Many people have had a great influence upon our world. Some have changed it in a generally good way, such as Abraham Lincoln. Others have affected the world negatively, such as Adolph Hitler. Still others have changed the world thoroughly, their changes resounding through time, such as Christopher Columbus. One other has changed the world thoroughly, and though all know his name, few know who this actually is. This man is Amerigo Vespucci
or, as known to the Spanish, Americo Vespucio.
Vespucci was born on March 9, 1454, in Florence, Italy. He was born into an old family, having lived in the same mansion for over two hundred years. While Amerigo did not receive a formal education
, he was taught by his highly respected uncle, Georgio Vespucci, a Dominican friar.
In 1479, Vespucci became internationally involved, going with a relative to be a diplomat to the King of France. In 1491, Vespucci became a diplomat to Seville, namely, one of the ship building companies there. Vespucci, instead of returning home, remained in Seville. He later helped prepare Columbus's ships for his second and third voyages
, even becoming acquainted with the famous explorer. Columbus told Vespucci about his travels, and Vespucci paid close attention. While Columbus believed that he had sailed to India, Columbus's descriptions did not match what was known about India. Vespucci believed that Columbus had not actually sailed to India from Spain, but had actually sailed to a "Mundus Novus" or a "New World."
When the head of the ship building company died in about 1495, Vespucci became manager of the company. Vespucci used this new power to go on expeditions himself. It is believed that he took part in four voyages. All of these took part between 1497 and 1504. What little is known about each of these voyages comes from Vespucci's personal letters, sent primarily to Piero di Tommaso Soderini, one of his nobleman friends from Italy.
Vespucci's first voyage took place from 1497 to 1498. It was organized by the King of Spain to confirm that the new lands were actually far away from Spain. This expedition was captained by Vicente Yanez Pinzon, captain of the Nina on Columbus's first voyage. Vespucci's role in the voyage was to be the assistant cartographer. From this voyage, Vespucci helped determine the coastline of much of Central America, as well as determining that Cuba was actually an island and mapping many new, unknown islands. While this voyage was known to happen, whether or not Vespucci actually participated is unknown.
His second voyage took place from 1499 to 1500, as chief navigator under Captain Alonso de Ojeda. This expedition traveled further down the coast of South America then had ever been done before. During this voyage, Vespucci discovered the proof he needed for his "Mundus Novus." Nearly everything he saw and recorded contradicted what was known about India or the rest of Asia, specifically the islands and the native peoples. Additionally, he was able to determine that he was actually in a separate part of the world from Spain by using the stars. During this voyage, he discovered the Amazon River, the Orinoco River, and the Trinidad Islands in the Caribbean.
When Vespucci returned to Spain in 1500, he wanted to immediately go into another expedition to further explore this New World, as well as to find a way to Asia. Vespucci asked the King of Spain to fund another expedition, but he refused. Vespucci then turned to Portugal for help. Vespucci started his third voyage in 1501, under the Portuguese flag.
During this voyage, Vespucci traveled further down the coast of South America than any before him, which would stand for fifteen years. According to letters from Vespucci, his voyage made it all the way to what is now the coast of Patagonia, supposedly discovering Guanabara Bay of Rio de Janeiro and the estuaries of the Río de la Plata. However, he probably did no sail that far, as maps after he returned showed land only reaching the twenty-fifth southern parallel, showing that Vespucci really did not reach much further than that. During this expedition, Vespucci also mapped several constellations that had not been seen in Europe since the time of the ancient Greeks, such as Alpha and Beta Centauri, and Crux, the Southern Cross. During this voyage, Vespucci finally had proof that he had discovered his "Mundus Novus," as the lands he explored were much larger and extended further south than should be possible if he was actually in Asia.
After this voyage, Vespucci returned to Spain. There, in 1508, he was assigned the title of Pilot Major, or "Piloto Mayor de España." With this title came a large income and the responsibility to start a school for navigators. Vespucci ran this new school from his house, where he helped standardize then current navigation techniques as well as develop new, more reliable ones. Vespucci died of malaria on February 22, 1512 in Seville, Spain, at the age of 58.
In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller, a German cartographer, produced the first world map showing the Americas as separate continents. He based this new off of Vespucci's travels, giving the continents the new title of America, after Vespucci. This name quickly spread, giving the both North and South America their names.
Amerigo Vespucci was a man whose works thoroughly changed the course of history. By suggesting that the lands that Columbus discovered and that he explored were actually not part of Asia but instead their own continent, Vespucci gave his name to these lands. While there is controversy on whether he deserved this grand remembrance, Vespucci certainly did contribute heavily to the finding and exploration of the New World. He will now be remembered forever through his namesake.
Ober, Frederick A.. Amerigo Vespucci. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1907.
Canaday, James A.. "The Life OF Amerigo Vespucci." Columbus: Age of Discovery. Millersville University. 4 Mar 2008 .
Roberto Almagià, and The Editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica.. "Amerigo Vespucci." Britannica Biography Collection (n.d.). Middle Search Plus. EBSCO. Bob Jones Library, Madison, AL. 9 Mar. 2008 .