For those of you who accuse me of riding Scott Wolter’s coattails, I hope all of you are busy emailing Richard Thornton, the alternative history writer and Examiner.com “reporter,” who prefaces each of his “Mayas-in-Georgia”-themed articles with a sentence relating the story to America Unearthed as Google-bait, no matter how tangentially related the subsequent story is. Thornton is at it again, this time alleging in a new article that an early modern text has been “rediscovered” by the “People of One Fire” Native American research alliance, a text that “proves” that an advanced civilization existed at Track Rock, Georgia, and housed refugees from the lost colony of Roanoke.
I can’t begin to tell you how wrong this is, but I should begin by pointing out that Thornton, who appeared in an episode of America Unearthed, links his claims to that show’s two episodes about the Track Rock site (with follow-up) and about the Eleanor Dare Stones and their fictitious claims about the fate of the Roanoke colonists after they allegedly departed for Georgia. According to Thornton, a seventeenth-century drawing shows the Track Rock, Georgia ruins (thought by archaeologists to be stone terraces of Cherokee or Creek origin) as a flourishing city in the 1600s.
Thorton, citing the unpublished research of Marilyn Rae, claims that a pamphlet called the Paysage de la Province de Bemarin au Royaume d’Apalache was “long forgotten” until this year, but a Google Books search finds that the text was cited by that name at least once before, in 2007, and that it is currently online, forming a chapter of Rochefort’s Natural and Moral History of the Antilles (1658), under which name it is more frequently cited. According to Susan C. Power, an art historian, the illustration Thornton describes within this text was not meant to depict a real land but was “the first printed illustration of a North American ‘utopian’ city.” In other words, it was as real as Atlantis, Utopia, or Shangri-La. Thornton, however, disagrees and believes that the book is an actual account of real-life developments in northern Georgia, which he accuses three centuries of scholars of hiding by pretending that the fictional events took place in Florida.
Rochefort’s account places a fabulous stone-built city of two thousand buildings called Melilot in “Florida,” which was the then-current name for everything south of Virginia, as Nicolas Sanson’s 1660 map of North America shows. Thornton takes “Florida” for the state rather than the older territory. The tribe was called the Apalache, and Rochefort claims that they not only were in direct communication with the Caribbean, but that the Apalache were the ancestors of the Caribs (i.e. Taino) of the West Indies. He therefore mixed in words of French, English, and Caribbean origin into his account to lend verisimilitude to the claims.
Rochefort further relates that English refugees trying to escape a war in Virginia were blown off course, arriving on the “Florida” (i.e. Georgia) coast where the Apalache adopted them. In awe of the superiority of the Europeans, the Apalache converted to Christianity, such that, Rochefort writes, “they have at present [i.e. 1658] among them a bishop, and several learned and zealous priests, who labor with joy and fidelity in this ample harvest of the Lord; and, to advance this excellent work, have erected colleges wherever there are churches.” Allegedly, the Spanish sent the Minimi to further convert the Natives to Catholicism. Somehow, Rochefort implies that the English were Catholics and that they were communion and communication with Rome.
Thornton conveniently omits all this, as there is no evidence of seventeenth-century colleges or churches, or any lost English colony, near Track Rock.
As early as the nineteenth century, Rochefort’s claims were recognized for what they were, falsehoods. Here’s how the Historical Magazine explained it in 1860:
This strange account, backed by his Carib vocabulary, has misled many, and yet the whole is a fiction. Building on a few names found in De Laet, or some Spanish account—perhaps a manuscript narrative—he has made a golden picture, which, in spite of its apparent inconsistencies, has been regarded as exaggerated, but based on truth. Yet, to place the bishop and priests among English refugees was suspicious, and equally so the fact that no Spanish writer ever mentions any mission of Minims to Florida. As an order originating in France, the Society of St. Francis de Paula might be found more readily in French than in Spanish parts; but the writer, not over familiar with such matters, confounded, doubtless, the Fratres Minores or Franciscans, with the Minimi or Minims.
Rochefort’s work was translated into English in 1666 as the History of the Carriby Islands (though I do not have access to this translation), where it gained great influence among English geographical writers, who took its account for fact and included its claims about the Native peoples of “Florida” in books and maps for a century.
Thornton further reports—falsely—that Rochefort described these English settlers as the lost colonists of Roanoke: “researchers were astonished to find in the book’s text, a description of the lost Roanoke Island colonists.” Thornton then suggests that this proves the authenticity of the Eleanor Dare stones, the hoax rocks that chronicled the alleged trek of the colonists from Roanoke to what is now Atlanta, pending a full translation of Rochefort, which is forthcoming from a “late medieval French” expert at the People One Fire group. (The book is not late medieval French, but rather seventeenth-century French.) He is wrong, and I will save them the trouble of translating the book since, as it happens, I can also read the more obscure parts of the antique French. And to prove I am not lying, I will supply the French as well.
Rochefort, in the relevant passage, very clearly writes something different:
Ces Familles, ainsi que nous l'avons tire des relations, que les Habitans de la Colonie de la Palme nous ont envoyées, avoient este contraintes de quiter la Virginie en l'an mil six cens vint & un, à cause des horribles massacres que les Barbares Originaires du païs, y faisoient pour lors, de tous les étrangers qu'ils rencontroient, & elles s'étoient embarque'es à dessein de se retirer à la neuve Angleterre: mais les vens leur ayans esté contraires, elles furent poussées à la coste de la Floride, où le manquement de vivres les obligea de descendre, & de s'arrêter fur le bord de la rivière de Seloy, & c'est de là qu'elles passèrent en la Province de Matique & puis en celles d' Amana & de Bemarin, sous la conduite d'une Compagnie d'Apalachites, qui étoient descendus à la coste de la mer, pour y prendre leur provision de sel, comme ils avoient acoútumé de le faire en ce tems-là.
So, Rochefort—whom Thornton wants us to take for accurate—says these colonists left Virginia in 1621, some three decades too late to be Roanoke colonists. Gov. John White left Roanoke in 1588 and found the colony abandoned upon his return in 1590. The hoax Dare Stones falsely claim that the colonists reached Georgia (by land!) in 1592.
Therefore, the text fails to support Thornton’s assertion, and archaeology knows nothing of the alleged structures the text claims existed. Government records of England, France, Spain, and the Vatican are equally ignorant of the alleged missions to and from the lost city. On all of his points of alleged evidence, Thornton is demonstrably wrong.
I wonder, therefore, why it is that Thornton—supposedly a researcher aiming to overturn modern science—is so happy to repeat claims secondhand about a text he has apparently never read while I, whom he accuses of all manner of faults, actually do the hard work of looking up the material and translating it so everyone can see that the emperor has no clothes?
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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