Unit 3: Section 1 Documents

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Unit 3: Section 1 Documents

1Motives for Exploration

When you think of exploring new territory, what comes to mind? Hacking through wild bush with a machete? Sailing into the unknown on large ships? Blasting off in a rocket into space? There are several ways to explore the unknown, just like there are several different reasons to do it!

Motives for Exploration - Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus made one of the most famous voyages of exploration in 1492 when he sailed from Palos, Spain in search of a route to Asia and the Indies. Instead, Columbus found the New World - the Americas. Other voyages soon followed Columbus'. At first, Europeans thought of the Americas as little more than a chunk of land blocking their way to the Indies. It didn't take long for them to realize that the Americas had great resources of its own.

Motives for Exploration - Reasons for coming to the New World.

The motives for Spanish, French and English explorers were all different, although in some ways, they were the same. They all wanted to find the Northwest Passage, which they believed was a direct and efficient route to the Orient - home of spices, silks and wealth. They also wanted to lay claim to new land to expand their empires. The Spanish explorers were in search of mineral wealth, looking for El Dorado (the City of Gold) and they aspired to spread Christianity. France also wanted to spread Christianity and find a new route by water to the East through North America. The English were motivated by a desire to colonize as much of the Americas as possible - to add to the ever-increasing British Empire.

Motives for Exploration - Did U Know?

  • While Columbus is often mistakenly credited as being the first European to lay eyes on North America, the Vikings got there more than 400 years before him.

  • A Spanish explorer happened upon Florida while searching for the "Fountain of Youth".

  • European explorers brought more than just boats with them to the new world. They were also carrying the Smallpox disease (a deadly relative of Chicken Pox), which killed millions of native people.



The first attempt by Europeans to colonize the New World occurred around a.d. 1000, when the Vikings sailed from the British Isles to Greenland, established a colony, and then moved on to Labrador, the Baffin Islands, and finally Newfoundland (Canada). There they established a colony named Vineland (meaning fertile region) and from that base sailed along the coast of North America, observing the flora, fauna, and native peoples. Inexplicably, after a few years the Vikings left.


In August 1492, Columbus sailed west with his now famous ships, Niña, Pinta, and Santa María. After ten weeks he sighted an island in the Bahamas, which he named San Salvador. Thinking he had found islands near Japan, he sailed on until he reached Cuba (which he thought was mainland China) and later Haiti. Columbus returned to Spain with many products unknown to Europe–coconuts, tobacco, sweet corn, potatoes–and with tales of dark-skinned native peoples whom he called “Indians” because he assumed he had been sailing in the Indian Ocean.

More Spanish expeditions followed. Juan Ponce de León explored the coasts of Florida in 1513. Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean in the same year. Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition (in the course of which he put down a mutiny and was later killed) sailed around the tip of South America, across the Pacific to the Philippines, through the Indian Ocean, and back to Europe around the southern tip of Africa between 1519 and 1522.

Two expeditions led directly to Spain being the wealthiest and most powerful nation in Europe during the sixteenth century. The first was headed by Hernando Cortés, who in 1519 led a small army of Spanish and Native Americans against the Aztec Empire of Mexico. Completing the conquest in 1521, Cortés took control of the Aztecs’ fabulous gold and silver mines. Ten years later, an expedition under Francisco Pizarro overwhelmed the Inca Empire of Peru, securing for the Spaniards the great Inca silver mines of Potosí. Later in the mid-1500s, other Spanish explorers traveled into North America along the west and gulf coast claiming land west of the Mississippi River. They even had colonies in what is now known as Florida.


While Spain was building its New World empire, France was also exploring the Americas. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano was commissioned to locate a northwest passage around North America to India. He was followed in 1534 by Jacques Cartier, who explored the St. Lawrence River as far as present-day Montreal (Canada). In 1608 Samuel de Champlain built a fort at Quebec and explored the area north to Port Royal, Nova Scotia, and south to Cape Cod.

Unlike Spain’s empire, “New France” produced no caches of gold and silver. Instead, the French traded with inland tribes for furs and fished off the coast of Newfoundland. New France were small amounts of trappers, missionaries and military forts. Although the French sought to colonize the area, the growth of settlements was stifled by inconsistent policies. Initially, France encouraged colonization by granting charters to fur-trading companies. The French empire failed to match the wealth of New Spain or the growth of neighboring British colonies.


In 1497 Henry VII of England sponsored an expedition to the New World headed by John Cabot, who explored a part of Newfoundland and reported an abundance of fish. But until Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the English showed little interest in exploration, being preoccupied with their European trade and establishing control over the British Isles (Islands in the northeastern part of Europe). By the mid-sixteenth century, however, England had recognized the advantages of trade with the East, and in 1560 English merchants enlisted Martin Frobisher to search for a northwest passage to India.

Thereafter, Queen Elizabeth granted charters to Sir Walter Raleigh to colonize America. A year later, Raleigh sent a company to explore territory he named Virginia after Elizabeth, the “Virgin Queen,” and in 1585, he sponsored a second voyage, this time to explore the Chesapeake Bay region. By the seventeenth century, the English had taken the lead in colonizing North America, establishing settlements all along the Atlantic coast and in the West Indies. These settlers came to start a new life away from debt and religious scrutiny.

1 http://www.kidzworld.com/article/1382-motives-for-exploration

2 http://www.history.com/topics/exploration/exploration-of-north-america

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