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Every text book of American history starts with Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America, but of course we know that he was not the first person to land on the continent, not was he even the first European.
Native Americans, in the form of tribal communities, dotted the entire countryside of North America. Here they lived in ways foreign to the Europeans who came later, for there was no notion of land ownership, nor politics and government as there was in Europe at that time.
The Native American tribes had a rich culture and history, long before Columbus arrived, long before the Mayflower, and long before the Colonists demanded liberty from the English. The Native American Indians will be discussed in more detail in later units, so for now you simply need to understand that there were vast populations living in North America long before the arrival of the great explorers.
In addition, Columbus was not the first European to come to America. Leif Erickson, the famous Viking son of Erik the Red, is believed to be the first documented arrival. The Vikings were notoriously great ship-builders and risk takers. These two traits enabled them to have several hundred good years of dominance, both on the Atlantic Ocean, and continental Europe. On the continent they raided and pillaged hundred of towns and villages. They traveled to Russia, France (took Paris!), and even went as far as Constantinople. On the Atlantic, they founded Iceland, Greenland, and made their way south along the North American coat towards Newfoundland. Their travels West started with Iceland where they established colonies that still exist to this day.
The Vikings were not satisfied to just stay in Iceland, and around the middle of the 10th century a family was banished from Norway for killing people. This family had a son called Erik and they settled in Western Iceland. Erik grew up to be a fierce warrior with a terrible temper and around the year 982 AD he himself, was banished from Iceland for killing.
Now, if you and your family have been banished from two homelands already, there is the possibility that a new homeland might not be available. This was Erik’s big problem. So he sailed west, hoping for a great discovery which would bring to him a new home.
He did make a discovery, but how great it was is questionable, even to him. Greenland, despite the name, was a far less hospitable place than even Iceland! Covered with ice and snow with hardly a tree in sight, Greenland was not what he was imagining when he thought of a place to call home.
He explored many parts of Greenland and after his banishment was over went back to Iceland to try and persuade people to come back with him. He purposely named the island “Green Land” to make it sound more favorable than Iceland, and many people did indeed follow him and start new colonies.
One of Erik’s sons, Leif Erickson, followed in his father’s footsteps and continued the tradition of westward exploration. He had spent some time in Norway and met a man there named Bjarni Herjólfsson. Bjarni had told him about a land he saw when lost at sea, just west of Greenland. He went back to Greenland and set out around the year 1000 with a crew of about 35 men to find this new land of Bjarni’s. What he found was the eastern coast of what is now Canada, and, after traveling south for a considerable number of miles, the tip of Newfoundland.
Leif Erickson was the first European to find the New World, about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. There he founded a settlement called Vinland. When spring came they sailed back to Greenland and told of their discovery. Some people returned to the new land, but ultimately the colony failed and the discovery never became common knowledge to the rest of Europe.
Fast forward a couple thousand years and you will remember that Marco Polo was busy exploring the east, as were many other now famous explores such as Henry the Navigator.
The Silk Road was the dominant passageway to India and the riches that came from the eastern lands, but this road was very dangerous. The European explorers wanted to find a way to travel to the east by sea, to make the trip safer.
Henry the Navigator, from Portugal, had some success in mapping the west coast of Africa in the early 15th century after sponsoring a school for navigation and sending sailors out into the world. In 1487 Bartolomeu Dias from Portugal became the first explorer to sail around the southernmost tip of Africa. Now it is called the Cape of Good Hope, but was originally named the Cape of Storms by Dias, due to the turbulent weather they encountered.
There was fierce competition between the Spanish and the Portuguese during this time, both trying desperately to be the first to find a new passageway to India, and thus, monopolize the trade for spices and other exotic goods. While all the other would-be-explorers were concentrating on following the route that Dias discovered, Columbus had another vision. The idea that the world was a sphere and not flat was not Columbus’ idea, as most learned people of the day knew this to be true. But, since the world was round, Columbus did come up with the notion that that India could be reached by sailing west instead of east. Not particularly good at science, Columbus mistakenly judged the circumference of the earth to be much smaller than it actually was.
Many more knowledgeable people at the time knew his calculations to be off, and thus, he had a hard time getting a country to sponsor his voyage. Queen Isabella of Spain finally agreed to fund him, and he set off in 1492 and reached the New World in a little over a month’s time.
Columbus returned to the new world and told his tale of discovery. This set off a western exploration frenzy that would last for over a hundred years.
Here is a quick list of French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese Explorers that were active in the New World during the time between Columbus’ first voyage and the establishment of the Jamestown Colony for England:
|Unit 1 The New World|
Early New World explorers including Vikings, Columbus and others - plus worksheets and answer key.
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|07-16-2010 441.85 KB 505|