Amerigo Vespucci was born in 1454. His family was very rich and lived in Florence, Italy. From the time he was a small boy he was very interested in astronomy and maps. He was curious about the explorers and their adventures. Some Historians disagree about the things Vespucci did. Yet other historians appreciate his accomplishments. When it was time for Columbus's third voyage, Vespucci helped get the needed supplies Columbus needed for his ships. Finally, in 1499, Vespucci got the chance to go exploring himself.
Historians have a hard time agreeing about Vespucci. Some think that he went to sea as a rich tourist on an expedition commanded by Alonso de Ojeda.. Other people think he had command of at least one ship, and had to make careful measurements of the stars. His main goal was to locate a star that he thought was above the South pole just as there was one above the North pole. If he found it, explorers would be able to find latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. When Ojeda and Vespucci reached the land that Columbus thought was the Garden of Eden, they split up to find pearls. They met up in Hispaniola. Before he found the star that he was looking for, he was forced to turn back by the currents. If only he had found that star, the problem of longitude would be solved and he would become famous. Several months, after Ojeda had left, Vespucci sailed back to Spain. Amerigo Vespucci wrote a letter to his friend Lorenzo, who was the ruler of Florence. The letter contained facts about his experiences on what he called,"the extreme limits of Asia."
After he returned, Vespucci was going over his notes to determine where he had been, and to his surprise he found out that he had crossed the Line of Demarcation, made by Pope Alexander VI. He actually had seen the north end of Brazil, ten months before Carbral! Once Cabral landed in Brazil, King Manuel was curious to find out how much land Portugal owned. Vespucci wanted to return so King Manuel gave him permission and ships to make discoveries, but not to gain wealth. Vespucci was eager to return. Maybe this time he could find that star or even find a new strait. If he did, he knew that he would be famous. Vespucci mapped the Portuguese territory and named harbors as he sailed down the coast of Brazil. Vespucci wanted to learn more about basically everything! Although Vespucci didn't find the star, or strait, he did give map makers 3,300 miles more to add to their maps. Even though he did not accomplish his goal, he did believe that he had found an unknown continent.
He wrote another letter to Lorenzo in 1502, describing all that he had done. After Lorenzo died in 1503, someone who knew about the letters thought they should be printed. Some historians believe that the editors wanted the letters to be interesting so more people would read it. So, they exaggerated it a little, actually a lot! They made it seem as though Vespucci was boasting. The biggest change of all was that they changed the date of his voyage from 1499 to 1497, one year after Columbus had actually landed in South America. Many people believed this, and Vespucci became very famous. One of the believers was Martin Waldseemuller, a German map maker who loved to give names to new lands. He gave a name to the new continent, "America." Amerigo Vespucci was the discoverer, or so they thought, so why not name the new continent after him? Instead of Amerigo, he changed it to America because he wanted it to end with the letter "a" like Asia, and Africa. It also was named after a man. This name became very common among the people and it spread very quickly into their language.
This is how the name America came to be. Some people think Amerigo Vespucci was a total phoney and a fake. Other historians feel that he should at least get credit for knowing that he had found a new continent. The truth is uncertain.
Return to Explorer Page
Dawn, Dias, da Gama, Columbus, Vespucci, Magellan, Tools, Credits & Bibliography