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True discovery of Easter Island

In modern times, basically everyone would credit the Dutch seafarer Jacob Roggeveen with the discovery of Easter Island from a western perspective. Though if we were to ask the seafarers of this time, we probably wouldn't have an answer as clear.

In 1687, English buccaneer Edward Davis and his crew probably spotted what today is known as Easter Island. They gave accounts of a sandy and low island. The sandy look may be from burnt grass during summer. They never gave accounts on any statues and they never disembarked onto the island.

Both Jacob Roggeveen in 1722 and the Spanish seafarer Don Felipe Gonzalez in 1770 followed the directions of this English pirate to find the island, which can be read in their ship logs. They both referred to the island as David's Land.

Accounts of 18th century seafarers

Jacob Roggeveen, 1722

After visiting the island of Juan Fernandez they sat course for what they called David's Land to the west. Their first impression when arriving at Easter Island was that it was sandy, so they assumed that they had found the same island that Captain Davis had found in 1687. After a closer look they understood that what they thought was sand, was in fact burnt grass. From Jacob Roggeveens ship log, 6th of April, 1722:

The reason why, at first, when at a farther distance off, we had regarded the said Easter Island as being of a sandy nature is that we mistook the parched-up grass, and hay or other scorched and charred brushwood for a soil of that arid nature, because from its outward appearance it suggested no other idea than that of an extraordinarily sparse and meagre vegetation; and the discoverers had consequently bestowed upon it the term sandy.

Jacob Roggeveen uses this to reason that their newfound island is not David's Land (making Roggeveen the discoverer of the island), which is an invalid argument since Edward Davis only saw the island from afar. Possibly, Roggeveen was unaware of that Davis didn't get a close look at the island. Roggeveen continues:

It may therefore be concluded, in the light of the foregoing explanation, that this Easter Island now discovered will turn out to be some other land lying further to the Eastward than that which is one of the objectives of our Expedition: or else, the discoverers must stand convicted of a whole bundle of lies in their reports, told by word of mouth as well as in writing.

After Roggeveens visit to Easter Island, they continued westward in search of the true David's Land. They never sighted a land in that direction. The 21st of April, Roggeveen called a meeting with his officers during which he concluded that Easter Island must be the same as the island discovered by the English pirate Edward Davis in 1687.

Don Felipe González, 1770

The Spanish seafarer Don Felipe González followed only the directions from the log of Edward Davis' visit in 1687. He always referred to the island as Island of David in his log. He never mentioned the voyage of Jacob Roggeveen, which means that he probably didn't know about it.

James Cook, 1774

Captain James Cook understood how the seamen of Edward Davis' voyage in 1687 could have thought of the island as sandy. He was open to the possibility that the island seen by the pirates might have been Easter Island. He wanted to spend a few extra days looking for this David's Land out of curiosity, but didn't find the necessary fresh water at Easter Island to do so. The following is from James Cook's journal:

I shall now give some farther account of this island, which is undoubtedly the same that Admiral Roggewein touched at in April 1722; although the description given of it by the authors of that voyage does by no means agree with it now. It may also be the same that was seen by Captain Davis in 1686; for, when seen from the east, it answers very well to Wafer's description, as I have before observed. In short, if this is not the land, his discovery cannot lie far from the coast of America, as this latitude has been well explored from the meridian of 80 to 110. Captain Carteret carried it much farther; but his track seems to have been a little too far south. Had I found fresh water, I intended spending some days in looking for the low sandy isle Davis fell in with, which would have determined the point. But as I did not find water, and had a long run to make before I was assured of getting any, and being in want of refreshments, I declined the search; as a small delay might have been attended with bad consequences to the crew, many of them beginning to be more or less affected with the scurvy.

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