European Exploration of North America

When the Era of European Exploration begins with Prince Henry the Navigator, systematically documented maritime exploration begins, and places were 'discovered' which had been visited by seafaring Europeans before. In no world region outside Europe is this more manifest than in North America.
The Vikings had reached North America's coast (Vinland and Markland) and even settled at L'Anse-aux-Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, shortly after the year 1000. This was recorded in the Greenland Saga. While the Kings of Norway tried to keep this knowledge an internal affair and forbade non-Norwegians to sail beyond Bergen, Norway since 1380 was in Dynastic Union with Denmark.
King Erik VII. of Denmark had married a cousin of Prince Henry the Navigator; it is speculated that he provided him with information on the North Atlantic. A combined Norwegian-Portuguese expedition from Iceland sometime in 1470-1473, supposed to have be destined for Greenland and probably to further Newfoundland, is only marginally refered to in documents, and therefore not mentioned in most historical accounts.
Off Newfoundland are located the richest fishing grounds of the entire North Atlantic. In the years immediately following the discovery of Newfoundland by Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), several Portuguese expeditions arrived in the region Greenland (Terra Verde) - Labrador - Newfoundland - in continuation of earlier undertakings - claiming the area for Portugal : Joao Fernandes (1499), Gaspar Corte-Real (1500-1501) and his brother Miguel (1502) and Joao Alvares Fagundes (1520). After that date, the Portuguese gave up their claim - according to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, Newfoundland lay within the Spanish sphere. It should be mentioned that Caboto and the Corte Real brothers searched for the North West Passage, and that both journeys are poorly documented.

The Spanish, however, seem not to have been interested in the American Atlantic coast north of Florida, first explored by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513-1521. It was an Italian navigator sailing on behalf of the King of France, Giovanni da Verrazano, which explored the coast between Florida and Newfoundland. The French, not bound by the Treaty of Tordesillas, continued the exploration of St. Lawrence Bay and River - Jacques Cartier 1534 or 1535 to 1541, Samuel de Champlain 1603-1635 etc.
Englishman Henry Hudson, sailing on behalf of the Dutch V.O.C., further added to the European knowledge of the North American coastlines by entering Hudson Bay in 1611; however, he failed to return; the North West Passage longed for was not feasible for 16th century sailing technique.

The Portuguese Explorers, from Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
Portuguese Discoveries in North America, by Rod Thorn
Cristopher Columbus, ˇ°Joan Colomˇ± and Jon Skolp, posted by Nito Verdera, may be speculative, has information on the little known Portuguese-Norwegian expedition of 1470-1473.
Ilha Verde (Green Island), from As Ilhas Miticas do Atlantico by Ruip Martins, in Portuguese
The Corte Real brothers, from Nat'l Library of Canada
REFERENCE Jan Rogozinski, A Brief History of the Caribbean, Harmondsworth : Meridian 1994
Chapter Six : The Coastline of North America, pp.75-89; Chapter Ten : The Northwest Passage, pp.145-157, Chapter Eleven : Inland Quests, pp.158-171, 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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