One of the downsides of researching alternative history is that it really messes up my Amazon.com book recommendations. Every day the retailer tries to get me to buy more zany books on implausible topics. Today, Amazon told me that I need to buy Steven Sora’s The Lost Colony of the Templars: Verrazano’s Secret Mission in America (2004). Part of the Sinclair-Templar-America brand of historical mystery-mongering, this book is based on even flimsier evidence than the Sinclair claims to America.
The evidence takes primarily two forms. First, the author argues that the Knights Templar were responsible for spreading octagonal baptisteries throughout Europe as symbols of a death and rebirth cult; therefore, the Newport Tower was not a windmill but rather a baptistery. The Newport Tower, of course, is round and not octagonal, but that’s OK because the actual ancient mystery, as deduced from Stonehenge (!), is of an octagon inscribed within a circle, so the Tower’s eight irregularly-spaced pillars therefore stand for the octagon within its circular footprint.
But that doesn’t do much for Verrazano, does it? Here’s what Sora claims: “The Tower’s placement on Verrazano’s Map as well as its designation of the area as Refugio leaves no doubt. The Templars intended and most likely founded a colony, however short-lived.”
On his end, Giovanni Verrazano allegedly displayed the Newport Tower on his map of 1529, at least according to alternative historians like Steven Sora. According to these historians, Verrazano called the Tower the “Place of Refuge” because it was the land to which the Templars had fled in their imaginary eighteen galleys following the suppression of their order. As you will recall, those eighteen galleys are known only from the testimony extracted under torture from a Templar who lied about everything we can check against historical records. Thus, Verrazano spent weeks exploring the lost colony of the Templar knights, eventually finding the Newport Tower, which he called the Norman Villa after its medieval architecture.
Is this really the case?
Do you even have to ask?
As documented here, in the map of 1527 drawn by Vesconte de Magiollo, there are two names listed that allegedly tie to the Newport Tower: “Refugio” and “Norman Villa.” Six place names separate the two along the coast of the Long Island Sound, indicating that the two are not connected. Verrazano’s letter to the King of France indicates that Norman Villa was not Newport but rather near New York Bay. “Villa” was not a house or structure, but a poor Italian transliteration of the French ville, or village.
In a map of 1529 by Giovanni's brother Girolamo Verrazano, Verrazano listed a “B. del Refugio,” and his letter makes plain that Refugio is not a specific territory but rather the entirety of Narragansett Bay. Here’s the relevant text, as translated by Susan Tarrow, with Verrazano’s original footnote in brackets: “The harbor mouth [GV footnote: which we called ‘refugio’ because of its beauty] faces south, and is half a league wide; from its entrance it extends for 12 leagues in a northeasterly direction, and then widens out to form a large bay of about 20 leagues in circumference.”
Sora is correct that Verrazano spent two weeks (fifteen days, precisely) exploring the area, but the only round buildings he recorded seeing were wigwams. He could, of course, have been lying to the King of France, but since the only primary sources tell a completely different tale from the Sinclair-Templar conspiracy theorists, I don’t see that there’s any reason to rewrite history to provide additional fictional evidence for Sinclair-Templar voyages that have no documentation.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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