Giovanni da Verrazzano
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.
The Final Voyage and Grim Death
In March 1528, Verrazzano left France on his final voyage, yet again seeking the passage to India (after not having found it via a South American voyage the year before). The expedition, which included Verrazzano’s brother, Girolamo, sailed along the coast of Florida before drifting into the Caribbean Sea. This turned out to be the last mistake the explorer would ever make.
While sailing south of Jamaica, the crew spotted a heavily vegetated, seemingly unpopulated island, and Verrazzano dropped anchor to explore it with a handful of crewmen. The group was soon attacked by a large assemblage of cannibalistic natives who killed them and ate them all as Girolamo and the rest of the crew watched from the main ship, unable to help.
Giovanni da Verrazzano added greatly to the knowledge base of mapmakers in terms of the geography of the East Coast of North America. In honor of the famed explorer, the bridge spanning the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island now bears his name. The Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge in Rhode Island is also named in honor of the explorer.
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