In the case of the history of the United States of America, it is no doubt that events crowded upon circumstances, seemingly unrelated details coincided, individuals, unknown to each others and inspired, it seemed, by motives that were utterly disparate, set to work in the same direction, but in various parts of the world; accident played its part, and then, suddenly and almost fortuitously, the pieces fell into place and mankind had changed direction. It was thus with the early exploration: and exploitation of the New World.
Spirit of the Age
Economics, scientific progress, religion and the persecution which often goes with the religion, personalities, and what is loosely called “the spirit of the Age” all conspired together to bring about events that made possible the voyages of discovery and settlements. All these factors besides geography, national characteristics, and again accident (it is impossible for the historian to ignore the force of accident) gave the dominion over what was eventually to prove the greatest empire of them all, to the countries of the North-West Atlantic sea-board: to France, Holland and England.
Dawn of Science
The scientific improvements of the late fifteenth and the sixteenth century made navigation from an act of faith into a science, The application of printing to map-making and the great developments in the actual art of map-making, the work of cartographers like Mercator, Ortelius, and the hydrographer Wagenaar, relieved seamanship of the fantastic legends of the middle ages. Shipbuilders played their part. The design and outline of the ship was drastically revised to reduce resistance, and these improvements much reduced the hideous take – in of bilge water, one of the principal horrors of early voyaging. There was devised, too, a new scheme of sails in the median plane of the ship, rudimentary force and after-rigging. All these refinements made long sea voyages feasible. Later, early in the eighteenth century, the introduction of the use for ships’ furniture of mahogany, a very close-grained hard wood which allowed fine cutting, was to make possible a great increase in the comfort and regularity of ships runs, across the Atlantic.
Curiosity and Greed
Curiosity and greed preceded, ran parallel, and succeeded upon the scientific developments, and there were always available, as there always are, individuals who were ready to attempt just a little more than convenience or progress would justify. Before the astronomical work of Copernicus convinced scholar and adventurer alike that the world was a revolving globe, Columbus had already acted upon an assumption that had not yet been proved. Already, early in the 16th century, the center of European, mercantile power had moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, Portuguese, seamen, trained by Henry the Navigator, had extended their country’s domains to include the Azores, Guinea, parts of idea, Brazil, and the spice islands. Exploitation, missionary endeavor, exploration, and empire-building were with them, as with most of the early imperial powers, indistinguishable, but their efforts did much to break the virtual monopoly which Venice had long held over the spice routes to Europe Spain which had been fortunate enough, or wise enough, to accept patronage of the explorations of Columbus, followed up his discovery of the West Indies with immense vigor, considerable courage, and little foresight.
Portugal and Spain
From the beginning of the 15th century, Portugal had been groping for a route to the riches of the East by way of · Africa. Spain too had dreams of easy wealth, and the stumbling discoveries of Columbus, a hireling to the Spaniards, seemed to give to that country an unfair advantage in the quest. Pope Alexander VI intervened between the two adversaries and effectively managed an arbitration between the two then giants, by cutting the world in halves and governing one half to Portugal and the other to Spain. The eastern end of Asia, so men were coming to accept was on the other side of the Atlantic; the Portuguese were prepared to get to it by going eastwards, the Spaniards by going westwards, and at the other end of their journey there was obviously enough for both. It is hardly surprising that both countries accepted the decision for without wasting their energies fighting each other, they stil gathered in all that they wanted and used the Pope’s blessing to kep all other trespassers away from the harvests.
Brief Survey of the Adventures and Explorers (982-1682)
It does not matter to put a question when did the history of the United States begin? Was it the day thousands of years ago. When an Asian hunter first stepped into the North American continent in Alaska? Did it start in 1492? When Columbus landed in the West Indies. Or did it begin in 1607 with Jamestown, the first permanent English Colony in America? No matter. Sooner or later someone would have founded the North and South American continents and started settling them. The “When” of United States history often is not as important as the “how” and “why”. In this connection, let us have a brief survey of the explorers and adventurers who put their feet on North America as well as their motives. Six hundred years before the founding of Jamestown, an expedition led by the Norse explorer Leif Ericson landed on the northeastern coast of North America. Its travels led to no lasting consequences, for Europe was not yet ready to respond. In the next five centuries, however, Europe underwent remarkable changes. When Christopher Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492, he touched off one of the largest colonization movements in history.
1. Eric the Red
A Norse seaman discovered Greenland in 982 and set up a colony there. The tales of his deeds were narrated by several generations of Scandinavians before being written down.
2. Leif Ericson
Son of Eric the Red left his father’s colony in Greenland and sailed along the coast of North America in 1000. He landed three times: at Helluland or land of flat stones. Markland or Woodland; and Vinland or Vineland. Some scholars identify these sites as Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Massachusettes.
3. Christopher Columbus
Sailed an August 3, 1492 from Palos, Spain. Land was sighted one October 12. After island- hopping in the Caribbean sea, Columbus returned to Spain, saying that he had reached Asia. He made three additional trips.
4. John Cabot (Giovanni Coboto)
Was backed by English merchants who hoped to break the Arab hold on the spice trade. His single ship reached “Newfoundland” in June 1497. The next year, with his son Sebastian, he explored the new England coast.
5. Giovanni da Verrazano
Of Florence, was sent by Francis of Frane to find a strait through the New World. His search, in 1524, led him into New York Harbour, which he explored.
6. Henry Hudson
An Englishman first tried to sail northeast around Russia to the Orient but decided in 1609 to cross the Atlantic. He claimed New York Harbour for his Dutch sponsors and sailed north in the river that now bears his name. According to this awesome website in 1610, sailing under the English flag, he founded a great bay, where his mutinous salors left him to die.
7. Juan Ponce de Leon
Tried to explore Florida in 1513. but was stopped by Indians. The Spanish king promised what he could be governor if he conquered Florida. Returning in 1521 with 200 well-armed soldiers Ponce de Leon again failed to defeat the Indians, he himself died of an arrow wound.
8. Pontilo de Narvaez
Led Spaniards to Florida in 1528. Disease, starvation and Indian fighting reduced his army of 400 to 4. The survivors crossed the Gulf of mexico to Texas. Two of them, Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, and Estavanica, a black crossed the southwest to join other Spaniards in Mexico in 1536.
9. Hernando De Soto
And 600 Spanish nobles in 1539 successfully invaded Florida. Searching for Indian treasure they traveled morth to Carolinas, then west to Texas. The search failed, but De Soto did claim for Spain much of the South east. After he died in 1542, about 300 of his men, led by LUIS DE MOSCOSO de Alvarado, managed to reach Mexico.
10. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
A Spanish noble, spent his fortune searching for the legendary Seven cities of Gold. His expedition (1540-1542) was led by an indian who hoped to exhaust the Spanish plunderers and avenge the killing of his people.
11. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
A Portuguese navigator sailing for Spain and Bartolomeo Ferrelo explored the west coast. Their failure (1542-1543) to find a transcontinental river convinced the Spanish to give up the search for such a passage.
12. Sir Francis Drake
Trying to excape with his pirate ship landed on the California coast in 1579. He brazenly planted the English flag, although the Spanish held many prior claims to California. Drake returned to England by sailing west across the pacific.
13. Jacques Cartier
Searching for the Northwest passage, opened the vast Northeast interior to French settlement. On voyages in 1534 and . 1535 he explored the st. Lawrence river valley.
14- Samuel de Champlain
First came to Canada 1603. He returned twice, staying the second time to govern the fur-trading posts he had set up. He explored northern New York ( Lake Champlain) and the st. Lawrence River valley, “founding” Quebec in 1608 on the state of an Indian village.
15. Louis Joliet
A French subject born in America, and Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest, first sighted the Mississippi River in 1673. They went down the Mississippi as far as Arkansas, where they were turned back by Indians. They already realized that the “great river” was not a route to the Pacific.”
16. La Salle (the French noble Robert Rene Cavelier)
Gave the name of Louisiana, after Louis XIV of France, to the land he explored. In 1682 with 23 Frenchmen and 18 Indians, he went down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to the Gulf of Mexico.
Achievements of Explorers
The journeys of Vasco da Gama in 1497 seemed to give the lion’s share of the division to Portugal. Albuquerque and Almeida built for Portugal are an empire in the East yielding immediate and tangible profits, an empire which shone mightily beside the miserable promises and the few natives’ feathers that were all that Columbus could offer. But this very success diverted Portuguese energies from the New World, and for the next fifty years, Spain had virtually no rival in Western waters.
Columbus had set his course due west. His followers went north and south from the point where the landmass of Central America had stopped the greatest explorer of them all; south towards Darien, Maracaibo and the Orinoco, north towards Honduras and the Gulf of Mexico. Ojeda, Bastidas, and Pizarro went after the other Spanish explorers and conquistadores began to open up South, Central and North America. A wild adventurer named. Balboa climbed the peak in Darien and first looked upon the Pacific. Cortes himself landed, in 1519, on the shores of Mexico and with less than six hundred Europeans, two hundred and fifty Indians, fifteen horses, and ten brass cannon, conquered that country for Spain.
At about the same time that Cortes was in Mexico, Magellan clarified the vague outlines of the southern part of the American continent by beating his way round the cape which now bears his name and sailing on out into the South Pacific. It was one of the strange quirks of history that Magellan himself was a Portuguese who had learned his navigation under Albuquerque in the East Indies, but that his greatest voyage was made under the inspiration of Charles the fifth of Spain. Spanish explorers were now familiar with the Gulf of California and the mouth of the Mississippi River.
On 14th April 1528, the first considerable expedition landed in the territory which is now the United States. Three hundred men and forty-two horses commanded by Panfilo de Narvaez came ashore close to the site of the present city of Tampa, Florida. This first expedition ended in tragedy and wonderful heroism. Massacre, storm, and slavery in the hands of the Indians accounted for most of the party. Only three Spaniards and one Negro slave managed to escape the Indians and this party of four found its way eventually to the Spanish settlements in Mexico.
The leader of this miserable band of survivors, one Cabeza de Vaca, was in part responsible for the impulse which added great strength to Spanish efforts in North America in the middle years of the 16th century and, indirectly, for the impermanence and disasters which followed upon temporary success. On returning to Spain he seems to have forgotten the horrors he had endured, and the hardships of the continent. His traveler’s tales, fortified by evidence of great wealth which Pizarro was sending back from Peru, aroused the curiosity and the greed of Spaniards arts in Mexico and Spaniards in Spain. Two great expeditions, one under de Soto and the other under Coronado, set forth after gold and silver. Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas were all explored, Coronado’s party reached the Rio Grande end even looked down into the Grand Canyon, the story of gold not far away led them on and on into the wilderness. The gold was never discovered. Some settlement was achieved particularly around the coast of Florida, but while gold and silver still poured in from Peru, aroused and Mexican Spaniards could never devote much attention to the more unfruitful lands to the North.
In Europe, the sudden flow of riches from Central and South America, riches that were increased in magnificence as the Spaniards exploited the Peruvian silver mines, had results quite different from those that their exploiters wished: Slowly at first, and after the middle years of the century more rapidly, the influx of silver forced up the general price level in Europe. The sensitive mechanism of international credit was ruined and the silver, which might have fostered industrial development, was squandered in Spain on luxury, speculation, and war. By the end of the century, Spain was in effect ruined by wealth, and it brought down in its economic collapse the city of Antwerp, the one northern center which had seemed likely to share its prosperity.
Opportunites were now open to other countries, who could take their eyes off the blinding glitter of precious metals and look instead to the land and to the seas around the land.
Meanwhile in Northern Europe, France, Holland, and England were being prepared by circumstances to take the opportunities that were thus presented to them. If any one detail can be said to explain the sudden emergence of northern countries as colonial powers, it is, strangely enough, a change in the habits of fish. In the Middle ages, the herring had made his home principally in the Baltic. From about the end of the fifteenth-century shoals of herrings began to appear in the North Sea. In the pursuit of these fish men of the northern countries learnt to be sailors, even when all three nations had developed a mercantile name and some kind of navy it was still the search for fish that lured them out into the north Atlantic and sent them (particularly the English and the French) as far afield as the waters around Newfoundland.
The changes going on in Europe amounted to a kind of re-awaknening. People had begun to take more and more interest in the world about them. They tried to control natural forces by means of science and invention rather than, prayer or magic. Among the new inventions were guns windmills and watermills, the printing press, and the mechanical clock, especially important for overseas exploration were the compass and the astrolabe, à device for finding the latitude by sighting a star.
Well-organised nations with strong kings or queens were coming into existence. The rulers had the support of merchants who began to form a new “middle class“ between the nobles who held the land and the serfs who worked it. Towns increased in size and number as they became centres of trade. Commerce reached out from Europe to distant places in East Asia. Merchants brought costly items of trade — jewels, glass and chinaware, silks and other fine clothes drugs, perfumes, and spices to Europe all the way from Japan, China, India, and neighboring islands of East India.
The trade routes lay partly over seas and partly over land. They were controlled at certain points by Arab, Italian, or other merchants. These middlemen took such a large profit that prices were excessively high by the time the goods reached the British Isles and other parts of western Europe. Both the merchants and the rulers of these nations hoped to find new routes, entirely by sea, that they could control.
Columbus was looking for such a route when, with the backing of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, he sailed westward over the uncharted Atlantic Ocean. When he sighted land, he thought he had reached one of the islands of East Asia. On three later voyages, he looked for a passage by water to the pacific. In the next hundred years, other explorers sailing under the flags of various nations kept up the search. They never discovered the kind of passage they were seeking (since one did not exist) but they revealed most of the outlines and much of the interior of the North and South American continents.
On the basis of Columbus’s discoveries, Spain at first claimed all the New World. Soon it agreed to share the part now known as Brazil with Portugal. In the 16th century, Spain began founding colonies and building an empire in North and South America.
Other nations, among them England, challenged the Spanish claim toa monopoly of the New World. Because of its success, England rather than Spani was to be the “mother country.” of the United Staes. It may be remembered that the explorations continued with full enthusiasm and vigour within the period from 1485 to 1603, whereas the process of colonization continued from 1607 to 1630.