Early European Exploration of the Americas

by Bass

Vikings:  (Norse):  1000s by Leif Eriksson and others.

Christopher Columbus: 1492 source

  • Completed four voyages across the Atlantic, leading to general European awareness of the Americas.
  • His voyages, and his efforts to establish permanent settlements on the island of Hispaniola, initiated the Spanish Colonization of the New World.
  • Columbus’s proposal to find a route to the East Indies simply by sailing westward eventually recieved support from the Spanish Crown, who wanted it as the chance to gain the upper hand over rival powers in the contest for the lucrative spice trade with Asia.
  • On the first voyage, he landed in the Bahamas archipalego, the landing spot which he named San Salvador.
  • Over the next three voyages, he visited and claimed for Spain the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America.
  • He led the first lasting European contact with the Americas, leading into a period of European exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for severl centuries.
  • Primarily, he saw his accomplishments as spreading of the Christian Religion.

John Cabot: 1497  source

  • Italian Navigator and Explorer who discovered parts of North America under the commission of Henry VII of England.
  • Said to have landed on the island of Newfoundland.
  • Did not spend much time on the land, and it is not thought that he encountered any native peoples.  He explored after he turned back, discovering the coast line.
  • William Weston, a supported of Cabot is thought to may have sailed north from Newfoundland up to the Hudson Strait, possibly the first North West Passage expedition, in 1499, and the first Englishman to lead exploration of America.
  • John’s son, Sebastian Cabot, later made at least one voyage to North America, looking for the North West passage in 1508, as well as another to repeat Magellan’s voyage around the world, but instead ended up looking for silver along the Rio de la Plata, in 1525-1528.

Amerigo Vespucci: 1499-1502  source

  • An Italian explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer.
  • He was the first to demonstrate that Brazil and the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern outskirts as initially conjectured from Columbus’ voyages, but instead was an entire New World.
  • The term “Amrica” is derived from the feminized Latin version of Vesupucci’s first name.
  • He was an observer in several voyages that explored the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502 by invitation of King Manuel I of Portugal.
  • The expeditions became widely known in Europe after two accounts attributed (but maybe fabricated by others) to Vespucci between 1502-1504.  It was in 1507 that Martin Waldseemuller produced a world map on which he named the new continent America.

Pedro Alvares Cabral:  1500  source

  • A Portugese nobleman, military commander, navigator and explored.
  • Regarded as the discoverer of Brazil.
  • He conducted the first substantial expolration of the northeast coast of South America and claimed it for Portugal.
  • With a fleet of 13 ships, he sailed far into the western Atlantic Ocean, landing on what he assumed to be a large island before he began exploring.  He then claimed the continent for the Portugese crown under the Treaty or Tordesillas and dispatched a ship to notify the king.

Nicolas de Ovando:  1502 source

  • The third Governor and Captain-General of the Indies, Islands and Firm-Land of the Ocean Sea.
  • He sailed to the New World in the largest ever fleet, a full 30 ships, 30’500 colonists, a true cross-section of Spanish society for the economic devlelopment of the New World.
  • His administration was notorious for its ill and harsh treatment of the native Taino on Hispaniola.
  • He was accompanied by Francisco Pizarro, who would later explore western South America and conquer the Inca Empire.

Juan Ponce de Leon:  1513 source

  • Spanish explorer and conquistador
  • Led the first European expedition into Florida, which he named, and is associated with the Fountain of Youth, said to be in Florida.
  • He became the first governor of Puerto Rico by appointment of the Spanish Crown.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa:  1513  source

  • Spanish explorer, governor, and conquistador.
  • Traveled to the New World in 1500, and after some exploration he settled on the island of Hispaniola.
  • In 1510 he founded the settlement of Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien in present day Panama, the first permanent European settlement on the mainland of the Americas.
  • Best known for having crossed the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean in 1513, becoming the first European to lead an expedition to have seen or reached the Pacific from the New World.

Ferdinand Magellan:  1519-1522  source

  • Portugese explorer
  • Best known for organizing the expedition that resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth, though it was compleated by Juan Sebastian Elcano.
  • Served King Charles I of Spain in search of a westward route to the Spice Islands.
  • His expedition of 1519-1522 became the first expedition to sail from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Magellan and the first to cross the Pacific.
  • He did not complete the the circumnavigation, being killed during the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines.

Francisco Pizarro:  1530s source

  • Spanish Conquistador who conquered the Incan Empire.
  • Second cousin twice removed of Hernan Cortes.
  • He undertook two expeditions to conquer the Incan Empire, on in 1524 and the other in 1526, which both failed.
  • After finding out how rich northern Peru was, he returned to Panama to plan the expedition and when that failed, he appealed directly to King Charles I, which succeeded enormously, as he was granted considerable authority over any lands conquered during the venture, and it left Panama in 1530.
  • When hostile natives on the coast threatened him, he moved inland and settled the first Spanish settlement in Peru, San Miguel de Piura.

Hernando de Soto:  1539-1541 source

  • A Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the first European expedition deep into the territory of the US, and the first documented to have crossed the Mississippi River.
  • His expeditions ranged throughout the southeastern US searching for gold, silver, and a passage to China.
  • Sailed to the New World with the first Governor of Panama, Pedrarias Davila.
  • He gained fame as an excellent horseman, fighter, his unwavering loyalty, clever schemes and as a tactician, but was notorious for his brutality.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado:  1540-1541 source

  • Spanish conquistador.
  • He visited what is now New Mexico and other parts of the southwestern US between 1540 and 1542.
  • He had hoped to conquer the Seven Cities of Gold.
  • He arranged the first scouting party to see the Grand Canyon (by Garcia Lopez de Cardenas)

Juan de Onate:  1598 source

  • Spanish Conquistador, explorer, and colonial governor of the Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico province in the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
  • He led early Spanish expditions to the Great Plains and Lower Colorado River Valley, encountering numerous indigenous tribes along the way.
  • He founded settlements within the Province and in the American southwest.
  • He was the leader during the Acoma Massacre of the Acoma Pueblo people, with his soldiers massacring some 800 villagers, with only 500 surviving.  They amputated the left foot of every Acoma man over the age of 25, females were sent off to be slaves for twenty years.

Samuel de Champlain:  1608 source

  • “The Father of New France”
  • A French navigator, cartographer, draughtsman, soldier, explorer, ethologist, diplomat, and chronicler.
  • Founded New France and Quebec City on July 3, 1608.
  • Made the first accurate map of the coast and he helped establish the settlements there.

Henry Hudson:  1609 source

  • English sea explorer and navigator
  • While employed by the Dutch East India Company, he explored the New York region while looking for a western route to Asia.  He explored the river named after him and laid the foundation of Dutch colonization in the area.

Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet:  1673 source

  • Were the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River.
  • Father Marquette was a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan’s first European settlement, Sault Ste. Marie, and later St. Ignace, Michigan.
  • Louis Jolliet was a French Canadian explorer.