Giovanni da Verrazzano
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Giovanni da Verrazzano <ref>(often spelled also Verrazano, sometimes also and/or "de" instead of "da".</ref> (c. 1485 – c. 1528) was an Italian explorer of North America, in the service of the French crown. He is renowned as the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America between South Carolina and Newfoundland in 1524, including New York Harbor where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is named in his honor.
Although Verrazzano left a detailed account of his journey to North America, many of the other details about his life remain unknown. He was born approximately 50 km (30 miles) south of Florence at Castello Verrazzano, his family's castle in the Val di Greve. His date of birth is uncertain, but it was around 1485. In 1507, he moved to Dieppe, to pursue a maritime career. He made several voyages to the eastern Mediterranean, and also visited Newfoundland.
In 1524 he was sent by King Francis I of France to explore the region between Florida and Newfoundland for a route to the Pacific Ocean. He made landfall near Cape Fear on or around March 1, as recorded in his personal journals. He initially sailed south along the coast of present-day South Carolina, then turned north again. Sailing along the Outer Banks of present-day North Carolina, he thought it was a narrow strip of land beyond which was open ocean - it is actually the estuary of the Pamlico Sound and the Albemarle Sound. This mistake led mapmakers, starting with Visconte Maggiolo in 1527 and Giovanni's brother Girolamo da Verrazzano in 1529, to draw North America as being almost split in two by the "Sea of Verazzano", the two parts connected by a thin land bridge on the east coast. It would take a century for this error to be corrected.
He made landfall several times and interacted with the Native Americans of the coast. He missed the Chesapeake Bay and likewise did not record the existence of the Delaware River further north. According to his journals, he sailed along the coast of present-day New Jersey and entered Lower New York Bay. He anchored in the Narrows, the strait between Staten Island and Long Island, where he received a canoe party of Lenape. A party of his sailors may have taken on fresh water at a spring called "the watering place" on Staten Island -- a monument stands in a tiny park on the corner of Bay Street and Victory Boulevard at the approximate spot -- but Verrazzano's descriptions of the geography of the area are a bit ambiguous. It is fairly firmly held by historians that his ship anchored at the approximate location where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge touches down in Brooklyn today. He also observed what he believed to be a large freshwater lake to the north (apparently Upper New York Bay, also called New York Harbor). He apparently did not penetrate deeply enough into New York Harbor to observe the existence of the Hudson River.
From New York Harbor, he continued along the south coast of Long Island, then crossed Block Island Sound and entered Naragansett Bay, where he probably met the Narragansett people. He followed the coast further east and north to Maine, skirted the southeast coast of Nova Scotia, then returned to France by way of Newfoundland.
Later, Verrazzano made two more voyages to the Americas. On the first, he cut logwood in Brazil. The cause of Verrazzano's death is not known for certain. According to some sources, he was killed in 1528 on his third voyage to the New World by the natives of Lesser Antilles. According to other sources, he was captured by the Spanish and hanged as a pirate in Cadiz.
 Modern reputation
Although Verrazzano was the first recorded European to visit the East Coast of the present-day United States, his reputation did not endure and proliferate as much as other explorers of that era. As a prime example, in accordance with the practices of the time, Verrazzano gave a European name to the new land he had seen, Francesa, after the king. This and other names he bestowed on features he discovered have not survived.
The most important evidence Verrazzano's voyage is a long letter he wrote Francis I describing the geography, flora, fauna and native population of the east coast of North America.In the 19th and early 20th centuries there was a great debate in the United States about the letters authenticity, some considered it a fake by someone who had not been on the voyage.<ref>Norman Thrower (2003). "Verrazzano, Giovanni Da" in Literature of Travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia, vol.3 pg. 1243</ref> Others thought it was true, and it is almost universally accepted as authentic today<ref>Lawrence Wroth., The Voyages of Giovanni da Verrazzano, 1524-1528, Yale University Press, 1970.</ref>, particular after the discovery of the letter signed by Francis I which referred to Verrazono's letter.<ref>Norman Thrower., "New Light on the 1524 Voyage of Verrazzano", Terrae Incognitae, 11 (1979): 59-65.</ref> This debate minimized considerably Verrazzano's reputation (in the United States at least) as the European discoverer of the mid-Atlantic coast of North America, but he has always remained a French and Italian hero.
Verrazzano's obscure reputation was particularly true in New York City, where the 1609 voyage of Henry Hudson came to be regarded as the de facto start of the European exploration of New York. It was only with great effort in the 1950s and 1960s that Verrazzano's name and reputation as the European discoverer of the harbour was re-established, during an effort to have the newly built Narrows bridge named after him. See Naming controversy of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. A Staten Island ferryboat that served New York from the 1950s to the 1990s was also named for him (oddly, the ferry was named the "Verrazzano", while the bridge, another Staten Island landmark, was named "Verrazano", indicating the ongoing confusion over the spelling of his name). There are numerous other commemorations on Staten Island itself to the explorer -- a Little League is named for him, for instance -- reflecting not only his connection to Staten island but also the large number of descendents of Italian immigrants who live there.
 External links
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- "Giovanni da Verrazzano (Giovanni da Verrazano)" at Greve in Chianti
- "The Written Record of the Voyage of 1524 of Giovanni da Verrazano as recorded in a letter to Francis I, King of France, July 8th, 1524"
- Verrazzano in the Catholic Encyclopediabs:Giovanni da Verrazano
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