We left the port of Cadiz four consort ships: and began our voyage in direct course to the Fortunate Isles, which are called to-day la gran Canaria, which are situated in the Ocean-sea at the extremity of the inhabited west, (and) set in the third climate: over which the North Pole has an elevation of 27 and a half degrees beyond their horizon: and they are 280 leagues distant from this city of Lisbon, by the wind between mezzo di and libeccio: where we remained eight days, taking in provision of water, and wood and other necessary things: and from here, having said our prayers, we weighed anchor, and gave the sails to the wind, beginning our course to westward, taking one-quarter by southwest: and so we sailed on till at the end of 37 days we reached a land which we deemed to be a continent: which is distant westwardly from the isles of Canary about a thousand leagues beyond the inhabited region within the torrid zone: for we found the North Pole at an elevation of 16 degrees above its horizon, and (it was) westward, according to the shewing of our instruments, 75 degrees from the isles of Canary: whereat we anchored with our ships a league and a half from land: and we put out our boats freighted with men and arms.
We made toward the land, and before we reached it, had sight of a great number of people who were going along the shore: by which we were much rejoiced: and we observed that they were a naked race: they shewed themselves to stand in fear of us: I believe (it was) because they saw us clothed and of other appearance (than their own) : they all withdrew to a hill, and for whatsoever signals we made to them of peace and of friendliness, they would not come to parley with us: so that, as the night was now coming on, and as the ships were anchored in a dangerous place, being on a rough and shelterless coast, we decided to remove from there the next day, and to go in search of some harbour or bay, where we might place our ships in safety: and we sailed with the maestrale wind, thus running along the coast with the land ever in sight, continually in our course observing people along the shore: till after having navigated for two days, we found a place sufficiently secure for the ships, and anchored half a league from land, on which we saw a very great number of people.
This same day we put to land with the boats, and sprang on shore full 40 men in good trim: and still the land's people appeared shy of converse with us, and we were unable to encourage them so much as to make them come to speak with us: and this day we laboured so greatly in giving them of our wares, such as rattles and mirrors, beads, spalline, and other trifles, that some of them took confidence and came to discourse with us: and after having made good friends with them, the night coming on, we took our leave of them and returned to the ships: and the next day when the dawn appeared we saw that there were infinite numbers of people upon the beach, and they had their women and children with them: we went ashore, and found that they were all laden with their worldly goods which are suchlike as, in its (proper) place, shall be related: and before we reached the land, many of them jumped into the sea and came swimming to receive us at a bowshot's length (from the shore), for they are very great swimmers, with as much confidence as if they had for a long time been acquainted with us: and we were pleased with this, their confidence.
For so much as we learned of their manner of life and customs, it was that they go entirely naked, as well the men as the women. . . . They are of medium stature, very well proportioned: their flesh is of a colour that verges into red like a lion's mane: and I believe that if they went clothed, they would be as white as we: they have not any hair upon the body, except the hair of the head, which is long and black, and especially in the women, whom it renders handsome. In aspect they are not very good-looking, because they have broad faces, so that they would seem Tartar-like: they let no hair grow on their eyebrows, nor on their eyelids, nor elsewhere, except the hair of the head: for they hold hairiness to be a filthy thing: they are very light footed in walking and in running, as well the men as the women: so that a woman recks nothing of running a league or two, as many times we saw them do: and herein they have a very great advantage over us Christians: they swim (with an expertness) beyond all belief, and the women better than the men: for we have many times found and seen them swimming two leagues out at sea without anything to rest upon. Their arms are bows and arrows very well made, save that (the arrows) are not (tipped) with iron nor any other kind of hard metal: and instead of iron they put animals' or fishes' teeth, or a spike of tough wood, with the point hardened by fire: they are sure marksmen, for they hit whatever they aim at: and in some places the women use these bows: they have other weapons, such as fire-hardened spears, and also clubs with knobs, beautifully carved. . . . Warfare is used amongst them, which they carry on against people not of their own language, very cruelly, without granting life to any one, except (to reserve him) for greater suffering.
Their dwellings are in common: and their houses (are) made in the style of huts, but strongly made, and constructed with very large trees, and covered over with palm-leaves, secure against storms and winds: and in some places (they are) of so great breadth and length, that in one single house we found there were 600 souls: and we saw a village of only thirteen houses where there were four thousand souls: every eight or ten years they change their habitations: and when asked why they did so: (they said it was) because of the soil, which, from its filthiness, was already unhealthy and corrupted, and that it bred aches in their bodies, which seemed to us a good reason: their riches consist of birds' plumes in many colours, or of rosaries which they make from fishbones, or of white or green stones which they put in their cheeks and in their lips and ears, and of many other things which we in no wise value: they use no trade, they neither buy nor sell. In fine, they live and are contented with that which nature gives them. The wealth that we enjoy in this our Europe and elsewhere, such as gold, jewels, pearls, and other riches, they hold as nothing: and altho they have them in their own lands, they do not labour to obtain them, nor do they value them. They are liberal in giving, for it is rarely they deny you anything, and on the other hand, liberal in asking, when they shew themselves your friends. . . .
We decided to leave that place, and to go further on, continuously coasting the shore: upon which we made frequent descents, and held converse with a great number of people: and at the end of some days we went into a harbour where we underwent very great danger: and it pleased the Holy Ghost to save us: and it was in this wise. We landed in a harbour, where we found a village built like Venice upon the water: there were about 44 large dwellings in the form of huts erected upon very thick piles, and they had their doors or entrances in the style of drawbridges: and from each house one could pass through all, by means of the drawbridges, which stretched from house to house: and when the people thereof had seen us, they appeared to be afraid of us, and immediately drew up all the bridges: and while we were looking at this strange action, we saw coming across the sea about 22 canoes, which are a kind of boats of theirs, constructed from a single tree: which came toward our boats, as they had been surprized by our appearance and clothes, and kept wide of us: and thus remaining, we made signals to them that they should approach us, encouraging them with every token of friendliness: and seeing that they did not come, we went to them, and they did not stay for us, but made to the land, and, by signs, told us to wait, and that they should soon return: and they went to a hill in the background, and did not delay long: when they returned, they led with them 16 of their girls, and entered with these into their canoes, and came to the boats: and in each boat they put four of the girls.
That we marveled at this behavior your Magnificence can imagine how much, and they placed themselves with their canoes among our boats, coming to speak with us: insomuch that we deemed it a mark of friendliness: and while thus engaged we beheld a great number of people advance swimming toward us across the sea, who came from the houses: and as they were drawing near to us without any apprehension: just then there appeared at the doors of the houses certain old women, uttering very loud cries and tearing their hair to exhibit grief: whereby they made us suspicious, and we each betook ourselves to arms: and instantly the girls whom we had in the boats, threw themselves into the sea, and the men of the canoes drew away from us, and began with their bows to shoot arrows at us: and those who were swimming each carried a lance held, as covertly as they could, beneath the water: so that, recognizing the treachery, we engaged with them, not merely to defend ourselves, but to attack them vigorously, and we overturned with our boats any of their almadie or canoes, for so they call them, we made a slaughter (of them), and they all flung themselves into the water to swim, leaving their canoes abandoned, with considerable loss on their side, they went swimming away to the shore: there died of them about 15 or 20, and many were left wounded: and of ours 5 were wounded, and all, by the grace of God, escaped (death): we captured two of the girls and two men: and we proceeded to their houses, and entered therein, and in them all we found nothing else than two old women and a sick man: we took away from them many things, but of small value: and we would not burn their houses, because it seemed to us (as tho that would be) a burden upon our conscience: and we returned to our boats with five prisoners: and betook ourselves to the ships, and put a pair of irons on the feet of each of the captives, except the little girls: and when the night came on, the two girls and one of the men fled away in the most subtle manner possible: and the next day we decided to quit that harbour and go further onwards.
We proceeded continuously skirting the coast, (until) we had sight of another tribe distant perhaps some 80 leagues from the former tribe: and we found them very different in speech and customs: we resolved to cast anchor, and went ashore with the boats, and we saw on the beach a great number of people amounting probably to 4,000 souls: and when we had reached the shore, they did not stay for us, but betook themselves to flight through the forests, abandoning their things: we jumped on land, and took a pathway that led to the forest: and at the distance of a bow-shot we found their tents, where they had made very large fires, and two (of them) were cooking their victuals, and roasting several animals, and fish of many kinds: where we saw that they were roasting a certain animal which seemed to be a serpent, save that it had no wings, and was in its appearance so loathsome that we marveled much at its savageness:
Thus went we on through their houses, or rather tents, and found many of those serpents alive, and they were tied by the feet and had a cord around their snouts, so that they could not open their mouths, as is done (in Europe) with mastiff-dogs so that they may not bite: they were of such savage aspect that none of us dared to take one away, thinking that they were poisonous: they are of the bigness of a kid, and in-length an ell and a half: their feet are long and thick, and armed with big claws: they have a hard skin, and are of various colors: they have the muzzle and face of a serpent: and from their snouts there rises a crest like a saw which extends along the middle of the back as far as the tip of the tail: in fine we deemed them to be serpents and venomous, and (nevertheless, those people) ate them.
This land is very populous, and full of inhabitants, and of numberless rivers, (and) animals: few (of which) resemble ours, excepting lions, panthers, stags, pigs, goats, and deer: and even these have some dissimilarities of form: they have no horses nor mules, nor, saving your reverence, asses nor dogs, nor any kind of sheep or oxen: but so numerous are the other animals which they have, and all are savage, and of none do they make use for their service, that they could not be counted. What shall we say of others (such as) birds? which are so numerous, and of so many kinds, and of such various-coloured plumages, that it is a marvel to behold them. The soil is very pleasant and fruitful, full of immense woods and forests: and it is always green, for the foliage never drops off. The fruits are so many that they are numberless and entirely different from ours. This land is within the torrid zone, close to or just under the parallel described by the Tropic of Cancer: where the pole of the horizon has an elevation of 23 degrees, at the extremity of the second climate. Many tribes came to see us, and wondered at our faces and our whiteness: and they asked us whence we came: and we gave them to understand that we had come from heaven, and that we were going to see the world, and they believed it. In this land we placed baptismal fonts, and an infinite (number of) people were baptized, and they called us in their language Carabi, which means men of great wisdom.
1Americus Vespucius was born in Florence in 1452 and died in Seville in 1512. He was the son of a notary in Florence, was educated by a Dominican friar and became a clerk in one of the commercial houses of the Medici. By this house he was sent to Spain in 1490. He remained some years in Seville, where he became connected with the house which fitted out the second expedition of Columbus.
Vespucius claimed to have been four times in America, first in May, 1497; second, in May, 1499; third, in May, 1501; fourth, in June, 1503. In writing of the first expedition he says his ship reached a coast "which we thought to be that of the continent," giving date. If this assumption be correct, and the dates correct, they would show that he reached the continent of North America a week or two before the Cabots made their discovery farther north, but this contention has never been satisfactorily supported.
The letters of Vespucius describing his four voyages were published originally in Italian in Florence in 1505-6. The letter here in part given was addrest by Vespucius to Fier Soderini, the Gonfalonier of Florence. The translation, by one "M. K.," was published by Mr. Quaritch, the London bookseller, in 1885, and has been printed as one of the "Old South Leaflets!" The letter is believed to have been composed by Vespucius within a month after his return from his second voyage.
Vespucius was a naval astronomer. He has been unjustly accused of appropriating to himself an honor which belonged to Columbus,that of giving a name to the new continent. This injustice, however, was not due to Vespucius, but to a German schoolmaster named Hylacomylus, or "Miller of the Wood-pond," who published a book in 1507. The passage in Miller's book in which he made a suggestion which the world has adopted is as follows:
"And the fourth part of the world having been discovered by Americus, it may be called Amerige; that is, the land of Americus, or America. Now, truly sience these regions are more widely explored, and another fourth part is discovered by Americus Vespucius, I do not see why any one may justly forbid it to be named Amerige; that is, Americ's Land, after Americus, the discoverer, who is a man of sagacious mind; or call it America, since both Europe and Asia derived their names from women."
Vespucius, in spite of several voyages, discovered very little in America. The continent ought not to have been named after him.Return to text.