for this strange effect,
the fish Remora, which the Northlanders call Kracken, is nothing but a
fabulous story of the too credulous ancients, and labours under no less
absurdities than the former opinion, that rocks of loadstone, laying on
the bottom of the sea, can stay the course of a ship that sails on the
surface of it.

In the same year that Mogens Heinson went upon the Greenland discovery,
the English histories inform us, that Captain Martin Frobisher, an
Englishman, was by the glorious Queen Elizabeth sent upon the same
errand. This adventurer got sight of the land, but being partly hindered
by the ice, which adhered to it, and partly by the shortness of the
winter days (for it was late in the year), he could not approach it, and
so returned to England again. Next year in the spring, he went upon the
same expedition with three ships. After having gone through many great
dangers of the ice and storms, he at length reached the shore, where he
found a wild and savage nation; who, when they saw the English coming to
them, being frightened, left their huts, and ran away to hide
themselves. Some from the highest rocks threw themselves into the sea;
whereupon the English entered their huts, where they met with nobody but
an old woman, and a young one, who was pregnant, and those they carried
away with them. It is also reported, that they here found some sand
which contained particles of gold and silver, of which they filled
three hundred tuns, and brought it home with them to England. As to this
gold and silver sand, I cannot help questioning whether they found any
such on the Greenland shore, inasmuch as Sir Martin, in the same strain,
relates wonderful things of the politeness and civility of a nation that
dwelt in those parts; of which he says, they were governed by a prince,
whom they called Kakiunge; and carried him in state on their shoulders,
clothed in rich stutfs, and adorned with gold and precious stones, which
does not at all agree with the meanness and coarseness of Greenland and
its inhabitants; but rather seems to belong to the rich kingdoms of Peru
and Mexico, where gold and silver abounds; and from whence he may have
brought the above-mentioned gold and silver sand.

But I think it high time to leave such uncertain relations to their
worth; and turn our thoughts towards the pious endeavours of our most
gracious sovereigns the Kings of Denmark to discover and recover
Greenland again. An we find, that after the expeditions of Frederick
the Second, Christian the Fourth, his successor, with great cost,
ordered four different expeditions for this discovery. The first was
undertaken, under the command of Godske Lindenow, with three ships. And,
as the history tells, Lindenow with his ship arrived upon the East coast
of Greenland (which I hardly can believe), and found none but wild,
uncivilised people there, like those Frobisher is said first to have met
with. He staid there three days, during which time the wild Greenlanders
came to trade with him; changing all sorts of furs and skins with pieces
of precious horns, against all kinds of small trifling iron ware, as
knives, scissars, needles, common looking glasses, and other such
trifles. When he set sail from thence, there were two Greenlanders
remaining in the ship, whom he carried off, and brought them home along
with him: these as they made all their endeavour to get away from him,
and sometimes would have jumped into the sea, they were obliged to tie
and secure them; which, when their countrymen observed, who flocked
together upon the shore, they made a hideous outcry and howling, flung
stones, and shot their arrows at the sailors, upon which they from the
ship fired a gun, which frightened and dispersed them; and so the ship
left them. The two other ships, that set sail in company and under the
command of Lindenow, after they had doubled Cape Farewell, steered
directly for the Strait of Davis; in which navigation they discovered
many fine harbours and delightful green meadow lands, but all the
inhabitants along the coast wild and savage as before. It is pretended
also, that they in some places found stones, which contained some silver
ore, which they took along with them; of which one hundred pounds
yielded twenty-six ounces of silver. (Here again I cannot forbear
questioning, whether this silver ore has been found on the Greenland
shore, or rather over against it on the American coast.) These two ships
also brought four savages home with them to Copenhagen.

The second expedition was made by order of the same King in the year
1606, with five ships under the conduct of the before-mentioned Admiral
Lindenow; bringing along with them three of the savages (one of them
dying in the voyage) which they had carried off the year before from
Greenland. But this time he directed his course to the Westward of Cape
Farewell, standing for the Straits of Davis; where he, coasting along,
took the survey of several places, and then returned home again.

The third and last expedition of this glorious King was only of two
ships, commanded by Captain Carsten Richards, a Holstenian by birth; he
spied the land and its high and craggy rocks afar off, but could not
come near it on account of the ice; and so, after he had lost his labour
he returned home.

The fourth expedition of King Christian the Fourth, under the conduct of
Captain Jens Munck, in the year 1616, was not made for the discovering
of Greenland but to find out a passage between Greenland and America to
China; the misfortunes of which expedition are related by the said

There was, besides these four expeditions at the King’s cost, a fifth
undertaken, in the same King’s reign, by a company settled in Copenhagen
in the year 1636, of which company the president was the lord high
chancellor, Christian Friis, as Lyscander informs us. Two ships fitted
out by this company, directing their course to the Westward of
Greenland, fell in with the Straits of Davis, where they traded for a
while with the savages; but this was not the main concern of the
commander, who was acquainted with a coast, whose sand had the colour
and weight of gold, which he accordingly did not miss, and filled both
their ships with the same. After their return to Copenhagen, the
goldsmiths were ordered to make a trial, whether this sand would yield
any gold or not; who, not being skilful enough to make such a trial,
condemned it to be all thrown overboard, which was done by order of the
high chancellor, president of the company. Some part of the said sand
was yet kept out of curiosity, out of which an artificer, who afterwards
came to Copenhagen, did extract a good deal of pure gold. The honest
and well-meaning commander, who went upon this adventure, was turned out
of favour, and died of grief soon after; whereby, not only the treasure
they had brought home, but also the knowledge of the place where it was
to be found, was entirely lost, as he kept this a secret to himself.

In the year 1654, during the reign of King Frederick the Third, a noble
and wealthy adventurer, by name Henry Muller, fitted out a ship for
Greenland, under the command of David de Nelles, who arrived safe in
Greenland, and brought from thence three women, whose names were
Kunelik, Kabelau, and Sigokou; who, according to the opinion of Bishop
Torlais, who had perused the said captain’s journal, were taken in the
neighbourhood of Herjolsness, on the Eastern shore, as Thormoder Torfæus
pretends; but which I cannot be made to believe. My opinion is, they
were brought from the Western shore, near Baal’s River, as some of the
inhabitants, who are still living, had in fresh remembrance, telling me
their names, as they are laid down in the fore-mentioned Journal.

The last adventurer, that was sent upon the discovery of Greenland,
according to Torfæus in his History of Greenland, was Captain Otto
Axelson, in the year 1670, in the reign of Christian V of glorious
memory. But what success this adventurer met with he leaves us to guess.
Nevertheless we find, in a manuscript description of Greenland, written
by Arngrim Vidalin, Part iii, chap. 1, that his said majesty did invite,
and with great privileges encourage Mr. George Tormúhlen, counsellor of
commerce at Bergen, to fit out ships for the said discovery; whereupon
the said counsellor not only got ready shipping well stored for such an
expedition, but also got together a number of passengers, who resolved
to go and settle in those parts, whom he provided with all things
necessary for that purpose; both provision and ammunition, as well as
houses made of timber, ready to be erected in that country. But this
great design miscarried, the ship being taken by the French and brought
into Dunkirk.

Thus, for a long while, it seemed, that all thought of Greenland was
laid aside until the year 1721; when after many well-meant invitations,
and projects proposed by me to the Greenland company at Bergen in
Norway, approved and authorised by his late majesty Frederick IV of
glorious memory, the company thereupon resolved not only to send ships,
but also to settle a colony in Greenland in 64°; when I went over with
my whole family and remained there fifteen years. During my stay I
endeavoured to get all the intelligence that could be procured both by
sea and land of the present state of the country, and did not lose my
labour; for I found some places that formerly were inhabited by the old
Norwegians, on the Western shore. Which expedition I have lately treated
of in another treatise, and set out in all its circumstances, and with
all the difficulties it has laboured under; wherefore I think it need
not be here repeated.

But whereas my main drift and endeavour has been all along chiefly to
discover the Eastern district of Greenland, which always was reckoned
the best of our ancient colonies, accordingly I received from the above
mentioned Greenland company at Bergen a letter, in the year 1723, in
which I was told, that it was his majesty’s pleasure, that the East
district might likewise be visited and discovered. Which the better to
effectuate, I took the resolution to make this voyage in person; and
accordingly I coasted it Southwards, as far as to the States Promontory,
looking out for the Strait of Frobisher, which would have been my
shortest way, according to those charts, which lay the said strait down
in this place; but such a strait I could not find. Now as it grew too
late in the year for me to proceed farther, the month of September being
nearly at an end, when the winter season begins in those parts,
accompanied by dreadful storms, I was obliged to return.

In the year 1724 the directors of the said Bergen company, according to
his majesty’s good will and pleasure, fitted out a ship to attempt a
landing on the Eastern shore, as had been formerly practised on that
coast which lies opposite to Iceland. But the surprising quantity of
ice, which barricadoed the coast, made that enterprise prove abortive
and quite miscarry, as many others had done. As there was no appearance
for ships to approach this shore, the same king, in the year 1728,
resolved, besides other very considerable expenses, to have horses
transported to this colony, in hopes, that with their help they might
travel by land to this Eastern district: but nothing was more impossible
than this, project, on account of the impracticable, high, and craggy
mountains perpetually covered with ice and snow, which never thaws.
Another new attempt by sea was by order of the said king made in the
year 1729, by Lieutenant Richard; who with his ship passed the winter
near the new Danish colony, in Greenland, and in his voyage back to
Denmark made all the endeavours he could to come at the aforesaid shore,
opposite to Iceland; but all to no purpose, being herein disappointed,
like the rest before him.

All these difficulties and continual disappointments have made most
people lose all hopes of succeeding in this attempt: nevertheless, I
flatter myself to have hit luckily on an expedient, which to me seems
not impracticable though hitherto not tried, or at least but lightly
executed; _viz._ to endeavour to coast the land from the States
Promontory, or (as we call it) Cape Prince Christian, Northwards. The
information I have had of some Greenlanders, who in their boats have
coasted a great part of the East side, confirms me in my opinion; for
although an incredible quantity of driven ice yearly comes from
Spitzbergen or New Greenland along this coast, and passes by the States
Promontory, which hinders the approaching of ships as far as the ice
stretches, whereabout the best part of the Norwegian colonies were
settled; yet there have been found breaks and open sea near the shore,
through which boats and smaller vessels may pass; and according to the
relation of the Greenlanders, as well as agreeably to my own experience,
the current, that comes out of the bays and inlets, always running along
the shore South Westwards, hinders the ice from adhering to the land,
and keeps it at a distance from the shore; by which means the
Greenlanders at certain times, without any hindrance, have passed and
repassed part of this coast in their kone boats (so they call their
large boats); though they have not been so far as where the old Norway
colonies had their settlement; of which no doubt there are still some
ruins to be seen on this Eastern shore. Furthermore I have been credibly
informed by Dutch seamen that frequent these seas, that several of their
ships have at times found the East side of Greenland cleared of the ice
as far as 62°; and they had tarried some time among the out rocks on
that coast, where they carried on a profitable trade with the savages.
And I myself, in my return from Greenland homewards in the year 1736,
found it to be so when we passed the States Promontory and Cape
Farewell, and stood in near the shore, where at that time there was no
ice to be seen, which otherwise is very uncommon. But as this happens
so seldom, it is very uncertain and unsafe for any ship to venture so
far up under the Eastern shore. But, as I observed a little before, it
is more safe and practicable to coast it from the Promontory along the
shore in small vessels; especially if there be a lodge erected in the
latitude of between 60° and 61°: and it would be still more convenient,
if there could be a way and means found likewise to place a lodge on the
Eastern shore in the same latitude. For according to the account the
ancients have left us of Greenland, the distance of ground that lies
uncultivated between the West and East side is but twelve Norway miles
by water. See Ivarus Beri’s relation; or, according to a later
computation, it is a journey of six days in a boat. And as the ruins of
old habitations, which I have discovered between 60° and 61°, are
without doubt in the most Southerly part of the West side, it of
necessity follows, that the distance cannot be very great from thence to
the most Southern Parts of the Eastern side. Now, if it should be found
practicable, at certain times, to pass along the shore with boats or
small ships to the East side, to the latitude of 63° and 64°, little
lodges might be settled here and there with colonies; by which means a
constant correspondence might be kept, and mutual assistance given to
one another, though larger ships could not yearly visit every one of
them, but only touch at the most Southerly ones. I am also persuaded,
that the thing is feasible, and if it should please God in his mercy to
forward this affair, colonies might be established here, which, without
great trouble, might be supplied yearly with all necessaries.



_Treats of the Nature of the Soil, Plants, and Minerals of Greenland._

As to the nature of the soil, we are informed by ancient histories, that
the Greenland colonies bred a number of cattle, which afforded them
milk, butter, and cheese in such abundance, that a great quantity
thereof was brought over to Norway, and for its prime and particular
goodness was set apart for the King’s kitchen, which was practised until
the reign of Queen Margaret. We also read in these histories, that some
parts of the country yielded the choicest wheat corn, and in the dales
or valleys the oak trees brought forth acorns of the bigness of an
apple, very good to eat[24]. The woods afforded plenty of game of rein
deer, hares, &c. for the sport of huntsmen. The rivers, bays, and the
seas furnished an infinite number of fishes, seals, morses, and whales;
of which all the inhabitants make a considerable trade and commerce. And
though the country at present cannot boast of the same plenty and
richness, as it lies destitute of colonies, cattle, and uncultivated;
yet I do not doubt, but the old dwelling places, formerly inhabited and
manured by the ancient Norway colonies, might recover their former
fertility, if they were again peopled with men and cattle; inasmuch as
about those places there grows fine grass, especially from 60° to 65°.
In the great Bay, which in the sea charts goes under the name of Baal’s
River, and at present is called the Bay of Good Hope (from the Danish
colony settled near the entrance of this inlet), there are on both sides
of the colony many good pieces of meadow ground, for the grazing and
pasturing numbers of cattle, besides plenty of provision, which the sea
as well as the land yields. Trees or woods of any consideration are
rarely met with; yet I have found in most of the bays underwoods and
shrubs in great quantity, especially of birch, elm, and willows, which
afford sufficient fuel for the use of the inhabitants, The largest wood
I have seen is in the latitude of 60° and 61°, where I found birch trees
two or three fathom high, somewhat thicker than a man’s leg or arm:
small juniper trees grow also here in abundance, the berries of which
are of the bigness of grey peas. The herb called quaun, which is our
angelica, is very obvious and common, as well as wild rosemary, which
has the taste and smell of turpentine; of which, by distillation, is
extracted a fine oil and spirit, of great use in medicine. That precious
herb, scurvy grass, the most excellent remedy for the cure of the
distemper which gives its name, grows everywhere on the sea side, and
has not so bitter a taste as that of softer climates; I have seen
wonderful effects of its cure. The country also produces a grass with
yellow flowers, whose root smells in the spring like roses: the
inhabitants feed thereupon, and find benefit by it. In the bays and
inlets you have wild thyme at the side of the mountains, which after
sunset yields a fragrant smell. Here also you meet with the herb
tormentil, or setfoil, and a great many other herbs, plants, and
vegetables, which I cannot call to mind, and whose names indeed are
altogether unknown to me. Their most common berries are those called
blew-berries, tittle-berries, and bramble-berries. Multe-berries, which
are common in Norway, do not arrive here to any perfection, on account
of the thick fogs that hang upon the islands, when these plants bud.
This country affords the most pleasant prospect about the latitude of
60° to 64°, and seems fit to be manured for the produce of all sorts of
grain; and there are to this day marks of acres and arable land to be
observed. I myself once made a trial of sowing barley in the bay joining
to our new colony, which sprung up so fast, that it stood in its full
ears towards the latter end of July; but did not come to ripeness, on
account of the night frost which nipped it and hindered its growth. But
as this grain was brought over from Bergen in Norway, no doubt it wanted
a longer summer and more heat to ripen. But I am of opinion, that corn
which grows in the more Northern parts of Norway would thrive better in
Greenland, inasmuch as those climates agree better together. Turnips and
cole are very good here, and of a sweet taste, especially the turnips,
which are pretty large.

I must observe to you, that all that has been said of the fruitfulness
of the Greenland soil is to be understood of the latitude of 60° to
65°, and differs according to the different degrees of latitude. For in
the most Northern parts you find neither herbs nor plants; so that the
inhabitants cannot gather grass enough to put in their shoes to keep
their feet warm, but are obliged to buy it from the Southern parts.

Of Greenland metals or minerals I have little or nothing to say. It is
true, that about two Norway miles to the South of the colony of Good
Hope, on a promontory, there are here and there green spots to be seen,
like verdigris, which shows there must be some copper ore. And a certain
Greenlander once brought me some pieces not unlike lead ore. There is
likewise a sort of calamine, which has the colour of yellow brass. In my
expedition upon discoveries, I found, on a little island where we
touched, some yellow sand, mixed with sinople red, or vermillion
strokes, of which I sent a quantity over to the directors of the
Greenland company at Bergen, to make a trial of it; upon which they
wrote me an answer, that I should endeavour to get as much as I could of
the same sand; but to theirs as well as my own disappointment, I never
was able to find the said island again, where I had got this sand, as it
was but a very small and insignificant one, situate among a great many
others; and the mark I had taken care to put up was by the wind blown
down. Nevertheless there has been enough of the same stuff found up and
down in the country, which, when it is burnt, changes its former colour
for a reddish hue, which it likewise does if you keep it awhile shut up

Whether or no this be the same sort of sand as that of which Sir Martin
Frobisher is said to have brought some hundred tons to England, and was
pretended to contain a great deal of gold; and again (as we have above
taken notice of) of which some of the Danish Greenland Company’s ships
returned freighted to Copenhagen in the year 1636, is a question which I
have no mind to decide. However, thus much I can say, that by the small
experience I have acquired in the art of chemistry, I have tried both by
extraction and precipitation if it would yield any thing, but always
lost my labour. After all I declare, I never could find any other sort
of sand that contained either gold or silver. But as for rock crystal,
both red and white, you find it here: the red contains some particular
solis, which can only be produced by the spagyric art.

Stone flax, or what they call asbestos, is so common here, that you may
see whole mountains of it: it has the appearance of a common stone, but
can be split or cloven like a piece of wood. It contains long filaments,
which, when beaten and separated from the dross, you may twist and spin
into a thread. As long as it has its oily moisture it will burn without
being consumed to ashes.

Round about our colony of Good Hope there is a sort of coarse bastard
marble of different colours, blue, green, red, and some quite white,
and again some white with black spots, which the natives form into all
sorts of vessels and utensils, as lamps, pots to boil in, and even
crucibles to melt metals in, this marble standing proof against the
fire[25]. Of this marble there was brought a quantity over to Drontheim
in Norway, which they made use of in the adorning of the cathedral of
that city, as we have it from Peter Claudius Undalin[26].

Amongst the produce of the sea, besides different shells, muscles, and
periwinkles, there are also coral trees, of which I have seen one of a
fine form and size.


_Of the Nature of the Climate, and the Temperament of the Air._

The natives of Greenland have no reason to complain of rains and stormy
weather, which seldom trouble them; especially in the Bay of Disco, in
the 68th degree of Latitude, where they commonly have clear and settled
weather during the whole summer season: but again, when foul and stormy
weather falls in, it rages with an incredible fierceness and violence,
chiefly when the wind comes about Southerly, or South West; and the
storm is laid and succeeded by fair weather as soon as the wind shifts
about to the West and North.

The country would be exceeding pleasant and healthful in summer time,
if it was not for the heavy fogs that annoy it, especially near the sea
coast; for it is as warm here as anywhere, when the air is serene and
clear, which happens when the wind blows Easterly; and sometimes it is
so hot, that the sea water, which after the ebbing of the sea has
remained in the hollow places of the rocks, has often, before night, by
the heat of the sun, been found coagulated into a fine white salt. I can
remember, that once, for three months together, we had as fair settled
weather and warm sunshine days as one could wish, without any rain.

The length of the summer is from the latter end of May to the midst of
September; all the remaining part of the year is winter, which is
tolerable in the latitude of 64°, but to the Northward, in 68° and
above, the cold is so excessive, that even the most spirituous liquors,
as French brandy, will freeze near the fire side. At the end of August
the sea is all covered with ice, which does not thaw before April or
May, and sometimes not till the latter end of June.

It is remarkable, that on the Western coasts of different countries,
lying in one and the same latitude, it is much colder than on the
Eastern, as some parts of Greenland and Norway. And though Greenland is
much colder than Norway, yet the snow never lies so high, especially in
the bays and inlets, where it is seldom above half a yard higher than
the ground; whereas the inland parts and the mountains are perpetually
covered with ice and snow, which never melts; and not a spot of the
ground is bare, but near the shore and in the bays; where in the summer
you are delighted with a charming verdure, caused by the heat of the
sun, reverberated from side to side, and concentred in these lower parts
of the valleys, surrounded by high rocks and mountains, for many hours
together without intermission; but as soon as the sun is set, the air is
changed at once, and the cold ice mountains make you soon feel the
nearness of their neighbourhood, and oblige you to put on your furs.
Besides the frightful ice that covers the whole face of the land, the
sea is almost choaked with it, some flat and large fields of ice, or bay
ice, as they call it, and some huge and prodigious mountains, of an
astonishing bigness, lying as deep under water as they soar high in the
air. These are pieces of the ice mountains of the land, which lie near
the sea, and bursting, tumble down into the sea, and are carried off.
They represent to the beholders, afar off, many odd and strange figures;
some of churches, castles with spires and turrets others you would take
to be ships under sail; and many have been deluded by them, thinking
they were real ships, and going to board them. Nor does their figure and
shape alone surprise, but also their diversity of colours pleases the
sight; for some are like white crystal, others blue as sapphires; and
others again green as emeralds. One would attribute the cause of these
colours to metals or minerals of the places where this ice was formed;
or of waters of which it was coagulated: but experience teaches me, that
the blue ice is the concretion of fresh water, which at first is white,
and at length hardens and turns blue; but the greenish colour comes from
salt water. It is observed, that if you put the blue ice near the fire
and let it melt, and afterwards remove it to a colder place, to freeze
again, it does not recover its former blue, but becomes white. From
whence I infer, that the volatile sulphur, which the ice had attracted
from the air, by its resolution into water, exhales and vanishes.

Though the summer season is very hot in Greenland, it seldom causes any
thunder and lightning; the reason of which I take to be the coolness of
the night, which allays the heat of the day, and causes the sulphureous
exhalations to fall again with the heavy dew to the ground.

As for the ordinary meteors, commonly seen in other countries, they are
visible in Greenland; as the rainbow, flying or shooting stars, and the
like. But what is more peculiar to the climate, is the Northern Light,
or Aurora Borealis, which in the spring of the year, about the new
moon, darts streams of light all over the sky, as quick as lightning,
especially if it be a clear night, with such a brightness, that you may
read by it as by daylight.

At the summer solstice there is no night, and you have the pleasure to
see the sun turn round about the horizon all the twenty-four hours; and
in the depth of winter they have but little comfort in that planet, and
the nights are proportionally long; yet it never is so dark, but you can
see to travel up and down the country, though sometimes it be neither
moonshine nor starlight: but the snow and ice, with which both land and
sea is covered, enlightens the air; or the reason may be fetched from
the nearness of the horizon to the equator.

The temperament of the air is not unhealthful; for, if you except the
scurvy and distempers of the breast, they know nothing here of the many
other diseases with which other countries are plagued; and these
pectoral infirmities are not so much the effects of the excessive cold,
as of that nasty foggish weather which this country is very much subject
to; which I impute to the vast quantity of ice that covers the land and
drives in the sea. From the beginning of April to the end of July is the
foggish season, and from that time the fog daily decreases. But as in
the summer time they are troubled with the fog, so in the winter season
they are likewise plagued with the vapour called frost smoke, which,
when the cold is excessive, rises out of the sea as the smoke out of a
chimney, and is as thick as the thickest mist, especially in the bays,
where there is any opening in the ice. It is very remarkable, that this
frost, damp, or smoke, if you come near it, will singe the very skin of
your face and hands; but when you are in it, you find no such piercing
or stinging sharpness, but warm and soft; only it leaves a white frost
upon your hair and clothes.

I must not forget here to mention the wonderful harmony and
correspondence which is observed in Greenland between fountains and the
main sea, _viz._ that at spring tides, in new and full moon, when the
strongest ebbing is at sea, the hidden fountains or springs of fresh
water break out on shore, and discover themselves, often in places where
you never would expect to meet with any such; especially in winter, when
the ground is covered with ice and snow; yet at other times there are no
water springs in those places. The cause of this wonderful harmony I
leave to the learned inquiry of natural philosophers; how springs and
fountains follow the motion of the main sea, as the sea does that of the
moon. Yet this I must observe to you, that some great men have been
greatly mistaken, in that they have taken for granted and asserted, that
in Norway and Greenland the tide was hardly remarkable. (See Mr. Wollf’s
Reasonable Thoughts on the Effects of Nature, p. 541.) Whereas nowhere
greater tide is observed; the sea, at new and full moon, especially in
the spring and fall, rises and falls about three fathoms.



     _Of the Land Animals, and Land Fowls or Birds of Greenland; and how
     they hunt and hill them._

There are no venomous serpents or insects, no ravenous wild beasts to be
seen in Greenland, if you except the bear, which some will have to be an
amphibious animal, as he lives chiefly upon the ice in the most Northern
parts, and feeds upon seals and fish. He very seldom appears near the
colony, in which I had taken up my quarters. He is of a very large size,
and of a hideous and frightful aspect, with white long hairs: he is
greedy of human blood[27]. The natives tell us moreover of another kind
of ravenous beasts, which they call Amarok, which eagerly pursue other
beasts, as well as men; yet none of them could say, they ever had seen
them, but only had it from others by hearsay; and whereas none of our
own people, who have travelled up and down the country, ever met with
any such beast, therefore I take it to be a mere fable.

Rein deer are in some places in so great numbers that you will see whole
herds of them[28]; and when they go and feed in herds they are
dangerous to come at. The natives spend the whole summer season in
hunting of rein deer, going up to the innermost parts of the bays, and
carrying, for the most part, their wives and children along with them,
where they remain till the harvest season comes on. In the mean while
they with so much eagerness hunt, pursue, and destroy these poor deer,
that they have no place of safety, but what the Greenlanders know; and
where they are in any number, there they chase them by clap-hunting,
setting upon them on all sides, and surrounding them with all their
women and children, to force them into defiles and narrow passages,
where the men armed lay in wait for them and kill them: and when they
have not people enough to surround them, then they put up white poles
(to make up the number that is wanted) with pieces of turf to head them,
which frightens the deer, and hinders it from escaping.

There are also vast numbers of hares, which are white summer and winter,
very fat and of a good taste. There are foxes of different colours,
white, grey, and blueish; they are of a lesser size than those of
Denmark and Norway, and not so hairy, but more like martens. The natives
commonly catch them alive in traps, built of stones like little huts.
The other four-footed animals, which ancient historians tell us are
found in Greenland, are sables, martens, wolves, losses, ermins, and
several others; I have met with none of them on the Western side.--See
Arngrim Jonas’s History of Greenland; as also Ivarus Beni’s Relation,
mentioned by Undalinus.

Tame or domestic animals there are none, but dogs in great numbers, and
of a large size, with white hairs, or white and black, and standing
ears. They are in their kind as timorous and stupid as their masters,
for they never bay or bark, but howl only. In the Northern parts they
use them instead of horses, to drag their sledges, tying four or six,
and sometimes eight or ten to a sledge, laden with five or six of the
largest seals, with the master sitting up himself, who drives as fast
with them as we can do with good horses, for they often make fifteen
German miles with them in a winter day, upon the ice: and though the
poor dogs are of so great service to them, yet they do not use them
well, for they are left to provide for and subsist themselves as wild
beasts, feeding upon muscles thrown up on the sea side, or upon berries
in the summer season; and when there has been a great capture of seals
they give them their blood boiled and their entrails.

As for land fowls or birds, Greenland knows of none but rypper, which is
a sort of large partridges, white in winter, and grey in summer time,
and these they have in great numbers. Ravens seem to be domestic birds
with them, for they are always seen about their huts, hovering about the
carcases of seals, that lie upon the ground. There are likewise very
large eagles, their wings spread out being a fathom wide, but they are
seldom seen in the Northern parts of the country. You find here falcons
or hawks, some grey, some of a whitish plumage, and some speckled; as
also great speckled owls. There are different sorts of little sparrows,
snow birds, and ice birds, and a little bird not unlike a linnet, which
has a very melodious tune.

Amongst the insects of Greenland, the midge or gnats are the most
troublesome, whose sting leaves a swelling and burning pain behind it;
and this trouble they are most exposed to in the hot season, against
which there is no shelter to be found. There are also spiders, flies,
humble bees, and wasps. They know nothing of any venomous animals, as
serpents and the like; nor have they any snakes, toads, frogs, beetles,
ants, or bees; neither are they plagued with rats, mice, or any such



_Of the Greenland Sea Animals, and Sea Fowls and Fishes._

The Greenland Sea abounds in different sorts of animals, fowls, and
fishes, of which the whale bears the sway, and is of divers kinds,
shapes, and sizes. Some are called the finned whales, from the fins they
have upon their back near the tail; but these are not much valued,
yielding but little fat or blubber, and that of the meaner sort; they
consist of nothing but lean flesh, sinews, and bones. They are of a
long, round, and slender shape, very dangerous to meddle with, for they
rage and lay about them most furiously with their tail, so that nobody
cares to come at them, or catch them. The Greenlanders make much of
them, on account of their flesh, which, with them, passes for dainty
cheer. The other sort of whales are reckoned the best for their fat, and
fins or whalebones. These differ from the first sort, in that they have
no fin on the back towards the tail, but two lesser ones near the eyes,
and are covered with a thick black skin, marbled with white strokes.
With these side fins they swim with an incredible swiftness. The tail is
commonly three or four fathoms broad. The head makes up one-third of the
whole fish. The jaws are covered, both above and beneath, with a kind of
short hair. At the bottom of the jaws are placed the so called barders,
or whalebones, which serve him instead of teeth, of which he has none.
They are of different colours, some brown, some black, and others yellow
with white streaks. Within the mouth, the barders or whalebones are
covered with hair like horse-hair, chiefly those that inclose the
tongue. Some of them are bent like a scymitar, or sabre. The smallest
are ranged the foremost in the mouth, and the hindermost near the
throat; the broadest and largest are in the middle, some of them two
fathoms long, by which we may judge of the vast bigness of this animal.
On each side there are commonly two hundred and fifty, in all five
hundred pieces. They are set in a broad row, as in a sheaf, one close to
the other, bent like a crescent or half-moon, broadest at the root,
which is of a tough and grisly matter, of a whitish colour, fastened to
the upper part of the jaws near the throat, and they grow smaller
towards the end, which is pointed; they are also covered with hair, that
they may not hurt the tongue. The undermost jaw is commonly white, to
which the tongue is fastened, inclosed in the barders, or long whale
bones; it is very large, sometimes about eighteen feet, and sometimes
more, of a white colour, with black spots, of a soft, fat, and spungy
matter. The whale has a bunch on the top of his head, in which are two
spouts or pipes, parallel one to the other, and somewhat bent, like the
holes upon a fiddle. Through these he receives the air, and spouts out
the water, which he takes in at his mouth, and is forced upwards through
these holes in very large quantities, and with such violence and noise,
that it is heard at a great distance, by which, in hazy weather, he is
known to be near, especially when he finds himself wounded, for then he
rages most furiously, and the noise of his spouting is so loud, that
some have resembled it to the roaring of the sea in a storm, or the
firing of great guns, His eyes are placed between the bunch and the side
fins; they are not larger than those of an ox, and are armed with

The penis of a whale is a strong sinew, seven or eight, and sometimes
fourteen feet long, in proportion to his bulk: it is covered with a
sheath, in which it lies hidden, so that you see but little of it: the
nature of the female is like that of the four-footed animals: she has
two breasts with teats like a cow; some white, others stained with
black or blue spots. In their spawning time their breasts are larger
than usual; and when they couple together, they reach their head above
water, to fetch breath, and to cool the heat contracted by that action.
It is said, that they never bring forth more than two young ones at a
spawning, which they suck with their teats. The spawn of the whale,
while it is fresh, is clammy and gluish, so that it may be drawn out in
threads like wax or pitch; it has no relation to that which we call
spermaceti, for it is soon corrupted and by no art can be preserved.

These sea animals, or rather monsters, are of different sizes and bulks;
some yield one hundred, and some two or three hundred tuns of fat or
blubber. The fat lies between the skin and the flesh, six or eight
inches thick, especially upon the back and under the belly. The thickest
and strongest sinews are in the tail, which serves him for a rudder, as
his fins do for oars, wherewith he swims with an astonishing swiftness,
proportioned to his bulk, leaving a track in the sea, like a great ship;
and this is called his wake, by which he is often followed.

These sea monsters are as shy and timorous as they are huge and bulky,
for as soon as they hear a boat rowing, and perceive any body’s
approach, they immediately shoot under water and plunge into the deep;
but when they find themselves in danger, then they shew their great and
surprising strength; for then they break to pieces whatever comes in
their way, and if they should hit a boat, they would beat it in a
thousand pieces. According to the relation of the whale-catchers, the
whale, being struck, will run away with the line some hundreds of
fathoms long, faster than a ship under full sail. Now one would think,
that such a vast body should need many smaller fishes and sea animals to
feed upon; but on the contrary, his food is nothing but a sort of
blubber, called _pulmo marinus_, or whale food, which is of a dark brown
colour, with two brims or flaps, with which it moves in the water, with
such slowness that one may easily lay hold of it, and get it out of the
water. It is like a jelly, soft and slippery, so that if you crush it
between your fingers you find it fat and greasy like train oil. The
Greenland seas abound in it, which allures and draws this kind of whales
thither in search of it; for as their swallow or throat is very narrow
(being but four inches in diameter), and the smaller whalebones reaching
down his throat, they cannot swallow any hard or large piece of other
food, having no teeth to chew it with, so that this sort of nourishment
suits them best, their mouth being large and wide to receive a great
quantity, by opening it and shutting it again, that nature has provided
them with the barders or whalebones, which by their closeness only give
passage to the water, like a sieve, keeping back the aliment. Here we
ought to praise the wise and kind providence of an Almighty Creator, who
has made such mean things suffice for the maintenance of so vast an

Next to this there is another sort of whales, called the North Capers,
from the place of their abode, which is about the North cape of Norway,
though they also frequent the coasts of Iceland, Greenland, and sundry
other seas, going in search of their prey, which is herring and other
small fish, that resort in abundance to those coasts. It has been
observed, that some of these North Cape whales have had more than a tun
of herrings in their belly. This kind of whales has this common with the
former called fin-whale, in that it is very swift and quick in its
motion, and keeps off from the shore in the main sea, as fearing to
become a prey to its enemies, if it should venture too near the shore.
His fat is tougher and harder than that of the great bay whale; neither
are his barders or bones so long and valuable, for which reason he is

The fourth sort is the sword-fish, so called from a long and broad bone,
which grows out of the end of his snout on both sides, indented like a
saw. He has got two fins upon his back, and four under the belly, on
each side two: those on the back are the largest; those under the belly
are placed just under the first of the back: his tail broad and flat
underneath, and above pointed, but not split or cloved. From the
hindermost fin of the back he grows smaller: his nostrils are of an
oblong shape: the eyes are placed on the top of his head, just above his
mouth. There are different sizes of sword-fish, some of twenty feet,
some more, some less. This is the greatest enemy the true whale has to
deal with, who gives him fierce battles; and, having vanquished and
killed him, he contents himself with eating the tongue of the whale,
leaving the rest of the huge carcase for the prey and spoils of the
morses and sea birds.

The cachelot or pot-fish is a fifth species of whales, whose shape is
somewhat different from that of other whales, in that the upper part of
his head or skull is much bigger and stronger built; his spouts or pipes
are placed on the forehead, whereas other whales have them on the
hinder part of the head: his under jaw is armed with a row of teeth
which are but short: his tongue is thin and pointed, and of a yellowish
colour: he has but one eye on the side of the head, which makes him of
easy access to the Greenlanders, who attack him on his blind side. Of
his skull that wrongly so called spermaceti is prepared, one yielding
twenty to twenty-four tuns thereof. The rest of the body and the tail
are like unto those of other whales. He is of a brownish colour on the
back, and white under the belly: he is of different sizes, from fifty to
seventy feet long.

Then comes the white fish, whose shape is not unlike that of the great
bay whale, having no fins upon the back, but underneath two large ones;
the tail like a whale; his spouts, through which he breathes and throws
out the water, are the same; he has likewise a bunch on the head: his
colour is of a fading yellow; he is commonly from twelve to sixteen feet
in length, and is exceeding fat. The train of his blubber is as clear as
the clearest oil: his flesh as well as the fat has no bad taste, and
when it is marinated with vinegar and salt, it is as well tasted as any
pork whatsoever. The fins also and the tail, pickled or sauced, are good
eating. This fish is so far from being shy, that whole droves are seen
about the ships at sea: the Greenlanders catch numbers of them, of which
they make grand cheer.

There is yet another smaller sort of whales, called but-heads, from the
form of its head, which at the snout is flat, like a but’s end: he has a
fin upon his back towards the tail, and two side fins: his tail is like
to that of a whale. In the hinder part of the head he has a pipe to
fetch air, and spout the water through, which he does not spout out with
that force the whale does: his size is from fourteen to twenty feet: he
follows ships under sail with a fair wind, and seems to run for a wager
with them; whereas, on the contrary, other whales avoid and fly from
them. Their jumping, as well as that of fishes and sea animals,
forebodes boisterous and stormy weather.

Among the different kinds of whales some reckon the unicorn, as they
commonly call him, from a long small horn that grows out of his snout;
but his right name is nar-whale. It is a pretty large fish, eighteen or
twenty feet long, and yields good fat: his skin is black and smooth
without hair; he has one fin on each side, at the beginning of his
belly: his head is pointed, and out of his snout on the left side
proceeds the horn, which is round, turned, with a sharp taper point; the
greatest length of it is fourteen or fifteen feet, and thick as your
arm. The root of it goes very deep into the head, to strengthen it for
supporting so heavy a burthen. The horn is of a fine, white, and compact
matter, wherefore it weighs much: the third part of it, beginning from
the root, is commonly hollow; and there are some very solid at the root,
and above it grows more and more hollow. On the right side of the head
there lies another shorter horn hidden, which does not grow out of the
skin, and it cannot be conceived for what end the All-wise Creator has
ordained it: he has, like other whales, two pipes or spouts which
terminate in one, through which he breathes and fetches air, when he
comes up out of the sea with his head. Here I must observe to you, that
when the whale comes up to fetch air, it is not water he throws out at
the spouts, as the common notion runs; but his breath, which resembles
water forced out of a great spout. As for the rest of the unicorn or
nar-whale’s body, it is perfectly of the same shape as that of other

Concerning this animal’s horn, which has given occasion to so many
disputes, whether it be a horn properly so called, or a tooth, my reader
must allow me a little digression, to make these gentlemen disputants
aware of their mistake, who pretend it to be a tooth and not a horn,
being placed on one side of the snout, and not on the top of the
forehead, where other animals wear their horns. (See Wormius’s Museum,
l. iii. ch. 14.) But it appears clearly to all beholders, that it
neither has the shape of a tooth, such as other sea animals are endowed
with, nor has its root in the jaws, the ordinary place of teeth, but
grows out of the snout. And besides, the absurdity is much greater to
hold and maintain, that animals wear teeth on the snout or head, like
horns: or dare anybody deny, that the whale’s spouts are his nostrils,
through which he fetches breath, because they are on the top of his
head; or question, that the clap-mysses’ (a large kind of seal) eyes are
such, because they are placed in the hindermost part of the head? Ought
we not rather to think, that an All-wise Creator has placed this horn
horizontally, to the end that it may not be of any hinderance to the
course and swimming of this animal in the water, which would happen if
it rose vertically? Furthermore, this horn serves many other ends, as to
stir up his food from the bottom of the sea, as he is said to feed upon
small sea-weeds, and likewise therewith to bore holes in the ice, in
order to fetch fresh air. The inference these gentlemen are pleased to
draw from the generality of fishes and sea animals having no such paws
or claws as land animals have, is as lame, and of as little force. And
it is much less absurd to hold, that sea animals have something common
with those of the land, as it is confessed, that many of them have a
great resemblance together in figure and shape, viz. sea-calves,
sea-dogs, sea-wolves, and sea-horses, together with mermen and mermaids,
as it is pretended. Who is ignorant of the winged or flying fishes; and
of others with long nebs or bills like birds; also of birds with four
feet like beasts, and why then may there not be sea-unicorns as well as
land unicorns; if any such there be in _rerum natura_? for it is a
difficult matter to determine what kind of animal the Scripture
understands, when it speaks of the unicorn, as in Psalm xxix. ver. 6,
and in other places; whether it be such a one as Plinius and other
writers describe, giving him the body of a horse, with a stag’s head,
and a horn on his snout; or whether it ought not with better reason be
applied to a certain animal in Africa, called rhinoceros, whose snout is
horned in that fashion. If one had patience to consider the vast
disagreement that reigns between these writers, one would conclude that
this animal is peculiar to the climate where the fabulous bird phœnix
builds its nest; that is to say in Utopia, or nowhere. For some describe
this animal as an amphibious one, that lives by turns upon land and in
the water; some will have him to be in the likeness of an ore white
spotted, with horse feet; others make a three years’ colt of him, with a
stag’s head, and a horn in the front one ell long; and others again tell
you it is like a morse or sea-horse, with divided or cloven feet, and a
horn in the front. There are authors, who attribute to him a horn ten
feet long, others six, and others again but the length of three inches.
(See Pliny, Munsterus, Marc. Paulus, Philostratus, Heliodorus, and
several others, whose relations are of the same authority with mine, as
that of the Greenlanders, concerning a fierce, ravenous wild beast,
which they call Amavok; which all pretend to know, but no person ever
yet was found, that could say he had seen it.)

Nises or porpoises, otherwise sea hogs, are also placed in the class of
whales, though of a much smaller size, and are met with in all seas. His
head resembles that of a butts-head-whale: his mouth is armed with sharp
teeth: he has spouts or pipes like a whale. He has a fin upon the middle
of his back, which towards the tail is bended like a half-moon. Under
the belly there are two side fins, overgrown with flesh and covered with
a black skin. His tail is broad like that of a whale. He has small round
eyes; his skin is of a shining black, and the belly white. His length is
five to eight feet, at most. His fat makes fine oil, and the flesh is by
the Greenlander reckoned a great dainty.

_Of other Sea Animals._

The sea horse or morse has the shape of a seal, though much larger and
stronger. He has five claws on each of his feet, as the seal: his head
rounder and larger. His skin is an inch thick, especially about the
neck, very rough, rugged and wrinkled, covered with a short, brown, and
sometimes reddish, or mouse-coloured hair. Out of his upper jaw there
grow two large teeth or tusks, bended downwards over the under jaw, of
the length of half a yard, and sometimes of a whole yard and more. These
tusks are esteemed as much as elephants’ teeth; they are compact and
solid, but hollow towards the root. His mouth is not unlike that of a
bull, covered above and beneath with strong bristles as big as a straw:
his nostrils are placed above his mouth, as those of the seal: his eyes
are fiery red, which he can turn on all sides, not being able to turn
his head, by reason of the shortness and thickness of his neck. The tail
resembles a seal’s tail, being thick and short: his fat is like hog’s
lard. He lies commonly upon the ice shoals, and can live a good while on
shore, till hunger drives him back into the seas; his nourishment being
both herbs and fishes: he snores very loud, when he sleeps; and when he
is provoked to anger, he roars like a mad bull. It is a very bold and
fierce creature, and they assist each other, when attacked, to the
last. He is continually at war with the white bear, to whom he often
proves too hard with his mighty tusks, and often kills him, or at least
does not give over till they both expire.

The seals are of different sorts and sizes, though in their shape they
all agree, excepting the clap-myss, so called from a sort of a cap he
has on his head, with which he covers it when he fears a stroke. The
paws of a seal have five claws, joined together with a thick skin, like
that of a goose or a water fowl: his head resembles a dog’s with cropped
ears, from whence he has got the name of sea dog: his snout is bearded
like that of a cat: his eyes are large and clear with hair about them:
the skin is covered with a short hair of divers colours, and spotted;
some white and black, others yellowish, others again reddish, and some
of a mouse colour: his teeth are very sharp and pointed. Although he
seems lamish behind, yet he makes nothing of getting up upon the ice
hills, where he loves to sleep and to bask himself in the sun. The
largest seals are from five to eight feet in length; their fat yields
better train-oil than that of any other fish. This is the most common of
all the sea animals in Greenland; and contributes the most to the
subsisting and maintaining of the inhabitants, who feed upon the flesh
of it, and clothe themselves with the skin, which likewise serves them
for the covering of their boats and tents: the fat is their fuel, which
they burn in their lamps, and also boil their victuals with.

As for other sea monsters and wonderful animals, we find in Tormoder’s
History of Greenland, mention made of three sorts of monsters, where he
quotes a book, called “Speculum Regale Iclandicum;” or, the Royal Island
Looking-Glass, from whence he borrows what he relates[29]. But none of
them have been seen by us, or any of our time, that ever I could hear,
save that most dreadful monster, that showed itself upon the surface of
the water in the year 1734, off our new colony in 64°. This monster was
of so huge a size, that coming out of the water, its head reached as
high as the mast-head; its body was as bulky as the ship, and three or
four times as long. It had a long pointed snout, and spouted like a
whale fish; great broad paws, and the body seemed covered with shell
work, its skin very rugged and uneven. The under part of its body was
shaped like an enormous huge serpent, and when it dived again under
water, it plunged backwards into the sea, and so raised its tail aloft,
which seemed a whole ship’s length distant from the bulkiest part of the

_Of other Fishes._

Of fishes properly so called, the Greenland sea has abundance and of
great diversity, of which the largest is called Hay, whose flesh is much
like that of the halibut, and is cured in the same manner; being cut
into long slices, and hung up to be dried in the sun and in the air, as
they cure them in the Northern parts of Norway; but the Greenlanders do
not much care for it; its flesh being of a much coarser grain than that
of the halibut. This fish has two fins on the back, and six under the
belly; the two foremost are the longest, and have the shape of a tongue:
the other two middlemost are somewhat broader than the rest, and the
hindermost couple near the tail are alike broad before and behind, but
shorter than the middlemost: his tail resembles that of the sword fish.
There are no bones in him, but gristles only. He has a long snout, under
which the mouth is placed like that of the sword fish: he has three rows
of sharp pointed teeth; his skin is hard and prickly, of a greyish hue;
his length is two or three fathom; he has a great liver, of which they
make train oil, the biggest of which makes two or three lasts. It is a
fish of prey, bites large pieces out of the whale’s body, and is very
greedy after man’s flesh: he cannot be caught with lines made of hemp,
for with his sharp teeth he snaps it off; but with iron chains. And the
larger sort are taken with harpoons, as we do the whales. The rest of
fishes that haunt the Greenland seas are the halibut, torbut, codfish,
haddock, scate, small salmon, or sea-trout of different kinds and sizes
(the large salmon not being so frequent in Greenland); and these are
very fat and good; they are found in all inlets, and mouths of rivers.
Cat-fish is the most common food of Greenlanders, insomuch, that when
all other things fail, the cat-fish must hold out, of which there are
abundance, both winter and summer. In the spring, towards the month of
April, they catch a sort of fish called rogncals, or stone biter; and in
May another fish, called lyds or stints: both sorts are very savoury;
they frequent the bays and inlets in great shoals. There are also
whitings in abundance; but herrings are not to be seen. Moreover there
is a kind of fish, which neither myself nor any of my company had ever
seen before: this fish is not unlike a bream, only it is prickly with
sharp points all over, with a small tail. There are different sizes: the
Greenlanders say they are well tasted.

Among the testaceous animals in Greenland the chief are the muscles, of
which there are great quantities; they are large and delicate. In some
waters I have found of those larger sorts, in which the Norwegians find
pearls. These have also pearls, but very small ones, not bigger than the
head of a pin. I shall say nothing of the other sea insects, as crabs,
shrimps, &c. though they be not rare here; yet lobsters, crawfish, and
oysters, I never met with. According to information had of Greenlanders,
on the Southern coasts they sometimes catch tortoises in their nets; for
they tell you, that they are covered with a thick shell, have claws and
a short tail; and moreover that they find eggs in them, like birds’

_Of Greenland Sea Birds._

Amongst the sea fowls the principal are those they call eider-fowl, and
ducks; of which there are such numbers, that sometimes sailing along,
you find the whole sea covered with them; and when they take their
flight, you would think there was no end of them, especially in winter
time, when in large flocks, to the number of many thousands, they hover
about our colony, morning and evening; in the evening standing in for
the bay, and in the morning turning out to sea again. They fly so near
the shore, that you may from thence shoot them at pleasure. In the
spring they retire towards the sea; for upon the island that lies
adjacent to the coast they lay their eggs, and hatch their young ones,
which arrive in June and July.

The natives watch them in this season to rob them of their eggs and
their young ones. The fine down feathers, which is the best part of this
bird, so much valued by others, the natives make nothing of, leaving
them in the nests.

There are three sorts of ducks. The first have a broad bill, like our
tame duck, with a fine speckled plumage. These build their nests upon
the islands as the eider fowls do. The second sort is of a lesser size,
their bills long and pointed; they keep most in the bays and in fresh
waters, where they nest among the reeds. The third sort are called wood
ducks, resembling very much those of the first sort, though somewhat
larger in size; the breast is black, the rest of the body grey. These do
not propagate in the common way of generation by coupling like other
birds, but (which is very surprising) from a slimy matter in the sea,
which adheres to old pieces of wood driving in the sea, of which first
is generated a kind of muscles, and again in these is bred a little
worm, which in length of time is formed into a bird, that comes out of
the muscle shell, as other birds come out of egg shells[30]. Besides
these there is another sea bird, which the Norway men call alkes, which
in the winter season contribute much to the maintenance of the
Greenlanders. Sometimes there are such numbers of them, that they drive
them in large flocks to the shore, where they catch them with their
hands. They are not so large as a duck, nor is their flesh so well
tasted, being more trainy, or oily. The lesser sort of alkes, which also
abound here, are more eatable than the large ones. Besides this vast
number of sea fowls, there is yet one of a smaller size, by the natives
called tungoviarseck, which, for the sake of its beautiful feathers,
ought not to be forgot: it has the size and shape of a lark.

Wild geese or grey geese keep to the Northward of Greenland; they are of
shape like other geese, somewhat smaller, with grey feathers. They take
their flight from other Southern climates over to Greenland every
spring, to breed their young ones; which, when grown and able to fly,
they carry along with them and return to the more Southern and milder
climates, where they pass the winter season.

In short, I have myself found in Greenland all the several sorts of sea
fowls which we have in Norway; as all kinds of mews large and small,
which build their nests in the clifts of the highest rocks, beyond the
reach of any one; and some upon the little islands, as the bird called
terne and the like; whose eggs they gather in great abundance among the
stones: the lundes, or Greenland parrot, so called on account of its
beautiful plumage and broad speckled bill: the lumbs, the sea-emms, a
fowl of a large size, and very small wings, for which reason he cannot
fly: besides snipes, and a great number of others; some too common to be
enumerated and described here, and others, of which I know not the



     _Treats of the ordinary Occupations, as Hunting and Fishing: of the
     Tools and Instruments necessary for these Employments: of the House
     Implements and Utensils, &c., of the Greenlanders._

As every nation has its peculiar way of living and of getting their
livelihood, suiting their genius and temper to the nature and produce of
the country they inhabit; so the Greenlanders likewise have theirs,
peculiar to themselves and their country. And though their way and
customs may seem to others mean and silly, yet they are such as very
well serve their turn, and which we can find no fault with. Their
ordinary employments are fishing and hunting: on shore they hunt the
rein deer, and at sea they pursue the whales, morses, seals, and other
sea animals, as also sea fowls and fishes. The manner of hunting the
rein deer has been treated of above in the fifth chapter; but there we
took no notice of their bows and arrows, which they make use of in the
killing those deer. Their bow is of an ordinary make, commonly made of
fir tree, which in Norway is called tenal, and on the back strengthened
with strings made of sinews of animals, twisted like thread: the bow
string is made of a good strong strap of seal skin, or of several sinews
twisted together; the bow is a good fathom long. The head of the arrow
is armed with iron, or a sharp pointed bone, with one or more hooks,
that it may keep hold, when shot into a deer’s body. The arrows they
shoot birds with are at the head covered with one or more pieces of bone
blunt at the end, that they may kill the fowl without tearing the
flesh. The sea fowls are not shot with arrows, but with darts, headed
with bones or iron, which they throw very dexterously, and with so
steady a hand at a great distance, that nobody can hit surer with a gun.
They are more frequently employed at sea than on shore; and I confess
they surpass therein most other nations; for their way of taking whales,
seals, and other sea animals is by far the most skilful and most easy
and handy.

When they go whale catching, they put on their best gear or apparel, as
if they were going to a wedding feast, fancying that if they did not
come cleanly and neatly dressed, the whale, who cannot bear slovenly and
dirty habits, would shun them and fly from them. This is the manner of
their expedition: about fifty persons, men and women, set out together
in one of the large boats, called kone boat; the women carry along with
them their sewing tackles, consisting of needles and thread, to sew and
mend their husbands’ spring coats, or jackets, if they should be torn or
pierced through, as also to mend the boat, in case it should receive
any damage; the men go in search of the whale, and when they have found
him they strike him with their harpoons, to which are fastened lines or
straps two or three fathoms long, made of seal skin, at the end of which
they tie a bag of a whole seal skin, filled with air, like a bladder; to
the end that the whale, when he finds himself wounded, and runs away
with the harpoon, may the sooner be tired, the air bag hindering him
from keeping long under water. When he grows tired and loses strength,
they attack him again with their spears and lances, till he is killed,
and then they put on their spring coats, made of dressed seal skin, all
of one piece, with boots, gloves, and caps, sewed and laced so tight
together that no water can penetrate them. In this garb they jump into
the sea, and begin to slice the fat of him all round the body, even
under the water; for in these coats they cannot sink, as they are always
full of air; so that they can, like the seal, stand upright in the sea:
nay they are sometimes so daring, that they will get upon the whale’s
back while there is yet life in him, to make an end of him and cut away
his fat.

They go much the same way to work in killing of seals, except that the
harpoon is lesser, to which is fastened a line of seal skin six or seven
fathoms long, at the end of which is a bladder or bag made of a small
seal skin filled with air to keep the seal, when he is wounded, from
diving under the water, and being lost again. In the Northern parts,
where the sea is all frozen over in the winter, they use other means in
catching of seals. They first look out for holes, which the seals
themselves make with their claws, about the bigness of a halfpenny, that
they may fetch their breath; after they have found any hole, they seat
themselves near it upon a chair made for this purpose; and as soon as
they perceive the seal come up to the hole and put his snout into it for
some air, they immediately strike him with a small harpoon, which they
have ready in their hand, to which harpoon is fastened a strap a fathom
long, which they hold with the other hand. After he is struck, and
cannot escape, they cut the hole so large, that they may get him up
through it; and as soon as they have got his head above the ice, they
can kill him with one blow of the fist.

A third way of catching seals is this: they make a great hole in the
ice, or, in the spring, they find out holes made by the seals, through
which they get upon the ice to lie and bask themselves in the sun. Near
to these holes they place a low bench, upon which they lie down upon
their belly, having first made a small hole near the large one, through
which they let softly down a perch, sixteen or twenty yards long, headed
with a harpoon, a strap being fastened to it, which one holds in his
hand, while another (for there must be two employed in this sort of
capture) who lies upon the bench with his face downwards, watches the
coming of the seal, which when he perceives, he cries “Kæ;” whereupon
he, who holds the pole, pushes and strikes the seal.

The fourth way is this: in the spring, when the seals lie upon the ice
near holes, which they themselves make to get up and down, the
Greenlanders, clothed with seal skins, and a long perch in their hand,
creep along upon the ice, moving their head forwards and backwards, and
snorting like a seal, till they come so near him, that they can reach
him with the perch and strike him. A fifth manner of catching seals is,
when in the spring the current makes large holes in the ice, the seals
flock thither in great shoals; there the natives watch their opportunity
to strike them with their harpoons, and haul them upon the ice. There is
yet a sixth way of catching seals, when the ice is not covered with
snow, but clear and transparent; then the catchers lay under their feet
foxes or dogs’ tails, or a piece of a bear’s hide, to stand upon and
watch the animal, and when by his blowing and snorting they find what
course he takes, they softly follow him and strike him.

In fishing they make use of hooks and angles of iron or bones. Their
lines are made of whalebones cut very small and thin, and at the end
tacked together; and with such lines they will draw one hundred fishes
to one which our people can catch with their hemp lines. But to catch
halibut they use strong lines made of seal skin, or thick hemp lines.

Their way of fishing the small salmon or sea trout is this: at low water
they build small enclosures with stone, near the river’s mouth, or any
other place where the salmon runs along; and when it begins to flow, and
the tide comes in, the salmon retreats to the river, and in high water
passes over the enclosure, and remains in the river till the water again
falls; then the salmon wants to go to sea again; but the fishermen
way-lay him at the enclosure and stop his passage. And soon after, when
the water is quite fallen and it is low ebb, the salmon remains upon dry
land, and may be caught with hands. And where they are left in holes,
they take them with an instrument made for this purpose, viz. a perch
headed with two sharp hooked bones, or with one or two iron hooks.

The rogn fish, or roe fish, so named from the great quantity of roe that
is found in it, as he is commonly found in shallow water and upon the
sands, so he is caught like the salmon with the before-mentioned
instrument. There is such abundance of these fishes, that, as they
cannot consume them all fresh, they are obliged to dry them on the
rocks, and keep them for winter provision. When roe fish catching is
over, which happens in the month of May, then the Greenlanders retire
into the bays and creeks, where the lod or stint fishing then takes
place. There are such numberless shoals of them near the shore, that
they catch them in a kind of sieves fastened upon long poles, and throw
them upon the shore; they open and dry them upon the rocks, keeping them
for their winter stock. This fish is not agreeable, nor reckoned
wholesome, when eaten fresh; besides they have a nauseous smell, but
when dried they may pass. The natives eat them with a bit of fat, or
soused in train oil: and so of all other sorts of fishes, what the
Greenlanders cannot consume fresh they dry upon the rocks in the sun,
or in the wind, and lay them up for the winter.

Now as to the Greenland boats, there are two sorts of them; the one of
which the men alone make use, is a small vessel sharp and pointed at
both ends, three fathoms in length, and at most but three quarters of a
yard broad with a round hole in the midst, just large enough for a man’s
body to enter it, and sit down in it, the inside of the boat is made of
thin rafts tacked together with the sinews of animals, and the outside
is covered with seal skins, dressed and without hair; no more than one
can sit in it, who fastens it so tight about his waist, that no water
can penetrate it. In these small boats they go to sea, managing them
with one oar of a fathom in length, broad at both ends, with which they
paddle sometimes on one side, and sometimes on the other, with so much
swiftness, that they are said to row ten or twelve Norway miles in a
day. They chiefly make use of them in catching of seals and sea fowls,
which they can approach on a sudden and unawares; whereas we in our
large boats can very seldom come so near as to touch them. They do not
fear venturing out to sea in them in the greatest storms, because they
swim as light upon the largest waves as a bird can fly; and when the
waves come upon them with all their fury, they only turn the side of the
boat towards them to let them pass, without the least danger of being
sunk: though they may happen to be overset, yet they easily raise
themselves again with their paddle; but if they are overset unawares (as
it often happens) and the boat be not close and tight about their waist,
they are inevitably drowned.

The other kind of boats are large and open, like our boats, some of them
twenty yards long; and these are called kone boats, that is, women’s
boats, because the women commonly row them; for they think it unbecoming
a man to row such a boat, unless great necessity requires it: and when
they first set out for the whale fishing, the men sit in a very
negligent posture, with their faces turned towards the prow, pulling
with their little ordinary paddle; but the women sit in the ordinary
way, with their faces towards the stern, rowing with long oars. The
inside of these boats is composed of thin rafts, and the outside clothed
with thick seal skins. In these boats they transport their baggage, as
tents and the like household furniture, when they go to settle in some
distant places in quest of provision. In these boats they also carry
sails, made of the bowels and entrails of seals. The mast is placed
foremost on the prow, and as the sail is broad at the upper end, where
it is fastened to the yard and narrow at the lower end, so they neither
want braces nor bowlines and sheet ropes, and with these sails they sail
well enough with the wind, not otherwise. These boats, as they are
flat-bottomed, can soon be overset.

The men meddle with no work at home but what concerns their tools for
hunting and fishing tacklings, _viz._ their boats, bows, arrows, and the
like. All other work, even of building and repairing their houses,
belongs to the women. As dexterous and skilful as the men are at their
work, so the women are not behindhand with them, but according to their
way and manner deserve to be praised and admired.



_Of the Inhabitants, their Houses, and House Furniture._

It is undoubted, that the modern inhabitants of Greenland are the
offspring of the Schrellings, especially those that live on the Western
coast; and there may be some mixture, for aught we know, of the ancient
Norway colonies that formerly dwelled in the country, who in length of
time were blended and naturalized among the natives, which is made
probable by several Norway words found in their language. For, although
the Norway colonies were destroyed, yet there were, no doubt, some
remains of them, which joined with the natives and became all one
nation. With these inhabitants all the sea coasts are peopled, some more
and some less.

The coast is pretty populous in the Southern parts, and on the North in
68° and 69°; though, compared to other countries, it is in the main but
thinly inhabited. In the inner parts of the country nobody lives, except
at certain times in the summer season, when they go rein deer hunting.
The reason of this is, that (as has been said above) the whole upland
country is perpetually covered with ice and snow.

As to their houses or dwelling places, they have one for the winter
season and another for the summer. Their winter habitation is a low hut
built with stone and turf, two or three yards high, with a flat roof. In
this hut the windows are on one side, made of the bowels of seals
dressed and sewed together, or of the maws of halibut, and are white
and transparent. On the other side their beds are placed, which consist
in shelves or benches made up of deal boards raised half a yard from the
ground; their bedding is made of seal and rein deer skins.

Several families live together in one of these houses or huts; each
family occupying a room by itself, separated from the rest by a wooden
post, by which also the roof is supported; before which there is a
hearth or fireplace, in which is placed a great lamp in the form of a
half moon seated on a trevet; over this are hung their kettles of brass,
copper, or marble, in which they boil their victuals: under the roof,
just above the lamp, they have a sort of rack or shelf, to put their wet
clothes upon to dry. The fore door or entry of the house is very low, so
that they must stoop, and most creep in upon all fours, to get in at it;
which is so contrived to keep the cold air out as much as possible. The
inside of the houses is covered or lined with old skins, which before
have served for the covering of their boats. Some of these houses are
so large, that they can harbour seven or eight families.

Upon the benches or shelves, where their beds are placed, is the
ordinary seat of the women, attending their work of sewing and making up
the clothing. The men with their sons occupy the foremost parts of the
benches, turning their back to the women: on the opposite side, under
the windows, the men belonging to the family, or strangers, take their
seats upon the benches there placed.

I cannot forbear taking notice, that though in one of these houses there
be ten or twenty train lamps, one does not perceive the steam or smoke
thereof to fill these small cottages: the reason, I imagine, is, the
care they take in trimming those lamps, _viz._ they take dry moss,
rubbed very small, which they lay on one side of the lamp, which, being
lighted, burns softly and does not cause any smoke, if they do not lay
it on too thick, or in lumps. This fire gives such a heat, that it not
only serves to boil their victuals, but also heats the room to that
degree, that it is as hot as a bagnio. But for those who are not used to
this way of firing, the smell is very disagreeable, as well by the
number of burning lamps, all fed with train oil, as on account of divers
sorts of raw meat, fishes, and fat, which they heap up in their
habitations; but especially their urine tubs smell most insufferably,
and strike one, that is not accustomed to it, to the very heart.

These winter habitations they begin to dwell in immediately after
Michaelmas, and leave them again at the approach of the spring, which
commonly is at the latter end of March; and then for the summer season
lodge in tents, which are their summer habitations. These tents are made
of rafts or long poles, set in a circular form, bending at the top, and
resembling a sugar loaf, and covered with a double cover, of which the
innermost is of seal or rein deer skins with the hairy side inward (if
they be rich), and the outermost also of the same sort of skins, without
hair, dressed with fat, that the rain may not pierce them. In these
tents they have their beds, and lamps to dress their meat with; also a
curtain made of the guts or bowels of seals sewed together, through
which they receive the day light instead of windows. Every master of a
family has got such a tent, and a great woman’s boat, to transport their
tents and luggage from place to place, where their business calls them.


_The Greenlanders’ Persons, Complexion, and Temperament._

The Greenlanders, as well man as womankind, are well shaped and
proportioned, rather short than tall, and strong built, inclined to be
fat and corpulent; their faces broad, thick lips, and flat nosed; their
hair and eyes black, their complexion a very dark tawny; though I have
seen some pretty fair. Their bodies are of a vigorous constitution.
There are seldom found any sick or lame, and but few distempers are
known among them, besides weakness of the eye-sight, which is caused by
the sharp and piercing spring winds, as well as the snow and ice, that
hurt the sight.

I have met with some that seemed infected with a kind of leprosy; yet
(what is surprising to me), though they converse with others, and lay
with them in one bed, it is not catching. They that dwell in the most
Northern parts are often miserably plagued with dysenteries or bloody
fluxes, breast diseases, boils, and epilepsy, or falling sickness, &c.
There were no epidemical or contagious diseases known among them, as
plague, small-pox, and such like, till the year 1734, when one of the
natives, who with several others were brought over to Denmark, and
together with his companions had the small-pox at Copenhagen, coming
home again to his native country brought the infection amongst them; of
which there were swept away in and about the colony about two thousand
persons. For as the natives as well as the animals of this climate are
of a hot nature, they cannot bear the outward heat, much less the
inward, caused by this burning distemper, which inflames the mass of
blood to that degree, that it cannot, by any means, be quenched. They
are very full of blood, which is observed by their frequent bleeding at
the nose.

Few of them exceed the age of fifty or sixty years; many die in the
prime of their life, and most part in their tender infancy; which is not
to be wondered at, considering they are quite destitute of all sorts of
medicines, and ignorant of all that may strengthen and comfort sick
bodies. To supply which defects, they know of nothing better than to
send for their divines, which they name _angekuts_, who mutter certain
spells over the sick, by which they hope to recover.

For outward hurts, as wounds, cuts of knives, and the like, they sew or
stitch them together. If any grow blind, as it often happens to them,
the eye being covered over with a white skin, they make a small hook
with a needle, which they fasten into this skin, to loosen it from the
eye, and then with a knife they pull it off. When children are plagued
with worms, the mother puts her tongue (_salva vericâ_) into the _anus_
of the children, to kill them. Burnt moss with train oil mixed together
serves for plaisters to fresh wounds; or they cover them with a piece of
the innermost rind of a tree, and it will heal of itself.

The Greenlanders are commonly of a phlegmatic temper, which is the cause
of a cold nature and stupidity: they seldom fly into a passion, or are
much affected or taken with any thing, but of an insensible, indolent
mind. Yet I am of opinion, that what contributes most to this coldness
and stupidity is want of education and proper means to cultivate their
minds. In which opinion I am confirmed by the experience of some who had
for some time conversed with us, especially the young ones, who easily
have taken all that they have seen or heard among us, whether it was
good or bad. I have found some of them witty enough, and of good


_The Customs, Virtues, and Vices, and the Manners or Way of Life of the

Though the Greenlanders are as yet subject to no government, nor know of
any magistrates, or laws, or any sort of discipline; yet they are so far
from being lawless or disorderly, that they are a law to themselves;
their even temper and good nature making them observe a regular and
orderly behaviour towards one another. One cannot enough admire how
peaceably, lovingly, and united they live together; hatred and envy,
strifes and jars are never heard of among them[31]. And although it may
happen that one bears a grudge to another, yet it never breaks out into
any scolding or fighting; neither have they any words to express such
passions, or any injurious and provoking terms of quarrelling. It has
happened once or twice, that a very wicked and malicious fellow, out of
a secret grudge, has killed another; which none of the neighbours have
taken notice of, but all let it pass with a surprising indolence; save
the next kindred to the dead, if he finds himself strong enough,
revenges his relation’s death upon the murderer. They know of no other
punishment; but those old women called witches, and such as pretend to
kill or hurt by their conjuring; to such they show great rigour, making
nothing of killing and destroying them without mercy. And they pretend
that it is very well done; those people not deserving to live, who by
secret arts can hurt and make away with others.

They have as great an abhorrence of stealing or thieving among
themselves, as any nation upon Earth; wherefore they keep nothing shut
up under lock and key, but leave every thing unlocked that every body
can come at it, without fear of losing it.

This vice is so much detested by them, that if a maiden should steal any
thing, she would thereby forfeit a good match. Yet if they can lay hands
upon any thing belonging to us foreigners, they make no great scruple of
conscience about it. But, as we now have lived some time in the country
amongst them, and are looked upon as true inhabitants of the land, they
at last have forbore to molest us any more that way.

As to the transgression of the seventh commandment, we never have found
them guilty in that point, either in words or deeds, except what passes
amongst the married people in their public diversions, as we shall see

As for what we call civility and compliments, they do not much trouble
themselves about them; they go and come, meet and pass one another,
without making use of any greeting or salutation: yet they are far from
being unmannerly or uncivil in their conversation; for they make a
difference among persons, and give more honour to one than to another,
according to their merit and deserts. They never enter any house where
they are strangers, unless they are invited, and when they come in, the
master of the house, to whom they pay the visit, shows them the place
where they are to take their seat.

As soon as a visitor enters the house, he is desired forthwith to strip
naked, and to sit down in this guise like all the rest; for this is the
grand fashion with them to dry the clothes of their guest. When victuals
are put before him, he takes care not to begin eating immediately, for
fear of being looked upon as starved, or of passing for a glutton. He
must stay till all the family is gone to bed before he can lie down, for
to them it seems unbecoming that the guest goes to rest before the
landlord. Whenever a stranger comes into a house, he never asks for
victuals, though never so hungry; nor is there any need he should; for
they generally exercise great hospitality, and are very free with what
they have; and what is highly to be admired and praiseworthy, they have
most things in common; and if there be any among them (as it will
happen) who cannot work or get his livelihood, they do not let him
starve, but admit him freely to their table, in which they confound us
Christians, who suffer so many poor and distressed mortals to perish for
want of victuals.

Finally, the Greenlanders, as to their manners and common way of life,
are very slovenly, nasty, and filthy; they seldom wash themselves[32],
will eat out of plates and bowls after their dogs, without cleansing
them; and (what is most nauseous to behold), eat lice and such like
vermin, which they find upon themselves or others. Thus they make good
the old proverb, what drips from the nose falls into the mouth, that
nothing may be lost. They will scrape the sweat from off their faces
with a knife, and lick it up. They do not blush to sit down and ease
themselves in the presence of others. Every family has a urine tub
placed before the entry, in which they make water, and leave it so
standing till it smells most insufferably, for they put in it the skins,
which are to be dressed, to soak or steep, which affords not the most
agreeable scent; to the encreasing of which the rotten pieces of flesh
meat and fat thrown under their benches contributes a great deal; so
that delicate noses do not find their account among them. Yet through
long custom the most nauseous things become more supportable.

Notwithstanding, however, their nasty and most beastly way of living,
they are very good natured and friendly in conversation. They can be
merry and bear a joke, provided it be within due bounds. Never any of
them has offered in the least manner to hurt or to do harm to any of
our people, unless provoked to it. They fear and respect us as a nation
far superior to theirs in valour and strength.



_Of their Habits, and Way of Dressing._

Their clothes are, for the most part, made of rein deer and seal skin,
as also of bird’s skin nicely dressed and prepared. The men’s habits are
a coat or jacket, with a cap or hood sewed to it, to cover the head and
shoulders, in the fashion of a domino, or monk’s hood. This coat reaches
down to the knees. Their breeches are very small, not coming above their
loins, that they may not hinder them in getting into their small boats.
And as they wear no linen, the hair of the skins the coat is made of is
turned inward to keep them warm. Over this coat they put on a large
frock, made of seal skin dressed and tanned, without hair, in order to
keep the water out; and thus they are dressed when they go to sea.

Between the leathern frock and the under coat they wear a linen shirt,
or, for want of linen, made of seal’s guts; which also helps to keep out
the water from the under coat. Of late they appear sometimes in more
gaudy dresses, as shirts made of striped linen, and coats and breeches
of red and blue stuffs, or cloth, which they buy of ours, or the Dutch
merchants, but fashioned after their own way; in these they make parade
and feast, when they keep holidays on shore. The stockings they wore
formerly were made of rein deer, or seal’s skin, but now they like
better our sort of worsted stockings, of different colours, white, blue,
and red, which they buy of us. Their shoes and boots are made of seal’s
skins, red or yellow, well dressed and tanned; they are nicely wrought,
with folds behind and before, without heels, and fit well upon the

The only difference between the dress of the men and the women is, that
the women’s coats are higher on the shoulders and wider than the men’s,
with higher and larger hoods. The married women, that have got children,
wear much larger coats than the rest, most like gowns, because they must
carry their children in them upon their backs, having got no other
cradle or swadling clothes for them. They wear drawers, which reach to
the middle of the thigh, and over them breeches: the drawers they always
keep on, and sleep in them. Their breeches come down to the knee: these
they do not wear in the summer, nor in the winter, but when they go
abroad; and as soon as they come home they pull them off again. Next to
their body they wear a waistcoat made of young fawns’ skins, with the
hairy side inward. The coat, or upper garment, is also made of fine
coloured swans’ skins (or, in defect of that, of seal skins) trimmed and
edged with white, and nicely wrought in the seams, and about the brim,
which looks very well. Their shoes and boots, with little difference,
are like those of the men. Their hair, which is very long and thick, is
braided and tied up in a knot, which becomes them well. They commonly go
bare-headed, as well without as within doors; nor are they covered with
hoods, but in case it rains or snows. Their chief ornament and finery is
to wear glass beads of divers colours, or corals about the neck and
arms, and pendants in their ears. They also wear bracelets, made of
black skin, set with pearls, with which they also trim their clothes and

The Greenland sex have, besides this, another sort of embellishment,
viz. they make long black strokes between the eyes on the forehead, upon
the chin, arms, and hands, and even upon the thighs and legs: these they
make with a needle and thread made black. And though this to others
seems a wrong way of embellishing, yet they think it very handsome and
ornamental. And they say that those who do not thus deform their faces,
their heads shall be turned into train tubs, which are placed under the
lamps in Heaven, or the land of souls.

They keep their clothes pretty clean, though in other things, especially
in their victuals, they are not so nice, chiefly the women, who have got
children, are very dirty and slovenly, well knowing, that they cannot be
repudiated, or sent a packing. But those wretches that are barren, or
whose children are dead, and do not know the moment they may be sent
away, are obliged to take more care of their cleanness and property,
that they may please their husbands.


_Of their Diet, and manner of dressing their Victuals._

The Greenlanders’ provision and victuals are flesh and fish meat (for
the country affords no other kind of provision) as rein deer, whales,
seals, hares, and rypes, or white partridges, and all sorts of sea
fowls. They eat their flesh meat sometimes raw, sometimes boiled, or
dried in the sun or wind; but their fish meat is always thoroughly done,
or they eat it dried in the sun or air, as salmon, roe-fish, halibut, or
the small stints, which, in the months of May and June, they catch in
great abundance, and keep them cured and dried for winter provisions.
And whereas, in the winter season, it is very rare to get seals, except
in the most Northern parts where they take them upon the ice; so they
make all the provision of them they can get in the fall, and bury them
under the snow, until the winter comes on, when they dig them up, and
eat them raw and frozen as they are. Their drink is nothing but water,
and not, as some writers have wrongly pretended, train oil; for they do
not so much as eat the fat, but only in sauces to their dried fish.

Furthermore, they put great lumps of ice and snow into the water they
drink, to make it the cooler to quench their thirst. They are, taking
them in general, very hoggish and dirty in their eating and dressing of
their victuals; they never wash, cleanse, or scour the kettles, pots, or
dishes, in which they dress, and out of which they eat their victuals;
which when dressed, they often lay down upon the dirty ground, which
they walk upon, instead of tables. They will, with so great an appetite
and greediness, feed upon the rotten and stinking seal flesh, that it
turns the stomach of any hungry man who looks upon them. They have no
set time for their meals, every man eats when he is hungry, except when
they go to sea, and then their chief repast is a supper, after they are
come home in the evening; and he, whose supper is first ready, calls his
neighbours to come and partake of it, as he does again with them
reciprocally; and so it goes round from one to another.

The women do not eat in company with the men, but separately by
themselves; and in the absence of their husbands, when gone a fishing,
they being left to themselves, invite one another, and make grand cheer.
And as they eat heartily, when they can come at it, so they can as well
endure hunger, when scarcity of provision requires it. It has been
observed, that in great scarcity, they can live upon pieces of old
skins, upon reets, or sea weeds, and other such trash. But the reason
why they can endure hunger better than we foreigners, I take to be,
their bodies being so squat and corpulent, their fat yielding them
matter of nourishment within themselves, for a while, till it be

Besides the fore-mentioned provisions, they also eat a sort of reddish
sea weed, and a kind of root, which they call tugloronet, both dressed
with fat or train oil; the dung of the rein deer, taken out of the guts,
when they cleanse them; the entrails of partridges, and the like
out-cast, pass for dainties with them. They make likewise pancakes of
what they scrape off the inside of seal skins, when they dress them. In
the summer they boil their meat with wood, which they gather in the
field, and in winter time over their lamps in little kettles of an oval
figure, made of brass, copper, or marble, which they make themselves.

To kindle the fire, when extinguished, they make use of this expedient,
which shows their ingenuity: they take a short block of dry fir tree,
upon which they rub another piece of hard wood, till, by the continued
motion, the fir catches fire. When we first came among them, they did
not like to taste any of our victuals, but now they are glad to get some
of it, especially bread and butter, which they like mightily, but they
do not much care for our liquors; yet notwithstanding, some of them, who
have lived some time among us, have learnt to drink wine and brandy, and
never refuse it, when it is offered them. But as for tobacco, they do
not at all like it, nor can they bear the smell or smoke of it.


_Of their Marriages, and Education of their Children._

The most detestable crime of polygamy, which reigns so much among the
Heathens, the Greenlanders are not so much addicted to; for commonly
they are contented with one wife. There are some, but very few, that
keep two, three, or four wives: but these pass for heroes or more than
ordinary men, in that, by their industry, they are able to subsist so
many wives and children. And what is remarkable, before our arrival,
there was never heard of such a thing as jealousy among those wives, but
they agreed very well together, though the first wife was reckoned the
mistress. Since our arrival, as we have informed them of the word and
will of God, importing, that in the beginning the All-wise Creator made
one man and one woman, to live in matrimony as husband and wife, there
has been some resentment in the wives, when their husbands have had a
mind to take any other besides them; they have addressed themselves to
me, and desired me to put a stop to such a proceeding. Also when I have
instructed them in their catechism and the Christian doctrine, they have
always put me in mind, not to forget fully to instruct their husbands in
the duties of the seventh commandment.

Some time passed before we could learn how the men behaved themselves
with regard to other men’s wives, or the women _vice versa_, till at
last we perceived them not to be over scrupulous in this matter, of
which we were more fully convinced, by hearing of a certain illegal game
used among them; which is this. A number of married men and women meet
together at an assembly; where, after they have taken their fill of
feasting and revelling, they begin singing and dancing, according to
their own way; and in the mean while one after another take a trip with
each other’s wife, behind a curtain or hangings made of skins at one end
of the house, where their beds are placed, and there divert themselves.
Those are reputed the best and noblest tempered, who, without any pain
or reluctancy, will lend their friends their wives.

But, as I observed above, none but married people frequent these sort of
games, which, they imagine, is not unbecoming. Especially the women
think themselves happy, if an angekkok, or prophet, will honour them
with his caresses: there are even some men so generous, that they will
pay the angekkok for it; chiefly if they themselves have no children;
for they fancy that an angekkok’s child will be more happy and better
qualified for business than others.

Maidens, on the contrary, and unmarried women, observe much better the
rules of modesty and continency; for I never saw any of them entertain
any loose or slippery conversation with young men; or show the least
inclination to it either in words or deeds. During fifteen full years
that I lived in Greenland, I did not hear of more than two or three
young unmarried women, who had been guilty of incontinence; because it
is reckoned the greatest of infamies. It is remarkable, that natural
decency is observed by them; for they refrain from marrying their next
relations, even in the third degree, taking such matches to be
unwarrantable and quite unnatural. It is likewise reckoned uncouth and
blameable, if a lad and a girl, that have served and been educated in
one family, should desire to be married together; for they look upon
them as brother and sister.

The ceremonies they use in their marriages and weddings are as
follow:--When a young man likes a maiden, he commonly proposes it to
their parents and relations on both sides; and after he has obtained
their consent, he gets two or more old women to fetch the bride (and if
he is a stout fellow, he will fetch her himself). They go to the place
where the young woman is, and carry her away by force; for though she
ever so much approves of the match, yet out of modesty she must make as
if it went against the grain, and as if she was much ruffled at it; else
she will be blamed and get an ill name, as if she had been a love-sick
wench. After she is brought to the house of the bridegroom, she keeps
for some time at a distance, and sits retired in some corner, upon the
bench, with her hair dishevelled, and covering her face, being bashful
and ashamed. In the mean while the bridegroom uses all the rhetorick he
is master of, and spares no caresses to bring her to a compliance with
his ardent wishes; and the good girl being at length persuaded and
prevailed with, yields kindly to his ravishing embraces; and then they
lie down together, and so the wedding is over. But sometimes they take a
shorter way to go to work, which is to gratify their inclinations
without the advice or consent of the parents[34]. Nevertheless their
matrimony is not of so indissoluble a nature but that the husbands often
repudiate and put away their wives, if either they do not suit their
humours, or else, if they are barren and do not bring forth children
(which they hold to be very ignominious), and marry others. But if they
have children by them, they bear a great deal with them, and keep them
for life. It is not rare to see that a man beats his wife, and gives her
black eyes, for her obstinacy and stubbornness sake; however they are
soon reconciled and good friends again, without bearing any grudge. For,
according to them, it signifies nothing, that a man beats his wife; but
they do not like that a master should drub a servant maid. Likewise they
think it heinous that a mother chastises her children; and if she falls
foul of her maid, it is with them unpardonable; and such a woman gets an
ill name.

If one of the party dies, the relict, whether husband or wife, is at
liberty to marry again.

The women are of a very hardy and strong nature, which they chiefly show
in their child-bearing; for as soon as it is over, they will go to work
and do their ordinary business as usual. But sometimes they pay very
dear for this bravery, it costing them their lives. The day after their
delivery they go abroad to work, being girt with a waist belt two or
three inches broad, which they also wore before their delivery. As soon
as the child is born, the mother dips her finger into water, and rubs
the child’s lips with it; or she puts a little bit of snow into its
mouth, saying, “Imekautit,” which signifies, Thou hast drunk a good
deal; and when she eats, she takes a bit of fish, and holds it to the
child’s mouth, and shakes her hand, with this word, “Aiparpotit,” that
is to say, Thou hast eat and kept me company. They cut the navel-string,
not with a knife, but with a muscle shell, or they bite it off with
their teeth; and when the string is dry they use it as an amulet.

They hold a chamber pot over the head of the woman in labour, imagining
that it helps to hasten her delivery. The child being a year old, the
mother slabbers and licks it all over, from head to foot, that it may
grow hale and strong. They seldom bear twins, but monsters are often
brought forth. In the year 1737 a woman, in the Bay of Disco, was
delivered of a hideous monster; the eyes were placed on the side of the
nose: it had a pointed snout and no ears. Instead of hands and feet it
had paws, and very thick thighs. Its front was covered with hair like
those of a rein deer, and the sides were covered with something like a
white skin of a fish. In the same place another monstrous birth was seen
in the year 1739, without a head, four-footed, with long nails, like
claws; it had a mouth upon the breast, and claws upon the back.

They have a very tender love for their children, and the mother always
carries her infant child about with her upon her back, wrapped up in her
coat wherever she goes, or whatever business she has in hand, for they
have no other cradles for them. They suckle them till they are three or
four years old or more; because in their tender infancy they cannot
digest the strong victuals that the rest must live upon.

The education of their children is what they seem little concerned
about; for they never make use of whipping or hard words to correct
them, when they do any thing amiss, but leave them to their own
discretion. Notwithstanding which, when they are grown, they never seem
inclined to vice or roguery, which is to be admired. It is true, they
show no great respect to their parents in their outward forms, but
always are very willing to do what they order them; though sometimes
they will bid their parents do it themselves. They are under the care of
their parents, boys as well as girls, till they are married; afterwards
they shift for themselves, yet so, that they continue to dwell in the
same house, or under the same roof with their fathers, together with
other kindred and relations; and what they get, they all enjoy in


_How the Greenlanders mourn and bury their dead Friends._

When any person dies, they take what belongs to him, as house-furniture,
utensils, and clothing, and throw it all out into the field, that by
touching of them they may not become unclean, or any misfortune befal
them on that account: and all that live in the same house are obliged to
carry out any thing of their goods that is new and has not been used;
but in the evening they bring them all back again, for then they say the
stench of the dead body is quite dissipated. Then they begin to lament
and mourn for their dead friend, with tears and ghastly howlings, which
they continue for an hour, and then the nearest relations take the body
and carry it to the grave, made up of stones thrown together in a heap,
under which they bury him dressed in his best clothes, and well wrapt up
in skins of rein deer or seals, with his legs bent under his back. Near
the burying place they lay his utensils, _viz._ his boat, bows, arrows,
and the like; and if it be a woman, her needles, thimbles, and the like;
not that they believe they stand in need of those things, when they are
come to the land of souls, or in the other world, whither they are
retired, but for the aversion they have for those things: lest by
refreshing the memory of the deceased, they might renew their grief and
sorrow for his loss; for if they should bewail him and weep too much,
they think he will endure the more cold where he is.

They think themselves unclean if they touch any thing belonging to the
deceased; as likewise he that has carried him to the grave, and buried
him, is reckoned unclean for some time, and dares not do certain things:
nay, not only the kindred and relations of the deceased, but likewise
every one that has lived in the same house with him, are obliged to
abstain from certain victuals and work, for a while, according to the
direction of the _angekkuts_ or divines.

The women never wash themselves during their mourning time, nor appear
well dressed, or with braided and tied up hair, but dishevelled, and
hanging about the face. They must put on their hood as often as they go
out of doors, which is not customary at other times: but they believe
they otherwise should soon die.

They bewail their dead long enough: for, as often as any of their
friends and acquaintance come from other places to see them, the first
thing they do is to sit down in great sadness, and weep and bemoan the
loss of their deceased friend: after which they are comforted with good
cheer. But if the deceased has left no friend or relation behind him, he
may lie long enough where he died, whether at home or abroad before any
body comes and buries him. If a person dies in the house, his body must
not be carried through the ordinary entry of it, but conveyed out at
the window; and if he dies in a tent, he is brought out at the back part
of it. At the funeral a woman lights a stick in the fire, brandishing
the same and saying _piklerrukpok_, that is, Here is no more to be got.

When little children die and are buried, they put the head of a dog near
the grave, fancying, that children having no understanding, they cannot
by themselves find the way, but the dog must guide them to the land of
the souls.



_Their Pastimes and Diversions, as also their Poetry._

The Greenlanders have several kinds of sports and recreations, with
which they pass their time, when they have nothing else to do, or when
they visit one another: of which these are the most remarkable. When
they meet together for diversion’s sake, the first step made is always
banqueting and revelling, where they stuff themselves with all the
dainty bits and the best cheer the country affords; as rein deer and
seal flesh dried or boiled; and the tail of a whale, which they reckon
among the greatest delicacies. Of these things they eat very greedily;
for it is a great honour done to the landlord who treats, that his
guests, when come home, complain that their belly was too small, and
that it was ready to burst.

After the repast, they get up to divert themselves in this manner: one
of the company takes a drum, which is made of a broad wooden hoop, or of
the rib of a whale, covered with a thin skin, with a handle to it; which
drum he beats with a stick, singing at the same time songs, either
concerning the common affairs in general, or his own private ones in
particular. In which, at the end of each verse, the whole chorus of men
and women join with him.

He that can play the most odd and comical gestures, and play the most
ridiculous tricks with his face, head, and limb, turning them awry,
passes for the most ingenious fellow; as he by his awkward and out of
the way postures can make others laugh.

They show their wit chiefly in satirical songs, which they compose
against one another; and he, that overcomes his fellow in this way of
debate, is admired and applauded by the rest of the assembly. If any
body conceives a jealousy, or bears a grudge to another upon any
account, he sends to him, and challenges him to a duel in such or such
assembly; where he will fight it out with him in taunting ditties.
Whereupon the defied, in defence of his honour, prepares his weapons,
and does not fail to appear at the time and place appointed, if his
courage do not forsake him. When the assembly is met, and the combatants
arrived, every body being silent and attentive to hear what end the
combat will take, the challenger first enters the lists, and begins to
sing, accompanying it with the beat of his drum. The challenged rises
also, and in silence listens, until his champion or adversary has done
singing. Then he likewise enters the lists, armed with the same weapons,
and lays about his party the best he can. And thus they alternately sing
as long as their stock of ditties lasts. He that first gives over, is
reckoned overcome and conquered. In this sort of taunting ditties they
reproach and upbraid one another with their failings. And this is their
common way of taking vengeance.

There is not to be expected great ingenuity or sallies and points of wit
in their poesies, yet there is some cadence and number in their verses,
and some kind of rhyme in them. For an instance of which I join hereto a
Greenland song, or ode, composed by one of the natives, who formerly
lived in our colony, by name Frederick Christian, upon the birth day of
his then royal highness, Prince Christian, on the 30th of November,
1729, which is as follows.





A Native.

Amna aja aja, aja aja, &c. [Entry.

    _One morning as I went out, and saw,
    That flags and colours were flying,
    And that they made ready
    To fire the guns;
    Then I demanded,
    Why do you fire?
    And they answered me, because the King’s Son’s
    Birth day was celebrated,
    Who is to be king after his father,_

    Annigamma irsigeik, amna aja aja, &c.
    Arvallirsullitlarmeta: amna aja, &c.
    Opellungarsullarmeta, amna aja, &c.
    Erkaiseigamig og, amna aja aja, &c.
    Tava orkarbigeik, amna aja aja, &c.
    Saag erkaisovise? Amna aja, &c.
    Tava akkyanga, assuog Nellermago,
    Okuine annivine nellermago, amna aja, &c.
    Angune tokkopet kongingoromagame, amna aja, &c.

    _And succeed in the kingdom.
    Thereupon I said to my friend,
    Let us make a song
    To the King’s Son;
    For he shall be made king.
    This my little song shall praise him:
    ’Tis said, he is a brave prince,
    Let us therefore rejoice;
    For he shall be our king,
    After his Father’s death,
    We rejoice also, because
    He loves us as his Father does;
    Who sent over clergymen to us,
    To teach us the word of God;
    Lest we should go to the Devil.
    Be thou like him, so shall we love thee,_

    Kingoreis semmane; amna aja, &c.
    Tava ikkinguntiga; amna aja aja, &c.
    Pitsimik sennegiluk; amna aja, &c.
    Kongib imna niamganut, amna aja, &c.
    Kongingoromamet; amna aja aja, &c.
    Pisingvoara una; amna aja aja, &c.
    Ostantigirfaræt sillakartok unnertlugo, amna aja, &c.
    Tipeitsutigeik: amna aja aja, aja aja.
    Kongingoromamet; amna aja aja, aja, &c.
    Angune-oy tokkoppet: amna aja aja, &c.
    Tipeitsokigogut: amna aja aja, aja, &c.
    Attatatut asseigalloäpatit: amna aja, &c.
    Pellesille tamaunga innekaukit: amna aja, &c.
    Gudimik ajokarsokullugit: amna aja, &c.
    Torngarsungmut makko inneille pekonnagit: amna aja, &c.
    Iblile tameitit neglitsomapaukit,

    _And cherish thee,
    And be thy servants.
    Our ancestors have also been thy servants,
    Even they.
    That thou hast thought on us,
    This we know very well, O gracious Son of the King.
    We hope thou wilt continue so to do,
    The King thy father has before possessed us,
    When thou shalt be our King thou’lt prove good enough.
    Whatever we possess
    Shall be thine altogether.
    When Greenland shall have received instruction,
    Then shall they love God and honour the King.
    Let us be merry,
    And of the King’s Son
    Drink the health. And say, Long live Christian!_

    Asseigomarpaukit: amna aja aja, &c.
    Kivgakomarpautigut: amna aja aja, &c.
    Siurlit karalit kivgarimiaukit,
    Juko: amna aja aja, aja aja, &c.
    Isumatigautigut: amna aja aja, &c.
    Nellungikallorapagut, Kongib Niarnga ajungitsotit,
    Teimatoy isumariotit: amna aja aja, &c.
    Kongib Angutit pekaramisigut,
    Iblile Kongingoruit namaksimotit: amna aja, &c.
    Tomasa pirsaugut: amna aja aja, &c.
    Piarmapotit makko: amna aja, &c.
    Karalit illerpeta: amna aja, &c.
    Gud negligomaparput, Kongible nalleklugo: amna aja aja, &c.
    Tecpeitsukigisa: amna aja aja, aja, &c.
    Kongiblo Niarnga: amna aja aja, &c.
    Skaalia immerlugo: amna aja aja, &c.
    Tave okarpogut, Christian innuvit: amna aja, &c.

    _And thy Consort.
    May thy years be many!
    (This I wish) Frederick Christian, and my friend
    Peter, who were the first baptized of Greenland.
    Would to God our countrymen were also._

    Nulliello: amna aja aja, aja aja, &c.
    Okiutikit armarlesorsuangorlutik: amna aja, &c.
    Friderik Christian ikingutigalo; amna, &c.
    Peder, karalinit kockkartoguk: amna, &c.
    Kannoktok! Ekkarlivut tamakilit makko: amna aja, &c.
    Amna, aja aja, aja aja, aja aja, hei!

They have, besides this, another sort of diversion, accompanied with
singing, which consists in swopping or bartering. He that performs the
office of drummer and singer, exposes one thing or other to sale, at any
rate he thinks fit; if any of the company has a liking to it, he shows
his consent by giving the seller a slap on his breech, and the bargain
is done, and cannot be retrieved, whether good or bad. The boys and lads
have also their pastimes and plays, when they meet in the evening. They
take a small piece of wood, with a hole in it at one end, to that they
tie a little pointed stick with a thread or string, and throwing the
piece with the hole in it up into the air, they strive to catch it upon
the pointed stick, through the hole. He that does it twenty times
successively, and without failing, gains the match, or party, and he
that misses gets a black stroke on his forehead for every time he
misses. Another boy’s play is a game of chance, like cards or dice; they
have a piece of wood pointed at one end, with a pin or peg in the midst,
upon which it turns; when the boys are seated around, and every one laid
down what they play for, one of them turns the pointed piece of wood
with his finger, that it wheels about like a mariner’s compass; and when
it has done, he that the point aims at, wins all that was laid down.
Ball playing is their most common diversion, which they play two
different ways. They divide themselves into two parties; the first party
throws the ball to each other; while those of the second party endeavour
to get it from them, and so by turns. The second manner is like our
playing at foot ball. They mark out two barriers, at three or four
hundred paces distance one from the other; then being divided into two
parties, as before, they meet at the starting place, which is at the
midway between the two barriers; and the ball being thrown upon the
ground, they strive who first shall, get at it, and kick it with the
foot, each party towards their barrier. He that is the most nimble
footed and dextrous at it, kicking the ball before him, and getting the
first to the barrier, has won the match.

Thus (they will tell you) the deceased play at foot ball in Heaven, with
the head of a morse, when it lightens, or the North-light (aurora
borealis) appears, which they fancy to be the souls of the deceased.

When their acquaintance from abroad come to see them, they spend whole
days and nights in singing and dancing; and as they love to pass for men
of courage and valour, they will try forces together, in wrestling,
struggling, and playing hook and crook, which is to grapple with the
arms and fingers made crooked, and intangled like hooks. Whoever can
pull the other from his place, thinks himself a man of worth and valour.
The women’s or rather the maiden’s plays, consist in dancing around,
holding one another by the hand, forming a circle, and singing of


_Of their Language._

Though the Greenland language has not affinity with other European
tongues, yet it seems to have borrowed some words from the Norwegians,
who formerly inhabited part of the land; for such words agree both in
name and signification; as, for example, _Kona_, a Woman; _Nerriok_, to
eat, from the Norway word _Noerrie_. The herb _Angelica_, which they in
Norway call _Quaun_, the Greenlanders call _Qvaunnek_. A Porpoise, in
Norway called _Nise_, they call _Nise_. Ashes, in Norway, _Aske_, in
Greenland, _Arkset_. A Lamp, in the Norwegian, _Kolle_, in the
Greenlandian, _Kollek_. Some of their words resemble Latin words of the
same signification; as, _Gutta_, a drop; in the Greenland tongue,
_Gutte_, or _Kutte_. _Ignis_, Fire, they call _Ingnek_. And some they
have got from Hebrew roots, as, _Appa_, a word the children use to name
their father, and some others.

The accent and pronunciation of it is hard and difficult, because they
speak very thick, and in the throat. The same language is spoke
throughout the whole country, though the accent and pronunciation
differs here and there as different dialects; chiefly towards the
Southern parts, where they have received and adopted many foreign words,
not used in the Northern parts. But the angekuts, or divines, make use
of a particular speech, whenever they conjure; for then they use
metaphorical locutions and words in a contrary sense. The women-kind
also have a particular pronunciation peculiar to themselves, and
different from that of the men, making use of the softest letters at the
end of words, instead of hard ones; for example, _Am_ for _Ap_, that
is, _Yes_. _Saving_, for _Savik_, a _Knife_. Their language, in common,
wants the letters, _c_, _d_, _f_, _q_, _x_. They have besides many
double and unknown consonants, which is the cause, that many of their
words cannot be spelt according to their manner of pronouncing them. For
the rest, their expressions are very natural and easy, and their
constructions so neat and regular, that one would hardly expect so much
from a nation so unpolite and illiterate. The language is very rich of
words and sense, and of such energy, that one is often at a loss and
puzzled to render it in Danish; but then again it wants words to express
such things as are foreign, and not in use among them. They have
monosyllables and polysyllables, but most of the last. Their words, as
well nouns as verbs, are inflected at the end, by varying the
terminations, without the help of the articles or particles, like the
Greek and Latin. The adjectives always follow their substantives; but
the possessive pronouns are joined to the nouns, as the Hebrew
suffixa[35]: nor have the nouns alone their suffixa, but the verbs also.
To satisfy the reader’s curiosity, I have hereto joined a list of some
of the words and a sketch, showing the construction and inflections of
this language.


_Singular._            _Dual._       _Plural._

Innuk, _Mankind_,      Innuk,      Innuit.
Angut, _a Man_,        Angutik,    Angutit.
Arnak, _a Woman_,      Arnek,      Arnet.
Niakok, _the Head_,    Niakuk,     Niakut.
Irse, _an Eye_,        Irsik,      Irsit.
Kingak, _the Nose_,    Kingek,     Kinget.
Kinak, _the Face_,     Kinek,      Kinet.
Kannek, _Mouth_,       Kannek,     Kangit.
Okak, _Tongue_,        Okek,       Oket.
Kiut, _a Tooth_,        Kiutik,      Kiutit.
Kartlo, _a Lip_,        Kartluk,     Kartluit.
Suit, _an Ear_,          Siutik,     Siutit.
Nyak, _Head of Hair_,    Nytkiek,    Nytkiet.
Sækik, _the Breast_,     Sækkirsek,  Sækkirset.
Iviange, _Bubby_,        Iviangik,   Iviangit.
Tue, _Shoulder_,         Tubik,      Tubit.
Tellek, _Arm_,           Tellik,     Tellit.
Ikusik, _Elbow_,         Ikivtik,    Ikivtit.
Arkseit, _Hand (that is the Fingers), is plural only_.
Tikek, _Finger_,         Tikik,      Tirkerit.
Kukik, _Nail_,           Kukik,      Kuket.
Nak, _Belly_,            Nersek,     Nerset.
Innelo, _Bowel_,         Inneluk,    Inneluit.
Okpet, _the Thigh_,      Okpetik,    Okpetit.
Sibbiak, _the Hip_,      Sibbirsek,  Sibbirset.
Serkok, _Knee_,          Serkuk,     Serkuit.
Kannak, _Shank_,         Kannek,     Kannerset.
Isiket, _Foot, is only of the plural number_.
Kimik, _Heel_,           Kimik,      Kimikt.

The construction with Possessive Pronouns is thus.

Iglo, _a House_,            Igluk,      Iglut.
_My House_,     Igluga,     Igluka,     Igluka.
_Thy House_,    Iglut,      Iglukit,    Iglutit.
_His House_,         Igloa,      Igluk,    Igloëi.
_His own House_,     Iglune,     Iglugne,   Iglune.
_Our House_,         Iglout,     Iglogat,   Iglovut.
_Your House_,        Iglurse,   Iglursik,   Igluse.
_Their House_,       Igloæt,     Igloæk,    Iglöeit.
_Their own House_,   Iglurtik,   Iglutik,   Iglutik.

This same Noun’s construction with the suffixas at Prepositions, _mik_
and _nik_, _mit_ and _nit_, which signifies from; _mut_ and _nut_, to;
_me_ and _ne_, on or upon, is thus performed.

_Singular._                   _Dual._  _Plural._
_To the House_,         Iglomut,       Iglugnut,      Iglunut.
_To my House_,          Iglumnut,      idem,          idem.
_To thy House_,         Iglungnut,     idem,          idem.
_To his House_,         Igloanut,      Igloennut,     Iglocinut.
_To his own House_,     Iglominut,     Iglungminut,   Iglominut.
_To our House_,         Iglotivnut,    Iglutivnut,    idem.
_To your House_,        Iglusivnut,    idem,          idem.
_To their House_,       Igloænut,      idem,          Iglöeinut.
_To their own House_,   Iglomingnut,   idem,          idem.

As to the verbs, they are either simple or compounded: there are five
conjugations, to which may be added a sixth of negative verbs. There are
three tenses in all, the present, preterit, and future; and six moods,
_viz._ indicative, interrogative, imperative, permissive, conjunctive,
and infinitive.

The examples of the simple verbs are these. The first conjugation ends
in _kpok_, as _Ermikpok_, he washes himself: _Aglekpok_, he writes.

The second ends in _rpok_, as _Mattarpok_, he undresses himself:
_Aularpok_, he sets out on a journey: _Ajokarsorpok_, he teaches.

The third conjugation ends in _pokpurum_; that is, in _pok_ preceded by
a vowel, as _Egipok_, he throws away; _Inginok_, he sits down;
_Akpapok_, he runs.

The fourth ends in _ok_ or _vok_, as _Pyok_, he receives: _Aglyok_, he
grows: _Assavok_, he loves.

The fifth conjugation ends in _au_, as _Irsigau_, he ogles; _Arsigau_,
he resembles; _Angekau_, he is tall.

The sixth conjugation of negative verbs ends in _ngilak_, as
_Ermingilak_, he does not wash himself: _Mattengilak_, he does not
undress himself: _Pingilak_, he receives not: _Egingilak_, he throws not
away: _Irsigingilak_, he ogles not.

Inflexion of a Verb with the suffixes of a person agent of the first
conjugation in _kpok_.

Indicative.           Present.

_Singular_.   _Dual_   _Plural_.

_He washes himself_,   _The two wash themselves_,   _They wash themselves_,
Ermikpok.            Ermikpuk.                  Ermikput.

_I wash myself_,       _We two wash ourselves_,     _We wash us_.
Ermikpunga.          Ermikpoguk.                Ermikpogut.

_Thou wash thyself_,   _You two wash yourselves_,   _You wash yourselves_.
Ermikpotit.          Ermikpotik.                Ermikpose.

The inflexion with suffixes of a person patient is formed this way.

_Thou washest me_.   _Ye two wash me_,     _You wash me_,
Ermikparma,        Ermikpautiga.       Ermikpausinga.

_He washes me_,      _The two wash me_,    _They wash me_,
Ermikpanga.        Ermikpainga.        Ermikpanga.

_I wash him_,        _We two wash him_,    _We wash him_,
Ermikpara.         Ermikparpuk.        Ermikparput.

_He washes him_,     _The two wash him_,   _They wash him_,
Ermikpæ.           Ermikpæk.           Ermikpæt.

_Thou washest him_,  _Ye two wash him_,   _You wash him_,
Ermikpet.          Ermikpartik.        Ermikparse.

_I wash thee_,       _We two wash thee_,   _We wash thee_,
Ermikpaukit.       Ermikpautikit.      Ermikpæutigit.

_He washes thee_,       _The two wash thee_,     _They wash thee_,
Ermikpatit.           idem.                  idem.

_Thou washest us_,      _Ye two wash us,_        _You wash us_,
Ermikpautigut.        ----pautigut.          Ermikpausigut.

_He washes us_,         _The two wash us_,       _They wash us_,
Ermikpatigut.         idem.                  idem.

_I wash you_,           _We two wash you_,       _We wash you_,
Ermikpause,           idem.                  idem.

_He washes you_,        _The two wash you_,      _They wash you_,
Ermikpase.            idem.                  idem.

_I wash them_,          _We two wash them_,      _We wash them_,
Ermikpaka.            Ermikpauvut.           idem.

_He washes them_,       _The two wash them_,     _They wash them_,
Ermikpei.             Ermikpatik.            Ermikpase.

_Thou washest them_,    _Ye two wash them,_      _Ye wash them_,
Ermikpatit.           Ermikpatik.            Ermikpeit.

Inflexion of the Negative Verb.

_He washes not_         _The two wash not_       _They wash not_
_himself_,              _themselves._,            _themselves._,
Ermingilak.           Ermingilek.            Ermingilat.

_I do not wash_         _We two wash not_        _We wash not_
_myself_,               _ourselves_,             _ourselves_,
Ermingilanga.         Ermingilaguk.          Ermingilagut.

_Thou dost not wash_    _Ye two do not wash_     _You do not wash_
_thyself_,              _yourselves_,            _yourselves_,
Ermingilatit.         Ermingilatik.          Ermingilase.

     With the suffixes of the patient person the negative verbs are
     inflected like the affirmatives; as,

_He washes me not_,     _Ye two wash me not_,    _They wash me not_,
Ermingilanga.         idem.                  idem.

_Thou washest me not_,  _Ye two wash me not,_    _You wash me not_,
Ermingilarma.         Ermingilautinga.       Ermingilausinga.

And in the same manner you may inflect all verbs whatsoever.

The preterits and futures have the same suffixa as the present tense.

Concerning the compounded verbs, it is to be observed, that, whereas
their auxiliary verbs are but few, they make use of several particles to
supply their place, which are annexed to the simple verbs, and so make
them compounded verbs, yet these particles by themselves are not used,
nor of any signification. And by this connection or composition the
simple verbs change their conjugation. As for example,

First, in this expression, they used to do so and so, the composition is
formed thus; of the simple verb _Erminpok_, he washes himself, in the
composition is made _Ermingarace_, he uses to wash himself. _Kieavok_,
he weeps; _Kieeillarau_, he uses to weep; _Aularpok_, he goes from home;
_Aulararau_, he uses to go from home.

Second, when the expression runs thus, he comes to do this or that, it
is turned in this manner. _Ermigiartorpok_, he comes to wash himself;
_Aglegiartorpok_, he comes to write. And so in all other compositions.

But there are not only verbs compounded with one, but sometimes with
two, three, or more particles joined to the verb, when there is a longer
sentence to be expressed. And for this reason, the words and particles
undergo a great many changes and variations, inasmuch as they retain but
certain radical letters, the rest either being thrown away and
quite lost, or else changed for others. As for instance,
_Aulisariartorasuarpok_, he made haste to go out a fishing. Here three
verbs are joined together in one. _Aulisarpok_, he fishes; _Peartorpok_,
to go about something; and _Pinnesuarpok_, to make haste. Again,
_Aglekkinniarit_, endeavour to write better. Here we have another
threefold composition. First, _Aglekpok_, he writes; then _Pekipok_, to
mend, or do better, and at last _Pinniarpok_, to endeavour. From whence
comes the verb _Aglikkinniarpok_, he endeavours to write better; in the
imperative mood, _Aglekkinniarit_, as above.

_The Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, translated into the Greenland


Operpunga Gud-mun Attatavnut, ajuakangitsomut, killagmik nunamiglo


Operpunga Jesus Christusmut, Ernetuanut, Nallegautimut, Annersamit
helligmit pirsok, Niviarsamit Mariamit erniursok; anniartok Pontius
Pilatus-mit; Isektitaursok, tokkorsok, illirsorto, allernum akkartok.
Ullut pingajuane tokkorsonit makitok; Killangmut Kollartok; Angume Gub
tellerpiet tungane ipsiarsok; tersanga amma tikiytsomaryok, umarsullo
tokongarsullo auiksartitsartorlugit.


Operpunga Gub Annersanut, opertokartoniglo nuname: Innungliglo
helligniglo illegeinik, Synderronermiglo, Timiniglo umaromartonik,
tokkorsublo Kingorna tokkoviungitsokartomik. Amen.

_The Lord’s Prayer._


Attavut killangmepotit, akkit usorolirsuk; Nallegavet aggerle; pekorset
Killangme nunam etog tamaikile: Tunnisigun ullume nekiksautivnik;
pissarauneta aketsorauta, pisingilaguttog akectsortivut; Ursennartomut
pisitsaraunata; ajortomin annautigut: Nallegauet, Pisarlo, usornartorlo
pigangaukit isukangithomun. Amen.


     _Of the Greenland Trade, and whether, in promoting it, there is any
     Advantage to be expected._

The goods and commodities Greenland affords for the entertaining of
commerce, or traffic, are whale blubber or fat, and whale bones, unicorn
horns, rein deer skins and hides, seal and fox skins. These wares they
barter against merchandizes of our produce, as coats and shirts made of
white, blue, red or striped linen or woollen cloth; as also knives,
hand-saws, needles, hooks to angle with, looking-glasses, and other such
merchandize or hardwares: besides what they buy of wood, as rafts,
poles, deal boards, chests; and of brass and copper, as kettles and the
like, tin dishes and plates; for which they pay to the full price. At
the beginning of our late settlement in those parts the trade was much
brisker than at present, and much more profitable; for foreign traders
flocking thither in great numbers have so overstocked them with goods,
and undersold one another, to draw the natives to them from others, that
the trade is considerably slackened and fallen. Yet I trust, that, if we
once became masters of this trade, as it in justice belongs to us, by
the right the King of Denmark lawfully claims to these countries as much
as any kingdom or province subject to him; I trust, that, with this
proviso, the trade to Greenland would prove as profitable as any other
whatsoever; which has been evidenced not long ago, when by his Majesty’s
special order foreign trade has been prohibited within a certain
distance on each side of the colonies. For if the lading of some ships
with fish and train from Finmark, and others of fish, train, salt meat,
and butter from Iceland and Fero, bring to the traders considerable
profit; who would question, but the same or better advantage may be
expected from the importing quantities of whale train, whale bones,
rein deer hides, fox and seal skins, which are of more value than the
Iceland or Feroe? And, if the produce or commodities of Greenland were
formerly reckoned of that importance, that they were deemed sufficient
to maintain the King’s table, why not also at present? provided
Greenland may by settlements and improvement retrieve its former
abundance, which is not impossible.

If the old lands, formerly inhabited and manured by the Norway colonies,
were anew peopled with men and cattle; they would, without doubt, yield
as much as either Iceland or Feroe, seeing there is as good pasture
ground as in those islands. I shall forbear to mention salmon and cod
fishing, as it seems at present to be but of little or no importance,
especially on the West side; though I am credibly informed by the
natives, that on the Southern coast they catch abundance of fine large
cod. Yet this may be more than sufficiently compensated by the whale
fishery on the North and the capture of seals on the South, which if
rightly undertaken, and with vigour set on foot, will bring as much, nay
far more profit than the salmon and cod catching does in other places;
chiefly the seal capture, which can be undertaken at very small
expenses, _viz._ at the coast with strong nets, with which they may
catch many thousands in Greenland; which, if hitherto not practised,
ought to be imputed to negligence and want of a good regulation. In
short, Greenland, as we see, is very convenient for trading, and may be
very well worth one’s while to take in hand. But there is little to be
done, without an established and formed company of men of substance as
well as resolution; being altogether impossible and above the strength
of any private man to master it and go through with it.


_The Religion, or rather Superstition, of the Greenlanders._

The Greenlanders’ ignorance of a Creator would make one believe they
were atheists, or rather naturalists. For, when they have been asked
from whence they thought that Heaven and Earth had their origin, they
have answered nothing, but that it had always been so. But if we
consider, that they have some notion of the immortality of souls[36],
and that there is another much happier life after this; moreover, as
they are addicted to different kinds of superstition, and that they hold
there is a Spiritual Being, which they call Torngarsuk, to whom they
ascribe a supernatural power, though not the creation or the production
of creatures (of whose origin they tell many absurd and ridiculous
stories), all this, I say, supposes some sort of worship; although they
do not themselves, out of their brutish stupidity, understand or infer
so much, or make use of the light of nature and the remaining spark of
the image of God in their souls, to consider the invisible being of God
by his visible works, which is the creation of the world.--Rom. i. For
which reason, instead of attaining the knowledge of God and true
religion, they are unhappily fallen into many gross superstitions.

But notwithstanding that all these superstitions are authorized by, and
grounded upon the notion they have of him they call Torngarsuk, whom
their lying angekuts or prophets hold for their oracle, whom they
consult on all occasions, yet the commonalty know little or nothing of
him, except the name only: nay even the angekuts themselves are divided
in the whimsical ideas they have formed of his being; some saying he is
without any form or shape; others giving him that of a bear, others
again pretending he has a large body and but one arm; and some make him
as little as a finger. There are those who hold he is immortal, and
others, that a puff of wind can kill him. They assign him his abode in
the lower regions of the Earth, where they tell you there is constantly
fine sunshiny weather, good water, deer, and fowls in abundance. They
also say he lives in the water; wherefore, when they come to any water,
of which they have not drank before, and there be any old man in the
company, they make him drink first, in order to take away its
Torngarsuk, or the malignant quality of the water, which might make them
sick and kill them. They hold furthermore, that a spirit resides in the
air, which they name Innertirrirsok, that is, the Moderator or
Restrainer, because it is pursuant to his order, that the angekuts
command the people to restrain or abstain from certain things or
actions, that they may not come into harm’s way. According to their
theology, or mythology, there is yet one spirit, harbinger of the air,
whom they stile Erloersortok, which signifies a Gutter, because he guts
the deceased, and feeds upon their intestines. His countenance, they
say, is very ghastly and haggard, hollow eyes and cheeks, like a body
that is starved.

Each element has its governor or president, which they call Innuæ[37];
from whence the angekuts receive their torngak, or familiar spirits.
For every angekkok has a torngak, who attends him, after he has ten
times conjured in the dark.

Some have their own deceased parents for their torngak, and others get
theirs out of some of our nation, who they say discharge their fire arms
when they wait before the entry of the place where the angekkok performs
his conjuration. Whether Torngak and Torngarsuk be one and the same
thing I shall not decide; but certain it is, that one is derived from
the other. From Torngarsuk the angekuts pretend they learn the art of
conjuring; which they are taught in this method. If one aspires to the
office of an angekkok, and has a mind to be initiated into these
mysteries, he must retire from the rest of mankind, into some remote
place, from all commerce; there he must look for a large stone, near
which he must sit down and invoke Torngarsuk, who, without delay,
presents himself before him. This presence so terrifies the new
candidate of angekutism, that he immediately sicken, swoons away, and
dies; and in this condition he lies for three whole days; and then he
comes to life again, arises in a newness of life, and betakes himself to
his home again. The science of an angekkok consists of three things. 1.
That he mutters certain spells over sick people, in order to make them
recover their former health. 2. He communes with Torngarsuk, and from
him receives instruction, to give people advice what course they are to
take in affairs, that they may have success, and prosper therein. 3. He
is by the same informed of the time and cause of any body’s death; or
for what reason any body comes to an untimely and uncommon end; and if
any fatality shall befal a man. And though this lying spirit of the
angekuts is oftentimes found out by their gross mistakes, when the
events do not answer their false predictions, as commonly happens; yet,
for all that, they are in great honour and esteem among this stupid and
ignorant nation, insomuch that nobody ever dare refuse the strictest
obedience to what they command him in the name of Torngarsuk, fearing,
that, in case of disobedience, some great affliction and misfortune may
happen to him. Among many other fibs, and most impudent lies, they make
also these silly stupid wretches believe, that they can, with hands and
feet tied, mount up to Heaven, and see how matters stand there; and
likewise descend to Hell, or the lower regions of the Earth, where the
fierce Torngarsuk keeps his court. A young angekkok must not undertake
this journey but in the fall of the year, by reason, that then the
lowermost Heaven, which they take the rainbow to be, is nearest to the

The farce or imposture is thus acted: a number of spectators assemble in
the evening at one of their houses, where, after it is grown dark,
every one being seated, the angekkok causes himself to be tied, his head
between his legs and his hands behind his back, and a drum is laid at
his side; thereupon, after the windows are shut and the light put out,
the assembly sings a ditty, which, they say, is the composition of their
ancestors; when they have done singing the angekkok begins with
conjuring, muttering, and brawling; invokes Torngarsuk, who instantly
presents himself, and converses with him (here the masterly juggler
knows how to play his trick, in changing the tone of his voice, and
counterfeiting one different from his own, which makes the too credulous
hearers believe, that this counterfeited voice is that of Torngarsuk,
who converses with the angekkok.) In the mean while he works himself
loose, and, as they believe, mounts up into Heaven through the roof of
the house, and passes through the air till he arrives into the highest
of heavens, where the souls of angekkut poglit, that is, the chief
angekkuts, reside, by whom he gets information of all he wants to know.
And all this is done in the twinkling of an eye.

Concerning the angekkut poglit, whom we just now mentioned, as they pass
for the heads of the clergy, and are reckoned the most eminent and
wisest of all, they also must pass through the inferior orders, and
several hard trials, before they can attain to this high degree of
pre-eminency; for none is deemed worthy of such a dignity, but he that
has made his noviciateship in the lower rank, as an ordinary angekkok.
The trial he must undergo, is this: they tie his hands and feet, as
aforesaid, and after the light is put out, and they are all left in
darkness (that nobody may see how the trick is played, and their
imposture be discovered), then they pretend that a white bear enters the
room, takes hold of his great toe with his teeth, and dragging him along
to the sea shore, jumps with him into the sea, where a morse is ready,
and takes hold of him by his privy parts, devouring him, together with
the white bear. A little while after all his bones are thrown in upon
the floor, one after another, not one missing; and then his soul rises
up off the ground, which gathers the bones, and animates the whole body
again, and up starts the man, a hale and entire as ever he was; and thus
he is made an angekkok poglik.

The angekkuts, as before observed, are kept in great honour and esteem,
and beloved and cherished as a wise and useful set of men; they are also
well rewarded for their service, when it is wanted. But, on the
contrary, there is another sort of conjurers or sorcerers, especially
some decrepid old women, which they call illiseersut, or witches, who
persuade themselves and others, that, by the virtue of their spells and
witchcraft they can hurt people in their life and goods. These are not
upon the same footing with the angekkuts; for as soon as any one incurs
only the suspicion of such demeanor, he or she is hated and detested by
every body, and at last made away with, without mercy, as a plague to
mankind, and not deemed worthy to live.

Moreover the angekkuts abuse the people’s credulity, making them
believe, that they can cure all sorts of diseases; though they apply
such remedies as have no virtue in them to cure, such as muttering of
spells, and blowing upon the sick bodies; wherein they resemble to a
hair those conjurers of which the prophet Isaiah speaks, chapter viii,
verse 19.

And if by chance any one, who has been under these jugglers’ hands,
recovers, they do not fail to ascribe it to the virtue of their juggling
tricks. At times they use this way of curing the sick; they lay him upon
his back, and tie a ribbon, or a string, round his head, having a stick
fastened to the other end of the string, with which they lift up the
sick person’s head from the ground, and let it down again; and at every
lift he communes with his Torgak, or familiar spirit, about the state of
the patient, whether he shall recover or not; now, if his head is heavy
in lifting it, it is with them a sign of death; if light, of
recovery[38]. Notwithstanding all this, I am loth to believe, that, in
these spells and conjurings, there is any real commerce with the devil;
for to me it clearly appears, that there is nothing in it but mere fibs,
juggling tricks, and impostures, made use of by these crafty fellows for
the sake of filthy lucre, for they are well paid for their pains.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied, but that the evil spirit has a hand
in all this, and is the chief actor upon this stage, to keep these poor
wretches in their chains, and hinder them from coming to the true
knowledge of God.

The angekkuts can also persuade whom they please, that they have no
souls, especially if they are in a bad state of health, pretending they
have the power to create new souls in them, provided they pay them well
for it, which the ignorant fools are very willing to do. They prescribe
to all rules of conduct and behaviour in different cases, which rules
none dare refuse to live up to with the greatest exactness imaginable;
as for example, if any dies in a house, those of the house cannot, for a
set time, do all sorts of work; especially the relations of the deceased
are obliged to abstain, not only from certain works, but likewise from
certain victuals.

If a patient be under the hands of an angekkok, he must live by rule,
which they are accustomed to observe so exactly, that even when we have
assisted many of them with our medicaments, they have always demanded
what sort of diet they were to keep. Women in childbed are to abstain
from working, and from certain victuals, viz. flesh meat, which their
own husbands have not taken, or that of a deer, whose entrails are not
sound, but damaged. The first week after the delivery they eat nothing
but fish, afterwards they are allowed meat. The bones they pick in this
state must not be carried out of doors. After the first childbed, a
woman is not allowed to eat of the head or liver. They must not eat in
the open air. During their lying-in they have their water pails for
themselves alone; if any unwittingly should drink of this water, the
rest must be thrown away. Their husbands must forbear working for some
weeks, neither must they drive any trade during that time: likewise if
any body be sick, they do not care to meddle with any trade. They are
not allowed to eat or drink bareheaded. They pull off one of their
boots, and lay it under the bowl which they eat out of, to the end (as
they imagine) that the infant, being a male, may become a good seal
catcher. During the infancy of the child, they dare not boil any thing
over the lamp, nor let any strangers light a fire with them; and many
more fooleries to be observed[39]. It is customary among them for
married women to wash and cleanse themselves after their months, that
their husbands may not catch a distemper and die. Likewise, if they have
happened to touch a dead corpse, they immediately cast away the clothes
they have then on; and for this reason they always put on their old
clothes when they go to a burying, in which they agree with the Jews, as
in many other usages and ceremonies; for example, to bewail the loss of
their virginity; to mark themselves upon their skin; to cut their hairs
round the head, which the Lord forbids the Jews to do, Levit. xix. When
I consider this and many other of their customs, which seem to be of a
Jewish extraction, I am not far from acceding to the opinion of a
certain famous writer, concerning the Americans; among whom as he found
sundry Jewish rites and ceremonies, he took them to descend from Jews,
or rather from some of the ten tribes of Israel, who were led into the
Assyrian captivity, and afterwards dispersed into unknown
countries.--See hereon Espars, 1. iv.

A superstition very common among them is, to load themselves with
amulets or _pomanders_ dangling about their necks and arms, which
consist of some pieces of old wood, stones or bones, bills and claws of
birds, or any thing else, which their fancy suggests to them; which
amulets, according to their silly opinion, have a wonderful virtue to
preserve those that wear them from diseases and other misfortunes, and
gives them luck to good captures. To render barren women fertile or
teeming, they take old pieces of the soles of our shoes to hang about
them; for, as they take our nation to be more fertile, and of a stronger
disposition of body than theirs, they fancy the virtue of our body
communicates itself to our clothing.

Concerning the creation and origin of all things, they have little to
say, but they think all has been as it ever will be. Nevertheless they
abound in fables in regard to these matters. Their tale of the origin of
mankind runs thus: at the beginning one man, _viz._ a Greenlander,
sprung out of the ground, who got a wife out of a little hillock[40].
From these are descended lineally the Greenlanders; which may pass for a
remnant, though an adulteration from the true tradition of the origin of
man. But as to us foreigners, whom they stile _Kablunæt_ (that is, of a
strange extraction), they tell a most ridiculous story, importing our
pedigree from a race of dogs; they say, that a Greenland woman once
being in labour, brought forth at the same time both children and
whelps: these last she put into an old shoe, and committed them to the
mercy of the waves, with these words; Get ye gone from hence and grow up
to be Kablunæts. This, they say, is the reason, why the Kablunæts always
live upon the sea; and the ships, they say, have the very same shape as
their shoes, being round before and behind.

The reason why men die, they tell us, is, that a woman of their nation
once uttered these words; _Tokkolarlutik okko pillit, sillarsoak
rettulisavet_, Let them die one after another; for else the world cannot
hold them. Others relate it in this manner: two of the first men
contended with one another, one said, _Kaut sarlune unnuinnarluna,
innuit tokkosarlutik_; that is, Let there be day, and let there be
night, and let not men die. The second said, _Unnuinnarlune, kausunane,
innuit tokkosinnatik_; that is, Let there be nothing but night, and no
day, and let men live; and after a long contention the first saying got
the day. Of the origin of fishes and other sea animals they tell a
ridiculous story, _viz._ an old man was once cutting chips off of a
piece of wood; with these chips he rubbed himself between the thighs,
and threw them into the sea, whereupon they immediately became fishes.
But of a certain fish called hay, they derive his production from this
accident, that a woman washing her hairs in her own water, a blast of
wind came and carried away the clout with which she dried her hairs, and
out of that clout was produced a hay fish; and for this reason they say,
the flesh of this fish has got the smell of urine.

They have got no notion of any different state of souls after death;
but they fancy that all the deceased go into the land of the souls, as
they term it. Nevertheless they assign two retreats for departed souls,
_viz._ some go to Heaven, others to the centre of the Earth; but this
lower retirement is in their opinion the pleasantest, inasmuch as they
enjoy themselves in a delicious country, where the sun shines
continually, with an inexhaustible stock of all sorts of choice
provision. But this is only the receptacle of such women as die in
labour, and of those that, going a whale fishing, perish at sea; this
being their reward, to compensate the hardships they have undergone in
this life; all the rest flock to Heaven.

In the centre of the Earth, which they reckon the best place of all,
they have fixed the residence of Torngarsuk and his grandame, or (as
others will have it) his lady daughter, a true termagant and ghastly
woman, to whose description, though already made in my continuation of
the relations of Greenland, some time ago published, I shall yet allow a
place in this treatise, and is as follows. She is said to dwell in the
lower parts of the earth under the seas, and has the empire over all
fishes and sea-animals, as unicorns, morses, seals, and the like. The
bason placed under her lamp, into which the train oil of the lamp drips
down, swarms with all kinds of sea fowls, swimming in and hovering about
it. At the entry of her abode is a _corps de garde_ of sea dogs, who
mount the guard, and stand sentinels at her gates to keep out the crown
of petitioners[41]. None can get admittance there but angekuts,
provided they are accompanied by their Torngak, or familiar spirits,
and not otherwise. In their journey thither they first pass through the
mansions of all the souls of the deceased, which look as well, if not
better, than ever they did in this world, and want for nothing. After
they have passed through this region, they come to a very long, broad,
and deep whirlpool, which they are to cross over, there being nothing to
pass upon but a great wheel like ice, which turns about with a
surprising rapidity, and by the means of this wheel the spirit helps his
angekkok to get over. This difficulty being surmounted, the next thing
they encounter is a large kettle, in which live seals are put to be
boiled; and at last they arrive, with much ado, at the residence of the
devil’s grandame, where the familiar spirit takes the angekkok by the
hand through the strong guard of sea dogs. The entry is large enough,
the road that leads is as narrow as a small rope, and on both sides
nothing to lay hold on, or to support one; besides that, there is
underneath a most frightful abyss or bottomless pit. Within this is the
apartment of the infernal goddess, who offended at this unexpected
visit, shows a most ghastly and wrathful countenance, pulling the hair
off her head: she thereupon seizes a wet wing of a fowl, which she
lights in the fire, and claps to their noses, which makes them very
faint and sick, and they become her prisoners. But the enchanter or
angekkok (being beforehand instructed by his Torngak, how to act his
part in this dismal expedition) takes hold of her by the hair, and drubs
and bangs her so long, till she loses her strength and yields; and in
this combat his familiar spirit does not stand idle, but lays about her
with might and main. Round the infernal goddess’s face hangs the
aglerrutit (the signification of which is to be found in my son’s
journals) which the angekkok endeavours to rob her of. For this is the
charm, by which she draws all fishes and sea animals to her dominion,
which no sooner is she deprived of, but instantly the sea animals in
shoals forsake her, and resort with all speed to their wonted shelves,
where the Greenlanders catch them in great plenty. When this great
business is done, the angekkok with his Torngak proud of success make
the best of their way home again, where they find the road smooth, and
easy to what it was before.

       *       *       *       *       *

As to the souls of the dead, in their travel to this happy country, they
meet with a sharp pointed stone, upon which the angekkuts tell them they
must slide or glide down upon their breech, as there is no other passage
to get through, and this stone is besmeared with blood; perhaps, by this
mystical or hieroglyphical image, they thereby signify the adversities
and tribulations those have to struggle with, who desire to attain to


     _The Greenlanders’ Astronomy, or their Thoughts concerning the Sun,
     Moon, Stars, and Planets._

The notions the Greenlanders have of the origin of heavenly lights, as
Sun, Moon, and Stars, are very nonsensical; in that they pretend that
they have formerly been so many of their ancestors, who on different
accounts were lifted up to Heaven and became such glorious celestial

Their silly stories concerning this matter have been related in the
continuation to the Greenland Memoirs, or relations, but as this book
very likely may not come to the hands of every body, I shall shortly
remember some of them here. The Moon, as they will have it, has been a
young man, called Anningait, or Anningasina; whose sister was the Sun,
named Malina, or Ajut (by which latter name they call any handsome
woman, for whom they have a value, Ajuna.) The reason (why these two
were taken up into Heaven) they give, is this: there were once a number
of young men and women assembled to play together in a house made of
snow (according to their custom in the winter season), when the Moon or
Anningait, who was deeply in love with his sister, who assisted at this
assembly, was used every night to put out the light, that he might
caress her undiscovered; but she not liking these stolen caresses, once
blackened her hands with soot, that she might mark the hands, face, and
clothes of her unknown lover, who in the dark made addresses to her, and
by that discover who he was: hence, they say, come the spots that are
observed in the moon; for as he wore a coat of a fine white rein deer
skin, it was all over besmeared with soot; hereupon Malina, or the Sun,
went out to light a bit of moss; Anningait, or the Moon, did the same,
but the flame of his moss was extinguished; this makes the Moon look
like a fiery coal, and not shine so bright as the Sun. The Moon then run
after the Sun round about the house to catch her; but she, to get rid of
him, flew up into the air, and the Moon pursuing her, did likewise; and
thus they still continue to pursue one another, though the Sun’s career
is much above that of the Moon[42].

They also tell us, that the Moon is yet obliged to seek for his
livelihood upon the earth and sea, in catching of seals, as a food he
formerly was used to; which they pretend he is doing, when he appears
not in the air: nay, they do not stick to say, that she now and then
comes down to give their wives a visit, and caress them; for which
reason no woman dare sleep lying upon her back, without she first spits
upon her fingers and rubs her belly with it.

For the same reason the young maids are afraid to stare long at the
moon, imagining they may get a child by the bargain. During the eclipse
of the sun no man dare stir out of the house; and likewise when the moon
is eclipsed, no woman goes abroad, because they fancy that both hate the
sex of the other. The sun for joy puts on her pendants, or ear-bobs; the
reason of which they take to be the hatred she bears against her
brother, which also reaches to his sex. As on the contrary, the
Greenland women wear their pendants at the birth of a boy, because so
useful a creature is come into the world. Their notion about the stars
is, that some of them have been men, and other different sorts of
animals and fishes. The faint light of some stars they attribute to
their eating the kidney; and brightness of others to their feeding upon
liver. They give also names to many stars and constellations, _viz._ the
three stars in the belt of Orion, they name Siektut, that is separated;
because these three, they say, before their metempsychosis, or rather
metamorphosis, were three honest Greenlanders, who being out at sea, a
seal catching, were bewildered, and not being able to find the shore
again, were taken up into Heaven.

Ursa Major, the great bear star, is styled by those that dwell in 64°,
Tugto, or rein deer; while they that live in the bay of Disco at 69°,
call it Asselluit, the name of a tree, to which they tie their line when
they shoot seals. Taurus, the second sign in the Zodiac, is named
Kellukturset, or kennel of hounds, who seem to have a bear among them;
by this constellation they reckon their hours by night. Iversuk, that
is, two persons that contend with songs or verses in taunting one
another, as is customary among the Greenlanders. These two stars are in
the constellation Taurus, of which heretofore, Aldebaran or Nennerroak,
that is, a light which lights the two singers. Canis Major is called
Nelleraglek, which is the name of a man amongst them; this they say has
got on a coat of rein deer’s skin. Gemini, Auriga, and Capella, are
named Killaub Kuttuk, that is, the breast bone of Heaven.

When two stars seem to meet together, they say, that they are visiting
one another; others will have it to be two women, who being rivals, take
one another by the hair.

Concerning thunder and lightning, they say that two old women live
together in one house in the air, who now and then fall out and quarrel
about a thick and stiff outstretched seal skin (because such a skin, if
beaten as a drum, has some likeness to the noise of thunder); while they
are thus by the ears together, down comes the house with great bouncing
and cracking, and the lamps are broken, the fires and broken pieces fly
about in the air, and this, in their philosophy, is thunder and

In their astronomical system, the heaven turn about upon the point of a
huge rock. The snow, according to their fancy, is the blood of the dead,
on account that it turns reddish if you keep it in the mouth. The rain
comes from a ditch or wear above in Heaven; when it overflows there, it
rains here below.

They have no calendar or almanacks, nor do they compute or measure the
time by weeks or years, but only by months; beginning their computation
from the Sun’s first rising above their horizon in the winter; from
whence they tell the month, to know exactly the season, in which every
sort of fishes, sea animals, or birds seek the land; according to which
they order their business.

As nonsensical now as these notions of the Greenlanders are (as they in
reality are), yet they come short of the Egyptian King Ptolemy’s
infatuation, who by the loathsome flattery of his astronomers was
persuaded that his Queen Berenice’s head of hair was translated into
Heaven and astrified, if I may say so; which constellation to this day
goes by the name of Coma Berenices, or Berenice’s hair; and what
travellers relate of China and the East Indies, where some are of
opinion, that the Sun’s eclipse is nothing but that a certain devil or
sprite sometimes swallows up the Sun, and then again spews it out.


     _The Capacity of the Greenlanders, and their Inclination towards
     the Knowledge of God, and the Christian Religion; and by what Means
     this may easily be brought about._

As the Greenlanders are naturally very stupid and indolent; so are they
likewise very little disposed to comprehend and consider the divine
truths which we expound to them; and notwithstanding people in years
seem to approve of the Christian doctrine, yet it is with a surprising
indifference and coldness. For they can neither comprehend the miserable
condition they are in; nor do they rightly understand and value the
exceeding great mercy and loving kindness God has shown towards mankind
in his dear Son Christ Jesus, so as to move them to any desire and
longing after it; some few excepted. This is to me an undeniable
evidence that the carnally-minded man cannot comprehend the things that
belong to God; for to him they seem to be foolish, and he cannot know
them, as the Apostle speaks, 1 Cor. ii. But as they in general are so
credulous, that one can make them believe any thing, so they are
likewise in this grand affair. They never question what they are taught
of God and Christ; but at the same time it never takes any rooting in
their mind, because it passes without any consideration and feeling. For
which reason they do not contradict or dispute with us the matters
proposed; and very few have offered any objections, or desired any
difficulty to be explained. And as their behaviour is silly and
childish, so we have used the same method in teaching them, as we do to
instruct little children; inculcating the Christian truths into their
mind by frequent repetitions, and making use of simple and obvious
comparisons, which, I thank God Almighty, has not wanted his blessing.
For I have perceived in some the working of his grace in a serious
amendment of their lives; and their endeavours have been to advance in
the way to perfection, though all as yet is but a beginning and infancy,
as we have mentioned in the last year’s Memoirs or Relations of

It is a matter which cannot be questioned, that if you will make a
Christian out of a mere savage and wild man, you must first make him a
reasonable man, and the next step will be easier. This is authorised and
confirmed by our Saviour’s own method. He makes a beginning from the
earthly things; he proposes the mysteries of the kingdom of God in
parables and similitudes. The first care taken in the conversion of
Heathens is to remove out of the way all obstacles which may hinder
their conversion, and render them unfit to receive the Christian
doctrine, before any thing successfully can be undertaken in their

It would contribute a great deal to forward their conversion, if they
could by degrees be brought into a settled way of life, and to abandon
this sauntering and wandering about from place to place to seek their
livelihood. But this cannot be hoped until a Christian nation comes to
be settled among them (I mean in such places where the ground is fit for
tillage and pasturage) to teach them, and by little and little accustom
them to a quiet and more useful way of life, than that which they now

They should also be kept under some discipline, and restrained from
their foolish superstitions, and from the silly tricks and wicked
impostures of their angekkuts, which ought to be altogether prohibited
and punished. Yet my meaning is, not that they, by force and constraint,
should be compelled to embrace our religion, but to use gentle methods.
Is it not allowed in the church of Christ to make use of Christian
discipline at times and seasons, with prudence and due moderation; which
is a powerful means to advance the growth of piety and devotion? How
much more is it necessary to apply the same means here to grub up an
untilled ground, where a new church is to be planted? Else it would be
the same imprudence as to throw good seed into thorns and briars, which
would choak the seed.

But as the chief fruit of our labours and teaching is to be expected
from the growing youth, so if some good regulations and small
foundations were laid for the bringing up a number of children in the
Christian faith and piety, no doubt God would prosper it; inasmuch as
these poor children and growing youth are very tractable and teachable,
and good natured; showing no inclination or propensity to vice. Neither
do they want capacity; for I have found they will take any thing as soon
as any of our own children. Now if these gifts or natural talents were
forwarded by the gifts of grace, who would question their growth and
advancement in the Christian faith and virtues, which would ripen to the
full harvest of eternal happiness? Good God! how easy a thing would it
be to help these poor wretches out of their misery, if those that God
has blessed with wealth were heavenly minded, and would be sensible of
the wretched condition of their fellow creatures, and contribute out of
their abundance to the founding of a school in these parts, and the
providing of other most necessary things!

His Majesty, out of his wonted most glorious zeal for the growth and
advancement of the church of Christ, has most graciously provided, by a
considerable sum of money yearly set apart, for the Greenland
Missionaries’ entertainment, which royal bounty continues to this day;
for which goodness the most gracious God will bless his Majesty and all
the royal hereditary house, and be their reward for ever. But as a good
deal of this bounty money must be employed in the promoting of trade
(without which the mission could not subsist), but little remains for
promoting the proper end of the mission, which is the conversion of the
Heathens, in which at present are employed no more than four
missionaries, and two catechists, besides some few charity children
belonging to both colonies, whose entertainment is to be provided for.
Hitherto we have not been able to do great matters, but contented
ourselves with some excursions here and there instructing the natives;
who likewise, when they have had an opportunity, come to us with their
families to be instructed. But as these excursions of ours, and those
visits of theirs have not been very frequent, and only for a short time,
by reason of the impossibility of travelling at all seasons, which has
obliged us to leave them for a while to deal for themselves; it is not
to be expected that our pains-taking should have had that success, which
would attend it, if there were missionaries settled in different
stations amongst them. For in several years we count but between twenty
and thirty aged persons, and a hundred and odd young ones, that have
been found capable to receive the holy sacrament of baptism. If amongst
ourselves we had no schools, nor other pious foundations, for the
instruction and Christian education of youth and old people, pray what
great feats would one or two teachers in a whole country be able to do,
by once or twice a year taking a journey throughout the land, and
preaching a passage sermon? The apostles of Christ did not think this
method sufficient; but after they had preached the word of God up and
down, they besides ordained and constituted teachers and catechists
everywhere. And if so wholesome a method be followed in Greenland, who
will question a happier success?

And this is all I at present have to say of the affairs of Greenland;
leaving it to the judgment of others to be made out and decided, whether
Greenland is a country that deserves to be improved and taken care of,
or no? And whether its inhabitants may be called happy, or no? All
things well pondered, both the affirmative and negative may be true,
without the least contradiction. For Greenland can pass for no better
than a dismal and pitiful country, in regard to the greatest part of it,
_viz._ all the inland country, which is perpetually covered with ice and
snow, that never melts, and therefore of no use to mankind; and as to
the remaining part, on the sea side, most of it lies uncultivated and
uninhabited. But here it may again be said, that as to the first part,
or the inland country, it is a thing that is past remedy; but as to the
last part, or the sea side, it may be put in a better state by
settlements, and manuring, so that it may recover its former fertility;
and thus it might be reckoned a good and profitable country, provided
the formerly inhabited tracks of land were anew settled and peopled. I
will forbear to mention the great wealth and richness, which lies hidden
in the Greenland seas, and can never be exhausted.

From the land I will go to the inhabitants, which every body will think
more wretched than happy, considered as destitute of the true knowledge
of their Creator; and besides lead but very poor and despicable lives.
The knowledge of God is undoubtedly that which affords the greatest
happiness to mankind; as the want of it makes one the most wretched of
all beings. But who would dare to deny it, if I should find out somebody
yet more wretched than they? And such there are who have been blessed
with the true knowledge of God; yet do nevertheless refuse him that
obedience, which, as our Creator and Master, and in regard of our
redemption and a thousand other particular kindnesses, he has the best
of titles to demand it upon, according as he requires it of us in his
holy Word. If the life of the Greenlanders, which we call poor and
despicable, with respect to morality, be compared to that of the most
pretended Christians; I am afraid they will confound others on the great
Day of Judgment. For though they have no law, yet by the light of nature
do some of the works of the law, as the apostle says, Rom. ii. What
thoughts will any one harbour, who seriously considers the predominant
passions, as greediness after gain, covetousness, unmeasured ambition
and pride, sumptuous, voluptuous, and prodigal lives; envy, hatred, and
mutual persecutions, and innumerable other vices and crimes of most
Christians? Can any one help thinking, but that such evil doers (the
remotest from the life, which is God alone) must be deemed the most
unhappy of all? Whilst on the other hand, the Greenlanders pass their
lives, as I may say, in a natural innocence and simplicity. Their
desires do not extend farther than to necessary things; pomp and pride
is unknown to them; hatred, envy, and persecution never plagued them;
neither do they affect the dominion over one another. In short, every
one is contented with his own state and condition, and are not tormented
with unnecessary cares. Is not this the greatest happiness of this life?
O happy people! what better things can one wish you, than what you
already possess? Have you no riches? yet poverty does not trouble you.
Have you no superfluity? yet you suffer no want. Is there no pomp and
pride to be seen among you? neither is there any slight or scorn to be
met with. Is there no nobility or high rank amongst them? neither is
there any slavery or bondage. What is sweeter than liberty? And what is
happier than contentedness? But one thing is yet wanting: I mean, the
saving knowledge of God and his dear son Christ Jesus, in which alone
consists eternal life and happiness. John xvii. And this is what we
offer you, in preaching to you the holy Gospel.

Now, God, who bade light shine forth in darkness, enlighten your hearts,
in the light of the knowledge of God’s glorious appearance in and
through Christ Jesus. May he deliver your souls from the slavery of the
Devil, and of sinful lusts, as you are free from corporeal bondage, to
the end that you always may be free with the Lord both in soul and body.

                               THE END.

                        CHARLES WOOD, Printer,
                 Poppin’s Court, Fleet Street, London.


[1] Torfæi Gronlandia Antiqua Havniæ, 1706, p. 16; see also Peyrere
Relation du Groenland, p. 84. These two authorities are principally
followed. Peyrere’s work is in Recueil de Voyages au Nord, tome premier.

[2] Torfæus, p. 13, “_medias alpes_.”

[3] Torfæus, p. 14.

[4] Ibid., p. 19.

[5] Peyrere.

[6] Torfæus possessed three versions of this account in German, Danish,
and Icelandic. His narrative runs,--The most Eastern settlement of
Greenland lies under the promontory of Herjolfsness, and is called
Skagefiord. Here is an uncultivated mountain, called Barrafell. At the
mouth is a long sandbank (_pulvinus longus_), stretched across, so that
no ships can enter, except when the water is raised to a great height
by the wind and tide. At that time numbers of whales crowd into the
bay. Here is a never-failing fishery, which is part of the episcopal

[7] Torfæus and Peyrere.

[8] Torfæus says, “ubi publica _in sylvis_ venatio.” Of what trees
were these woods composed? Peyrere, copying the Icelandic Chronicle,
says, “Où il se fait grande chasse de toutes sortes de bestes, et entre
autres de quantité d’ours blancs.”

[9] Torfæi Hist. p. 45.

[10] Peyrere’s words are, “il y a une maison royale nommée Fos.”

[11] Torfæus calls it “villa magnifica.”

[12] Torfæus says, “rusticorum villæ.”

[13] Peyrere.

[14] Doctor Wormius, who was famed for his great research in Northern
antiquities, told Peyrere, that these savages, the aborigines of
Greenland, inhabited one side of the bay of Kindelfiord, in the Western
district, and that the Norwegians had a settlement on the opposite
bank. When, then, the author of the Icelandic Chronicle said, that the
Skrellings possessed all the Westerbygdt, he meant only the country to
the West of this bay. A small party of Norwegians, who had passed over
to the Western bank, were destroyed by the Skrellings. This caused the
Viceroy of Norway, who is called judge of Greenland, to dispatch a ship
with a large force to revenge this affront. But the savages, at the
sight of this vessel, took to flight and concealed themselves in the
woods and rocks; which occasioned Ivar Bert to represent the country as
destitute of inhabitants.

[15] Angrim Jonas, of Iceland, according to Peyrere, says expressly,
“Fundata in Garde Episcopalis residentia in sinu Eynatsfiord
Groenlandiæ Orientalis.”

[16] Peyrere, p. 99.

[17] P. 99. See also Crantz, vol. i. p. 78.

[18] Peyrere’s account of Greenland is dated from the Hague, 18th June,

[19] Vol. i. p. 278.

[20] The Moravian mission in Greenland began in the year 1733. The
brethren of this mission have two settlements or villages upon the
Western coast. One of these, which is called New Herrnhut, is on Ball’s
River; and the other, which is denominated Lichtenfels, is at the
distance of thirty-six leagues from the first, and more to the South.
Crantz says, that, at his departure from Greenland, four hundred and
seventy Greenlanders were living at New Herrnhut in sixteen houses.
The brethren themselves describe this place as a sort of green Oasis
in a cheerless desert. “No one,” says one of the missionaries, “would
expect to find such a pleasant place in such an unpleasant land. The
country consists entirely of bald rocks, thinly interspersed with spots
and veins of earth, or rather sand. But our house, area, garden, &c.
look very regular and decent, and all the adjacent land round about
the place, where once not a blade of grass grew in the sand, is now
enrobed with the most beautiful foliage, so that New-Herrnhut may be
called a garden of the Lord in a most frightful wilderness.” Crantz,
vol. i, p. 162, 163. In p. 399, of the same volume, Crantz extols the
soft beauty of this little Greenland village, compared with the rugged
sterility around. “On the spot,” says he, “that formerly consisted of
nothing but sand, nay, on the very rocks, grows now the finest grass,
the ground being manured for so many years with the blood and fat of
their seals. And when the Greenlanders live in their winter houses, one
may see every evening, yea, throughout the whole night, a beautiful
illumination, which is the more agreeable as the houses stand in two
parallel lines, are of equal height, and have light in all the windows.”

[21] According to the relation and opinion of those Greenlanders, that
inhabit the gulf of Disco, in 69°, Greenland is an island, which they
infer from the strong current that runs from the North, and keeps the
ice open even into the midst of the sea: they will also tell you, they
have spoken with people different from themselves on the other side of
the ice, and hailed them. Their language, they say, is the same, but
the persons different, so that a small strait only divides Greenland
from America. The said straits are so narrow, that men on both sides
can shoot at once one and the same fish. The continent farthest to the
North is all covered with ice; the islands only uncovered, where rein
deer, and also geese and other wild birds, are found in great numbers.

[22] Historians disagree about the time of the first settlement of
Greenland. The Icelanders (as we have mentioned) will have it to be in
the year 982-3. But Pontanus, in his Danish History, refers it to the
year 770; making his assertion good by a bull of Pope Gregory the IVth,
who in the year 835 sent to Bishop Ansgarius, wherein the propagation
of the Gospel is recommended to him, as archbishop of the Northern
Countries, and especially of Iceland and Greenland.

[23] The Greenlanders relate a very ridiculous story, as well
concerning the origin of our colonies (whom they call by the name of
Kablunæt) as of their total overthrow, as follows: a Greenland woman,
in her child-bearing, was once delivered of Kablunæt and dogs’ whelps,
of which the parents were highly ashamed, and for that reason withdrew
from their neighbours and countrymen. This monstrous breed being grown
up, became so troublesome to their father, that he was not able to
endure them; wherefore he retired yet farther to some distant place.
Meanwhile this inhuman race came to this horrible agreement amongst
themselves, to devour their own father, whenever he should happen to
come among them; which a little after came to pass, when he visited
them with a present of some part of a seal, which he had taken,
according to custom. Kablunæt immediately went down to him, to whom the
father delivered the piece of seal’s flesh he had brought them. But he
was no sooner got ashore, than the doggish race seized and devoured
him, and then ate the seal’s flesh given them. Whilst the Kablunæt
dwelled there, one of the Innuits (or mankind), for so they call
themselves, came rowing along the shore, and throwing his dart at some
sea fowl, missed what he aimed at; which one of the Kablunæt, who stood
upon a point of land running out into the sea, observing, mocked and
ridiculed him, and, laying himself down upon the ground, told him that
as he saw he was so dexterous in shooting, he would be the bird; he
might throw the dart at him, and take care not to miss him: whereupon
Innuit shot and killed him. This death caused continual strifes and
wars between the Kablunæts and Innuits, which last at length became
masters, and overthrew the former.

[24] A Greenlander, who came from the most Southern part of the country
near the States Promontory, told my son, when he saw some lemons in his
room, that he had seen fruits much like those growing upon trees in his
country, though they were four times less; which I take to have been
some of those acorns, which I above took notice of, treating of the
nature of the soil.

[25] The lamps and pots, which the Southern Greenlanders make of this
marble, are sold at a very high price; so that the natives of the
Northern parts, where such marble is not to be had, buy them at the
rate of eight or ten rein deer skins a large pot, and a lamp at two or
three skins.

[26] According to what the natives tell, there is in the Southern parts
a hot well, of a mineral quality; which, if you wash therein, cures
the itch; they wash their skins in it, and it takes away all dirt and
foulness, and makes them look like new.

[27] In the 76th degree of latitude the number of bears is so great,
that they in droves surround the natives’ habitations, who then, with
their dogs, fall upon them, and with their spears and lances kill them.
In winter, instead of dens or caves under the earth, as in Norway
and other places, here the bears make theirs under the snow; which,
according to the information the natives have given me, are made with
pillars, like stately buildings.

[28] The farther you go Northwards, the seldomer you meet with rein
deer, except in the 3d or 4th degree to the North of Disco, where
they are in great numbers; perhaps by reason either of its joining to
America, or else because the deer pass over to the islands upon the
ice, in quest of food, which the main land, covered with ice and snow,
does not afford them. The natives, instead of reason, give us a very
childish tale for the vast number of rein deer being found upon Disco
Island, as follows:--

A mighty Greenlander (one Torngarsuk, as they call him, who is father
to an ugly frightful woman, who resides in the lowermost region of the
Earth, and has command over all the animals of the sea, as we shall see
hereafter) did with his Kajar, tow this island to the place where it
now lies, from the South where it was before. Now, as the face of this
island resembles very much the Southern coasts, and the root angelica
is likewise found upon it, which grows nowhere else in the neighbouring
parts, this confirms them in their credulity. And furthermore, they
assure you, that a hole is seen to this day in the island, through
which the towing-rope had been fastened by Torngarsuk.

[29] The above-mentioned author calls the first of these monsters
Havestramb, or Mer-man, and describes it to have the likeness of a man,
as to the head, face, nose, and mouth; save that its head was oblong
and pointed like a sugar-loaf; it has broad shoulders, and two arms
without hands; the body downwards is slanting and thin; the rest below
the middle, being hid in the water, could not be observed. The second
monster he calls Margya, or Mer-woman, or Mermaid, had from the middle
upwards the shape and countenance of a woman; a terrible broad face,
a pointed forehead, wrinkled cheeks, a wide mouth, large eyes, black
untrimmed hair, and two great breasts, which showed her sex; she has
two long arms, with hands and fingers joined together with a skin,
like the feet of a goose; below the middle she is like a fish, with
a tail and fins. The fishermen pretend, that when these sea monsters
appear, it forebodes stormy weather. The third monster, named Hafgufa,
is so terrible and frightful, that the author does not well know how to
describe it; and no wonder, because he never had any true relation of
it: its shape, length, and bulk, seems to exceed all size and measure.
They that pretend to have seen it, say, it appeared to them more like
a land than a fish, or sea animal. And as there never has been seen
above two of them in the wide open sea, they conclude, that there can
be no breed of them; for if they should breed and multiply, all the
rest of fishes must be destroyed at last, their vast body wanting such
large quantity of nourishment. When this monster is hungry, it is said
to void through the mouth some matter of a sweet scent, which perfumes
the whole sea; and by this means it allures and draws all sorts of
fishes and animals, even the whales to it, who in whole droves flock
thither, and run into the wide opened swallow of this hideous monster,
as into a whirlpool, till its belly be well freighted with a copious
load of all sorts of fishes and animals, and then it shuts the swallow,
and has for the whole year enough to digest and live upon; for it is
said to make but one large meal a year. This, though a very silly and
absurd tale, is nevertheless matched by another story, every whit as
ridiculous, told by my own countrymen, fishermen in the Northern part
of Norway. They tell you, that a great ghastly sea monster now and then
appears in the main sea, which they call Kracken, and is no doubt the
same that the islanders call Hafgufa, of which we have spoken above.
They say, that its body reaches several miles in length; and that it is
most seen in a calm; when it comes out of the water, it seems to cover
the whole surface of the sea, having many heads and a number of claws,
with which it seizes all that comes in its way, as fishing boats with
men and all, fishes and animals, and lets nothing escape; all which it
draws down to the bottom of the sea. Moreover they tell you that all
sorts of fishes flock together upon it, as upon a bank of the sea, and
that many fishing boats come thither to catch fish, not suspecting that
they lie upon such a dreadful monster, which they at last understand by
the intangling of their hooks and angles in its body; which the monster
feeling, rises softly from the bottom to the surface, and seizes them
all; if in time they do not perceive him and prevent their destruction,
which they may easily do, only calling it by its name, which it no
sooner hears, but it sinks down again as softly as it did rise. They
tell you of another sea spectre, which they call the Draw, who keeps to
no constant shape or figure, but now appears in one, now in another.
It appears and is heard before any misfortunes, as shipwrecks and the
like, happen at sea, which it forebodes with a most frightful and
ghastly howling; and they say it sometimes utters words like a man. It
most commonly diverts itself, in putting all things out of order, after
the fishermen are gone at night to rest; and then he leaves behind him
a nasty stench. The fishermen will not suffer the truth of this tale to
be questioned, but pretend it is confessed. But the most superstitious
among them go yet a step farther, and will make you believe, that there
appears to them another kind of sea phantom, in the shape of a child
in swadling clothes, which they call Marmel, and sometimes draw him
out of the sea with their angling hook, when he speaks to them with a
human voice. They carry him to their home, and at night they put him
into one of their boots, there to rest. In the morning, when they go a
fishing again, they take him along with them in their boats, and before
they let him go, they set him a task to inform them of all they want to
know, upon which they dismiss him.

[30] What so many authors of great note relate of the wood ducks, and
affirm to be an unquestionable truth, is by as many learned writers
treated as an old woman’s tale, pretending that such an heterogeneal
generation passes the ordinary bounds of nature.

Others (in consideration of so many authors of credit, who affirm that
they have been eye witnesses to this strange and wonderful generation)
have taken great pains to demonstrate the causes and probability
of it physically and philosophically, amongst whom is the learned
father Kirkerus, in his Mundus Subterraneus; where he maintains, that
the semen of this extraordinary generation is neither contained in
those old pieces of wood, that drive in the sea, nor in the muscles
originally; for a piece of wood cannot produce a living animal, this
exceeding the virtue nature has endowed it with; much less the summer
froth of the sea, which adheres to the rotten piece of wood, and may
produce shells or muscles. Then he forms the question, from whence
comes this semen or seed, which produces such a strange fruit as a
living bird? which question he strives thus to resolve; that, whereas
he has been informed by certain Dutchmen’s journals or voyages into the
Northern seas, that this sort of birds, peculiar to that climate, make
their nest and lay their eggs upon the ice; when the ice by the heat of
the sun thaws and breaks asunder, this innumerable quantity of eggs are
likewise mashed and crushed to pieces and beaten about by the waves;
and that if that part of the egg, which contains the seed, encounters
any subject matter proper to foment and brood it, and is received in it
loco nutricis, assisted by the temperament of the air, the earth, or
the sea, it becomes in due time a perfect bird. This is the renowned
father Kirkerus’s notion concerning the generation of these birds.
But if one examines his reasoning, it is found altogether incoherent:
for it was never known, that sea fowls lay their eggs upon the naked
ice, but commonly upon the islands and rocks in the sea, which are
surrounded and sometimes covered with ice; and consequently when the
ice breaks, and drives away from the islands, the eggs remain still in
their nest, without receiving any hurt. And thus the Dutch found it at
Nova Zembla, in the year 1569; but what they saw was not the right sort
of wood ducks, but what they in Norway call gield ducks; for wood ducks
never are seen to couple, nor to lay or hatch their eggs. Secondly, it
seems no less absurd to maintain, that eggs, after they are mashed in
pieces, and beaten about by the waves, retain as much seminal virtue as
will serve to procreate a bird. From whence I infer, that either the
information the good father had got from the Dutch voyages was intirely
groundless, or this pretended generation goes beyond the bounds of
nature. As to the first inference, it is not impossible that the
authors who relate this story may have been imposed upon by a common
though false report of vulgar and ignorant people; as any one may, that
takes a thing for granted upon a bare hearsay, without the attestation
of eye witnesses in such a matter. For my part I do not doubt at all
of this wonderful generation; for though I have not beheld it with my
own eyes, yet I have met with many honest and reasonable men in my
native country, who have assured me, that they have found pieces of
old, rotten, driven wood in the sea, upon which there hang muscles, in
some of which they saw young birds, some half formed, others in full
perfection and shape. From whence I conclude, that those fowls spring
from no other seed than some clammy and viscous matter floating in the
sea, precipitated upon pieces of old rotten wood as aforesaid; of which
there is first formed a muscle, and then a little worm in the muscle
shell; from whence at last a bird proceeds. And although this may seem
to exceed the ordinary bounds set by nature in the procreation of other
birds, yet it is observed and confessed, that the sea produces many
strange and surprising things, and even living animals, which we cannot
affirm to have had being from the first creation; but that by virtue of
the primitive blessing God gave the sea to produce, it may yet bring
forth many uncommon and wonderful things; as for example, many sorts
of sea insects, viz. crabs and the like. And thus the sea or water in
general may with reason be stiled _pater et mater rerum_; i. e. “the
common parent of things.” Nature seems to delight sometimes in forming
out-of-the-way things: thus we see divers insects formed out of the
very dung of animals; some of which insects often change their kind
and shape, _viz._ from a small worm into a flying animal; as flies,
beetles, butterflies, and so forth.

[31] When they see our drunken sailors quarrelling and fighting
together, they say we are inhuman; that those fighters do not look upon
one another to be of the same kind. Likewise, if an officer beats any
of the men, they say, such officer treats his fellow creatures like

[32] The way the men wash themselves is to lick their fingers (as
the cat does his paws) and rub their eyes with them to get the salt
off, which the sea throws into their face. The women wash themselves
in their urine, that their hair may grow, and to give it (according
to their fancy) a fine smell. When a maiden has thus washed herself,
their common saying is _niviarsiarsuanerks_, that is, she smells like a
virgin maid. Thus washed they go into the cold air, and let it freeze,
which shows the strength of their heads, and it well becomes foreigners
to do so.

[33] In the summer they wear short frocks, as also in winter, when they
work on the ice in the bays; but then they put a white covering over
it, that they may not frighten the seals.

[34] When a man sends for his son’s bride, to be conducted to his
house, if he be in good circumstances he makes a great feast; and
throws out for prizes several presents of poles, rafts, knives, and
other toys. The same is practised the day following after the bedding
of the new-married couple. If they have children before the year is
past, or if they often breed, they are blamed, and compared to dogs.
A new married woman is ashamed for having changed her condition for a
married state.

[35] In its inflections it agrees with the Hebrew.

[36] The angekuts say that souls are a soft matter to feel, or rather
that they cannot be felt, as if they had neither sinews nor bones.

[37] The Innuæ, or inhabitants of the sea, they call Kongeuserokit; of
whom they say, that they feed upon fox tails. Ingnersoit, a sort of
sea sprites, which inhabit the rocks that lie upon the coast; which,
they tell you, will carry away the Greenlanders, not to do them any
harm, but to enjoy their company. Tunnersoit are phantoms living in the
mountains; and Ignersoit, or fiery sprites (because they appear to be
all over fire) live near the shore, in steep and craggy cliffs. This is
that meteor which we call the Flying Dragon. Innuarolit they pretend to
be a people of a dwarfish size, like pigmies, and are said to inhabit
the East side of Greenland. Erkiglit, on the contrary, are said to be
a nation of a huge and monstrous size, with snouts like dogs; they are
likewise said to dwell on the East side. Sillagiksortok, a spirit, who
makes fair weather, and lives upon the ice mountains. Nerrim Innua, or
the ruler of diet, because he prescribes rules for the diet or eating
of those that are obliged to keep abstinence. They ascribe also some
sort of divinity to the air, and for fear of offending it they will
refrain from certain things and actions; for which reason they are
afraid to go out in the open air in the dark.

[38] While angekkuts are conjuring, nobody must scratch his head,
nor sleep, nor break wind; for they say, that such a dart can kill
the enchanters, nay the devil himself. After a conjuration has been
performed, there is a vacancy from working for three or four days.

[39] _Argnakaglertoko_, a woman that lives by rule, they say, can lay
the storm, by going out of doors and filling her mouth with air, and
coming back into the house, blows it out again. If she catches the rain
drops with her mouth, it will be dry weather; and other strange effects
they ascribe to her.

[40] A word not known to me in the Danish tongue.

[41] Others say, that a huge dog watches the entry, and gives warning,
when an angekkok attempts to get in, and defends the entry. Wherefore
the angekkok must watch the minute, that the dog falls asleep (which
lasts but a moment), to steal in upon her. This moment nobody knows but
an angekkok poglik; wherefore the other angekkuts often return home
again without success. This frightful woman is said to have a hand as
big as the tail of a whale, with which, if she hits any body, he is
at one stroke mouse-dead. But if the angekkok conquers her (which he
does if he can get at her _aglerrutut_, which hang dangling about her
face, and rob her of them) then she must discharge all fishes and sea
animals, which she has detained in captivity; who thereupon return to
their wonted stations in the sea.

[42] They assign the Moon a house in the Western part of the world,
where he is often visited and resorted to by the angekkuts. And the
Sun, they say, has her abode in the East; but she is inaccessible on
account of her heat, which keeps the angekkuts at a distance; at which
she is sorely grieved, because she cannot learn by them how matters
stand upon Earth.

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

Forbisher=> Frobisher {x 5}

no such piercing or singing sharpness=> no such piercing or stinging
sharpness {pg 56}

like a cresent=> like a crescent {pg 68}

firing of great gnns=> firing of great guns {pg 69}

his mouth his armed=> his mouth is armed {pg 82}

His length his five=> His length is five {pg 82}

come up to to the hole=> come up to the hole {pg 104}

sea dogs, who mount the the guard=> sea dogs, who mount the guard {pg

None can can get admittance=> None can get admittance {pg 202}

Ou il se fait grande=> Où il se fait grande {note, pg xxviii}

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Description of Greenland" ***

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