20 January 2016

German artist's sketches give first-hand view of "strange new world" in 1700s; include now-extinct species, some species not known to Georgia Coast, and Uchee Indians and their dwellings

Do you ever run across a nugget of historical significance that just excites you beyond belief?

I was doing some research today and I found something so intriguing I just had to share it. I love history and when I hear something I've never heard before it's exciting, and this find doesn't involve just an awesome story, but also sketches from the 1730s of plants and animals, some now extinct, native Indians and their dwellings and much more along the coast of Georgia ... drawings that are first-hand and intricately detailed.

Yuchee Indians going hunting. © Det Kongelige Bibliotek
It seems that in 1736, a 25-year-old German named Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck sailed to America from Germany with a group of colonists. He wanted to bring back "ocular proof," he wrote, of "this strange new world."

Lucky for us, he was a gifted and super-talented artist and his watercolor and pen and pencil sketches are among the first known of many plants, animals and species ... some of which are now extinct and weren't known to even exist on the coast of Georgia.

Wild American Pigeon. © Det Kongelige Bibliotek

He captured for posterity a glimpse of the first European settlers to Georgia, their day-to-day life, what they saw, what they ate, plants that grew in the region, birds that sang in the branches of their trees, native Uchee Indians, their dwellings, their boats, the fish in the ocean ... what a gift for the ages to art, science and history.

I ran across this information on the People of One Fire blog here. Blog author Richard Thornton drops this bombshell: "Native Americans near the Georgia Coast grew calabaza (tropical) squash, watermelons, passion fruit, pineapples and cacao, from which chocolate is made. This has been completely left out of the textbooks, but would explain why chocolate was detected in beakers unearthed at Cahokia."

Cocoa nut and leaf. © Det Kongelige Bibliotek
Cahokia Mounds, the largest pre-Columbian site north of Mexico, are in Illinois and are the remains of a forgotten Indian city. Of its 4,000 acres, 2,200 acres are preserved as a state historic site. You can read an interesting article about the mounds in National Geographic here. Clay beaker vessels found at Cahokia were analyzed and found to contain residue of "black drink," a caffeinated tea-like beverage six times more potent than coffee and possibly containing a compound found in cacao but definitely made from a species of holly.

Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer and builder. He is considered one of the nation's leading experts on Southeastern Indians.

Yuchee Indian war dance. © Det Kongelige Bibliotek
On the website of the Savannah River Band of the Uchean Indian Tribe, it tells of the origins of this tribe, which has lived along the Savannah River since the 1500s. They were one of several ethnic groups in the Old Apalache Kingdom.

You can read more about the Ucheans here.

Thornton said this was a distinct branch of the Uchee, different from their neighbors in that the Tennessee Valley Uchee only built round houses and villages and the Savannah Uchee villages had a Caribbean feel to their architecture.

And there is among Von Reck's sketches the only known drawing of a fort built on the Savannah River in the early 1700s.

Military fort on Savannah River. © Det Kongelige Bibliotek

Waterspout, top, and pelican and crocodile, bottom. © Det Kongelige Bibliotek

Von Reck's sketch book is now owned by Det Dansk Kongelige Bibliotek (the Danish Royal Library) and can be accessed here.  You can scroll through each page of the sketch book and view these amazing glimpses of life as he saw and experienced it 280 years ago.


  1. Love this, especially the drawing of the fort. I stared a long time, almost feeling like I was him sitting overlooking it and making the picture myself. Really enjoyed this!

  2. Thanks Mike, That's exactly how I felt! How awesome to have such a detailed, first-hand look at what it was like and see what he saw. So thankful he created this travel diary and that it was preserved.