Italian Historical Society of America


  Explorers

 Discovery has been the driving force for the development of civilization. Be it the discovery of continents or of space the process is the same. Individuals of extraordinary courage and drive bring to humankind knowledge of places previously unknown. Here are some of particular importance during the time we were developing an understanding of our the land masses on this planet.

Biographies presented in this page:
  Giovanni Caboto
  Columbus (1451-1506)
  Marco Polo (1254-c.1324)
  Giovanni Da Verrazzano (1485-1528)
  Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)


   Giovanni Caboto (also known as John Cabot)


 Commonly known as John Cabot, few facts are certain about Giovanni Caboto early years. Most sources state his birthplace as Genoa, citing the family name that was common to the area. Other sources mention Gaeta, near Naples. The years of his birth and death also vary.
 He spent his childhood in Venice, and in the early 1480's married. Caboto worked as a merchant and in the spice business, fostering his interest in trade and exploration. Like Columbus, Caboto was interested in finding a shorter route to the east, and after Columbus' return to Spain in 1493, Caboto appealed to both Spain and Portugal for financial backing. Denied by both, he headed to England and received backing from King Henry VII, sailing as John Cabot. In 1497, in his second attempt, Caboto sailed northwest and landed on the North American continent claiming the "new found land" for the king of England. During his third attempt in 1498, Cabot and his five ships disappeared.
Written by Janice Mancuso

Here are some other relevant websites:
John Cabot [Giovanni Caboto]
John Cabot
John Cabot: Heritage Newfoundland
John Cabot [Giovanni Caboto]


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  Columbus (1451-1506)


 
 We celebrate Columbus Day to honor Christopher Columbus, who landed in San Salvador in 1492.  People in parts of Canada, Puerto Rico, and Central and South America celebrate Columbus as well - it is the only non-religious holiday to span these countries. A federal holiday since 1971, Columbus Day had a fitful beginning. A dinner to honor Columbus was held in New York in 1792, and Italians in New York celebrated it beginning in 1866. The first event to really draw attention to Columbus, though, was the World's Columbian Exposition of 1892, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. Now, we celebrate Columbus Day the second Monday of each October, in honor of the October 12th the day that Columbus first set foot on the Americas.

Here are some other relevant websites:
Christopher Columbus: Explorer
But for Columbus there would be no America
Columbus Monuments Pages

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Read more about Columbus
Go To:


Christopher Columbus: When Did the Hero Become a Villain?



   Marco Polo (1254-c.1324)

 The most illustrious European to travel throughout the Far East, Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road – a trade route named for the precious silk of China – with his father and uncle on a journey that took 24 years. Most of it was spent in China, in the Mongolian Court of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. Marco’s father and uncle, trade merchants, first traveled to China in 1260, meeting Kublai Khan around 1265 and assuring their return to China to fulfill Khan’s request to ask the Pope for 100 missionaries to teach Christianity. Marco was raised in Venice by his mother who had died, and was 15 years old when his father and uncle returned. The selection of a new Pope caused a two-year delay in the Polo brother’s return; and in 1271, they left for China with Marco.

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 In 1275, Marco, his father and uncle arrived at Kublai Khan’s Court; they stayed until 1291. During this time, Marco observed the cultures of each country and the customs of the Mongolian Court; and he became a trusted official of Kublai Khan. The Polos left China with a mission to escort a Mongol princess to her betrothed in Persia. The trip took four years, and they returned to Venice in 1295. Several years later, Marco was aboard a Venetian ship during a war with Genoa, and was captured and jailed. In jail, he met Rustichello da Pisa – a writer of romantic and aristocratic lore – and Polo dictated his account of his travels. The book, titled A Description of the World, or The Travels of Marco Polo, became very popular throughout Europe; however, people had a difficult time believing the vastly different customs and cultures and Marco’s story gained a reputation for being an exaggeration. Travelers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have confirmed many of Marco’s descriptions, and – more recently – researchers have also come to Marco’s defense, citing numerous reasons in support of his credibility. 
Written by Janice Mancuso


  Giovanni Da Verrazzano (1485-1528)

 Giovanni da Verrazzano (also spelled Verrazano) was born in Tuscany, Italy in 1485 and died in 1528 in the Lesser Antilles. He was a Florentine explorer sailing under the French flag. He was the first European to sight Cape Fear Island and New York and Narragansett Bays. While growing up in Florence, Verrazzano received an excellent education. Later he moved to Dieppe in France and entered the French maritime service. He traveled several times to the Levant. In 1523, Francis I agreed to provide Verrazzano with two ships to set sail and discover the westward passage to Asia. In January of 1524, Verrazzano set sail, his vessel being named La Dauphine (a term traditionally used to refer to the eldest son of the king - the individual immediately in line to the throne).

To learn more visit Verrazzano dedecated page on our website.

Go To Verrazzano Page
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  Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)

  Born in Florence, Italy in 1454 - Died Seville, Spain in 1512
 Born into a prominent Florentine family and with an uncle who was a distinguished scholar, Americas namesake Amerigo Vespuccis studied Greek and Latin, the physical sciences, and later, diplomacy. After his fathers death in 1482, he became manager of the de Medici familys merchant business, a position he held for 15 years, moving to Spain to oversee the business in 1491. During that time, he acquired many maps and charts, and contacts in Spain.
 
Amerigo, sometimes also known as Americus, Vespucci was a skilled navigator and a trader of goods. After Columbus third voyage, Vespucci sailed, first, as a navigator for Spain, and then on his own expeditions for Portugal. He explored almost 6,000 miles of South Americas coastline, discovered the Amazon River, and first recorded the equatorial currents He sailed under the Portuguese and Spanish flags to what is today known as Central and South America. He was the first to postulate that these lands were not the western edges of Asia, but in fact an entirely "New World".

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 There is some controversy around the account of how it is that the Americas came to have their name. It has been assumed that the map maker Martin Waldseemuller's believed that Vespucci should receive credit for the discovery of the "New World" based on two letters by Vespucci which were widely circulated. There is now some research that indicates that most of the contents of the letters were forgeries. However, it is not known what Waldseemuller's sources for Vespucci's exploits were. Nonetheless, it does appear that he named what is today South America after Vespucci. Eventually the term was applied to both North and Central America as well. The Martin Waldseemuller map became the standard for the maps to follow.

An excellent new book by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto published by Random House in 2007 is entitled Amerigo: The man who gave his name to America
Written by Janice Mancuso

Here are some other relevant websites:
America's Namesake
Amerigo Vespucci: Explorer
Amerigo Vespucci: Facts, Biography and Naming of America
Amerigo Vespucci: Our National Namesake