Early European Explorers  


The European explorers were a looking for an ocean route to Asia. Christopher Columbus sailed for the monarchs of Spain in 1492. He used the familiar prevailing winds to the Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of Africa, and then sailed on. In about two months he landed in the Caribbean on an island in the Bahamas, thinking he had reached the East Indies. Columbus made three more voyages. He died in 1506, still believing that he had discovered a water route to Asia.
The Spanish investigated further. Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci sailed to the northern coast of South America in 1499 and pronounced the land a new continent. European mapmakers named it America in his honor. Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and in 1513 became the first of the European explorers of America to see the Pacific Ocean. That same year another Spaniard, Juan Ponce de León, explored the Bahamas and Florida in search of the fountain of youth.



The first European voyages to the northern coast of America were old and forgotten: The Norsemen (Scandinavian Vikings) sailed from Greenland and stayed in Newfoundland for a time around 1000. Some scholars argue that European fishermen had discovered the fishing waters off eastern Canada by 1480. But the first recorded voyage was made by John Cabot, an Italian navigator in the service of England, who sailed from England to Newfoundland in 1497. Giovanni da Verrazzano, in 1524, and Jacques Cartier, in 1534, explored nearly the whole Atlantic coast of the present United States for France. By that time, Europeans had scouted the American coast from Newfoundland to Brazil. While they continued to look for shortcuts to Asia, Europeans began to think of America for its own sake. Spain again led the way: Hernán Cortés invaded Mexico in 1519, and Francisco Pizarro did the same in Peru in 1532.