What are First Impressions?

First Impressions are what explorers, travellers and immigrants teach us about the general expectations and impressions which the first travels to a new place leave them with.   There are several areas I like to focus on when I am reviewing these early writings.  When people reached the shores of Virginia, saw the Massachusetts shoreline for the first time, or travelled up the Hudson River, there were first impressions often noted that are important to the local history of this region.  When people travel into a place for the first time, they often note specific animals and plants, or American Indian practices or behaviors are note, these are also noted in some of my work.   When a Dutch writer sees the Chinese perform moxibustion for the first time, that goes into my notebook.   When a Italian writer sees a plant and can immediately relate it to another in Brazil, and another in India, we need to know why.  When a Dutch landowner looks at a plot of land and the signs left by God in some sort of natural hieroglyphic form, this becomes an important piece of our local history.

 The point is, people tend to have a specific way in which they look at things and make judgements about culture, life, and health.  A review of the first impressions was a topic I often liked to cover in my classes taught on medical philosophy and early American medical history back in the mid to late 1990s In Portland, Oregon, the state where many of these medical philosophies migrated towards by the end of the nineteenth century.

The more important “nuggets” of these finds are presented on this page:


Mr. [Reverend Francis] Higgeson.  New-Englands Plantation.  Or, a short and true description of the commodities and discommodities of that Countrey.  Written by Mr. Higgeson, a reuerend Diuine now there a resident.  Whereunto is added a Letter, sene by Mr. Graues an Enginere, out of New-England, The second Edition enlarged.  London, T. & R. Cotes…1630.

 “Letting passe our Voyage by Sea, we will now begin our discourse on the shore of New-England.  And because the life and wel-fare of euerie Creature here below, and the commoditiousnesse ofthe Countrey whereas such Creatures liue, doth by the most wise ordering of Gods prouidence, depend next vnto, vpon the temperature and disposition of the foure Elements, Earth, Water, Aire and Fire (For as the mixture of all these, all sublunarie things are composed; so by the more or lesse inioyment of the wholesome temper and conuenient vse of these, consisteth the onely well-being both of Man and Beast in a more or lesse comfortable measure in all Countreys vnder the Heauens) Therefore I will now indeauour by Gods helpe to report nothing but the naked truth, and that both to tell you of the discommodities as well as of the commodities,  though as the idle Prouerbe is, Trauellers may lye by authoritie, and so may take too much sinfull liberties that way.” [pages B-(B2)].



Father Andrew White, Jesuit Priest, 1635.  [For Charles I.  Printer William Peasley.]  A Relation of Maryland; Together, with A Map of the Countrey, The Conditions of Plantation, His Majesties Charter to the Lord Baltemore, translated into English.  These Books are to bee had, at Master William Peasley, Esq…London, September the 8. Anno Dom. 1635.

“This Countrey affords naturally, many excellent things for Physicke and Surgery, the perfect use of which, the English cannot yet learne from the Natives: They have a roote which is an excellent preseruative against Poyson, called by the English, the Snake roote.  Other herbes and rootes they have, where with they cure all manner of woundes; also Saxafras, Gummes, and Balsum.  An Indian seeing one of the English, much troubled with the tooth-ake, fetched of the roote of a tree, and gave the party some of it to hold in his mouth, and it eased the pains presently.  They have other rootes fit for dyes, wherewith they make colours to paint themselues.” (p. 17)

Reverend Johannes Megapolensis, Jr., 1644.  A Short Account of the Mohawk Indians, by Reverend Johannes Megapolensis, Jr., 1644.   In Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664. J. Franklin Jameson, Ed.  pp. 168-180.

“The inhabitants of this country are of two kinds: first, Christians–at least so called; second, Indians.  Of the Christians I shall say nothing; my design is to speak of the Indians only.”  [Rev. J. Megapolensis, Jr., 1644, p. 172]

“If they are sick, of have a pain or soreness anywhere in their limbs, and I ask them what ails them they say that the Devil sits in their body, or in the sore places, and bites them there; and so they attribute to the Devil at once the accidents which befall them; they have otherwise no religion.  When we pray they laugh at us.”  [Rev. J. Megapolensis, Jr., 1644, p. 177]

“Lately one of their chiefs came to me and presented me with a beaver, an otter, and some cloth he had stolen from the French…When he opened his budget he had in it a dried head of a bear, with grinning teeth.  I asked him what that meant?  He answered me that he fastened it upon his left shoulder by the side of his head, and that then he was the devil, who cared for nothing, and did not fear anything.”  [Rev. J. Megapolensis, Jr., 1644, p. 179]

Adriaen Vander Donck, 1650. The Representation of New Netherlands, 1650.  In Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664. J. Franklin Jameson, Ed. pp. 293-354.

“The rattlesnakes, however, which have a rattler on the tail, which they rattle very loudly when they are angry or intend to sting, and which grows every year a joint larger, are very malignant and do not readily retreat before a man or any other creature.  Whoever is bitten by them runs great danger of his life, unless great care be taken; but fortunately, they are not numerous, and there grows spontaneously in the country the true snakeroot, which is very highly esteemed by the Indians as an unfailing cure.”  [Adriaen Vander Donck, 1650, p. 298]

Sir Walter Raleigh, 1652.  Marrow of History.  1652.

Paradise was created a part of this Earth, and seated in the lower part of Eden or Mesopotamia, containing also a part of Shinar and Armenia; it stands 35 degrees from the Equinoctiall, and 55 from the North-pole, in a temperate Climate, full of excellent fruits, chiefely of Palm-trees without labour; for wherein soever the Earth, Nature, and the Sun can most caunt that they have excelled, yet shall the Palme-tree be the greatest wonder of all their workes: This tree alone giveth unto man whatsoever his life beggeth at Nature’s hand.  The like are also found both in the East and West-Indies as well as in Paradise, which COuntries are also blessed with a perpetual Spring and Summer, &c.  Rawleigh’s Marrow of History, Page 42.

George Alsop. 1666.  A Character of the Province of Maryland, by George Alsop, 1666.  In Narratives of Early Maryland. Clayton Colman Hall, Ed.  (New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1910.)  pp. 340-387.

“The Trees, Plants, Fruits, Flowers, and Roots that grow here in Mary-Land, are the only Emblems of Hieroglyphicks of our Adamitical or Primitive situation, as well as for their variety as odiferous smells, together with their vertues, according to their several effects, kinds and properties, which still bear the Effigies of Innocency according to their original grafts; by which their dumb vegetable Oratory, each herb speaks to the Inhabitants in silent acts…I shall forbear to particularize those several sorts of vegetables that flourishingly grows here, by rason of the vast tediousness that will attend upon the description, which therefore makes them much more fit for an Herbal, than a small manuscript or History.”

Daniel Denton, 1670.  A Brief Description of New York. 1670  Reprinted by University Microfilms, Inc., Ann Arbor, 1966.

“…it hath been observed that where the English come to settle, a Divine Hand makes way for them, by removing or cutting off the Indians, either by Wars one with the other, or by some raging mortal Diseases.”  [pp. 6-7]

“When any person is sick, after some means used by his friends everyone pretending skill in Physick; that proving ineffectual, they send for Pawow or Priest, who sitting by the sick person, without the least enquiry after the distemper, waits for a gift, which he proportions his work accordingly to: that being received he first begins with a low voice calling upon his God, sometimes upon one, sometimes on another, raising his voice higher and higher, beating of his naked breasts and sides, till the sweat gone, then that little which is remaining, he evaporates upon the face of the sick person three or four times together, and so takes leave.” [p. 10]

William Penn, 1683.  Letter from William Penn to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders, 1683. IN Narratives of East Pennsylvania, West New Jersey and Delaware.  1630-1707. Albert Cook Myers, Ed.  Charles Scribners’ Sons, NY, 1912.  pp. 217-244.

“There are divers Plants that not only the Indians tell us, but we have had occasion to prove by Swellings, Burnings, Cuts, etc., that they are great Virtue, suddenly curing the Patient: and for smell, I have observed several, especially one, the wild Mirtle; the other I know not what to call, but are most fragrant.”  [William Penn, 1683, p. 229]

Gabriel Thomas, 1698.  An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania….  1698.  IN Narratives of East Pennsylvania, West New Jersey and Delaware.  1630-1707. Albert Cook Myers, Ed.  Charles Scribners’ Sons, NY, 1912.  pp. 313-337.

“There are also many curious and excellent Physical Wild Herbs, Roots and Drugs of great Vertue, and very sanative, as the Sassafras, and Sarsaparilla, so much us’d in Diet-Drinks for the Cure of the Venereal Disease, which makes the Indians by a right application of them, as able Doctors and Surgeons as any in Europe, performing celebrate Cures therewith, and by the use of some particular Plants only, find Remedy in all Swellings, Burnings, Cuts, etc.  There grows also in great plenty the Black Snake-Root (fam’d for its sometimes preserving, but often curing the plague, being infused only in Wine, Brandy or Rumm) Rattle-Snake Root, Poke-Root, called in England Jallop, with several other beneficial Herbs, Plants and Roots, which Physicians have approved of, far exceeding in Nature and Vertue, those of other Countries…”  [p. 323-4]

“And I am certainly confident, that England would as soon feel her feebleness by withdrawment of so great an upholder; as well as in reference to the internal and healthful perservative of her Inhabitants, for want of those Medicinal Drugs that are landed upon her Coast every year, as the external profits Glory and beneficial Graces that accrue by her.” [p. 361-2]

 “The World had a Maker, but where he is that made it, of whether he be living to this day, they known not.  The Devil, as I said before, is all the God they own or worship.” [p. 369]