Amerigo Vespucci


Amerigo Vespucci was a well connected and influential Italian who was working for the de Medici family's interests in Spain at the time that Columbus discovered America. His training was in geometry, physics, and geography. These skills, in addition to his important financial connections combined to give him a great interest in the exploration of the new world. As early as 1494 he was involved in financing and outfitting voyages of exploration, and he himself participated in up to five expeditions (the exact number is not known.)

Vespucci's contributions to the exploration of the new world were notable, but it was likely only a matter of chance that newly discovered continents took his name. He traveled with Juan de la Cosa, an influential cartographer, and he wrote many latters to important European statesmen outlining the latest discoveries and putting forth the idea, (which was only starting to dawn on people), that the major land mass of the new world was an independent continent, not connected with East Asia. He is, therefore, associated less with original discoveries than with helping to synthesise the existing information into map form.

Vespucci was born in Florence, and after his studies went to work for the family of Lorenzo de Medici, where he quickly gained influence and traveled on behalf of the company throughout Europe. In 1492 he began working in Seville, Spain, and after Columbus returned successfully, help to finance and organized further expeditions. He set sail himself in 1497 with an expedition led by Pinzon, formerly the captain of the Nina. He sailed again in 1499 with Alonso de Ojeda and made at least one additional voyage to the coast of Brazil on a Portuguese vessel. On each trip he made geographical and astronomical measurements, and worked with cartographers on board.

Vespucci wrote many letters which gave details of his journeys, but ironically, historians do not consider him an entirely trustworthy source. He was so involved with high level politics and finance that his letters are thought to represent the "official story" in many cases, rather than recount actual events. It is also unclear in some cases whether he is reporting new discoveries or hearsay from other voyages, and as always, the "naming" of newly found geographical landmarks is highly ambigous.

Key events during the life of Amerigo Vespucci:

Born in Florence, Italy.
Studied physics, geometry, astronomy, navigation, and cosmology.
Began working for the house of Lorenzo de Medici, and gained confidence of the family.
Moved to Seville, Spain to work for de Medici interests there.
For the de Medici's, helped finance and outfit expeditions to the New World
Embarked on first voyage to the Americas with Vincent Pinzon.
Embarked with ALonso de Ojeda and discovered the mouth of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers.
Embarked with Goncalo Coelho to explore the Coast of Brazil.
Embarked on a second voyage to explore the Coast of Brazil.
Sailed again with Juan de la Cosa to the Gulf of Darien to Mexico.
Death of Amerigo Vespucci.

Book Links
Amerigo Vespucci  by  Frederick Ober

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
How America Got its Name  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
How America Was Named  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
Young Amerigo and his Family  in  Amerigo Vespucci  by  Frederick A. Ober
Other Great Explorers  in  American History Stories, Volume I  by  Mara L. Pratt
Follow the Leader  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Amerigo Vespucci
 in Amerigo Vespucci

From the sculpture by Grazzini in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence
 in A Book of Discovery

Short Biography
Martin Alonzo Pinzon Spanish navigator who sailed with Columbus on first voyage, but later feuded with him.
Ferdinand of Aragon King of Aragon who ruled united Spain with Queen Isabel. Drove the Moors out of Granada.
Alonso de Ojeda Spanish conquistador who made several daring expeditions to the new world. Associate of Vespucci and Pizarro.
Juan de la Cosa Famous cartographer who created the earliest maps of the Americas.
Lorenzo de Medici Great power broker Renaissance Florence. Great Patron of the Arts.