name is pronounced “ah-MER-ah-go ves-POO-chee.” He was from a
wealthy merchant family. He liked books and maps when he was
young. He also liked astronomy.
As a young man, Vespucci worked for the Medici (meh-DEE-chee)
family. That was one of the wealthiest, most powerful families in
Florence. He worked in their businesses and as a banker for them.
In 1492, he went to Seville, Spain. There, he helped outfit
Spanish ships for trips of exploration. Historians think that
Vespucci helped supply the voyages of Christopher Columbus.
VOYAGES OF EXPLORATION: The record of Vespucci’s explorations
is a bit unclear. There is a letter, supposedly by Vespucci, that claims
he went on his first voyage in 1497. It also states he went on four
voyages altogether. But most historians think the letter is a forgery.
They believe that Vespucci went on two voyages of discovery.
FIRST VOYAGE: Most historians think Vespucci went on his first
voyage in 1499. He sailed with Alonso de Ojeda (oh-HEY-dah) for
Spain. Ojeda had been on Columbus’s second voyage. At that time,
no one knew that Columbus had actually reached a new continent.
Columbus himself was convinced he’d reached Asia.
Vespucci sailed from Spain with four ships in May, 1499. He
captained one of the ships. After 24 days at sea, they landed in
what is now Brazil. Vespucci sailed north along the coast of Brazil.
He saw the mouth of the Amazon River and the Orinoco River.
Some historians claim that Vespucci was the first European to
cross the Equator in the west.
Vespucci then turned north and sailed to the Spanish settle
ment of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
He rejoined Ojeda’s other ships, and they sailed back to Spain.
Vespucci stopped in the Bahamas and captured 200 natives. He
took them back to Spain as slaves. He reached home in June 1500.
Portugal. He left Portugal in May 1501. On his way, he stopped at
the Cape Verde Islands. There, he met Pedro Alvares Cabral, who
was returning from India. Cabral described the land he had recently
discovered, while on his journey from Portugal to India. Vespucci
thought they’d seen the same land — what we now call Brazil. And
he began to think that the land was not Asia. Perhaps it was a New
Vespucci and his crew sailed on to Brazil. He headed south
along the coast of what is now South America. No one is sure how
far south Vespucci traveled. Most historians think it was about
2,400 miles. He sailed past the area that is now the city of Rio de
Janeiro. He may have reached southern Argentina.
Portugal in June 1502, he made a bold statement. He said that he
had not reached Asia, but had instead discovered a new continent,
not known to Europeans. He called the continent the “New World.”
book about his travels that was read all over Europe. In 1507, a
German mapmaker named Martin Waldseemueller made a famous
map that included the new continent. He named it “America.” He
said it was for “Amerigo, its discoverer, a man of great ability.”
Later, in 1538, the famous mapmaker Gerhardus Mercator
named North America and South America for Amerigo Vespucci.
So although Columbus is generally considered the “discoverer of
America,” the continents of the New World bear the name of
Columbus wasn’t angry that the New World was named for
Vespucci. In fact, they were friends. Columbus called Vespucci “a
man of good will.”
Vespucci didn’t go on any more voyages. He worked for the
Spanish government as Pilot Major. In that job, he kept records of
all the sea voyages made by the Spanish explorers.
AMERIGO VESPUCCI’S HOME AND FAMILY: Vespucci lived his last
years in Seville, Spain. He married a woman named Maria de
Cerezo. They had no children. Amerigo Vespucci died in Seville on
February 22, 1512.
HIS DISCOVERY: Vespucci’s most important discovery was that
the land mass between Europe and Asia was indeed a continent.
He was the first to call it the “New World.” While his individual
explorations were not as important as others, the way he thought
about the lands he saw was new, and very important.
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