The Expansion of Europe and Rise of the Atlantic World

The ancient Greeks and others, had ideas of some earthly paradise beyond the sea. Possibly the idea of Atlantis. The ancient Greeks also knew that the earth was round. They had noted the shadow of the earth on the surface of the moon, and had also noticed how ships "dropped" below the horizon. Erosthenes, an ancient Greek, calculated the circumference of the earth, and was correct within 225 miles. So don’t believe all the "flat earth" business taught in lower grades. It simply isn’t true.

There is evidence of an early European landing and attempts at settlement in North America. A Celtic settlement in North Carolina, near the Outer Banks, has been dated to over 2000 years old.

Next Europeans to reach America were the Vikings.

· 985 Erik the Red – colonized Greenland. He was apparently the first true combination Real Estate developer and B.S. artist. He had voyaged while on exile from Iceland, and told tales when he returned of a land he had discovered that was so beautiful and green that he named it Greenland (Grǿenland in Danish.)

· Son, Leif Erikson – (Real name was Thorvald) approx. 1001 A.D. landed in Labrador and named the area where he landed Vinland – for the grapes. He was a liar – no grapes in that area; it’s too cold. But then his father had named his discovery "Greenland." Evidence shows they went as far South as North Carolina; possibly further.

There is some evidence of Viking settlements in Labrador. They didn’t stay –no one knows for sure what happened to them; the most widely accepted theory is that the Indians "whupped" up on them.

The Vikings made no contribution to settlement of America – their attempt was largely an aberration. They were probably not the only ones to reach America, but they are the only ones who left substantial evidence of an attempt at settlement. There has been recent scholarship to suggest that the Chinese may have reached the western coast of North America, but nothing concrete. It is important for the student of history to know, however, that Christopher Columbus did not "discover" America.

European Society during the Age of Discovery

    The first European contact with the Western Hemisphere and its cultures occurred at the time of the European Renaissance; a time when European scholars had discovered long lost texts in philosophy, medicine, geography, and science which had long been in the hands of scholars in the East. Aside from great changes in learning and scholarship, society itself was in a state of flux.

   Despite great changes in scholarship, seventy five per cent of Europeans were peasants. Although some were wealthy landowners, many others were poor. All were burdened with taxes, rents, and obligations to the Catholic Church. Peasant revolts were not uncommon, and were frequently put down ruthlessly.

   The family was the primary structure of society in Europe. The father presided over the family, and his authority over his wife and children was not subject to question. His authority was akin to the rule of God over the universe, and of a monarch over his realm. The wife's role was to bear and rear children, and help her husband in providing for the family. Children were potential laborers who helped provide for the family from the time they were able to work until they left home to start their own families. Those persons who lived outside basic family units, including unmarried men,  widows and spinsters were regarded with deep suspicion. Quite often such persons were accused of witchcraft or crime.

    In the latter part of the 15th century, Europe's population exploded from approx. 55 million 1450 to roughly 100 million by 1600.  At the same time, landlords began an "enclosure" process converting land which had previously been worked in common to private property. Also, a drop in temperature in the late sixteenth century led to a "little Ice Age which lasted  200 years, and caused substantially reduced crop production. Increasing demand for wood to be used as fuel and for building materials deforested much of Europe's forests and also destroyed wildlife habitat, which further reduced the peasant's available food supply. Peasants gradually migrated to towns from the villages they had previously occupied, where living conditions were poor.  Most towns and cities were dirty, with people living in close quarters. Disease was frequently rampant.

    The population explosion was most acute in England. In a period of 120 years (1500 - 1620) the population doubled.  

    Economic behavior also changed, as profit became a prime motive for enterprising businessmen. Previously, the church and guilds had imposed strict regulations to ensure that merchants charged a "just price." With the change, Italian merchants often wrote on the top of their ledgers "In the Name of God and of Profit."  Joint Stock Companies, the forerunners of modern corporations, emerged for the purpose of earning a profit for their investors.  Joint Stock Companies were largely responsible for many voyages of exploration which were undertaken with profit as the primary motive. Several Joint Stock Companies were responsible for the colonization of British North America; and several, including the notorious Royal African Company, engaged in the Slave trade.

Changes in Europe occasioned by the Renaissance

      A.  Renewed Interest in Geography and Navigation: The Northern European Renaissance included the study of Geography. Contrary to myths often taught at lower levels, it was common knowledge that the world was round. The ancient Greeks had known the world was round, as they had observed that the shadow of the earth on the face of the moon was an arc. Aristotle had taught that the world was round, and this fact had been taught for many years in Medieval Universities. Aristotle was considered an authority by the church under its practice of scholasticism. Although no one truly believed that the world was flat, the church large discovered scholarly inquiry; authority rather than experimentation had been the norm. This changed with the arrival of the Renaissance in which scholars questioned authority, often at their peril. A renewed interest in Geography was part of this rebirth.

      There was also renewed interest in the art of navigation: The principle of the Compass was known as early as the twelfth [Fusoris Astrolabe Front]century; by the 15th Century, navigators were using the Astrolabe, which allowed navigators to navigate by the stars at night, and thereby travel for long distances outside the sight of land. Previously, one needed landmarks for navigation.

The Astrolabe allowed one to figure position by position of North Star in the sky – but Longitude was still a matter of guesswork. Timepieces not accurate, so speed was hard to calculate; primarily guessed at. The Astrolabe had been discovered by the Arabs, but knowledge of its use had eventually traveled to Europe.

     B. Growth of Trade, Towns and Nation-States. The rise of towns had given rise to a growth in trade with profit the driving motive.. Trade with the far East had originated as early as the Crusades when crusading knights at Constantinople and other areas saw products of orient; silk, spices, dyes, perfumes, rugs, even oranges. Trade continued throughout the Mediterranean world with Arab and Christian merchants frequently trading with one another.

Constantinople had long been the focal point for trade between Europe and Asia. It was located on the Bosporus strait, and visited by caravans from Asia and ships from Europe. It was the capital of the old Eastern Roman Empire, and remained so until it’s collapse in 1453. When the Turks invaded the area, they misunderstood the Greek dialect spoken by the Byzantines, who simply referred to Constantinople as istapolis ("the city.") The Turks thought this was the name of the city, and converted it to their own dialect, thereby giving it the name which it bears to this day: Istanbul. Spices were a big item for trade, particularly black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves. They were essential to preservation of food. The market for spices gave rise to the Merchant class; Many merchants formed Joint Stock Companies (described above) with stockholders who risked investment in the enterprise to  bring back spices, in return for which they would share in the profits, just like modern corporations.

C. Marco Polo and a Description of his Travels:Marco Polo’s book: The Description of the World; or The Travels of Marco Polo (1298-1299), provided impetus for trade and exploration. Marco was a native of Venice, and fought for that City-State in its war with Genoa. He was captured and imprisoned by the Genovese. While in prison, he described ( or perhaps dictated) to a fellow prisoner the story of his adventures in Cathay (China) where he presumably had traveled with his father and uncle on a trading venture. He described in great detail the treasures and wonders he had observed there, and the magnificence of the court of the Great Khan. The book was later published by the other prisoner, Rusticello of Pisa, who was a writer of romances. It created great excitement in Europe about the wealth of Asia; in fact it became a best seller.  Columbus had a copy of Marco Polo’s book written in Latin, which was heavily annotated in the  margins by Columbus' own hand. (A good indicator that Columbus was somewhat educated, as he could read Latin.)  Among the passages that created interest was the following:

It should be understood that the sea in which the Island of Zipangu [Japan] is situated is the sea of CHIN, and so extensive is this eastern sea that according to experienced pilots and mariners, who should know, it contains no fewer than 7,440 islands, mostly inhabited. It is said that every one of the trees which grow in them gives off a fragrant odor. They produce many spices and drugs, particularly aloes, and much pepper, both white and black.

It is impossible to estimate the value of gold and other articles found in these islands. Their distance from the continent is so great, and the navigation so difficult, that vessels sailing there do not reap large profits; for they consume a whole year in the voyage. We shall treat no further of these countries and islands because of my not having visited them personally and their not being under the dominion of the Great Khan.

On his deathbed, he said, "I have told only the half of all I have seen."

The influence of Marco’s book is undisputed. It was a direct and substantial motivating factor in European voyages of exploration; yet there is substantial doubt that Marco Polo ever visited China, or that he was a real person. In fact, there were those at the time who doubted it’s authenticity. It became known as Il Milione (The Million Lies); and Marco Polo as Il Milione. Modern scholarship has cast substantial doubt on the veracity of his writings:

Profit, not adventure was the primary motive for those wishing to travel to the far East. The return on an investment in spices, silk, and other Eastern goods in late medieval Europe was fantastic; but transporting goods to the West by land was very risky. Thieves, robbers, many princes and potentates were in between. All wanted a share of profits for passing through. Moslems lay in the middle. Moslems didn’t forbid them traveling, but did insist on a share of the goodies – Christians were horrified at the prospect of giving Moslems anything.

People began to dream – if only we could get there by water, rather than land. The above passage from Marco Polo lends itself to the argument that by traveling West, one could reach those mysterious islands of which he spoke, but were too far to reach from the East.  Since the world is round, as everyone knew, if they were further from the East, they must logically be closer to reach from the West. 

D. Rise of Nation – States and the End of the Feudal System. Ruling monarchs had the power and money to sponsor a search for a water route to Asia. This worked well also for merchants, who wanted a uniform currency, trade laws, and the elimination of trade barriers. This was a case of one hand washing the other – The merchants and monarchs were natural allies. Strong national monarchies arose in Europe by the late fifteenth century. As the power of the monarchy increased, the power of the Catholic Church, long a substantial force in Europe, began to decline.  Among the most important developments, a united Spanish monarchy emerged with the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragón to Isabella of Castille in 1479. In 1492, the same year of Columbus' first voyage, Ferdinand and Isabella drove the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula in a campaign known as the Reconquista.  With this "reconquest" of Iberia, Spain became a dominant world power.

The Crusades also played a part here. European crusaders had had contact with Eastern Monarchs –there was no feudal system in the Orient. They also learned of new weapons, gunpowder, and developed standing armies; all of this made Monarchs stronger and feudal lords weaker.

1469: Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married, formed modern Spain.

1485: Henry VII became King of England after killing Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field. Ended Wars of the Roses.

Voyages of Exploration

1422, King John of Portugal’s son, Prince Henry the Navigator sent an expedition to map the coast of Africa.

One night as Prince Henry of Portugal lay in bed it was revealed to him that he would render a great service to our Lord by the discovery of the said Ethiopias...in these lands so much gold and rich merchandise would be found as would maintain the King and the people...of Portugal.

Duarte Pachece Pereira, Portuguese Explorer, 1506

Judging by his name, one might think that Henry the Navigator was a great explorer with extraordinary navigating skills. Truth is, Prince Henry of Portugal never set sail on voyages of discovery. A nobleman of English, French, and Spanish ancestry, Prince HenryPrince Henry gained his reputation by sponsoring many voyages of discovery along the western coast of Africa.

Henry was profoundly religious; he wore a hair shirt secretly under his clothes as perpetual penance; no one knew about this until his death. Also, he wore a relic around his neck supposed to contain a portion of the True Cross upon which Jesus was crucified. He hoped to ally with a mysterious Christian ruler of Ethiopia, Priester John, leader of Nestorian Christians, and drive out the infidels. One of his expeditions carried a letter from the Pope to Priester John, proposing a grand alliance to crusade against the Muslims.

Priester John is a very peculiar medieval legend that originated sometime in the 1140s (about the time of the Second Crusade). According to rumor, or fervent belief, the ultimate Christian king, Priester John, ruled over the perfect Christian kingdom, somewhere in Asia (or perhaps in Africa - no one was really sure). According to an old legend, readily adapted to the Priester John legend, one of the apostles, St Thomas, was supposed to have traveled to India (or thereabouts), there to establish a Christian community that retained many of the ideals of the original church, and which would blossom into an almost perfect Christian kingdom, ruled over by this legendary king, Prester John. It was widely believed that this group of Christians, known as Nestorians, maintained a small quantity of dough which was a portion of that used to make the unleavened loaf used by Jesus at the Last Supper. They constantly mixed new flour and water with it, so that each time they administered the Eucharist, they consumed a portion of the same loaf consumed by Jesus. The legend of the journey of St Thomas to India was current by the 3rd century AD, and was widespread enough in the 833 for Alfred the Great to send two priests with gifts to St Thomas' shrine on the east coast of India.

It wasn't only the western Europeans who believed completely in the presence of this magnificent Christian king who ruled a perfect Christian society somewhere in the East. The Moslems believed he existed, too, and were generally terrified of the thought that one day Priester John was going to rouse his armies and march westwards to recapture the Holy Lands for the Christians. (During the 700s Moslem invasions had enveloped the Holy Lands - via the Crusades the Christian west had been trying to get them back since the eleventh century.) The Christian west, of course, fervently hoped that one day Prester John would march at the head of his armies westwards to meet the European Christians in the Holy Land. In fact, Prester John was already supposed to have driven Islam out of central Asia.

Prince Henry had several reasons for dispatching his expeditions. He hoped to find the rumored Christian allies, add to geographic knowledge, and perhaps find a sea route to the Orient. But he also hoped to find gold. For centuries gold objects from sub-Saharan Africa had made their way to Europe. Some Portuguese even believed that the objects came from a "River of Gold." If only this gold supply could be found, Henry's costly expeditions could begin to pay for themselves and perhaps even strengthen Portugal's economy.

Prince Henry sent expedition after expedition down the west coast of Africa to outflank the Muslim hold on trade routes and to establish colonies. These expeditions moved slowly due to the mariners' belief that waters at the equator were at the boiling point, that human skin turned black, and that sea monsters would engulf ships.

In 1441, two of Henry's captains, Antam Gonclaves and Nuno Tristao, set out, separately, to Cape Bianco on the western coast of Africa. To the south of the Cape they came across a market run by black Muslims dressed in white robes and turbans. There they received a small amount of gold dust. (How?? Arabs certainly didn’t give it to them.) The Portuguese crew also seized twelve black Africans to take back to Portugal, not as slaves, but as exhibits to show Prince Henry.

These would not be Portugal's first African slaves. Sailors could offer glass beads and colored cloth in exchange for tribal captives. In 1452, Pope Nicolas V issued his papal bull allowing the enslavement of "pagans and infidels." Prince Henry's interest in the slaves was mainly to convert them to Christianity, or so he insisted.

The enslavement of blacks was justified by interpretation of events described in the Old Testament shortly after Noah left the Ark. Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japeth, were believed to be the descendants of the three races of mankind: Shem the Semitic (White, Caucasian) race; Ham the Hametic (Black) race, and Japeth the Oriental ("Japan-ese") race. According to Genesis, Noah built a vineyard after leaving the ark, and got drunk from the wine he produced. Genesis is vague as to what happened, but while Noah was sleeping off the drunk, Ham did something terrible. Genesis simply says he "saw his father’s nakedness," which many scholars have interpreted to mean that he sodomized his own father. When Noah awakened and discovered what had happened, he cursed Ham’s descendants. Ham was the biblical ancestor of Canaan: Noah’s words: "cursed be Canaan," were often quoted to justify enslavement of blacks; the phrase is used by a Southern minister in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin..

The new captives included a local chief who spoke Arabic. The chief negotiated his own release, the terms of which were that if he and a boy from his family were taken back to their homeland and released, they would provide other black slaves in exchange. In 1442, Antam Goncalves sailed back to Cape Bianco, then returned with more gold dust and ten black Africans. The following year, Portuguese explorers returned from Africa with nearly thirty slaves. Within ten years, thousands of slaves had been transported by sea to Portugal and the Portuguese Islands. African slavery will be discussed in more detail in a later chapter.

1446 – reached Cape Verde Islands; by 1482, Congo River; 1488, Bartholomew Dias reached Cape of Good Hope.

Enter Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (whose Italian name was Christofero Columbo -- Columbus was the Latin version of his name) was born 1451 in Genoa, Italy. He apparently had red hair, oval eyes, a ruddy complexion, a prominent nose; and didn’t really look Italian. Much speculation has surfaced about his ancestry; one writer has even suggested that he was Jewish. Although many portraits and statues of him exist, none are accurate: no likeness of Columbus was made during his lifetime (he wasn’t that important); therefore no one knows exactly what he looked like. His father had been a weaver. Columbus went to sea at early age and later became a cartographer. He was very experienced in maps and mapmaking.

   For many years, historians argued that Columbus was an idiot who landed on the shores of North America by pure dumb luck. See, for instance, Samuel Eliot Morrison: Christopher Columbus and the Voyages of Discovery. More recent study indicates he was in fact very shrewd and calculating, and deliberately made the enterprise seem simpler than it really was. While enroute, he kept two logs: one in which he recorded the actual distance traveled each day, and another for the ships crew so they would not become unduly disturbed.

Columbus hatched a scheme of sailing West to reach Indies. He approached Courts of England, France and Portugal. All thanked him, but no-thanked him, mostly because of his attitude. No one suggested that the idea was crazy for proposing such a voyage; in fact it was quite appealing. It was when he stated his terms that they told him he was crazy: He insisted he be given title of "Admiral of the Ocean Sea," and also that he get 10% of everything he found, all the gold, silver and riches, plus that he be appointed Viceroy of all new lands discovered.

    It is important to note that Columbus' voyage was in search of gold, not spices or any of the other commercial treasures of the Orient.  His dairies reveal that he noticed the small amount of gold worn by the Indians and immediately concluded--erroneously--that there had to be more gold close by.  As an alternative, Indian slaves were also a tempting commercial possibility for him.   

 Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain were the only ones who bit – Spain was the poorest nation in Europe; it couldn’t hope to survive long; so idea of striking it rich appealed to them. There is some evidence that he tried the pious routine to interest them. He apparently told them that any profits coming to him, he wished to be donated to the cause to fight the Infidel Muslims.  Contrary to popular legend, Isabella did not hock her jewelry to finance the expedition.

Columbus raised most of the money necessary for the journey himself – selling shares to investors. He promised possible profits as high as 600 – 1. He chartered the Santa Maria; his flagship. The town of Palos Spain supplied the other two.

Columbus measurements indicated that the world was much smaller than it in fact is. Being the good cartographer that he was, and also being the smart businessman that he was, he took several calculations of the distance of one degree (º) of the Earth’s surface, and assumed that the shortest in distance was the most accurate. This made his plans seem more workable. He reached the Caribbean about the time he would have reached the Orient. Had his measurements been correct, he would have met the emperor of Japan somewhere in the vicinity of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Columbus ultimately landed on an Island in Caribbean; which he named "Blessed Savior." San Salvador.

The Indians he encountered were the Arawak. Very peaceful. Another group there whom he missed were the Caribs; an extremely violent and warlike tribe. Caribbean sea is named for them. In Spanish, Carib is Canibal; gives rise to word "cannibal." Had he met them, they would have been glad to have him for dinner. Columbus was initially impressed with the gentle nature of the Arawaks; commenting in his dairy that "they invite you to share anything that they possess." He also noted that they were basically defenseless, commenting that "with fifty men they could all be subjugated and compelled to do anything one wishes."  Thus, the idea of enslavement of the Indians was first hatched at Columbus' first encounter with them.

Columbus lost the Santa Maria; but went back with other two. He left 40 men behind until he could return (which hePhotograph of the painting obviously planned to do.) He lured several Indians onto his ship and then sailed, literally kidnapping them, and carried them back as "presents" to Ferdinand and Isabella.  He became quite famous when he returned to Europe, primarily because he insisted that he had landed on the far coast of Asia. (Some historians have argued that he knew he had not reached Asia, but faked his diaries so that he could keep his investors on the hook.)  Plans were immediately made for a second, and larger expedition.

Columbus returned in 1493 with 17 ships and 1200 men. He had been given specific orders by Ferdinand and Isabella to treat the Indians kindly; but he discovered that when the men he had left behind had raped Indian women, stolen food, etc., the Indians had revolted against this treatment and had killed ten of his men. Columbus attacked the Indians with dogs, (Greyhounds and Mastiffs, which could tear limbs off people), weapons; and killed many. He loaded 500 onto ship so he could ship them to Spain as slaves.

Columbus made a total of four voyages, but never landed on the mainland of North America.

   It should be noted that Columbus' original Journals have been lost.  Original copies, written in Castilian Spanish, were delivered under seal to Ferdinand and Isabella.  The only surviving copies of his journals are the recollections of Bartoleme de Las Casas; who was horrified at Columbus' treatment of the docile Indians of the Caribbean.  It is entirely possible that Las Casas embellished his recollections somewhat; but there is no way of determining if this is in fact the case.

Amerigo Vespucci: Was personally acquainted with Columbus, and helped outfit his second and third voyages. More on Vespucci below.

The fact that the Europeans  could navigate to the same area several times in a row shows they were not stupid; they just didn’t realize the world was as large as it was.

Columbus and Vespucci both used the term "New World." An Italian printer took it from Vespucci’s letters, and gave it a Latin name: Mundus Novus.

Martin Waldseemuller: A German geographer, published a new version of Ptolemy’s Geography. Either by error or artifice, he showed that Vespucci had reached South America before Columbus; and suggested it should be named in his honor, hence, America. Actually, Vespucci was later than Columbus, but the name became entrenched before anyone questioned his right to the honor.

The Great Biological Exchange

Europeans had never seen iguana, flying squirrels, turkeys, catfish,  opossums, rattlesnakes, and hummingbirds.

Indians had not seen horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, (possibly) and chickens.

Europeans had not seen potatoes (sweet or white), peanuts, squash, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, cacao, or chicle (used for chewing gum).

Indians had not seen rice, wheat, barley, oats, wine grapes, melons, coffee, bananas, dandelions, Kentucky Blue Grass.

A number of weeds were introduced by Europeans; seeds were brought in on shoes or in clothing. Also, they brought the cockroach, which had never been seen in America. Needless to say, they made themselves very much at home.

   Europeans soon adapted a large number of Indian devices, including canoes, snowshoes, moccasins, ponchos, dogsleds, and toboggans, as well as rubber balls and the game of lacrosse.  Among the new words adapted from the Indians were: papoose, succotash, hominy, tobacco, moose, skunk, opossum, woodchuck, chipmunk, hickory, pecan, warpath, warpaint, paleface, medicine man, and firewater. 

Europeans brought diseases to which Indians had no immunity, including smallpox, measles, mumps, chicken pox. Millions died as result; in some places, whole populations wiped out. Many Indians died from contact with other Indians, such that Indians who never saw a European (or got within 500 miles of them) died from European diseases. A prime example of the devastation wreaked by the Spanish in particular was the peaceful Arawaks whom Columbus first encountered. The most modern estimate shows that at the time of Columbus’ landing, eight million Arawaks lived in the area. Within two centuries, there were less than 200 still surviving. The rest had been murdered by the Spaniards, carted away as slaves, or succumbed to European diseases.  In South America, over eight million Indians died of disease within 100 years of contact with the Spanish.

But the Indians returned the favor. Indians were often used by soldiers and in Europe for sex. It was considered great sport to cavort with an Indian, particularly the younger females. One of Columbus’ officers told of "taking pleasure" from a young female, who, once she discovered his intentions, "performed as if she had been trained in a school for harlots." Unknown to the Europeans, however, the Indians carried the syphilis bug in their systems, to which they had built up a natural immunity. Europeans had no such immunity, as they had not been exposed to it. The result was a syphilis epidemic in Europe which killed thousands. Even members of the nobility were eventually exposed.

Other Explorers

Columbus’ discoveries encouraged other professional explorers. They were not adventurers, but businessmen who hired themselves out to the highest bidder to find a western passage to Asia. Most were Italian. Their motivation was the oldest of motivations:  to make money.

John Cabot, a Venetian sailing for Henry VII of England, was the first to reach North America. Cabot had received a charter from Henry  

to seeke out, discouer, and finde whatsoever isles, countreys, regions or prouinces of the heathen and infidels whatsoeuer they be, and in what part of the world soeuer they be, which before this time haue bene vnknowen to all Christians: we haue granted to them, and also to euery of them, the heires of them, and euery of them, and their deputies, and haue giuen them licence to set vp our banners and ensignes in euery village, towns, castle, isle, or maine land of them newly found. And'that the aforesayd Iohn and his sonnes, or their heires and assignee may subdue, occupy and possesse all such townes, cities, castles and isles of them found, which they can subdue, occupy and possesse, as our vassals, and lieutenants, getting vnto vs the rule, title, and jurisdiction of the same villages, townes, castles, & firme land so found. Yet so that the aforesayd Iohn, and his sonnes and heires, and their deputies, be holden and bounder of all the fruits, profits, gaines, and commodities growing of such navigation, for euery their voyage, as often as they shall arrine at our port of Bristoll (at the which port they shall be bound and holden onely to arrine) all maner of necessary costs and charges by them made, being deducted, to pay vnto vs in wares or money the lift part of the capital! gaine so gotten. We gluing and granting vnto them and to their heires and deputies, that they shall be free from all paying of customer of all and singular such merchandise as they shall be free from all paying of customes of all and singular they shall bring with them from those places so newlie found. 

See:  Henry's Letters Patent to John Cabot 

 Cabot  thought China was directly opposite England, and called the area where he landed a "new founde lande."  He also believed that he had landed in Asia.

Cabot’s landing gave England the basis for its claim to all of North America; but the English did not originally pursue it. They were too involved in wars in Europe, and conflicts at home, and as a result, did not follow through on  Cabot’s discoveries. 

. Later, Vasco Da Gama helped establish a trading empire in Indonesia; India. The financial return on Da Gama’s first trip was 600 to one. (For every dollar invested, the return was $600.00)

A dispute erupted over the division of the newly discovered lands. Spain and Portugal assumed that it all belonged to them, but quarreled over the division. They asked the Pope to intervene. On June 7, [1494], the Spanish and the Portuguese signed a treaty to divide the world in two. This was the Treaty of Tordesillas, and was sanctioned by Pope Alexander VI. The dividing line, the famous Line of Demarcation ran through the Atlantic, west of the Cape Verde Islands, with Spain gaining lands to the west including all the Americas. Brazil was granted Portugal. The eastern half including Africa and India was given to Portugal.

Spanish were upset; they wanted to show that the Moluccas Islands were near South America, and accordingly on the Spanish side of the line. They argued that the Line of Demarcation extended around the world, and that the Spice Islands belonged to them. However, without accurate measurements of longitude, the question of where the line should be drawn in Asia persisted. Ferdinand Magellan was dispatched by the Spanish to find the "other" side of Line of Demarcation, and see who really had rights to Spice Islands. This was the only reason he sailed round the world; he was not trying to prove a point about the shape of the earth. Everyone knew that already.

Magellan was a Portuguese working for the Spanish. He sailed around South America, through the Straits of Magellan, to the Philippines (he got himself killed there, because he was a first class jerk and interfered in local politics. He died from a poison dart in the leg) After his death, he crew sailed on to Spice Islands, and thence home. Of the five ships who left Spain, only one, with a skeleton crew, returned. The survivors told a harrowing tale of flour infested with bugs, and were all near starvation. Spain later claimed the Philippines as result of discovery by Magellan. The islands were named for Spanish king, Philip II.

King Manuel I of Portugal sent many fleets to Brazil. One of the officers among the fleets sent out in 1501 was Amerigo Vespucci. He was among the first explorers to report that South America was a continent, not an island. An excellent mapmaker, Vespucci sold copies of maps of coastal South America to the German cartographer, Martin Waldseemuller mentioned earlier. When the maps were reproduced, Vespucci was given credit with his name written on the land portion of the map. Misunderstanding the meaning, many thought the land was named "America."

The financial return on Spices from the orient got Spanish interested in looking further.

Initial Contact and Impressions of American Indians and Europeans

When Columbus first arrived in the West Indies in 1492, his first impression of the Indians was incredibly positive.  He praised them for their spirituality, and said that they were “in the eyes and arms of God.”  

             REMEMBER:  Columbus presumably thought he was in a set of Islands off the coast of Cathay (China), commonly called "the Indies," NOT the Indian subcontinent.  Some scholars have argued that the phrase “Indian” comes from the Spanish  In dios, from his idea that they were in the eyes and arms of God. Others have argued that the term was "los Indios," meaning residents of the Indies. 

 The Indians initially accepted the Europeans as equals; shared their food, lodging, and were quite peaceful and sharing.  During the first decade, there was an incredibly positive description of Indians by the Europeans.  They were described as living in a slightly improved version of the Garden of Eden.  

For those interested, a good book on the subject is: Land of Savagery; Land of Promise, by Ray Allen Billington.

                 Amerigo Vespucci described America as a “land without crime where neither king nor lord exist, and all live in harmony.  Europeans thought they saw Indians in a “golden age.”  Columbus described them as “free of avarice.” Others had similarly glowing images.  A Frenchman in 1580 described them as “innocent, glowingly happy, with no knowledge of numbers…”  

        Bartoleme de las Casas, who sailed with Columbus, said of the people of the Indies: 

        And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome. These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world.   

             Indians were not normally aggressive (with rare exceptions, possibly the Caribs); they normally only became aggressive when provoked.  Europeans marveled at their kindness and generosity. The problem was, the Europeans were seeing them incorrectly; probably because of some longing on the part of the Europeans.  They didn’t see the problems among the Indians that they saw in Europe, where there was religious warfare, poverty, the black plague, pollution, etc.  Since they didn’t see that in Indian society, they basically saw that for which they longed, a society free of all these ills.

             Also, they were struck with the opportunities on the islands.  Europe was at this point in the Renaissance, which began in Italy, Columbus’ old stomping ground.  It was a time of rapid and extensive development, and class distinction also, primarily based on wealth.  The Indians represented an equality and simplicity of life that the Europeans could only dream about. No wonder they thought they were back in the Garden of Eden.

        The Indians did not view the Europeans as “others,” but as people similar to themselves.  They had no reason to believe that the Europeans had different values.  They saw them as physically similar; but also as curiously different.  They had beards, their complexion and dress was different, but the Indians saw these as simple differences.  One of their first impressions of the Europeans came from body odor.  Indians frequently bathed, and brushed their teeth with sassafras root.  Europeans considered bathing unhealthy.

             In a number of ways, the Indians saw the Europeans as superior to themselves:

The positive images of Europeans about Indians and the remarkable welcome they received were sadly short-lived.  This was in part due to the erroneous assumption by the Europeans that the Indians thought they were Gods.

        A Frenchman, Nicholas Perrot, noted that the Potowantomie Indians wouldn’t look the Frenchmen in the face.  He assumed this meant that the Indians thought they were deities.  It was actually a customary sign of respect among the Indians not to look one directly in the eye; similar to many young Black men of Georgetown County.  It was only a sign of respect, nothing more.

            Many Indians appeared somewhat standoffish when they first encountered Europeans; others were almost too touchy-feely.  The Indians meant this only as a sign of respect, but the Europeans completely misinterpreted it.     Columbus and his men were often carried on the backs of the Indians across streams, muddy areas, etc.  Also, some tribes actually wanted to hand feed them.  Early linguists who picked up on Indian language noted that the Indians referred to Europeans as “spirits.”  Again, this was something of a sign of respect, but the Europeans drew the wrong inference.

           Smoking tobacco was also a sign of respect; actually a sign of utmost respect; not afforded to just anyone.  Some Indians actually “crowned” the Europeans with wreathes of leaves, gave them seats of honor, and also gifts; many offered their wives and daughters to them also.  To the Indians, this was the ultimate in respect; deference to an honored guest; to the European mind, however, the Indians obviously considered them to be Gods.

             One should not overlook the fact that there was some degree of curiosity on the part of the Indians also; they had not seen white men with beards before.

             Europeans had typically assumed that their culture was superior to the Indian culture; and this in itself led to the “God image.”  They also noted what they conceived to be a poor level of Indian technology, primarily the fact that the Indians had no guns.

             Then again, it would take five to ten minutes to reload a gun of that day after firing.  How many arrows could an Indian fire in that time? Yet the Europeans still considered this a sign of inferiority on the part of the Indians.

             Europeans also noticed Indian farming techniques; housing, boats, tools, etc. all of which lent to the idea that the Europeans were superior.