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Giovanni da Verrazzano

Giovanni da Verrazzano



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Verrazzano was born in Tuscany, near Florence, and was the recipient of a thorough education. Verrazzano made two voyages to the Levant (present-day Turkey, Syria and Lebanon).France at the time was increasingly jealous of Spain's early ventures in the New World. In 1524, Verrazzano set sail in search of a Northwest Passage to Asia with two ships provided by Francis I of France. He arrived first at present-day North Carolina, then headed north past Sandy Hook into New York Harbor. This voyage established a French claim to these lands, but at the time it was regarded as a failure because the passage to the East was not found.Verrazzano made a later voyage, perhaps in 1527, to the West Indies and the coast of South America. He was killed in a confrontation with Native Americans in the Lesser Antilles.Verrazzano's brother, Gerolamo, published maps that were among the first depictions of North America. Virginia was shown as a very narrow strip of land bounded on the western side by the Indian Ocean.Verrazzano's accomplishments were honored in the 1964 dedication of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, which links Brooklyn and Staten Island in New York Harbor.


See France in the Age of Exploration.


Giovanni da Verrazzano - History

VERRAZZANO (“Janus Verrazanus,” the one extant signature on a deed dated 11 May 1526, now in the archives at Rouen, is generally conceded to be a Latinized form of the original Italian spelling), GIOVANNI DA, explorer, navigator, merchant adventurer, the first European, according to authentic record, to sail the coast of America from Florida to Newfoundland b. c. 1485 in or near Florence (possibly at Greve) of Piero Andrea da Verrazzano and Fiametta Capelli, both of Florence d. c. 1528 in the West Indies at the hands of cannibals.

Verrazzano’s distinguished lineage has been traced to the early Middle Ages and the last member of the family died in Florence in 1819. Verrazzano had a younger brother, Gerolamo, to whom he must have been close another, named Bernardo, was a prominent banker in Rome and two others found in a genealogical register are given as Nicolo and Piero. It is not known if Giovanni ever married. The position of his family as well-to-do merchants and bankers, and his mastery of the elements of navigation and the literary culture revealed in his famous Letter, are sufficient evidence of a superior education.

Florence was well able to provide it she was the golden city, a centre of geographical and navigational science. Her prosperous merchants travelled everywhere in prosecution of trade. The twin pursuits of navigation and commerce quickly occupied Verrazzano’s attention for, imbued with the Renaissance spirit, he developed as a man of enlightened thought and imaginative action. As a young man he lived in Cairo for several years as a commercial agent and doubtless he learned his seamanship in the eastern Mediterranean for he was familiar with these waters, where Columbus also had gained experience. One source, Bacchiani, pictures the young Verrazzano as giving ear to a patriot group “nearly all friends of France, because enemies of the Medici and believers in citizen’s rights.” It is not unreasonable to assume that he left Florence, as did so many Florentines in this period, to escape the repressive atmosphere.

There have been suggestions that Verrazzano sailed to America in his early twenties with Thomas Aubert’s famous voyage to Newfoundland in 1508. It is a possibility sufficiently in character, but the evidence is inconclusive. Murphy, Buckingham Smith, and others have identified the navigator with a corsair, named Jean Florin or Florentin (the Florentine), who operated against Spanish and Portuguese treasure ships during these years but Prospero Peragallo has effectively shown this to be a confusion of personalities. Verrazzano was not idle however indeed one contemporary, writing after the navigator’s return from his 1524 voyage, refers to his travels in Egypt and Syria and “almost through all the known world, and thence by reason of his merit is esteemed another Amerigo Vespucci another Ferdinand Magellan and even more” (Carli letter). Apart from these speculations, there are no known records to enlighten us further on Verrazzano’s early life.

When Verrazzano entered the maritime service of France is uncertain the earliest documentary evidence placing him in that country is a report of 1522 from Portuguese merchants in France to their king, where it is said that Verrazzano is quietly soliciting the support of François I for a voyage. It was the eager desire of the age for a sea route westwards to the riches of China and the East Indies, and particularly the French king’s ambition to have a share in the Iberian glories and profits of the New World, that presented Verrazzano with his opportunity. Though a continent south of the latitude of Florida seemed to bar the way to the east, the region northwards to Cape Breton, so far as surviving narrative indicates, was unexplored here there was still hope for both a passage and new lands. The account of Verrazzano’s voyage to this area is told in versions of a letter or relation he wrote to François I, who commissioned the voyage – the first to America under official French auspices.

The Letter is dated on board his ship, 8 July 1524, immediately upon his return to Dieppe. Although the autographic original has disappeared (it may yet be found), four Italian versions are extant. One is printed in Ramusio, and another is a transcribed codex found in the Strozzi Library, Florence, together with the Carli letter there is also a manuscript fragment of this text in the Academy at Cimento. It was on the basis of these texts that Smith and Murphy raised the controversy of the latter half of the 19th century, when it was plausibly argued that Verrazzano never reached America and that the Letter was not his work at all. Brevoort, Dexter (in Justin Winsor), and other learned authorities came forward in a strong defence of both the missive and the voyage, restoring confidence in the navigator. After the discovery of the next and most important version, in the Library of Count Giulio de Cèllere, Rome, in 1909 (now in the Pierpont Morgan Library), all suspicions were finally dispelled this codex bears what are regarded as Verrazzano’s own marginal comments. The last version, a manuscript in the Vatican Library, was reported only in 1925. Still further supporting documents have been discovered in this century, more in fact than during the preceding 350 years.

The Letter says at the outset that the writer was sent by the king “to discover new lands,” and later that “my intention was . . . to reach Cathay” but there is much evidence indicating that Verrazzano had a keen mercantile as well as exploring interest in his voyages. Two manuscripts dated in March 1523, found in the Rouen archives, record inferentially, in connection with a voyage being planned, an agreement concerning the division of investment and profit among members of a Lyons syndicate which includes Verrazzano the members are revealingly described as “tous marchans florentins.”

From the Letter we find that its author set out from Dieppe late in 1523 with four ships, but that a storm forced him to find a haven in Brittany with only the Normanda and the Dauphine. After repairs, he skirted the Spanish coast harassing commerce and then, apparently under new orders, resumed his voyage with the Dauphine alone. He set sail from a deserted islet at the westernmost point of the Madeiras (probably Porto Santo) on 17 Jan. 1524 (n.s.), with a Norman crew of 50, his tiny caravel armed and victualled for an eight-month voyage. Sailing west on a course about 150 miles north of that of Columbus, he weathered a violent tempest on 24 February, continued west but bearing “somewhat to the north,” and in 25 more days found “a new land never before seen by anyone.” The position of this landfall, given as in 34°, has been variously placed from Florida (for he reported palm trees) to North Carolina, but was probably close to Cape Fear, North Carolina. After a short exploration southward in vain search for a harbour, he turned about, fearing to meet Spaniards, and coasted north as far as Nova Scotia and “near the land which the Britanni (Britons) found,” Cape Breton – without, apparently, observing the Bay of Fundy. He went ashore at several places along the coast, abducted an Indian boy to take back to France, visited New York harbour, and spent 15 days in Narragansett Bay. His Letter records the earliest geographical and topographical description of a continuous North Atlantic coast of America derived from a known exploration, and his observation on the Indians is the first ethnological account of America north of Mexico.

Reaching Newfoundland (“Bacalaia” in the Cèllere version gloss) and finding his provisions failing, he set course for France, making Dieppe early in July 1524 “having discovered six hundred leagues and more of new land.” His six-month voyage is one of the most important in North American exploration. Though it failed to reveal a passage to China, it enabled Verrazzano to be the first to report that the “New World which above I have described is connected together, not adjoining Asia or Africa (which I know to be a certainty).” Here is reasoning based on experience, freed from the ancient teaching of the schools that the Atlantic bathed both European and Asian shores. Verrazzano had, in fact, joined Canada to the rest of America – to the New World. The Letter concludes with a cosmographical description of the voyage, including detailed nautical and astronomical data which demonstrate Verrazzano’s mastery of the scientific methods of the day.

The voyage was represented cartographically in coastlines from Florida to Cape Breton: Hakluyt (“Discourse on western planting”) mentions a “mightie large olde mappe” (the basis of the 1582 Lok map) and an “Olde excellent globe,” both seemingly made by Verrazzano (now lost) the world map of the Viscount of Maggiolo, 1527 (destroyed during the bombing of Milan in World War II), and, more clearly, Gerolamo da Verrazzano’s world map of 1529 (now in the Vatican) and there are many others which derive this coastline from Verrazzano (Ganong describes them fully). The Robertus de Bailly globe of 1530, and the copper globe of Euphrosynus Ulpius, dated 1542, are notably Verrazzanian in their North American contours. The latter bears the inscription across North America “Verrazana sive Nova Gallia a Verrazano Florentino comperta anno sal. M.D.” (“Verrazana, or New Gaul [i.e., New France], discovered by Verrazano the Florentine, in the year of Salvation M.D.,” date incomplete). Bailly has “Verrazana” written across the North American seaboard. Both globes depict the Sea of Verrazzano, a curiosity beginning with Verrazzano’s own gloss in the Cèllere version of his Letter, where he mentions an isthmus “a mile in width and about 200 long, in which, from the ship, was seen the Mare Orientale between the west and the north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay.” (Hall’s translation in Stokes.) This isthmus, described by Hakluyt from the old map and globe as “a little necke of lande in 40. degrees of latitude,” with the sea on both sides, is the line of islands and sandbars off the coast of North Carolina and the Mare Orientale (Western Sea) extending to Asia is no more than the broad Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. Yet this misconception of a willing mind persisted even into the 17th century. (The cartographical history of the Sea of Verrazzano is traced in Winsor.)

Verrazzano’s voyage also left its impression in the nomenclature of subsequent maps, though regrettably almost every one of his place-names has now disappeared. Maggiolo’s 1527 map is the first to use the appellation “Francesca” (François I) for North America and the chart of the navigator’s brother, Gerolamo, is the earliest to show the names New France (“Nova Gallia”) and Norumbega (if this is his “Oranbega”), a name later applied variously within the area between New York and Cape Breton. Both maps therefore record a French influence in North American exploration, due to Verrazzano, several years before Cartier’s first voyage. “Arcadia,” the name Giovanni gave to Maryland or Virginia “on account of the beauty of the trees,” made its first cartographical appearance in the 1548 Gastaldo map and is the only name to survive in Canadian usage. It has a curious history. In the 17th century Champlain fixed its present orthography, with the “r” omitted, and Ganong has shown its gradual progress northwards, in a succession of maps, to its resting place in the Atlantic provinces.

Verrazzano’s Letter was dispatched from Dieppe to a banker in Rome, but en route at Lyons its contents were evidently available to the merchants with whom the navigator had contracted for the voyage, since a copy of it accompanied a letter from the Florentine merchant Bernardo Carli, resident in Lyons, to his father in Florence, dated 4 Aug. 1524. The Carli letter contains some interesting, though indirect, hints on Verrazzano’s earlier career and offers the hope of his associates that the king will entrust the navigator “again, with half a dozen good vessels and that he will return to the voyage,” that “he may discover some profitable traffic.” Verrazzano shared this hope and late in 1524 he had another French expedition in readiness for the Indies. The military defeats of France that year, however, left her in no mood for transatlantic enterprises Verrazzano’s ships and crews were commandeered. The evidence for this proposed voyage includes a record that the king, François I, later compensated its promoters for the loss of their investment. Even so, Hakluyt (“Epistle Dedicatorie” to Divers voyages), in speaking of America, says that Verrazzano “had been thrise on that coast” – though this may have reference to the Aubert voyage of 1508. In the same place Hakluyt refers to a map of Verrazzano “which he gave to King Henrie the eight,” perhaps implying a visit to England, and it has even been argued that Verrazzano sailed in King Henry’s service after his first voyage. This possibility is not countenanced by Bacchiani, but his arguments are unconvincing. It appears probable, nevertheless, that the navigator made only two voyages to America.

The final voyage, also under royal auspices, was planned in 1526 it is attested in a contract of that year by Chabot, the admiral of France, with Verrazzano and other speculators to furnish three vessels (two of them the king’s) to make a trading voyage to the Indies for spices. Our navigator, as chief pilot, was to receive one-sixth of the fruits of the venture after certain expenses had been deducted. Other documents corroborate the voyage one, a deed dated 11 May 1526, signed “Janus Verrazanus” in the Latin form (an aspect of his Renaissance classicism), is his only known autograph. Preserved in the archives at Rouen, a facsimile appears in Winsor. The deed appoints his brother Gerolamo his heir and attorney during the proposed mission. Another object of the voyage, besides trade, was to search for the elusive passage to Asia south of the region explored in the first journey. All was apparently ready in 1526, yet the start was unaccountably delayed for nearly two years. The arguments for a 1526 expedition, mainly liturgical (the naming of geographical features for the feast days on which they were discovered) are not demonstrable. The cause of the delay is still a matter of conjecture.

With Darien as its likely first destination, the fleet at last set its course in the spring of 1528 for Florida, the Bahamas, and the Lesser Antilles. On an island in the latter group, probably near Guadeloupe, Verrazzano landed with a party and was taken by Caribs, killed, and eaten within sight of his crew. The event is recorded in Ramusio, in Paolo Giovio’s Elogia (Florence, 1548 Basel, 1575, copy in Library of Congress), and in a manuscript poem (in the Museo Civico, Como) by Paolo’s nephew Giulio Giovio. Many have inferred that Gerolamo was an eye-witness to his brother’s shocking death.

Among a group of edicts passed by the Parlement of Normandy in 1532, concerning the financing, fitting out, and lading with trade goods of Verrazzano’s fleet is one which reveals an interesting sequel to his last voyage. It records the unlading from La Flamengue, the navigator’s vessel, at Fécamp in March 1530, of a cargo of brazil-wood. From the context we know, therefore, that Verrazzano’s own ship returned in 1530, and that it definitely visited the Caribbean area – perhaps while Verrazzano was still alive.


Verrazzano, Giovanni da

c.1485-c.1528. Verrazzano (spelled also Verrazano) was the first European to sail the American coast from North Carolina to Newfoundland. An Italian captain from a prominent family in Florence, he was wealthy and well-educated. He entered the French service in 1522 and organized his first voyage to America for French king Francis I, sailing in January 1524 from the Madeiras. He landed in North Carolina, probably around Cape Fear, early in March.

He then sailed up the coast, prudently staying off shore, missing the Chesapeake and Delaware, but anchoring in New York Bay at the Narrows now bearing his name. He made contact with the local inhabitants, the Lenape, but did not explore the harbor although his crew may have landed on Staten Island. Sailing on, he spent two weeks exploring Narragansett Bay, anchoring in what is now Newport Harbor. After friendly encounters with the natives he set sail around May 5 or 6.

Escaping the shoals of Vineyard and Nantucket, he sailed around Cape Cod and struck the Maine coast around Casco Bay. The native inhabitants were inhospitable, shooting arrows and fleeing, and when visible acting rudely. This suggests that the natives knew about Europeans and had been badly treated. Verrazzano called the coast "Land of Bad People." Continuing on past Monhegan, Isle au Haut and Mount Desert, he may have sailed up into Penobscot Bay, for on the map that his brother created of the voyage "Oranbega" shows up where Penobscot Bay should be. Contrary winds kept Verrazzano from seeing the Bay of Fundy and most of the Nova Scotia coast. He departed from Newfoundland in mid June, and indications are that he had Portugese information about Newfoundland.

If his place names had been followed, America would be Francesca, named after King Francis. His voyage was well reported in his letter to King Francis, and his brother Girolamo's world map of 1529 records his trip.

Verrazzano was killed in 1528 in the West Indies on his second Atlantic voyage.


APA citation. Meehan, T. (1912). Giovanni da Verrazano. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15364a.htm

MLA citation. Meehan, Thomas. "Giovanni da Verrazano." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15364a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to Karl Keating and the staff of This Rock magazine.


Giovanni da Verrazzano – Italian Explorer of the North American Coast

In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano’s first voyage explored the northeast coast of, what would later become, the United States.

After Christopher Columbus returned from his voyage to the “New World,” other explorers and countries were eager for more discoveries and still hoped to find a passage to the Far East. Giovanni da Verrazzano (sometimes spelled Verazzano or Verrazano) secured financial backing from bankers and merchants and with the support of Francis I, King of France, in 1524, Verrazzano spent six months exploring the northeast coast of America.

Verrazzano in Dieppe, France

Born in 1485 of two noble families in the Chianti region of Florence, Italy (in the region of Tuscany), a young Verrazzano furthered his education through travel to Egypt, Syria, and other countries east of Italy. Because of the political turmoil in Florence, by 1508, he had moved to Dieppe, France, a busy port town on the English Channel. Dieppe was a popular seaport, and later became home to a school of mapmaking, with cartographers producing elaborate maps.

In Dieppe, Verrazzano’s interest in exploration put him in contact with ship owners, sailors, and others who made a living from the sea. He sailed for France in expeditions and as a privateer, and began to plan his expedition to find a shorter route to the Far East. With Spain, Portugal, and England staking claims to the New World, the king of France agreed to provide Verrazzano with the equipment he needed to make the voyage.

The Dauphine at Sea

Verrazzano’s voyage to America set sail from Dieppe in early January 1524. He started with four ships, but shortly after departing two were destroyed during a storm, and Verrazzano returned to port with the remaining two ships in need of repair. On January 17th, Verrazzano left port for his historic voyage on the Dauphine, well equipped for war, and carrying a crew of fifty men and provisions for eight months. Knowing that the Spaniards had claimed land in the south, and the land north was declared Newfoundland for the English, Verrazzano maintained a fairly westward route.

In late February, the ship survived a violent storm, and in March, land was sighted. Seeking a passage Verrazzano sailed south—along what is now the coast of South Carolina—and seeing the coast extending further south with no signs of a waterway or a safe harbor, he turned the ship around and sailed back north to where he first sighted land, somewhere in the vicinity of Southport, North Carolina.

Exploring the Northeast Coast of America

The Dauphine was anchored off the coast and a small boat was sent to shore. Verrazzano made contact with the natives and provided a detailed account of his findings with specific descriptions of the land, plants, people, and animals in a letter he sent to King Francis I, dated July 8, 1524. He continued north along the coast, anchoring somewhere between the present-day borders of North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland and again taking a smaller boat to the mainland to explore.

Verrazzano’s next discovery was New York Harbor the Dauphine was anchored and he took a small boat into, what is now, Upper New York Bay. An approaching storm shortened his visit, and the Dauphine continued along the south coast of Long Island, traveling east, then north to Narragansett Bay, an estuary between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He stayed for fifteen days, and then followed the coast, rounding Cape Cod and heading north for Maine. Verrazzano wrote about his encounters with the natives all were friendly, except for those the furthest north.

After sailing past Maine and entering Newfoundland, Verrazzano and his crew headed back to Dieppe, France. While onboard the Dauphine, he penned his letter of findings and observations to King Francis I, and concluded with a recommendation for other expeditions.

An Italian Explorer

Verrazzano sailed twice more for France from 1526 to 1527, traveling south along the coast of Brazil, seeking a passage to the Far East. He was not able to complete the voyage and picked up a load of brazilwood—a tree valued for producing red dye—before returning to France. His next voyage in 1528 was to combine his search for a Far East Passage with harvesting more brazilwood, but he died before completing the expedition.

Verrazzano was an educated and experienced navigator who sailed, under the French flag, along the northeast coast of America in 1524, and provided descriptive accounts of the land, fauna, flora, and people. He made two voyages to South America and died during his third expedition.


The ship was built in 1518 at the Royal Dockyard of Le Havre, Normandy and displayed the typical shape of a Norman nef (carrack). She had a tonnage of about 100. [1] The vessel could hold approximately fifty people. It was named for the Dauphin of France, Francis III, Duke of Brittany, the heir to the French throne who was born in 1518 to Claude of France, daughter of Louis XII of France, and King Francis I of France. [2]

The French king, Francis I, placed Verrazzano in charge of an expedition to find a new shipping passage westward to China, [3] the elusive "Northwest Passage". The expedition started with four ships in 1523 from Normandy, [4] La Dauphine being the flagship. Soon after departure the convoy encountered a storm and sought refuge in Brittany. [5] With two ships damaged, only two ships continued however, La Normande soon returned also, after some privateering, and La Dauphine continued alone to Madeira for the winter.

With supplies for an eight-month voyage, Verrazzano left Madeira on 24 January 1524. La Dauphine was piloted by Antoine de Conflans [6] and Verrazzano's brother, Girolamo, the only other person aboard whose name is known, served as navigator and cartographer.

Verrazzano arrived at the American continent off Cape Fear in early March, briefly sailed south, and then turned north sailing along the Atlantic shore. Pamlico Sound was entered and Verrazzano's exaggerated description of it gave birth to the concept of Verrazzano's Sea as a cartographic error for the next century. [4] Verrazano's Sea was declared as a sea connection to the west across the continent.

Going farther north La Dauphine sailed too far offshore to encounter Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay, [5] but then entered and anchored in New York Bay on 17 April 1524. [2] Verrazzano named the harbor Angoulême after a dukedom that belonged to the king. [7] Thereafter La Dauphine sailed farther north, passed Long Island and Block Island, and anchored in Narragansett Bay for two weeks. The vessel then continued and reached the Penobscot River in Maine, apparently missed entering the Bay of Fundy, [5] passed Nova Scotia, and arrived at the already known Newfoundland. [2] La Dauphine returned to Dieppe, France, arriving on 8 July 1524. [3]

A specific plan of the original La Dauphine does not exist. A reconstruction model that has been on display at Dieppe, is considered imperfect. [1] The Maritime Museum of Rouen has been working on a project to create a full-size replica of her. Currently a 1/50 model of La Dauphine has been created, and building plans are being developed, based on best evidence of contemporary documents and similar types of ships of the period.

It is intended that a reconstructed La Dauphine will cross the Atlantic to arrive at New York Harbor, possibly in time for the five hundredth anniversary of the European discovery of the harbor by Verrazzano on 17 April 2024. [1] During the reconstruction the building site at the museum will be accessible to tourists.

La Dauphine has a later namesake in an eighteenth-century warship of the French Navy.


Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo)

This is probably the world’s most famous Italian in history. Born in Genoa, Italy, inspired by Marco Polo’s book he fell in love with the exploration adventures.

By historians, he was painted as the “discoverer” of America, but that’s not entirely true. He simply set a pathway for European exploration and colonization of the already discovered new lands, America.

Commanding the Santa Maria ship he made the first trip across the Atlantic Ocean. When he set foot on the island of Cuba, he actually believed that he was in China. As he believed he was in a totally different part of the world as we know it now, thinking he was in the Indies, the first native people he met, he gave them the name “Indians”.

Through his journeys, Columbus explored many islands naming them after his ship, king and queen: La Isla de Santa Maria de Concepción, Fernandina and Isabella, as his trip was sponsored by Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Historically, by some he was seen as a hero, for others he was overly ambitious with a big ego. Nevertheless, too ambitious or not, Columbus accomplished a lot, sailing to places that others had no heart to go. Drew a new world map and left a journal with a description of the native people, geography and plant life of the then unknown places.

“Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.” – Christopher Columbus


A Verrazzano Tribute

Not long ago, Cavalier Luigi Cappellini and his wife, Silvia, gave a dinner party, at the Castello di Verrazzano, in Chianti, to mark the anniversary of the discovery of New York Bay, by Giovanni da Verrazzano, in 1524. Luigi, a springy, elegant Tuscan, is the owner of the castle that was the seat of the Verrazzano family for more than seven hundred years. In addition to making wine and olive oil and running the hunting parks, forests, and tenant farms of the original estate, Luigi has assumed the role of ambassador from Verrazzano to the City of New York, which keeps him in frequent transatlantic motion.

The castle is perched on a mountain spur high above the non-navigable River Greve. It is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and its crenellated medieval tower is just visible above a cluster of cypresses. The Verrazzano family was already ancient when Giovanni was born here, in 1485. When he embarked for the New World, in January of 1524, at the request of King Francis I of France, Europeans had explored Florida and Newfoundland, but the coastline in between was still terra incognita. After a subsequent voyage, Giovanni's brother Gerolamo drew the first good map of the Eastern Seaboard. Verrazzano was a true son of the Renaissance, a navigator, astronomer, mathematician, and humanist, whose main interest was geography, not gold. His observations on the natives of North America were sympathetic and anthropologically meticulous. (The only time he used the term "savage" was in describing the Indians of Maine who "made the most disparaging and dishonorable gestures that an uncouth person could possibly do, such as exposing their bare arses to us, all the while howling with laughter.") Giovanni da Verrazzano met a grisly end a few years later, when he was captured by natives on a Caribbean island Gerolamo watched helplessly from a ship as the Indians on the beach killed his brother, cut him into pieces, and devoured him raw.

The last Verrazzano died in 1819 the property then passed through several other noble Florentine families before coming to the Cappellinis, who acquired, with the castle, the Verrazzano family portraits (including the only known life portrait of Giovanni) and the family archives, armor, furniture, art, and land.

In 1963, before the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was completed, three building stones were chiselled out of the ancient wall of the castle and carried to New York, where they were cemented into the dedicatory monument on the Staten Island side of the bridge. Three smooth water stones were then taken from the site of the bridge, carried back to Chianti, and plastered into the castle wall. Above them a plaque was affixed, stating that Verrazzano's discovery of New York Bay had made possible"a future nation in which his own people and many other races would be made brothers in freedom."

Luigi gives an anniversary dinner every year, in the castle's massive beamed dining room, which commands vertiginous views of the Valle della Greve and the Chiantigian hills. But this time, because of the terrorist attacks in the United States, the mood was different. Luigi ran in the New York City Marathon in November, and at the dinner he spoke about standing on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, among twenty-four thousand other runners, from all over the world, looking toward the hole in the skyline as they awaited the start of the race.

There was a moment of silence for the victims of September 11th. Then Dario Cecchini, who owns a butcher shop in the nearby town of Panzano, rose to speak. Dario has a powerful Tuscan voice and is renowned for spontaneous recitations of Dante to customers in his shop. The room became still as he read a letter that Verrazzano had written to the King of France:

After one hundred leagues, we came to a most beautiful spot where an immense river flowed to the sea between two little hills. . . . We sailed up the river with our ship and disembarked onto shore. The land was thickly populated. The Indians were of an aspect similar to the others we have met. They were dressed in bird feathers of many colors and they greeted us happily, with exclamations of great joy and wonder. We went up the river half a league, where we discovered a truly enchanting bay about three leagues in circumference. Moving about busily from one shore to another were some thirty boats overflowing with natives who were curious to see us. We christened the new land "Angoleme" after Your hereditary principality, and the bay enclosed by this land we called "Santa Margarita" after the name of Your sister, who exceeds all other women in intelligence and decency. We left this splendid and hospitable new land with true regret.


Today in NYC History: Verrazzano Sights New York! (1524)

While Henry Hudson is often credited as the first European to explore the New York area, and Juan Rodriguez has recently gotten recognition as New York’s first resident of European descent, it was Giovanni da Verrazzano who first set caucasian eyes on the New York harbor, on April 17, 1524.

Verrazzano was born in Florence and had been adventuring for two decades when he was given a commission by King Francis I of France to find that trade passage to China and India that had eluded Columbus and others. During this age of seafaring, mapping, global trade, and imperialism, European governments were too competitive to blink at enlisting foreigners. Hence Henry Hudson (British) sailing for the Netherlands, Christopher Columbus (Italian) and Esteban Gomez (Portuguese) for Spain, and in this case, Giovanni da Verrazzano, from Florence, for the French flag. Such explorations were often collaborative investments from both royal governments and commercial interests, and many of Verrazzano’s private sector backers were Italian.

Verrazzano left Europe with four boats in 1523, but after a series of bad storms and false starts, only one, La Dauphine, made it to the New World during the winter of 1524. He reached the Carolinas first, where his erroneous belief that he had found a potential passage to China confused map-makers for years. La Dauphine then steadily sailed up the coast, bringing Europeans in view of the north Atlantic coast for the first time since the Vikings.

On April 17, 1524, Verrazzano sailed into the New York harbor, the first European to lay eyes on it. Verrazzano described his first and only encounter with the Lenape, who lived in much of present-day New York City before Dutch colonization:

“The people are almost like unto the others, and clad with feather of fowls of diverse colors. They came towards us very cheerfully, making great shouts of admiration, showing us where we might come to land most safely with our boat. We entered up the said river into the land about half a league, where it made a most pleasant lake [the Upper bay] about 3 leagues in compass on the which they rowed from the one side to the other, to the number of 30 in their small boats, wherein were many people, which passed from one shore to the other to come and see us. And behold, upon the sudden (as it is wont to fall out in sailing) a contrary flow of wind coming from the sea, we were enforced to return to our ship, leaving this land, to our great discontentment for the great commodity and pleasantness thereof, which we suppose is not without some riches, all the hills showing mineral matters in them.”

The ship didn’t stick around, heading up towards Long Island and Massachusetts before leaving the region behind for good.

There are a number of reasons that Verrazzano didn’t initially get the credit of his colleagues in the “Age of Exploration.” Most obviously, the lands he explored, especially on this first voyage, were not held by the French, and so lacked the natural connection between Henry Hudson and New Amsterdam, for example. Second, he may have been overshadowed by his splashier, more vicious contemporaries, the Conquistadors. Finally, he didn’t last that long on his third trip to the New World, in 1528, he was likely killed and eaten by Native Americans in Guadalupe.

The Verrazano-Narrows is perhaps best known as the start of the NYC Marathon.

Though his name was hardly part of New York lore, during the early 1950s the Italian History Society of America pushed for the new Robert Moses bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island over the Narrows to be named for Verrazzano. Moses, working on his last major bridge, curtly replied that he didn’t know who the man was. Part of Verrazzano’s rehabilitation involved a lobbying effort to get April 17 renamed “Verrazzano Day” in 1954, and the date remains a (very) unofficial holiday. In 1960, the Italian-American community won the bridge naming campaign, only to almost lose it after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Only after Robert Kennedy declined the tribute did “Verrazano” stick, albeit with a missing “z.” It took years for the name to sink in, with news outlets originally calling it the “Narrows Bridge” or the quite literal “Brooklyn-Staten Island Bridge.”


The Roanoke Colonies

European exploration of the Outer Banks of modern-day North Carolina began in the early decades of the sixteenth century. The Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano in the service of the French king, Francis I, skirted the Outer Banks in 1524 and the following year the Spaniard Pedro de Quejo passed by on a voyage to the Chesapeake Bay. Neither the French nor Spanish made any effort to settle the region, however, and other than a brief visit by the Spanish in 1566 Europeans showed no interest in the Outer Banks until the Roanoke voyages sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh nearly twenty years later.

“Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, Oval” by Nicholas Hilliard. c. 1585. National Portrait Gallery, London.

In 1584, Raleigh, an enormously wealthy courtier and favorite of Elizabeth I, sought the queen’s permission to establish a colony in North America. Letters patent, the legal instrument for the venture, were issued in the spring and permitted him to “discover search find out and view such remote heathen and barbarous lands Countries and territories not actually possessed of any Christian Prince and inhabited by Christian people” and to “hold occupy and enjoy . . . forever all the soil of all such lands Countries and territories so to be discovered or possessed . . . ” In effect, he was given exclusive rights to possess and exploit the resources of the whole of the continent under the sovereign authority of the crown, excluding only those parts already inhabited by Christians, that is, other Europeans.

Raleigh’s aim was to establish a colony so as to stake England’s claim to the largely unknown (to Europeans) landmass of North America and from which he could launch raids on the Spanish West Indies and annual treasure fleets. In late April 1584, he dispatched two small ships commanded by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe on a reconnaissance expedition that arrived off the Outer Banks a few months later. Entering into the shallow waters of the Sounds (Pamlico Albemarle, and Currituck), they discovered numerous fertile islands covered with valuable timber and teeming with game. Local Indians were described as a “very handsome, and goodly people, and in their behavior as mannerly, and civil, as any of Europe.” One island in particular might turn out to be a suitable location for the first English colony: Roanoke, ten miles long and two and a half wide, which was inhabited by peaceful Indians who would be their friends and allies.

Map of the E coast of N America from Chesapeake bay to Cape Lookout with royal arms, English vessels, Indian canoes by John White. 1585-1593. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

On his return to England in the fall Barlowe wrote an enthusiastic account of Wingandacon,” as the English initially called coastal North Carolina. Besides information gathered by the English during their own explorations, two Indians, Manteo and Wanchese, brought back to England provided valuable reports about the peoples of the region and settlements inland, including a large city to the west called “Schycoake” and rumors of gold as well as a passage to the South Sea that lay at the head of a large river called “Occam.” Raleigh was delighted with the outcome of the voyage and began planning a full scale expedition to plant a colony on Roanoke Island the following year.

In April 1585, Raleigh fitted out a fleet of five ships and two pinnaces carrying approximately 600 soldiers and seamen under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, his cousin. After a difficult crossing during which the fleet had been scattered for much of the voyage, the expedition arrived off the Outer Banks in June and began exploring lands along Pamlico Sound. A couple of months later, Grenville moved the fleet to a mooring off Hatorask Island and sent Ralph Lane, a veteran of the wars in Ireland, to establish a fort and settlement on Roanoke Island. Grenville and the fleet departed shortly after to return to England for additional settlers and supplies leaving behind a garrison of 108 men under Lane’s command.

In the winter and spring of 1585-86, Lane sent out two exploratory parties to the north and west. The first expedition discovered the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and made contact with Indian peoples along the southern shore of the Bay. The second, in the spring, explored the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers, during which the English picked up stories from Indians of copper (possibly gold) mines far inland. By this time, Lane had concluded that the colony should be relocated to the Chesapeake Bay where deep-water rivers would make better harbors for English shipping than the treacherous waters of the Outer Banks, and from which colonists could mount further expeditions into the interior of North Carolina to find the Indian mines that had eluded him.

Lane was forced to abandon Roanoke Island in late June 1586 owing to hostilities between the English and the Secotans on whom Lane’s men depended for food. He arranged with Sir Francis Drake, who had arrived off Hatorask Island with a large fleet from the West Indies earlier in the month, to transport the colonists to the Chesapeake Bay but a hurricane hit the coast as the men were about to embark and persuaded Lane to return to England instead. Back in London, he reported his discoveries to Raleigh and emphasized the advantages of the Chesapeake Bay as a location for a settlement from which to fit out explorations inland to search for gold mines and a passage to the South Sea. Determined to make another attempt, Raleigh sponsored a final expedition and placed in command John White, who had been on the two previous voyages.

“The manner of their attire and painting them selves when they goe to their generall huntings or at theire Solemne feasts” by John White. 1585-1593. Image courtesy of the British Museum.

In April 1587, White led a group of 118 men, women, and children, including his daughter Eleanor, and son-in-law, Ananias Dare, besides many friends and associates to establish a settlement on the Chesapeake Bay called the City of Raleigh. They never reached their destination, however. The mariners responsible for transporting them, led by the master pilot, Simon Fernandes, put the settlers off at Roanoke Island instead and refused to take them any farther. After remaining on the Island for six weeks, White returned to England with Fernandes at the end of August for supplies and reinforcements.

He was unable to get back to Roanoke Island for three years by which time the colonists had disappeared, leaving behind only a cryptic message, “CRO” and “Croatoan” that told him they had moved to Croatoan Island 50 miles to the south, where Manteo’s people lived. Whilst trying to reach them a fierce storm drove his ship out to sea and the attempt was abandoned. White returned to England and then moved to Munster in southern Ireland, where he likely died in the early years of the seventeenth century. What happened to the colonists remains a mystery.

Standard historical accounts argue that a small group removed to Croatoan Island probably in late 1587 or early 1588, while the main group went to live with the Chesapeake Indians on the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, possibly near the Lynnhaven River or Elizabeth River. Other research has provided a different theory, whereby the main group moved due west up the Albemarle Sound to the lands of the Chowanocs. Some might have eventually moved farther west up the Roanoke River and joined Tuscarora peoples.

Whether on the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay or in North Carolina, it is generally believed that many of the colonists and their descendants were killed by a large raiding party of Powhatan warriors sent in the spring of 1607 by the Powhatan paramount chief, Wahunsonacock (father of Pocahontas), to destroy the colonists and their Indian allies. Wahunsonacock apparently feared the possibility that the Jamestown settlers, who arrived in the Chesapeake Bay in late April, might develop contacts with the Roanoke settlers and peoples they lived with and thereby threaten his chiefdom. A few of the Roanoke colonists survived the attack, however, and fled up the Chowan River or found refuge with the Tuscarora people at a place called Ocanahowan on the Roanoke River, and to the south, possibly on the Tar River, at a town named Pakerackanick. Descendants of the small group of settlers who went to live on Croatoan Island also survived.

Paul E. Hoffman, Spain and the Roanoke Voyages (Raleigh, N.C., 1987).

Paul E. Hoffman, A New Andulucia and a Way to the Orient: The American Southeast during the Sixteenth Century (Baton Rouge, La., 1990).

James Horn, A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke (New York, 2010).

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony 2nd ed. (Lanham, Md., 2007).

David Beers Quinn, Set Fair for Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985).

David Beers Quinn, ed., The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590 2 vols., (London: Hakluyt Society 2nd ser., nos. 104-105, 1955).


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