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Giovanni di Verrazano

explorer of the eastern coast of North America from North Carolina to Canada

Giovanni da Verrazano

Giovanni di Verrazano (aka Giovanni de Verrazzano, Giovanni da Verrazano) was born on his family's estate about 30 miles south of Florence, Italy, about 1485. About 1506, he moved to Dieppe, France, where he entered maritime service as a corsair (pirate) for King Francis I. Details about his career over the next several years are sketchy, but it is fairly certain that he gained quite a reputation by raiding Spanish and Portuguese ships both along the European coast and in the East and West Indies; there is a claim that he once captured a treasure ship sent from Mexico by Hernando CortÚs, but no contemporary evidence of such an achievement has yet been found.

In late 1523, Francis I appointed Verrazano to lead an exploration of the eastern coast of North America between the Spanish possessions in Florida and British possessions in Canada. Verrazano was initially provided with four ships, but two were shipwrecked soon after departure and a third was sent home with prizes from privateering along the Spanish coast before the remaining ship, La Dauphine, set out across the Atlantic. The ship made its first landfall at Cape Fear (North Carolina) and then turned south, but Verrazano turned back for Cape Fear before getting too close to any Spanish possessions. After spending a few days at Cape Fear, where he met with natives he described as very friendly, he sailed north along the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina to what is now called Pamlico Sound. Believing the sound was the Pacific Ocean, Verrazano's journal described the Mid-Atlantic-Coast of North America as a long, very narrow isthmus, a description that would not be seriously challenged until the early-1600's. Staying as far away from the coast as possible as he sailed north, Verrazano completely missed Chesapeake and Delaware bays before entering New York Harbor and anchoring where the Verrazano Narrows Bridge is now located. After a brief land exploration of this region he continued sailing north, discovering Block Island and Narragansett Bay (present-day Rhode Island) along the way. The Wampanoags who inhabited the Narragansett area proved very friendly and told Verrazano about an even better harbor at present-day Newport, where he subsequently spent about two weeks engaging in trade with the natives. Upon reaching Newfoundland he set sail for home, and arrived back at France in July of 1524.

map of Verrazano's voyage

Verrazano set out for America again in 1527, but his men mutinied along the way and ordered him to turn around and return to France. Verrazano's skill as a navigator allowed him to foil the mutineers, however, as he actually continued sailing west instead of doing as he had been ordered. The ship ended up in present-day Brazil, where the crew loaded the cargo hold with logwood (a type of tree from which a red dye could be obtained). The voyage's financial backers made a hefty profit from the wood, and it is assumed that the mutineers forgave Verrazano for his deception.

Verrazano made his final voyage to America in 1528. After making brief landfall in Florida he followed the Lesser Antilles toward the coast of South America, with the goal of acquiring more logwood. Somewhere along the way, however, his habit of anchoring far off shore and taking a small boat to land cost him his life when he was killed and eaten by natives while his ship remained too far away to provide gunfire support.

Hernando CortÚs
Verrazano Narrows Bridge

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The Robinson Library >> Discovery of America and Early Explorations

This page was last updated on 06/23/2018.