Add to bookbag
Title: Navigator
Original Title: Navigateur
Volume and Page: Vol. 11 (1765), pp. 51–54
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: David A. Ross [California State University, Fresno,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

This text is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Please see for information on reproduction.

Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Navigator." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by David A. Ross. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Navigateur," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 11. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Navigator." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by David A. Ross. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Navigateur," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 11:51–54 (Paris, 1765).

Navigator, name given to those who undertake long voyages, in particular to those devoted and enlightened, courageous and bold men, who by sea accomplished new, important discoveries of places and countries.

Everyone is aware that due to navigation the sea has become the link between the societies of all the peoples on earth, that by its means commodities and abundance are spread everywhere. One would torment oneself in vain to search for the first navigator ; it suffices to know that one should find him among the first men. Navigation on rivers must have been almost as old as the world. Nature helped men discover this art, which is so necessary. Having seen trees and beams floating, they joined them together to cross rivers. After seeing wooden cups and saucers, they hollowed out pieces of timber tied together to go more securely on the water. Time, work and effort served to perfect little by little these kinds of floating houses; they risked getting into them to cross over arms of the sea. The use of rafts was followed by the introduction of boats shaped in the front and in the back, and finally other types of vessels and galleys, which received new improvements little by little.

The Phoenicians, eager to enrich themselves, and more curious as they became rich, promptly seized these different inventions, and since they could not expand the borders of their states on land, they dreamed of forming on the sea a new empire, one to which they only owed their industry and boldness. It was necessary to have both infinitely in order to attempt amidst the depths a pathway without trace, and where it was as perilous to advance as it was to retreat. However, Strabo remarked that these peoples just a few years after the Trojan War dared to pass the Pillars of Hercules and to brave the terrible Ocean. Finally they were the first to lose sight of their homeland, to undertake voyages of long duration. But since I need to get to the important history of navigation, I shall jump to that of the Europeans, who discovered for us new parts of the world unknown to antiquity.

It was in the kingdom of Portugal that despite the ignorance of those times arose this spirit of discovery, so glorious for all nations, so profitable for commerce, and that for 260 years has thrown immense riches into Europe, and has developed its naval forces to such a high degree that it is rightfully considered master of the major portion of the globe.

It is true that the very first attempts by the Portuguese along the coast of the large African continent were very short voyages. Soon they became bolder and experienced on the sea, and the success of their endeavors encouraged them to try others. They were the first among nations to navigate on the Atlantic Ocean. They discovered in 1419 the Island of Madeira, [1] in 1448 the islands of the Azores, [2] in 1499 the islands of Cape Verde, [3] and in 1486 the Cape of Good Hope, [4] so named from the hope that this discovery would lead to the discovery of a passage to the Indies. But it was to one man, Prince Henry, that the Portuguese above all owed their vast enterprises, against which they at first had grumbled. “There is nothing greater in the world,” said Mr. de Voltaire, “than what is accomplished by the genius and dedication of a man who struggles against the prejudices of the multitude.” [5]

Gama (Vasco da) is the Portuguese navigator who played the most important role in the great accomplishments of this nation. He discovered the East Indies in 1497 [6] by means of the Cape of Good Hope. He returned there in 1502 and arrived back in Lisbon with thirteen vessels laden with riches. [7] He was meritoriously named viceroy of the Indies by King João III and died in Cochin in 1525. Dom Estevão and dom Cristóvão da Gama, his sons, inherited his viceroyalty and were famous in history. [8]

Magalhães (Fernão de), whom the French named Magellan, compatriot of da Gama, similarly rendered his memory immortal by the discovery that he made in 1520 of the strait that bears his name. Piqued against his own king who had refused him a slight increase in salary, it was under the auspices of Charles V to whom he had withdrawn that he made his discovery. He departed from Seville in 1519 with five vessels, and went by the South Sea [9] as far as the Philippines where he died shortly after, some say from poison, others say in combat. One of his vessels arrived 8 September 1522 in the port of Seville under the direction of Juan Sebastián Elcano after having made for the first time a trip around the earth.

A third Portuguese navigator whom I must mention is Mendes Pinto (Fernão), born in Montemor-o-Velho, who left for the Indies in 1537 planning to elevate his humble birth with the help of fortune. For twenty years he was witness to the greatest events that took place in Asia, and returned to Portugal in 1558 having been thirteen times a slave, sold sixteen times, having experienced a great number of shipwrecks. His travels written in Portuguese and translated into French are interesting. [10]

The attention produced in the world by the success of the marvelous undertakings by the Portuguese awakened Christopher Columbus , Genoese, a man of great knowledge and a genius of the first kind. He imagined a more certain and noble method of following the same plans for discovery. He had an infinite number of difficulties to combat, and they were such that they would have discouraged any but he. He surmounted them finally, and undertook at age 50 [11] this happy and unique expedition to which we own the discovery of America.

Ferdinand and Isabella who reigned in Spain furnished tepid support of his plan by granting him three vessels. He departed the port of Palos in Andalusia 14 October 1492, and the same year reached Guanahani, one of the Lucayan Islands. [12] At the sight of the three large ships the islanders fled to the mountains, and only a few inhabitants could be found to whom Columbus gave bread, wine, jams and some jewels. This humane treatment caused the natives to lose their fright, and the chief of the country in recognition permitted Columbus to build a wooden fort on the seashore. But jealousy, passion of these base souls, stirred up against him the most violent persecutions. He returned to Spain in irons, and was treated as a state criminal. It is true that once the queen of Castille learned of his return, she gave him his freedom, covered him with honor, and removed the governor of Hispaniola who had perpetrated against him these terrible measures. He was so touched by the death of this princess that he did not survive for very long; he tranquilly ordered his funeral, and the irons that he had worn were placed in his coffin. This great man finished his career in Vallodolid in 1506 at the age of 64. [13]

The Spanish owed to this illustrious foreigner and to Vespucci (Americo), the Florentine, the discovery of the part of the world that bears his name, while the Portuguese nation only retained the name of the Cape of Good Hope.

Vespucci was a man of genius, patient, courageous and enterprising. Being raised in commerce, he had an opportunity to travel in Spain, and embarked as a merchant in 1497 in the small fleet of Ojeda that Ferdinand and Isabella sent to the New World. [14] He was the first to discover solid land which is beyond the line, [15] and by means of an honor not all the kings of the world could obtain, he gave his name to these great lands of the Western Indies, not only to the northern or Mexican, but also to the southern or Peruvian, which was only discovered in 1525 by Pizarro. [16] One year after this first voyage, he was put in charge of a second, commanded six ships and penetrated as far as the coast of Guyana and Venezuela, and returned to Seville. Upon his return he garnered such little recognition for all his trouble that he went to Manuel, King of Portugal, [17] who gave him three vessels to undertake a third voyage to the Indies. Thus he departed from Lisbon 13 May 1501, sailed by the Angolan coast, then sailed along that of Brazil, which he entirely discovered as far as the River Plate, whence he returned to Lisbon 7 September of the year 1502.

He departed again the following year at the command of six vessels, and with the plan to discover a western passage to the Moluccas. He went to All Saints’ Bay as far as the Curabado River. Finally lacking provisions, he arrived in Portugal 18 June of the year 1504, where he was received with as much joy as he brought back quantities of Brazilian woods and other precious merchandise. It was then that Americo Vespucci wrote a report on his four voyages, [18] which he dedicated to René II, duke of Lorraine. He died in 1509 covered with glory and honors. [19]

Pizarro (Francisco), born in Spain, discovered Peru in 1525 and joined don Diego Almagro. After conquering this vast region they perpetuated unprecedented cruelties on the Indians; but due to the disagreement concerning the division of booty, Fernando, brother of Pizarro, killed Almagro, and one of the sons of the latter killed Francisco Pizarro.

As for Cortez (Hernán) who conquered Mexico, I already mentioned him in the article Medillín , his home municipality.

The navigators of whom we have spoken thus far are not the only ones celebrated in memory. The Dutch produced illustrious ones who, supported by the forces of the nation while it bought back its freedom, established an empire at the Cape in the Island of Java, and served to conquer the Moluccas, even from the Portuguese. Let us also recall that Jacob Le Maire, who departed Texel with two vessels, discovered in 1616 toward the southern point of America the straight that bears his name. [20] The detailed history of his voyage has been printed.

But Great Britain distinguished itself still more eminently by the daring of her illustrious navigators , and this country continues still to have blossom forth in its breast the best seamen in the world.

Many people know that Christopher Columbus had proposed his America project through his brother Bartholomew to Henry VII, King of England. [21] This prince had granted him everything, but Columbus only found out after his discovery; and there was no longer time for the English to profit from it; however, the inclinations the King had shown for encouraging the undertakings of this nature were not entirely without result. John Cabot , Venetian and able mariner, who had stayed several years in London, seized this opportunity. He offered his services for discovering a passage to the Indies via the northwest. He obtained letters patent dated in the eleventh year of the reign of Henry VII that authorized him to discover unknown lands, to conquer them and to establish himself there, without mention of other privileges that were granted to him, on the sole condition that he would return with his vessel to the port of Bristol. He set sail in the spring of the following year 1497 with a warship and three or four boats chartered by the merchants of the city, and loaded with all kinds of clothing, in case of a discovery. [22] On 24 June, at 5 o’clock in the morning he sighted land, which he called Prima Vista, which is part of Newfoundland. Behind it he found a smaller island to which he gave the name of Saint John, and he brought back three savages with him, and a load which gave good profit. He was knighted and generously recompensed. Since on this voyage he pushed as far north as Cape Florida, the first discovery of North America is attributed to him; it furthermore is upon this fact that the kings of Great Britain base their claim to the sovereignty over this land, which they have since supported so efficaciously for the glory and for the interests of the nation. This is why it appears that the English owe the origin of their plantations and their commerce in America to a simple plan for discovering the Northwest Passage to the Indies.

But it is necessary to speak of one of their navigators . There are four especially who are famous, Drake, Raleigh, Frobisher and Lord Anson.

Drake (Francis), one of the greatest mariners of his century, was born near Tavistock in Devonshire; his father put him in apprenticeship with a shipmaster who left him his vessel when he died. Drake sold it in 1567 to serve in captain Hawkins’ fleet in America. He left in 1577 to sail around the world, which he finished in three years, and brought back several Spanish vessels richly loaded. He distinguished himself by a great number of outstanding actions, was knighted, made vice-admiral of England, took several towns away from Spain in America, and died at sea en route to Porto Bello on 28 January 1596.

Frobisher (Martin), native of Yorkshire, is scarcely less famous. He was made responsible in 1576 by Queen Elizabeth to discover a strait believed to exist between the North Sea and the Pacific, and which would serve for sailing northwest to the East. He did find a strait at 63 degrees latitude, and called this strait Frobisher Strait . The inhabitants of this place had dark hair, flat faces, squashed noses, and used seal skins for clothing. When the cold prevented Frobisher from going further, he returned to England to report his discovery. Two years later he tried the same voyage and encountered the same mountains of ice and snow. But his intrepid valor in various battles against the Spaniards resulted in his being knighted in 1588. He died at Plymouth of a musket shot he received in 1594 at the siege of Fort Crozon in Brittany, which the Spanish occupied at the time.

Raleigh (Walter) was born in Devonshire from an ancient family, and became by his merit admiral of England. His actions, his works and his tragic death have immortalized his name in history.

Endowed with good looks, talent in speech, a superior mind, and intrepid courage, he had the large share of expeditions by sea in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He introduced the first English colony in Mocosa in America, and gave the area the name of Virginia in honor of the queen, his sovereign. She chose him in 1592 to command a fleet of fifteen war ships, to act against the Spaniards in North America, and he stole from them a carrack estimated at two million pounds sterling. [23] In 1595 he stopped at Trinity Island, took the governor prisoner, burned Comona in New Andalusia, and brought back from his voyage some golden statues, which he gave to his sovereign. In 1597 he left with the fleet commanded by the Count of Essex to rob Spanish galleons; but the Count of Essex, jealous of Raleigh ordered him to wait for him at the Island of Faial; he did so and took it.

After the coronation of James I in 1603 Raleigh was sent to the Tower of London on accusations that he had a plan to establish Arbella Stuart, lady of royal blood, on the throne. He wrote during his imprisonment, which lasted thirteen years, his history of the world, the first part of which appeared in 1616. He put to sea with twelve ships to attack he Spaniards on the coasts of Guyana; but when his venture was not successful, he was condemned to death at the insistence of the Spanish ambassador, who could influence the feeble mind of James I. Raleigh was beheaded in Westminster Square on 29 October 1618 at an age of 76 years.

Anson (George), today lord Anson, was in 1739 declared commodore or squadron commander to make a surprise attack into Peru from the Pacific. He sailed close to the uncultivated land of the Patagons, [24] entered the Strait of Le Maire, and crossed more than one hundred degrees latitude in less than five months. His small frigate of eight canons, named the Trial , the Ordeal, was the first ship of this type that dared double Cape Horn. Afterward she seized a Spanish ship of 600 tons in the Pacific, whose crew could not understand how it was taken by a ship coming from London in the Pacific Ocean.

While doubling Cape Horn extraordinary storms dispersed the vessels of George Anson, and scurvy caused the death of half his crew. However, having rested on the desert island of Fernandez, he advanced toward the equinox line, and took the town of Paita. But having no more than two ships, he focused his venture on trying to seize an immense galleon that Mexico sent yearly into the Chinese seas.

To this end George Anson crossed the Pacific Ocean and all the climates opposed to Africa between our tropic [25] and the equator. Scurvy did not abandon the crew on these seas, and since one of the commodore’s ships was leaking on all sides, he was obliged to burn it in the middle of the sea; having but one dilapidated vessel named the Centurion and only carrying sick men, he relaxed in the island of Tinian, by Macao, to mend his sole remaining vessel.

Scarcely was it put back in good shape than he discovered on 9 June 1743 the Spanish vessel so sought after, then he attacked it with forces that were more than twice inferior in number, but his wise maneuvers gave him victory. [26] He entered victor in Canton with his rich prey, refusing meanwhile to pay the Chinese emperor the duties he owed by foreign ships; he pretended that a war ship did not owe any. His firm behavior imposed itself; the governor of Canton gave him an audience, to which he was led through two rows of soldiers numbering ten thousand. Upon leaving this audience, he set sail to return to his country via the Sonde Islands and by the Cape of Good Hope. Having thus circled the globe victorious, he reached England 4 June 1744, after a voyage of three and one half years.

Having arrived in his homeland, he was carried to London in triumph on 32 carts, to the sound of drums and trumpets, and to the acclaim of the multitude with the riches he had conquered. His different takes amounted in gold and silver to ten millions in French money, which were the commodore’s prize, of his offices, sailors and soldiers also, without the king entering into the division of the fruit of their fatigue and their valor. He did more, he made George Anson peer of Great Britain, and in the new war against France [27] he named him to the head of the admiralty. It is in this high position, recompense for his merit, that he still directs the expeditions, glory and success of the naval forces of England.


1. Portuguese sailors discovered the uninhabited Madeira Archipelago between 1419 and 1425, according to Douglas Wheeler’s Historical Dictionary of Portugal , 2 nd ed. (Scarecrow Press, 2002) 102-103. There are many factual errors, especially in reporting dates, in the subsequent lines of de Jaucourt’s article, Navigators .

2. Most sources list 1727 as the date that the first of nine Azores islands was “discovered.”

3. Alvise de Cá de Mosto, a Venetian navigator in Portuguese service, was the first to sight the Islands of the Cape Verde Archipelago in the late 1450s; Wheeler, 26.

4. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias doubled the Cape of Storms, which King João II subsequently renamed the Cape of Good Hope.

5. L’Essai sur les Moeurs , Chapter 102.

6. Da Gama reached India in 1498 via an oceanic route, having doubled the Cape of Good Hope in the previous year. De Jaucourt’s article Sines in volume 15 of the Encyclopédie contains similar praise of da Gama’s accomplishments.

7. Da Gama returned to Lisbon from his second voyage to India in 1503 rather than 1502.

8. Cristóvão da Gama was never viceroy of India.

9. Pacific Ocean.

10. See Travels of Mendes Pinto, edited and translated by Rebecca Catz (University of Chicago Press, 1989).

11. Columbus, born in 1451, would have been only 41 in 1492.

12. Columbus departed Palos de la Frontera 3 August 1492, and made landfall 12 October; he gave the name San Salvador to the island that the Lucayan natives called Guanahani.

13. Columbus was born in 1451; he would only have reached his fifty-fifth birthday in 1506.

14. Vespucci made only two trips to the New World; his first voyage departed Spain 18 May 1499 with Alonso de Ojeda, and returned to Spain in 1500. See Francis Dutra’s remarks on Vespucci in Brazil: Discovery and Immediate Aftermath, pages 144-168, chapter 8 in Portugal, The Pathfinder: Journeys from the Medieval toward the Modern World 1300-ca. 1600, George D. Winius, ed., (Madison: The Hispanic Society of Medieval Studies, 1995).

15. The reference is to Line of Demarcation established by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas.

16. Pizarro undertook several expeditions to Peru, including those initiated in 1524, 1526, 1528.

17. Vespucci was a member of the 1501-1502 Portuguese expedition sent to explore the coast of Brazil. See Dutra ( Portugal: the Pathfinder , p. 147).

18. As noted by Francis Dutra ( Portugal, The Pathfinder , p. 147-150), Vespucci’s “report,” Mundus Novus Albericus Vespucius Laurentio Petri de Medicis salutem plurimam dicit , is considered a forgery. Much of the information in de Jaucourt’s paragraphs on Vespucci therefore contains erroneous or fabricated information.

19. Amerigo Vespucci died in 1512.

20. Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten sailed from the Frisian island of Texel, United Provinces, 14 June 1615. On 29 January 1616 they rounded Cape Horn.

21. Bartholomew Columbus found employment as a cartographer in Lisbon and may have suggested to his brother the concept of sailing to the west to reach the East Indies. Bartholomew tried to persuade Charles VIII of France to back the scheme, and according to Thomas Salmon’s Modern History or Present State of All Nations (1734), he also approached Henry VII of England with his proposal.

22. Cabot made two voyages; the first with one ship, the Matthew, in 1497, and the second in 1498 with five ships; one quickly turned back. The other four ships, including Cabot, were lost at sea.

23. Raleigh’s life in 1592 was probably as stressful as it was eventful, including a printed accusation of atheism authored by Jesuit Robert Parsons, and imprisonment in the Tower by Queen Elizabeth probably due to his secret marriage to one of her ladies in waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton. Later in the same year the Queen ordered his release and sent him to put an end to the looting at Dartmouth harbor of an enormous Spanish/Portuguese treasure carrack, Madre de Deus , which had been captured by one of his ships.

24. This may be a reference to the mythical Patagonian giants reported in early European accounts of Patagonia.

25. De Jaucourt refers to the Tropic of Cancer.

26. On June 20, 1743, Anson captured the Spanish treasure galleon Nuestra Señora de Covadonga off Cape Espiritu Santo, Philippines, on 20 June 1743.

27. The Seven Years’ War 1756-63.