The Great Age of Discovery - 15th Century
It may be imagined to what a fiery heat Europe turned in, when the
wonderful accounts of the gold and charming beauty of Haiti spread from country to
country. Half of Europe had thrown itself upon the Orient to liberate the tomb of
our Savior from the tyranny of the Moslem, so one flood of adventurers followed
another to the new land of promise with colorful prospects of wealth and enjoyment.
With great jealousy, England and France entered the path
on which Portugal and Spain had so gloriously preceded them. As the
result of this competition the whole western shore of the Atlantic basin was drawn into
the circle of the known earth.
John and Sebastian Cabot
If Columbus was undoubtedly the first to discoverer of the West Indian Islands
(the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, 1492; Lesser Alitilles, 1493; Jamaica, 1494),
the honor of having preceded him on the American continent belongs to John
Cabot, a Venetian merchant settled in Bristol, and to his son Sebastian.
They landed on the coast of Labrador in 24th June, 1497, about five hundred
years after Vikings, but seventeen months before the continent of Tropical
America in the delta of the Orinoco was discovered by Columbus on
his third voyage.
Beginnings of English Navigation
Genoa and Venice, the great Mediterranean rivals, split the glory of unveiling
a new world to mankind, but the laurels of their sons were blooming under a foreign
flag. Columbus steered into the western ocean in the service of the Spanish
monarch, the Cabots were sent by Henry the Seventh of England
across the Atlantic to discover a north-western passage to India. This, of course,
they did not accomplish, but the rediscovery of Newfoundland and Labrador
laid the foundation of Britain's colonialism.
Their voyage is also remarkable as having been the first expedition
that ever left the shores of England. On this occasion it may be interesting to
mention about the beginnings of British navigation. In the year 1217 the first
treaty of commerce was concluded with Norway. In the beginning of he
fourteenth century Bergen was the most distant port to which English vessels
resorted. Soon afterwards they ventured into the Baltic. It was not before
the middle of the following century that they began to sail to the Castilian and Portuguese
ports. Towards the end of the fifteenth century the English flag was still a stranger to
the Mediterranean. The direct communication with the Levant only began in the
sixteenth century. Edward the Second, preparing for his great Scottish war,
was thankful to hire five galleys from Genoa.
Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci
In 1499, Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci were the first to sail along
the coast of Paria. The following year was uncommonly rich in voyages of discovery.
In the western ocean, the equator was first crossed by Vincent Yanez Pinson, who
doubled Cape Saint Augustin, discovered the mouths of the Amazon river,
and then sailed northwards along the coast as far as the island of Trinidad, which
Columbus had discovered two years before.
About the same time a Portuguese fleet, sailing under the command of Pedro
Alvarez Cabral to the Indian Ocean, was driven by adverse winds to the coast of the Brazils,
so that, if the genius of Columbus had not evoked, America would have chance to be
discovered a few years later.
A third voyage, which renders the year 1500 is that of Gaspar
Cortereal, a son of John Vaz Cortereal is one of the doubtful forerunners of
Columbus. Hoping to realize the dream of a north-west passage to the riches of India,
Gaspar sailed along the inhospitable shores of Labrador, and penetrated into
the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Storms and ice-drifts forced him to retreat but he
again set sail in the following year with two small vessels. On this second voyage he
supposedly penetrated into Frobisher Bay, but here floating ice-masses and violent
gales separated him from his companion ship, which returned alone to Portugal.
The doubtful destiny of the Portuguese explorer gave his brother
Miguel no rest. The following spring found him sailing with three ships on the
traces of the lost Gaspar. But Miguel also disappeared for ever among the
ice-fields of the north. A third brother remained, who earnestly implored the king
that he also might be allowed to go and sail this treacherous waters. But Emanuel
refused permission, saying that these enterprises had already cost him two of his most
valuable servants, and he could not afford to lose more.
Vincent Yanez Pinson
In the year 1501 Rodrigo de Bastidas sailed to the coast of Paria,
and discovered the whole shore-line from Cape de Vela to the Gulf of Darien.
In the year 1502 the aged Columbus, entering his fourth and last voyage, set
sail with four wretched vessels, the largest of which was only seventy tons burthen. That
time he discovered the coast of the American continent from Cape
Gracias a Dios to Porto-Bello. The east coast of Yucatan was explored in
the year 1508 by Juan Diaz de Solis and Vincent Yanez Pinson, and the
island of Cuba circumnavigated for the first time by Sebastian de Ocampo.
In 1512 Juan Ponce de Leon sailed to Florida,
where, instead of finding as he hoped the fountain of eternal youth, he is doomed to a
miserable end. In 1517 the above mentioned Solis sails along the coasts of the Brazils
to the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, where he is killed in a conflict with
the Indians. In 1518 Cordova makes his countrymen acquainted with the north
and west coasts of Yucatan, and in the same year Grijalva discovers the Mexican
coast from Tabasco to San Juan de Ulloa.
In 1518 Grijalva is followed by Cortez, who lands at Vera
Cruz, overthrows the empire of Montezuma after a series of exploits, and
renders the whole coast of Mexico far to the north subject to the Spanish
Verazzani and Cartier
The voyages of Verazzani in 1523, who sailed along the coast
of the United States, and of Jacques Cartier in 1524, who
investigated the Bay of St. Lawrence, did not indeed widely extend geographical
knowledge, as these navigators, who had been sent out by Francis I., did no more
than examine more closely the previous discoveries of Cabot and Cortereal;
their explorations however had the result of giving France possession of Canada,
and of entitling her to a share in the fisheries of Newfoundland.
Thus within half a century after the day when Columbus first
landed on Guanahani, we find almost the whole eastern coast of America
rising from an unknown past.
The Portuguese in the Indian Ocean
While the western shores of the Atlantic were unrolling from unknown, the Indian
Ocean was the scene of no less remarkable events. The same year (1498) that Columbus
first visited the American continent, Vasco de Gama doubled the Cape of
Good Hope, crossed the Eastern Ocean, and on the 22nd of May landed at
Calicut on the coast of Malibar, ten months and two days after leaving the port
Now the great revolution in commerce took place which the Venetians
long had feared and the Portuguese had hoped for. Portuguese
lost no time in reaping the golden fruits of the glorious discoveries of Vasco de Gama
and his predecessors. In less than twenty years their flag waved in all the harbors of the
Indian Ocean, from the east coast of Africa to Canton Shortly a row
of fortified stations secured to them the dominion of the seas.
Their settlements in Diu and Goa awed the whole coast of Malabar,
and cut off the intercourse of Egypt with India by way of the Red Sea.
They took possession of the small island of Ormus, which commands the entrance of
the Persian Gulf and rendered this important commercial highway likewise tributary
to their power. In the center of the East-Indian world rose their chief
market-place, Malacca, and even in distant China Macao obeyed their laws.
The discovery of the Molucca Islands gave them the monopoly of the lucrative spice
trade, which was destined at a later period to enrich the economical Dutchman.
What vast changes had taken place since Prince Henry's first
expeditions to the coast of Africa. During one life time the old Atlantic Ocean enlarged
his boundary into the boundless world of waters from the coasts of Canton to the West
Few years later the Pacific opens its gates, and all the
discoveries of Columbus and Vasco seem small when compared with the vast
regions which Magellan reveals to man.
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