Giovanni da Verrazano

The Italian navigator and explorer Giovanni da Verrazano (ca. 1485-ca. 1528) made a voyage to North America in 1524-1525, in the service of France, during which he explored and charted the Atlantic coast of North America.

Following the Spanish discovery of rich Indian civilizations in Mexico and Peru, other European powers also sought footholds in the New World. The English and the French actively pursued an empire in the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. Francis I, King of France, was anxious to put out an exploratory expedition before his European competitors had claimed all of the New World. In January 1525 he authorized an expedition of four ships. Giovanni da Verrazano, a Florentine navigator, was chosen as pilot of one of these ships, the Dauphine. The expedition also had a second mission. Shortly after leaving France, three of the ships broke away and engaged in pirating expeditions against Spanish treasure ships. Only the Dauphine, under Verrazano's command, actually undertook a mapping and exploring expedition along the Atlantic coast of North America.

Although Verrazano's most significant discoveries were along the middle Atlantic coastal region, his ship traveled as far north as Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. The Dauphine spent most of the winter months of 1525 off the shores of North America. It was during this time that Verrazano sighted Chesapeake Bay. He mistook the bay to be an opening through the North American continent to China. He recorded in his diary: "From the ship was seen the ocean of the east." He made no effort to cross that sea, which became known as Verrazano sea. His mistake influenced cartographers for many years. They subsequently drew maps of the New World in the shape of an hourglass, with the Verrazano Sea forming the narrow waist.

After his discovery of this bay, Verrazano continued his coastal explorations farther north. By spring he had charted Delaware Bay and had entered New York Bay. He sailed into the Hudson River, taking notes about the appearance of the natives observed along the way.

Verrazano continued his journey up the coast into Narragansett Bay and past Cape Cod. He proceeded as far north as Nova Scotia. His original mission, that of establishing some precedent for French claims in North America, was completed. He then headed back to France, after an absence of nearly seven months.

The rest of Verrazano's career is somewhat obscure. There is evidence that he made a second and possibly even a third trip back to America. His final voyage occurred in 1528, the year when he left France to search for a Central American passage to the Orient. Verrazano never returned from that journey; he was likely the victim of either a storm or unfriendly natives.

Further Reading on Giovanni da Verrazano

For information on Verrazano's part in the exploration of North America see John Bartlet Brebner, The Explorers of North America, 1492-1806 (1933); Harold Lamb, New Found World: How North America Was Discovered and Explored (1955); and J. H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (1963).