Explorer (c. 1485–1528)
Giovanni da Verrazzano was born around 1485 near Val di Greve, 30 miles south of Florence, Italy. Around 1506 or 1507, he began pursuing a maritime career, and in the 1520s, he was sent by King Francis I of France to explore the East Coast of North America for a route to the Pacific. He made landfall near what would be Cape Fear, North Carolina, in early March and headed north to explore. Verrazzano eventually discovered New York Harbor, which now has a bridge spanning it named for the explorer. After returning to Europe, Verrazzano made two more voyages to the Americas. On the second, in 1528, he was killed and eaten by the natives of one of the Lower Antilles, probably on Guadeloupe.
Giovanni da Verrazzano, born around 1485 near Val di Greve, Italy, was introduced to adventure and exploration at an early age. He first headed to Egypt and Syria, places that were considered mysterious and nearly impossible to reach at the time. Sometime between 1507 and 1508, Verrazzano went to France, where he met with King Francis I. He also came in contact with members of the French navy, and began to get a feel for the navy’s missions and building rapport with the sailors and commanders.
During this period, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Ferdinand Magellan were making names for themselves with their explorations on behalf of Spain and Portugal, and Francis I grew concerned as France fell behind in the exploration of the West. Reports were coming back of riches in the New World, and paired with the idea of expanding his empire overseas, Francis I began planning an expedition on behalf of his country.
The First Expedition of the New World
Verrazzano and Francis I met between 1522 and 1523, and Verrazzano convinced the king that he would be the right man to undertake exploratory voyages to the West on behalf of France, and Francis I signed on. Verrazzano prepared four ships, loaded with ammunition, cannons, lifeboats, and scientific equipment, with provisions to last 8 months. The flagship was named Delfina, in honor of the King’s firstborn daughter, and it set sail with the Normanda, Santa Maria and Vittoria. The Santa Maria and Vittoria were lost in a storm at sea, while the Delfina and the Normanda found their way into battle with Spanish ships. In the end, only the Delfina was seaworthy, and it headed to the new World during the night of January 17, 1524. Like many explorers of the day, Verrazzano was ultimately seeking a passage to the pacific Ocean and Asia, and he thought that by sailing along the northern coastline of the New World he would find a passageway to the West Coast of North America.
After 50 days at sea, the men aboard the Delfina sighted land—generally thought to be near what would become Cape Fear, North Carolina. Verrazzano first steered his ship south, but upon reaching the northern tip of Florida, he turned and headed north, never losing sight of the coastline. On April 17, 1524, the Delfina entered the Bay of New York. He landed on the southern tip of Manhattan, where he stayed until a storm a pushed him toward Martha’s Vineyard. He finally came to a rest at what is known today as Newport, Rhode Island. Verrazzano and his men interacted with the local population there for two weeks, before returning to France in July 1524.
Explorer and navigator Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 in the Republic of Genoa, Italy. His first voyage into the Atlantic Ocean in 1476 nearly cost him his life. Columbus participated in several other expeditions to Africa. 1492, Columbus left Spain in the Santa Maria, with the Pinta and the Niña along side. He has been credited for opening up the Americas to European colonization.
Explorer and navigator Columbus was born in 1451, in the Republic of Genoa (Italy) to the son of a weaver. Columbus first went to sea as a teenager, participating in several trading voyages in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. One such voyage, to the island of Khios, in modern day Greece, brought him the closest he would come to Asia.
His first voyage into the Atlantic Ocean in 1476 nearly cost him his life as the commercial fleet he was sailing with was attacked by French privateers off the coast of Portugal. His ship was burned and Columbus had to swim to the Portuguese shore and make his way to Lisbon, Portugal, where he eventually settled and married Felipa Perestrello. The couple had one son, Diego in about 1480. His wife died soon after and Columbus moved to Spain. He had a second son Fernando who was born out of wedlock in 1488 with Beatriz Enriquez de Arana.
Columbus participated in several other expeditions to Africa gaining knowledge of the Atlantic currents flowing east and west from the Canary Islands. Muslim domination of the trade routes through the Middle East makes travel to India and China difficult. Believing a route sailing west across the Atlantic would be quicker and safer, Columbus devised a plan to sail west to get reach the East. He estimated the earth to be a sphere approximately 63% its actual size and the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan to be about 2,300 miles. Many contemporary nautical experts disagreed, adhering to the second century BC estimate of the earth's circumference at 25,000 miles. This made the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan about 12,200 statute miles. While experts disagreed with Columbus on matters of distance, they concurred that a westward voyage from Europe would be an uninterrupted water route.
3. Jacques Marquette was born in Laon, France, on June 1, 1637. He joined the Society of Jesus at age 17 and became a Jesuit missionary. He founded missions in present-day Michigan and later joined explorer Louis Joliet on an expedition to discover and map the Mississippi River.
Frenchman Jacques Marquette became an explorer in the mid-1600s, not only because of his interest in travel and discovery of new lands, but also because of his religion. At age 17, Marquette—who was born in Laon, France, on June 1, 1637—joined the Society of Jesus and became a Jesuit missionary.
Marquette studied and taught in the Jesuit colleges of France for about 12 years before his superiors assigned him in 1666 to be a missionary to the indigenous people of the Americas. He traveled to Quebec, Canada, where he demonstrated his penchant for learning indigenous languages: Marquette learned to converse fluently in six different Native American dialects and became an expert in the Huron language.
In 1668, Marquette sent to establish more missions farther up the St. Lawrence River in the western Great Lakes region. He helped establish missions at Sault Ste. Marie in what is now Michigan—the state's first European settlement—in 1668 and at St. Ignace, also in Michigan, in 1671.
Explorations and Discoveries
On May 17, 1673, Marquette and his friend Louis Joliet (also spelled "Jolliet"), a French-Canadian fur trader and explorer, were chosen to lead an expedition that included five men and two canoes to find the direction and mouth of the Mississippi River, which natives had called Messipi, "the Great Water."
Despite sharing a goal to find the river, the two leaders' ambitions were different: Joliet, an experienced mapmaker and geographer, was focused on the finding itself, while Marquette wanted to spread the word of God among the people he encountered on the way there.
Marquette's group traveled westward to Green Bay in present-day Wisconsin, ascended the Fox River to a portage that crossed to the Wisconsin River and entered the Mississippi near Prairie du Chien on June 17, 1673. Following the river to the mouth of the Arkansas River—within 435 miles of the Gulf of Mexico—Marquette and Joliet learned that it flowed through hostile Spanish domains. Fearing an encounter with Spanish colonists and explorers, they decided to return homeward by way of the Illinois River in mid-July.
While Joliet continued on to Canada to relay news of the expedition and its discoveries, Marquette stayed behind in Green Bay. In 1674, he set out to found a mission among the Illinois Indians. As a result of the cold winter weather, he and two companions camped near the site of what is now Chicago, becoming the first Europeans to live there. In the spring, Marquette reached the Indians he sought, but illness—dysentery he contracted while on his mission—forced him to return home. He died on May 18, 1675, en route to St. Ignace at the mouth of a river later named Père Marquette in his honor.
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Recognition and Memorials
Marquette has been recognized and memorialized for his accomplishments, particularly in the names of many towns, parks and geographical locations. Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was named for him. Several statues have also been erected in his honor, including one at the Prairie du Chien post office, at Quebec's parliament building and in his birthplace of Laon, France.
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca spent eight years in the Gulf region of present-day Texas and was treasurer to the Spanish expedition under de Narváez.
Explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was born 1490, in Extremadura, Castile, Spain. He was treasurer to the Spanish expedition under Pánfilo de Narváez that reached what is now Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1528. By September all but his party of 60 had perished; it reached the shore near present-day Galveston, Texas. The survivors lived among the natives of the region for four years, and Cabeza de Vaca carved out roles as a trader and a healer in the community. In 1532 he and the other three surviving members of his original party set out for Mexico, where they hoped to connect with other representatives of the Spanish empire. They traveled through Texas, and possibly what are now New Mexico and Arizona, before arriving in northern Mexico in 1536, where they met up with fellow Spaniards, who were in the region to capture slaves. Cabeza de Vaca deplored the Spanish explorers' treatment of Indians, and when he returned home in 1537 he advocated for changes in Spain's policy. After a brief term as governor of a province in Mexico, he became a judge in Seville, Spain, a position he occupied for the remainder of his life.
Samuel de Champlain Biography
Diplomat, Explorer (d. 1635)
“The advice I give to all adventurers is to seek a place where they may sleep in safety.”
—Samuel de Champlain
Samuel de Champlain - Mini Biography (TV-14; 02:59) French explorer Samuel de Champlain began exploring North America in 1603, establishing the city of Quebec in the northern colony of New France. He became the de facto governor of New France in 1620.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain was born in 1574 in Brouage, France. He began exploring North America in 1603, establishing the city of Quebec in the northern colony of New France, and mapping the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes, before settling into an administrative role as the de facto governor of New France in 1620. He died on December 25, 1635, in Quebec.
Samuel de Champlain was born in 1574 (according to his baptismal certificate, which was discovered in 2012), in Brouage, a small port town in the province of Saintonge, on the western coast of France. Although Champlain wrote extensively of his voyages and later life, little is known of his childhood. He was likely born a Protestant, but converted to Catholicism as a young adult.
Champlain's earliest travels were with his uncle, and he ventured as far as Spain and the West Indies. From 1601 to 1603, he was a geographer for King Henry IV, and then joined François Gravé Du Pont's expedition to Canada in 1603. The group sailed up the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers and explored the Gaspé Peninsula, ultimately arriving in Montreal. Although Champlain had no official role or title on the expedition, he proved his mettle by making uncanny predictions about the network of lakes and other geographic features of the region.
Given his usefulness on Du Pont's voyage, the following year Champlain was chosen to be geographer on an expedition to Acadia led by Lieutenant-General Pierre Du Gua de Monts. They landed in May on the southeast coast of what is now Nova Scotia and Champlain was asked to choose a location for a temporary settlement. He explored the Bay of Fundy and St. John River area before selecting a small island in the St. Croix River. The team built a fort and spent the winter there.
In the summer of 1605, the team sailed down the coast of New England as far south as Cape Cod. Although a few British explorers had navigated the terrain before, Champlain was the first to give a precise and detailed accounting of the region that would one day become Plymouth Rock.
In 1608, Champlain was named lieutenant to de Monts, and they set off on another expedition up the St. Lawrence. When they arrived in June 1608, they constructed a fort in what is now Quebec City. Quebec would soon become the hub for French fur trading. The following summer, Champlain fought the first major battle against the Iroquois, cementing a hostile relationship that would last for more than a century.
In 1615, Champlain made a brave voyage into the interior of Canada accompanied by a tribe of Native Americans with whom he had good relations, the Hurons. Champlain and the French aided the Hurons in an attack on the Iroquois, but they lost the battle and Champlain was hit in the knee with an arrow and unable to walk. He lived with the Hurons that winter, between the foot of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. During his stay, he composed one of the earliest and most detailed accounts of Native American life.
Later Years and Death
When Champlain returned to France, he found himself embroiled in lawsuits and was unable to return to Quebec. He spent this time writing the stories of his voyages, complete with maps and illustrations. When he was reinstated as lieutenant, he returned to Canada with his wife, who was 30 years his junior. In 1627, Louis XIII's chief minister, Cardinal de Richelieu, formed the Company of 100 Associates to rule New France and placed Champlain in charge.
Things didn't go smoothly for Champlain for long. Eager to capitalize on the profitable fur trade in the region, Charles I of England commissioned an expedition under David Kirke to displace the French. They attacked the fort and seized supply ships, cutting off necessities to the colony. Champlain surrendered on July 19, 1629 and returned to France.
Champlain spent some time writing about his travels until, in 1632, the British and the French signed the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, returning Quebec to the French. Champlain returned to be its governor. By this time, however, his health was failing and he was forced to retire in 1633. He died in Quebec on Christmas Day in 1635.
Juan Ponce de León Biography
Born in Spain in 1460, Juan Ponce de León led a European expedition to discover the mythical fountain of youth, instead finding the southeast coast of what would become the United States. He gave Florida its name and went on to become the first governor of Puerto Rico.
Born into a noble family, Juan Ponce de León became a soldier, fighting in a notable campaign against the Moors in Granada. By various accounts, he began his exploration career as part of Christopher Columbus' second expedition to the New World (1493), after the war with the Moors ended.
Hispaniola and Puerto Rico
Years later, after suppressing an Indian uprising in Hispaniola (comprising modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Ponce de León was named the provincial governor of the eastern part of the country.
Hearing persistent reports of gold to be found on nearby Puerto Rico, in 1508 Ponce de León was officially sent by the Spanish crown to explore the island (there are account of him unofficially exploring it up to two years earlier on his own). He took 50 soldiers with him on a single ship and explored the island, settling near what is now San Juan. A year later, he returned to Hispaniola, having found much gold but running short on supplies, and was named governor of Puerto Rico.
The expedition was seen as a great success, and Ponce de León was instructed to continue the settlement of the island and step up his gold-mining efforts. So he returned to Puerto Rico, this time bringing his wife and children along.
The Fountain of Youth and the Discovery of Florida
The Spanish crown soon encouraged Ponce de León to continue searching for new lands, in hopes of finding yet more gold and expanding the Spanish empire. Also around this time, he learned of a Caribbean island called Bimini, on which there were rumored to be miraculous waters that could rejuvenate those who drank from them (the fountain of youth).
His interest piqued, in 1513 Ponce de León led a private expedition to Bimini from Puerto Rico. In a month's time, he and his men landed on the coast of Florida instead. He did not initially realize that he was on the mainland of North America and instead thought he had landed on another island. He named the region Florida because he discovered it at Easter time (Spanish: Pascua Florida) and because its vegetation was lush and floral.
After exploring the coast, he returned to Puerto Rico, which he found roiling with a native uprising.
Ponce de León soon left for Spain, where he was named military governor of Bimini and Florida and secured permission to colonize those regions. He was also ordered to organize an army to subdue the native uprising on Puerto Rico, which had continued in his absence. He left for Puerto Rico in May 1515 with his small fleet.
Return to Florida and Death
Accounts of the battle that ensued after his arrival are spotty, but in 1521, Ponce de León sailed again for Florida with two ships and 200 men, intent on settling the land. This time, though, he was wounded by an arrow during an Indian attack, after which he and his colonists sailed to Cuba, where he soon died of the wound.
Louis Joliet Biography
Explorer (c. 1645–1700)
Born around 1645 in or near Quebec, New France, Louis Joliet pursued religious and musical studies until deciding in adulthood to become a fur trader. In 1673, he embarked on a trip with missionary Jacques Marquette along the Mississippi River, ascertaining with Native American guidance that it led to the Gulf of Mexico. Joliet made later expeditions to the Hudson Bay and Labrador Coast.
Louis Joliet (also spelled "Jolliet") was born sometime in the mid-17th century in or near the Quebec, New France settlement to Marie d'Abancourt and John Joliet. Baptized on September 21, 1645, he entered a Jesuit school as a child and focused on philosophical and religious studies, aiming for priesthood. He also studied music, becoming a skilled harpsichordist and church organist. Yet he decided to leave the seminary as an adult and pursued fur trading instead.
North American Travels
In 1673, Joliet embarked on a privately-sponsored expedition with Jacques Marquette, a missionary and linguist, to be among the first Europeans to explore what was called by Native Americans the "Mesipi" river and ascertain where it led to, with hopes of finding a passage to Asia. After meeting in the Michilimackinac region, the men started their journey by canoe on May 17, 1673, to what would be known as the Mississippi River. A month later, they came upon a native village in the Illinois area and were hosted by the tribe's chief, who sent his son with the group as a guide along with a peace pipe for future safe passage.
Continuing their travels to the Arkansas River region, they eventually came upon a native tribe ready to attack near the region that would be known as St. Louis. After seeing the peace pipe in Joliet's hands, the tribe took the explorers to their village and revealed that there were armed Europeans further along the Mississippi. Joliet and Marquette realized that these were the Spanish settlers at the Gulf of Mexico—deducing that's where the Mississippi led to and not Asia—and hence decided to turn around to avoid conflict and capture, having also noted other westward rivers. Along the way back, the young native guide showed the explorers a shorter route home by taking the Illinois River, with the men coming upon Lake Michigan and rich prairie land. Marquette came back to the area the following year with plans of proselytization, but died from dysentery.
Joliet split from Marquette on his way back to Quebec and, in 1674, took a shortcut through the rapids of Lachine along the St. Lawrence. His canoe capsized, taking the lives of the additional passengers, including the chief's son. Joliet was saved by fishermen after holding on to a rock for hours. Losing all of his highly detailed maps and journals, he recomposed some notes of the journey from memory, but Marquette's recovered notes became the more relied upon resource.
The following year, Joliet wed Claire-Françoise Bissot and became more actively involved in Quebec's church and community life. He returned to fur trading in 1676, setting up a business in the northern region of the St. Lawrence and also working as a merchant in the Mingan Archipelago. He took on another exploratory mission in 1679, at the behest of French colonists, to survey English and Native American trading relations in the Hudson Bay area.
Toward the end of the 17th century, Joliet was internationally known for his expeditions, from which official regional maps were created. Joliet went on another trip in 1694 to make detailed observations of the Labrador Coast, and in 1697, became a hydrography professor at the University of Quebec. He died in 1700.
Amerigo Vespucci Biography
Explorer (c. 1454–c. 1512)
“They live together without king, without government, and each is his own master...Beyond the fact that they have no church, no religion and are not idolaters, what more can I say? They live according to nature, and may be called Epicureans rather than Stoics.”
Amerigo Vespucci - Mini Biography (TV-PG; 03:08) Explorer Amerigo Vespucci was born in 1451 in Italy. On his third voyage, he discovered present-day Rio de Janeiro. Believing he had discovered a new continent, he called South America the New World. In 1507, America was named after him.
Explorer Amerigo Vespucci was born March 9, 1451, in Florence, Italy. On May 10, 1497, he embarked on his first voyage. On his third and most successful voyage, he discovered present-day Rio de Janeiro and Rio de la Plata. Believing he had discovered a new continent, he called South America the New World. In 1507, America was named after him. He died of malaria in Seville, Spain, on February 22, 1512.
Navigator and explorer Amerigo Vespucci, the third son in a cultured family, was born on March 9, 1451, in Florence, Italy. Although born in Italy, Vespucci became a naturalized citizen of Spain in 1505.
Vespucci and his parents, Ser Nastagio and Lisabetta Mini, were friends of the wealthy and tempestuous Medici family, who ruled Italy from the 1400s to 1737. Vespucci's father worked as a notary in Florence. While his older brothers headed off to the University of Pisa in Tuscany, Vespucci received his early education from his paternal uncle, a Dominican friar named Giorgio Antonio Vespucci.
When Amerigo Vespucci was in his early 20s, another uncle, Guido Antonio Vespucci, gave him one of the first of his many jobs. Guido Antonio Vespucci, who was ambassador of Florence under King Louis XI of France, sent his nephew on a brief diplomatic mission to Paris. The trip likely awakened Vespucci's fascination with travel and exploration.