European Exploration of the Caribbean

The European exploration of the Caribbean begins, of course, with Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus). When he landed at an island he called San Salvador - it is believed to have been Guanahani, of the Bahamas - he believed to have reached the eastern limits of India; the Caribbean is still referred to as the West Indies, the native inhabitants of the continent he refered to as Indios; the name stuck.
Columbus had sailed out with the promise to search for the land of Cipangu (Japan), which according to Marco Polo was rich in gold and silver. The Taino Indians, whom Columbus met on San Salvador, on Hispaniola and elsewhere, actually had golden items (ear rings etc.) on them. When Columbus returned with a small amount of gold and a few Indians, Spain and Portugal negotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas to delimit their respective spheres (1494); the treaty left the entire Caribbean within the Spanish sphere.
Columbus claimed the position of Viceroy for himself and his descendants; he had many critics and was deprived of his title; while he was permitted to undertake a fourth expedition 1499-1500, another Spanish expedition was undertaken by fellow Italian Amerigo Vespucci, who realized that the stretch of northern Brazil he encountered was not just part of yet another island, but part of a continent.
On his voyages, Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Vespucci explored the coast of Brazil and the Guyanas, then switching service (to Portugal) and exploring the central and southern Brazilean coast. In 1501, Rodrigo de Bastidas, Juan de la Cosa and Vasco Nunez de Balboa explored the Caribbean coast of Panama. Alonso de Ojeda explored the coast from the Guyanas to Panama in 1499-1500.
The Spanish arried at Yucatan in 1511, by accident - survivors of a shipwreck, some of whom learnt the Maya language, one - Jeronimo de Aguilar - in 1519 serving Hernan Cortez as interpreter. Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Puerto Rico (Boriquen) in 1506, Florida in 1513-1521.

Alonso de Ojeda, from Panama History
Spanish conquest of Yucatan, from Wikipedia
Caribbean History, from KWABS
Historic Panama, La Conquista & Exploracion, posted by Bruce Ruiz
REFERENCE Jan Rogozinski, A Brief History of the Caribbean, Harmondsworth : Meridian 1994
Chapter Four : Across the Ocean Sea, pp.44-59, in : Angus Konstam, Historical Atlas of Exploration, 1492-1600, NY : Checkmark Books 2000 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 25th 2003, last revised on May 11th 2006

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