The colonization of the North and South American continents began when early humans arrived 12,000 to 8,000 B.C. by crossing the now sea-covered Bering Strait. They migrated from the African and Eurasian continents, the birthplace of humanity. Their descendants are the Eskimos and Native Americans. The population moved southward to the southern tip of South America. These early inhabitants were scattered into various tribes such that no single tribe came to dominate the continents. After the land they crossed over was covered by water (Bering Strait), these early peoples were left undisturbed by the old world for thousands of years until the Vikings arrived.
AGE OF DISCOVERY
In 1000 A.D., over 492 years before Columbus, the Viking Leif Ericson crossed the Atlantic from Europe and explored the east coast of North America. He established a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland (Canada). After the break-up of Ericson’s settlement several hundred years would pass before a wave of exploration and migration began.
In 1492, the Italian Christopher Columbus persuaded King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to finance an exploration to find a westward sea route to Asia. At the time, the only means to travel to Asia was to travel eastward by land which took countless months, or travel by ship southward down the length of Africa and swing eastward around Africa’s southern tip. Explorers had always speculated that with a world that was round one could travel either east or west and arrive at the same point eventually. If you could get to Asia by traveling eastward, you should be able to get to Asia by traveling in the opposite direction, westward. A westward route might shorten the travel time, which would be an advantage in trading goods.
Thus set off Columbus, intent on voyaging from Spain to Asia. On October 12, 1492, sailing the Santa Maria, he landed in the Bahamas, falsely believing it to be the Asian continent, specifically India. Due to this false belief, Columbus called the natives he met “Indians.” He would eventually make four voyages to islands in what would come to be called the New World. Other explorers and nations started their own expeditions of discovery.
In 1497, John Cabot of England explored the Atlantic coast of Canada and claimed the area for the English King, Henry VII. In 1499, the Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, sighted the coast of South America during a voyage of discovery for Spain. In 1507, the name “America” was first used in a geography book referring to the New World with Vespucci getting credit for discovery of the continent itself.
In 1513, explorer Ponce de Leon of Spain landed in Florida and began his futile search for the mythical fountain of youth. In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazano, sponsored by France, landed in the Carolinas, sailed north to discover the Hudson River and continued northward into Narragansett Bay and Nova Scotia. In 1541, Hernando de Soto of Spain discovered the Mississippi River.NEXT PAGE - Colonization Begins
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