In 1983, The Morgan Library & Museum received, as the bequest of Clara S. Peck, an extraordinary volume whose beautiful paintings and descriptions document the plant, animal, and human life of the Caribbean late in the sixteenth century. Spaniards had already begun to exert influence over the indigenous people of the area when explorers from England and France arrived, among them Sir Francis Drake. The volume, known as the Drake Manuscript and titled Histoire Naturelle des Indes when it was bound in the eighteenth century, gives us a wonderful picture of daily life at the time of Drake's many visits to the region. Although Drake's connection to the manuscript is uncertain, he is mentioned on more than one occasion by the authors. Drake himself is known to have painted, but none of his work survives.
The work presented in this digital facsimile is from the hands of two or more artists, most likely French, and the descriptions are French as well. French Huguenots were known to have traveled with Drake, but whether these artists were with him remains unproven. In Verlyn Klinkenborg's introduction to the facsimile, we are given the background necessary to appreciate this magnificent manuscript to its fullest extent.