The Westford Knight

The Westford Knight engraving, with the Gunn arms on the shield

The Westford Knight engraving, with the Gunn arms on the shield

What is claimed as a carving on a glacial boulder in the town of Westford, in Massachusetts, USA, is argued to be proof that an expedition, led by Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, landed on the North American continent almost 100 years before Christopher Columbus.

The ‘carving’ is subject to much speculation over its authenticity, but it is said to depict a Medieval knight with sword and shield who was a fallen member of Sinclair’s party who travelled to the ‘New World’ in 1398.

The story goes that in early April 1398 Henry Sinclair set sail, heading west with a fleet of 13 small vessels; two of which were driven by oars. They made it across to North America by the start of June; sailing into Chedabucto Bay, and dropping anchor in what is modern-day Guysborough Harbour, Nova Scotia in Canada. The explorers interacted peacefully with the natives, and with one tribe in particular, the Míkmaq (or Micmac). Sinclair managed to persuade the Míkmaqs to act as a guide so his party could travel and explore around the area safely.

They stayed in Nova Scotia until the following spring when the explorers are said to have sailed south, landing in Massachusetts, just north of where the city of Boston now sits. It has been claimed that Sinclair and his party made such a positive impression on the Míkmaq of Nova Scotia, and that after they left, the tribe chose to remember the travellers by telling stories about them, passing them down through many generations, and that the legendary figure of Glooscap is, in fact, meant to represent Henry Sinclair.

In Massachusetts the group stayed with the natives, also getting along with them peacefully, before Sinclair took 100 of his men and headed west. Among the men was a knight, and loyal friend of Henry, called Sir James Gunn. Gunn was later to become known as the Westford Knight. Unfortunately for Sir James the name came about due to his death on the expedition and he was buried, with a large rock covering his grave, where the modern-day town of Westford now is. On the stone an effigy of the Scottish knight was carved. It depicts Gunn with his sword and shield, and on the shield the Gunn family arms. After over 600 years the engraving is still said to be there on the stone, but is now very faint, and your imagination is needed to visualise it for the most part.

The tale of the Westford Knight is very much a part of Westford folklore, but the story itself is widely considered to be apocryphal. The ‘facts’ of the story are widely disputed by mainstream professional archaeologists and historians, who are under the general belief that the voyage never happened, and the carving is either much more recent than the 14th century or simply just a natural feature on the stone. Other reasons why the claim that Henry Sinclair reached the North American continent 94 years before Christopher Columbus is doubted include the lack of any physical evidence of the voyage and the new land, which Columbus did provide, plus there is no contemporary record of it at all. Also, it is stated that the rock, onto which the effigy of Sir James Gunn is carved, would most likely have been under almost a metre of earth at the time of the supposed visit, making it more than unlikely for it to have been used as a memorial.


Whatever the facts, it is not likely that anyone will know for absolute certainty whether or not Henry Sinclair made it to North America, and if the stone at Westford is actually a memorial to Sir James Gunn.


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