Giovanni da Verrazzano

(c. 1485—1528)

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Italian navigator, born at the Castello Verrazzano in the Chianti district near Florence, a son of a noble family. At the age of 21 or 22 he moved to Dieppe to take up a maritime career, and from then on sailed in the service of France. During the next ten or twelve years he made a number of trading voyages to the Levant and appears to have met, and discussed navigation with, Ferdinand Magellan before the latter set off on his circumnavigation.

By 1523 Verrazzano had interested François I in a project of exploration and discovery in the New World with the idea of discovering for France a new passage into the Pacific Ocean and thus access to the wealth of the Far East. The king lent him a ship, the 100-ton Dauphine, and with financial backing from Florentine bankers, together with a second, smaller, ship, the Normande, he sailed from Dieppe to Madeira where the Normande left him to return to France. The Dauphine crossed the Atlantic alone and reached the American coast in the vicinity of the present Cape Fear in North Carolina and sailed north along the Carolina Outer Banks, round Cape Hatteras and up to the present Kitty Hawk, mistaking the great extent of the Pamlico Sound, inside the Outer Banks, for the Pacific Ocean, and naming it the Sea of Verrazzano. He continued north and, encouraged by friendly Indians, entered New York Bay, probably anchoring in the narrows between Staten Island and the Long Island shore, the first European known to visit these waters. He continued northwards, visiting Narragansett Bay, the site of the present Newport on Rhode Island, rounding Cape Cod, and finally reached the Newfoundland coast. From there he returned to Dieppe, reaching there in July 1524.

Verrazzano was one of the first navigators to realize that America was a new continent, and not part of Asia, but he had difficulty in persuading either the king or the bankers to finance another voyage since he had brought back nothing of value from the new lands he had visited. But in 1527 he led a new expedition across the Atlantic, still in search of the mythical northern strait to the Pacific. Mutinous crews cut short his exploration, and all he achieved was a quick visit to Brazil, returning to France with a profitable cargo of wood from which valuable dyes could be extracted.

With the profits from the wood, and the hope of more, Verrazzano set off from Dieppe on his third voyage in the spring of 1528. He had the intention of searching for the strait into the Pacific south of his previous exploration, and reached America at the Florida coast hoping to find signs of a strait around the Isthmus of Darien. Instead, after reaching the Bahamas, he sailed down the Lower Antilles, anchoring probably off the coast of Guadeloupe. Here he decided to go ashore, not knowing that instead of the friendly natives they had encountered during their first voyage, the Antilles were inhabited by man-eating Caribs. As soon as Verrazzano waded ashore, he was cut up and eaten on the spot.


Subjects: Maritime History.

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