Giovanni da Verrazzano was an Italian explorer who became the first European to sight New York and Narragansett Bay while exploring the Atlantic coast of North America between Florida and New Brunswick. He is also credited with discovering the Virginia and Delaware Capes, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts Bay, and the Maine Coast. Born in Florence, Italy, he embarked on a maritime career as a young man. Curious and brave, he ventured off to visit places like Egypt and Syria which were not only difficult to reach, but also considered mysterious and dangerous places for explorers. His adventurous spirit then took him to France where he entered the service of King Francis I who sent him to explore the East Coast of North America for a route to the Pacific. On his first exploration under French auspices he discovered New York Harbor while exploring the area near what would be North Carolina. Even though he could not find a passage to the Pacific Ocean and Asia—which was the primary purpose he sought—his first exploration of the Americas added vastly to the existing maritime knowledge. He left on another voyage, seeking a passage to India, in 1528 when his fleet drifted off into the Caribbean Sea. While sailing south of Jamaica, he left his ship to explore an unknown island where he was captured, killed and eaten by cannibals
Childhood & Early Life
It is generally believed that Giovanni da Verrazzano was born in 1485, in Val di Greve, south of Florence, then capital and main city of the Republic of Florence, to Piero Andrea di Bernardo da Verrazzano and Fiammetta Cappelli. However, some sources state that he was born in Lyon, France, as the son of Alessandro di Bartolommeo da Verrazano and Giovanna Guadagni.
As a young boy, he received his education in Florence. He was good at studies and excelled in mathematics.
He developed an interest in travelling and exploring, and is believed to have sailed to Egypt and Syria in his early explorations.
He moved to France sometime between 1506 and 1508.
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He joined a voyage that sailed to the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, from Dieppe, France, around 1508.
During this period, European countries like Spain and Portugal were sending out explorers like Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Ferdinand Magellan to explore the hitherto unknown parts of the earth. King Francis I of France became concerned that France was falling behind in the areas of exploration and colonization, and began planning an expedition on behalf of his country.
Verrazzano met the king between 1522 and 1523, and convinced the monarch of his capabilities as a navigator and requested to be sent on the exploratory voyages on behalf of France. The king commissioned him to explore the East Coast of North America for a route to the Pacific.
He prepared well for the expedition and within months, a fleet of four ships—Delfina, Normanda, Santa Maria and Vittoria—set sail for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. However, two of the ships were lost during a violent storm and the remaining ships were forced to return.
The expedition set sail again in late 1523. Ultimately the ship Delfina headed into the New World in January 1524. Verrazzano, who was seeking a passage to the Pacific Ocean and Asia, erroneously reported to the king that the Pamlico Sound lagoon of modern North Carolina was the beginning of the Pacific Ocean, from which an access could be gained to China.
Over the next few months he explored the regions around Narragansett Bay, modern Maine, southeastern Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. During the expedition he also had a lot of contact with the Native American tribes of the regions he explored. Finally he returned to France in July 1524.
He commanded a fleet of ships on an expedition to Brazil in 1527. He returned home with a rich harvest of brazilwood later the same year.
In spite of his extensive explorations, Verrazzano was yet to find the elusive passage to the Pacific Ocean. Determined to discover this route, he embarked on his next voyage to North America in 1528. This expedition also included Verrazzano’s brother, Girolamo. The voyage proved to be ill-fated and Verrazzano did not return alive.
Giovanni da Verrazzano was a pioneering explorer who was the first to proclaim that what he discovered was not a part of Asia, but a New World. However, he never received the acclaim he deserved and many of his achievements were overlooked. His own discoveries were overshadowed by the more dramatic Conquest of Mexico and Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe which took place at around the same time span.
Personal Life & Legacy
Not much is known about the personal life of this great explorer.
During his third voyage to North America in 1528, his fleet explored Florida, the Bahamas, and the Lesser Antilles. Eventually the ships drifted into the Caribbean ocean and while sailing south of Jamaica, the explorers came to a heavily vegetated island.
Verrazzano, along with a few other men, ventured into the island to explore, while the other crew members waited in the ships. Verrazzano and his group members were soon attacked by some cannibals who killed and ate them. The men waiting in the ships watched with horror but were unable to help their crewmates.
In Narragansett Bay, the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and Maryland’s Verrazano Bridge are named in his honor.