North American Exploration

North American exploration occurred from the 15th to 19th centuries by non-native people wishing to discover the continent. French and English exploration had as an incentive the necessity of reaching the Pacific via North America. An efficient trade route was at the heart of the travel. The expeditions and explorations were led by various explorers in order to check out North America and map the territory accordingly. The colonization of the Americas by European countries followed.

The best-known explorer who is generally credited with discovering America is Christopher Columbus. Prior to Columbus, the Vikings had led exploratory journeys, although their pursuits were not broadly known in the Old World. Other claims by countries attesting to the discovery of North America include Portugal's assertion of Joao Vaz Corte-Real as the discoverer in 1472.

European nations began to search a shorter way to China for silk trade purposes. After Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, travel to China took longer, and there were further issues surrounding trade routes controlled by the Portuguese.

Los Reyes Catolicos (the Catholic monarchs), Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, whose marriage in 1469 had united the two mightiest Christian kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula (today known as Spain), agreed to fund Columbus' voyage. The journey set off on August 3, 1492. When Columbus discovered the Bahamas, Cuba and Hispanola, he sent letters of his first voyage and discovery, which became known through Europe. Later accounts of Columbus's discovery are still filled with an air of excitement and expectation. The second voyage that Columbus undertook entailed a rediscovery of the Lesser Antilles. Tobago and Trinidad were discovered on his third excursion as he sailed around the northern part of the South American coast. When he traveled around the Atlantic coast of Central America during the fourth voyage, he was attempting to find a narrow channel to the Pacific Ocean. Christopher Columbus' voyages opened up an entire new world, which became known as the New World, in contrast to the Old World from which the explorers originated and which was already known. In 1507, the New World became known as "America." The name is thought to have derived from Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian cartographer, explorer and navigator.

The area of North America was discovered by Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) on June 24, 1497. Caboto, an Italian explorer and navigator, is credited with the discovery, although the exact place is unclear. The island of Newfoundland is the location designated by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom.

Numerous additional explorations transpired in the years following. The expeditions set out at sea. Juan Ponce de Leon, from the Hispanola colony, was sent by King Ferdinand II of Aragon to verify that land had been discovered to the northwest. He arrived at the Northeast coast, naming the place Florida. This occurred on April 2, 1513. He found a way whereby he could reach land on the Southwestern coast of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, by passing through the Florida Keys.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa, a Spanish conquistador, crossed the Isthmus of Panama on September 25, 1513, and was the first European to view the Pacific Ocean from the New World. Once he claimed the land for the Crown, settlement of Las Californias followed.

The first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America since the Icelandic Norse sailors was an Italian, Giovanni da Verrazzano. Da Verrazzano's 1524 journey consisted of exploring the coast of South and North Carolina, as they are known today. He passed Long Island, as he sailed by exploring Newfoundland and Narragansett Bay.

Henry Hudson, as part of the Dutch East India Company mission, set sail in 1609. He sailed up the Hudson River in an attempt to find a sea route to the Pacific. James Bay, the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay were discovered by Hudson during his final fourth voyage; the area was mapped by him at this time.

Charles Wilkes, James Cook and George Vancouver are other well-known nautical explorers of North America. Captain James Cook was a British captain in the Royal Navy. His role as explorer, navigator and cartographer took him on various journeys during the 1700s, which included North America. Cook's journeys to Newfoundland, where he charted the territory, took place between 1762 and 1767. Also a British Royal Navy officer and explorer, George Vancouver is well-known for his North American explorations, particularly the Pacific coast where Oregon and Washington were established. Vancouver's Northwest coast voyage was conducted on the HMS Discovery from 1791 to 1795. His journey occurred along lines Cook had followed previously. Charles Wilkes, an American naval officer and explorer, led an expedition from 1838 to 1842, to explore the United States. The United States Exploring Expedition, as it was termed, was also called the Wilkes Expedition.

Current scholarship attempts to articulate the exploration of North America and the New World in a broader global context. This contrasts with the documentation that ordinarily ascribes New World discovery from a European or Euro-American perspective.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

North American Exploration
John Logan Allen.
University of Nebraska Press, vol.1, 1997
Librarian’s tip: This volume, A New World Disclosed, covers exploration through around 1610
North American Exploration
John Logan Allen.
University of Nebraska Press, vol.2, 1997
Librarian’s tip: This volume, A Continent Defined, covers the exploration of North America from the Spanish entrada of the sixteenth century to the British and Russian explorations of the Pacific coastal regions in the closing years of the eighteenth century
North American Exploration
John Logan Allen.
University of Nebraska Press, vol.3, 1997
Librarian’s tip: This volume, A Continent Comprehended, covers exploration from the late 18th and the 19th centuries
First Encounters: Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States, 1492-1570
Jerald T. Milanich; Susan Milbrath.
University of Florida Press, 1989
Beyond 1492: Encounters in Colonial North America
James Axtell.
Oxford University Press, 1992
Explorers, Traders, and Slavers: Forging the Old Spanish Trail, 1678-1850
Joseph P. Sánchez.
University of Utah Press, 1997
The Way to the Western Sea: Lewis and Clark across the Continent
David Lavender.
University of Nebraska Press, 2001
After Lewis and Clark: Mountain Men and the Paths to the Pacific
Robert M. Utley.
University of Nebraska Press, 2004
The Exploration of Western America, 1800-1850: An Historical Geography
E. W. Gilbert.
Cambridge University Press, 1933
English Discovery of America to 1585
Franklin T. McCann.
King's Crown Press, 1952
FREE! Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706
Herbert Eugene Bolton.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916
Into the Wilderness Dream: Exploration Narratives of the American West, 1500-1805
Donald A. Barclay; James H. Maguire; Peter Wild.
University of Utah Press, 1994
Essays on the History of North American Discovery and Exploration
David B. Quinn; Robert H. Fuson; Olive Patricia Dickason; Cornelius J. Jaenen; Elizabeth A. H. John; William H. Goetzmann; Stanley H. Palmer; Dennis Reinhartz.
Texas A&M University Press, 1988
The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast
Patricia Galloway.
University of Nebraska Press, 1997
The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva: The 1540-1542 Route across the Southwest
Richard Flint; Shirley Cushing Flint.
University Press of Colorado, 2004
The Account: Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's Relación
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; Martin A. Favata; José B. Fernández.
Arte Publico Press, 1993
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