History of American Exploration from 1507 to 1513

About the history of American exploration from 1507 to 1513 including voyages of Sebastian Cabot and Ponce de Leon.


1507 In an appendix to a new edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographiae introductio, young geography professor Martin Waldseemuller (1470?--1518?) wrote ". . .and the fourth part of the Globe, which, since Americus discovered it, may be called Amerige. . ." and included the word America in bold letters on a map of South America. By the mid-1500s the name had spread to include North America. Ever since, the naming of the New World for Vespucci has caused controversy. Ralph Waldo Emerson called him a "pickle dealer at Seville who managed in this lying world to suppress Columbus and baptize half the world with his own dishonest name." Actually, he was a ship chandler or dealer in marine supplies.

1508 Juan Ponce de Leon (1460?--1521) conquered Puerto Rico, where he grew rich on the "labors, blood, and sufferings of his subjects."

1508 Juan Diaz de Solis (1470?--1516) with Vicente Pinzon searched the east coast of South America as far as the Rio Negro for a strait to the Pacific, and though they found none, they did prove Cuba to be an island.

1508 Sebastian Cabot (1476?--1557), the son of John Cabot, may have sailed from Newfoundland to Cuba, but we have only his own unreliable word for it. Sebastian was a colorful personage and a great liar. For example, he claimed that Newfoundland codfish, after swimming ashore to eat fallen leaves, were ambushed by bears.

1509 Gone broke, planter Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1475-1519) had himself boxed and shipped in a provision cask with his dog Leoncico from Santo Domingo to the Gulf of Darien, where he ended up in command of a settlement on the western side of the gulf. Later, a cacique's son, watching the Spanish weigh gold and shocked at their greed over it, knocked the scales from a Spaniard's hands and said, "If your hunger of gold bee so insatiable. . . I will shewe you a region flowing with golde, where you may satisfie your ravening appetites." The Indian then pointed toward the southern mountains. Balboa did not forget what he said.

1513 With 190 Spaniards and several hundred Indian guides, Balboa traversed the narrow waist of land at the Isthmus of Panama, 45 mi. of terrible rain forest, swamps, and lakes. On the way Balboa, ordinarily friendly to Indians--after all, he had married one--ordered the gay harem of a cacique they met torn apart by dogs because he hated homosexuality. On either Sept. 25 or 26, in armor and accompanied only by Leoncico, he stood alone on a peak and marveled at the vast Pacific spread before him. Keats's great sonnet "On First Looking into Champman's Homer" is in fact full of inaccuracies; for example, it wasn't "stout Cortez. . . with eagle eyes" who first saw the Pacific, nor were his men, or even Balboa's, there to "look at each other with a wild surmise." On the 29th, Balboa's expedition reached a bay into which he waded, sword in hand, to take possession for Spain.

1513 On his quest for the Fountain of Youth, which according to legend could miraculously cure el enflaquecimiento del sexo, or sexual debility, Ponce de Leon took an expedition from Puerto Rico to a land he called Pascua Florida (now Florida). Though they found no fountain while cruising the coast, they did discover something else--the Gulf Stream--and on the way back, Yucatan.

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