Vesputius, Americus

, or Amerigo Vespucci, a navigator from whose name the largest quarter of the world has very unjustly been named, was born at Florence, March 9, 1451, of a distinguished family, and educated by an uncle, a man of learning- who had the care of the education of the Florentine nobility. Vespucci made great progress in natural philosophy, astronomy, and cosmography, the principal branches in which the Florentine nobility were instructed, because being for the most part destined for commerce, it was necessary they should become acquainted with the sciences connected with navigation. Commerce had been the foundation of the grandeur and prosperity of the republic, and as each family educated some member who was to serve his country in that pursuit, that of Vespucci chose Amerigo, or Americus, to follow the example of their ancestors in this respect. Accordingly he | left Florence in 1490, and went to Spain, to be initiated in mercantile life. He is said to have been at Seville in 1492, when Columbus was preparing for a new voyage, and the rage for new discoveries was at its height. The success of that celebrated navigator raised this passion in Americus, who determined to give up the pursuit of trade, in order to go and reconnoitre the new world, of whose existence Europe had just heard.

With this design he began his first voyage on May 10, 1497, leaving Cadiz with five ships under the command of Ojeda. This fleet sailed towards the Fortunate islands, and keeping a Western course, reached the continent of America, in thirty-seven days. They visited the gulph of Paria, and the island of St. Marguerite, and sailed along the coast for four hundred leagues. After a voyage of thirteen months, they returned to Cadiz, Nov. 15, 1498. Americus, who by his skill in navigation had very much contributed to the success of this expedition, was extremely well received at the court of Seville. In the month of May 1499, he left Cadiz for Cape de Verd, passed the Canaries within sight, and in forty-four days after his departure, reached an unknown land, situated under the torrid zone, which was the continuation of that which he had discovered io his first voyage. After sailing for some time along the coast, he returned to the Spanish island of St. Domingo, where Ojeda had some disputes with the Europeans, who six years before had come there with Columbus. The fleet now directed its course northwards, and discovered several islands, the number of which, Americus says, amounted to a thousand, a calculation which his panegyrist contents, himself with considering as a poetical exaggeration. Ojeda intended to have continued this route, but the complaints of the crew obliged him to return to Europe. On the arrival of his tieet, Ferdinand and Isabella, to whom Americus presented various productions of the new world, received him in the most flattering manner; and when his discoveries reached the ears of the Florentines, they rejoiced in having produced so great a man. Seduced, however, by the promises of Emanuel, king of Portugal, Americus quitted the service of Spain, and set sail from Lisbon, May 10, 1501, with three Portuguese ships. In this fleet he arrived at Cape St. Augustine, and coasted almost the whole of Brazil to Patagonia, but a succession of tempestuous weather forced him to return to Portugal, where he | arrived Dec. 7, 1502. The king, very much pleased with this voyage, wished Americus to undertake another; and for the fourth time, this Florentine navigator embarked with a fleet of six ships, May 10, 1505, with the hope of discovering, by the West, a new way to Malacca; but this expedition was Jess successful than the preceding. After losing one of the vessels, and encountering the greatest dangers, they gained the bay of All Saints, Brazil, and lost no time in returning to Europe.

Americus remained in Portugal until 1506, the time of Columbus’s death, when the Spanish court wishing to repair the loss occasioned by that event, recalled Americus into their service, who again sailed, in 1507, in a Spanish fleet, with the title of first pilot, and it was during this voyage that the new world took its name from him. Thus, says the abbe kaynal, the moment America became known from the rest of the world, it was distinguished by an act of injustice. Americus jived a considerable time afterwards to enjoy this usurped honour, and is said to hare often visited the continent which bore his name. He died in 1516, at which time he was again in the service of Portugal. Emanuel, in order to do honour to his memory, caused the remains of his ship to be deposited in the cathedral of Lisbon, and Florence bestowed honours on his family.

In 1745, Bandini published in 4to, “Vitta e I.ettere di Amerigo Vespucci, &c.” a continued panegyric on the Florentine adventurer, to whom he does not hesitate to attribute the discovery of America. According, indeed, to the dates which he gives of the first two voyages of Americus, and which we have followed in the preceding account, it would appear that he had the priority in the discovery; but the Spanish writers have proved that the dates of those voyages are fictitious, and that the first, if it ever took place at all, must have been in 1499 instead of 1497. It seems also generally agreed that Americus never had the command in any expedition, that he acted only as geographer or pilot, and that he never undertook any of his voyages until after the return of Columbus. By some unaccountable caprice, however, America was at first, and is still, called by his name, and succeeding ages, although they may regret, cannot correct the error.

Americus left a journal of his four voyages, which was printed in Latin at Paris in 1532, and at Bale in 1555, but there are Italian and French translations of the earlier dates | of 1519 and 1516. Some of his letters were printed in a thin 4to, of 22 pages, at Florence in 1516, which are addressed to Soderini and Lorenzo de Medici, and are said to discover a very superior knowledge of navigation. 1


Biog. Univ. art. Amerigo.