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9-08-2015, 16:40

Early voyagers after Columbus

Columbus’s reputation was not always glorious during his lifetime, but the news of his first voyage spread immediately throughout Europe and other mariners and adventurers found backers for their own expeditions. Another young man from Columbus’s home town of Genoa, Giovanni Caboto ( 1450?–1498?) followed the same career path as Columbus, working on merchant ships in the Mediterranean, becoming a map-maker, and moving westward looking for support for longer voyages. He ended up in England, where he changed his name into English – John Cabot. Cabot thought that it would be faster to take a northern route to China, got the backing of King Henry VII of England and merchants in the port city of Bristol, and in 1497 made the first English voyage to North America, landing on the bleak and rocky shore of Canada somewhere near where the Viking colony on Newfoundland had been five hundred years earlier. Like Columbus, Cabot found no gold or treasure, but he did find the richest fishing area in the world, what was later called the Grand Banks. (These would remain an important source of the world’s fish for centuries, until they had to be closed because of overfishing in the late twentieth century.) His voyage also gave England a claim to the mainland of North America and led to the founding of the English colonies in America, though Cabot himself disappeared on a second voyage. Amerigo Vespucci ( 1454–1512) was born in Florence, worked for a banking fi rm run by the Medici family, moved to Spain, got involved in overseas trade, and served as a ship’s captain on several Spanish and Portuguese voyages. He wrote vivid and extensive descriptions of his voyages, including a letter to his old employers the Medici detailing his trip along the coast of Venezuela that trumpeted the wonders of this “new world” and claimed that he had “found a continent.” Just as Columbus’s fi rst letter had been, Vespucci’s letter was published many times in many different languages, and along with “New World,” the word “America” began to appear on maps and charts of what is now South America. The fi rst to use this was the German map-maker Martin Waldseemüller (1470?–1522?), who justifi ed his decision with the comment: “I see no reason why, and by what right, this land of America should not be named after that wise and ingenious man who discovered it, Amerigo, since both Europe and Asia had been allotted the names of women.” 3 (Europe and her mother, Asia, were the Greek demi-goddesses discussed in the introduction.) By just a few years later, map-makers – including Waldseemüller – and others knew they were wrong, and that Columbus had reached the same place before Vespucci; they wanted to omit “America” from future maps, but the name had already stuck. The Flemish cartographer, mathematician, and instrument maker Gerardus Mercator ( 1512–94), who invented the projection most commonly used to show the globe on a fl at surface, used the word America for both land masses for the fi rst time on his world map of 1538, and later the designations “North” and “South” were added. While Spanish and English ships were exploring the coasts of the “new world,” the Portuguese were as well. They sent fi shing fl eets to the Grand Banks, and built small settlements on the Canadian coast for salting and drying fi sh and processing whale blubber into oil. Some Portuguese scholars believe Portuguese ships were actually in the Grand Banks before Cabot and before Columbus, but so far no physical or textual evidence has been found to back up this assertion. In 1500, Bartolomeu Dias, the Portuguese explorer who had fi rst rounded the southern tip of Africa, commanded ships in an expedition led by Pedro Alvares Cabral (1467?–1528?), another Portuguese adventurer. They were on their way down the African coast to India, but the fl eet drifted off course, and landed in eastern South America. They found trees that were the color of glowing coals, and called both the trees and the country Brazil, after the word for this color in Portuguese, “brasa.” Dias died during the voyage home when a storm sank his ship, but Portugal claimed Brazil. Portugal’s claim to eastern South America was supported by an international treaty drawn up several years before Cabral’s voyage, before anyone in Europe knew that South America existed. Right after Columbus returned from his fi rst voyage, the rulers of Portugal and Spain realized that their expeditions might lead to disputes over who had the rights to certain areas. They appealed to the only international authority available, Pope Alexander VI, who drew an imaginary line down what he thought was the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, giving Portugal everything to the east and Spain everything to the west. This line of demarcation was moved about 1,000 miles westward the next year in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), so that it ran right through South America, though no one knew it yet. Cabral’s landing confi rmed what the pope had already pronounced, and Portugal became the ruler of Brazil, even though a Spanish expedition was exploring the mouth of what would later be called the Amazon River in the same year. In the eyes of Spain, Portugal, and the pope, the Tordesillas Line continued around the entire world, which meant the Philippine Islands off the coast of Asia were supposed to belong to Portugal. The fi rst European expedition to land in the Philippines was a Spanish one, however, and in later treaties Portugal agreed to give up the Philippines to Spain in trade for a larger part of South America. This expedition was led by a sea captain who was actually Portuguese, Ferdinand Magellan ( 1480?–1521), who had spent many years sailing around the Indian Ocean, southeast Asia, and the Spice Islands. Magellan was unable to persuade the king of Portugal to fund a voyage to reach the Spice Islands by sailing west, but in 1518 the teenaged king of Spain, Charles I (who was elected the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V the following year), agreed to support him. Magellan set off with fi ve ships, fi rst to Brazil, then down the coast of South America to the frigid waters near Antarctica, where one of his ships sank and the crew of another mutinied and turned around for home. He fi nally found a way around the southern tip of South America, through what is now known as the Straits of Magellan, and gave the ocean into which he sailed the name “Pacifi c,” which means peaceful, because it seemed much calmer than the Atlantic. Magellan’s voyage was far from peaceful, however. The Pacifi c was so huge that food ran out, and the crew boiled their leather bags along with the ships’ rats to eat. With no fruits or vegetables, they suffered from scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C, which made their joints grow sore, their gums bleed, and their teeth fall out. Once in the Philippines, Magellan and some of his crew took part in battles between local groups, and Magellan was killed. Only one of his ships, with eighteen survivors from the original crew of 240, and several men from the Spice Islands, made it back to Spain. Juan Sebastian del Cano, the captain of the ship that actually made it back, was fi rst given credit for circling the globe. One of the survivors, an Italian named Antonio Pigafetta, had kept a detailed journal of the whole voyage, however, which praised Magellan’s courage and skills; after it was published, the fame and credit shifted to Magellan. Thus it was printing, rather than the explorations themselves, that provided the key to fame for both Vespucci and Magellan. With the Tordesillas Line, the pope may have divided the world in a way that satisfi ed Spain and Portugal, but other European nations were not included. Just a week before Magellan was killed in the Philippines, Martin Luther was standing in front of Charles V – the same ruler who had backed Magellan – declaring his independence in matters of religion. The Protestant Reformation ended the authority of the pope in half of Europe, and Protestant countries such as England and the Netherlands saw no reason to follow the pope’s division of the world. They claimed territory for themselves based on their own voyages, and even Catholic countries such as France eventually simply ignored the Tordesillas Line. European claims to territory were based much more on actual voyages, military force, and the establishment of colonies than on imaginary lines drawn by popes. European voyages of exploration in the century after Columbus are generally remembered by the names of their captains as individual heroic exploits, but for people in the busy port cities of Spain, Portugal, England, and France, these voyages must have seemed very similar to one another. A captain, often an Italian with experience in the Mediterranean, or later a Spanish or Portuguese mariner who had been to the Atlantic islands, or still later an English, French, or Dutch adventurer, recruited sailors and soldiers from among the men and boys hanging around the docks and taverns hoping to make their fortune. He also had to fi nd merchants willing to risk the cash needed to pay for the voyage in the hopes of fabulous profi ts in return, and perhaps a noble willing to provide additional money with the prospect of gaining wealth and a government position in the new territory or at home. Once he found them, he and his backers approached a ruler, hoping for formal approval and more fi nancial assistance. Especially if they were Catholic, they also scouted around for a few missionaries, usually monks or friars who were accustomed to a harsh life and so could withstand the rigors of life on a ship. Sending only one ship was far too dangerous, so groups of ships, each with its own captain but with one man given supreme command, set out together. They sailed off, and some years later a few ships came back, bringing gold, pearls, spices, and slaves if they had gone east or stranger products, such as parrot feathers or cochineal insects for making red dye, if they had gone west. Many ships and men never returned. For the men on these ships – and in the fi rst decades they were all men – the voyages would have also seemed much the same. Sailors, soldiers, and whoever else was on board slept on the deck, ate a tasteless and dull diet, and alternated between boredom and terror. Alcohol was the only painkiller (though it was no help against seasickness), but it could make crews rowdy, so that effective captains had to be capable of disciplining rough and brutal men as well as being good navigators and skilled sailors. Shipwrecks, disease, accidents, malnutrition, and knife-fi ghts all killed far more crew members than any battles with an enemy. While they may have seemed similar viewed from the perspective of European port cities, the European voyages differed dramatically in terms of their effects on the rest of the world. In much of the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia, existing trading networks and structures of power just shifted a little to allow Europeans to collect some tribute and handle some trade. In parts of southwest India, eastern Africa, and island Southeast Asia, European weapons and the money brought by trade allowed some rulers to gain more power over their neighbors, which changed the political balance. This was also true on the west coast of Africa, but here those weapons, and the need for huge numbers of agricultural workers, also led to a steady expansion of the slave trade. African slaves came to make up the majority of the population in many parts of the Caribbean and South America. There they took the place of native peoples, who had died not so much from the guns Europeans carried on their shoulders, as from the germs they carried on their clothing, skin, and breath. In the New World, the impact of European voyages was initially disastrous and ultimately dramatic, creating completely new types of societies.