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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Exploration
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Exploration
Text 1. Into the Interior: The Spanish
Text 2. Into the Interior: The French
Text 3. Northwest Passage: The British
Text 4. Illustrating the New World (Pt. II)
Text 5. Catching Up: The British
Text 6. Failed Colonies
Text 7. The Slave Trade


Resource Menu

Giacomo Gastaldi, La Nuova Francia

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What motivated the Europeans' explorations? What were they looking for?
  •  What led them to deem an expedition a failure or success?
  •  How did the Europeans interpret the natural world they encountered?
  •  How did their experience of the New World comport with their expectations?
  •  How did the relationships of Europeans and Native Americans change after their initial encounters?
  •  What did the "New World" signify to Europe in 1550? in 1600?

1.  Into the Interior: The Spanish» Reading Guide

- De Soto: Narrative of exploration in the southeast (Florida), 1539-1543, excerpts
- Coronado: Report of exploration in the southwest and Great Plains, 1541
- Escalante & Barrado: Account of exploration in the southwest (New Mexico), 1583
- Villagrá: Account on the exploration of New Mexico, 1610, excerpts
- Maps:

1570: Western hemisphere (map #3: Ortelius, Americæ sive novi orbis)
1595: Western hemisphere (map #10: Mercator, America sive India nova)

Within several decades of the earliest coastal explorations of North America, European adventurers headed into the interior. "Adventurers" is the fitting word here, for more cautious men would have balked at heading into such vast unknowns. And the unknown brought misery—intense cold and exhausting heat, vast plains and unfordable rivers, antagonized Indians and wily guides, hunger and thirst, disease and death, and often incapacitating discouragement. But they learned the landscape of this New World, enabling them to act upon hard-won experience rather than fables, dreams, and plain naïveté.

Unlike the first-encounter narratives in Topic I (CONTACT), these selections also document the evolving relationships between the Europeans and the Indians. They have come to know each other by now. They are evaluating each other and acting on their evaluations, setting up networks of friend, foe, and in-between.
  • HERNANDO DE SOTO explored the southeast region of North America for Spain, searching for gold, a suitable site for a colony, and an overland route from Mexico to the Atlantic. From 1539 to 1543, starting in Florida with over 600 men, 200 horses, 300 pigs, and a pack of attack dogs, the expedition meandered for thousands of miles through the interior. At every point the Spanish attacked Indian villages, pillaging, murdering, and commandeering food, supplies, and captives. They "discovered" the Mississippi River—a major challenge to cross—and continued west to Texas (without de Soto, who died from fever on the banks of the river). Finally the surviving 300 men reached Mexico with no gold and no colony, having amassed only the hardened antagonism of the Indians. In these selections from the account by a Portuguese member of the expedition, known only as the "Fidalgo (gentleman) of Elvas," we read brief excerpts from the chapters recounting the mainland expedition from Florida to Mexico.
    [A Gentleman of Elvas, Relação Verdadeira dos Trabalhos . . . (True Relation of the Vicissitudes That Attended the Governor Don Hernando de Soto. . . ), 1557]

  • FRANCISCO CORONADO trekked through the southwest for two years (1540-42) with over 300 soldiers and 1,000 Indians for "Glory, God, and Gold." While they did convert some Pueblo Indians to Christianity, they found no gold and no glory (although they did "discover" the Grand Canyon along the way). Failing to subdue the Indians, Coronado responded brutally, laying a winter-long siege to a town, burning resisters at the stake, enslaving hundreds, and driving many Indians to suicide (as did de Soto). In his report to King Charles I from Tiguex (near present-day Albuquerque), Coronado admits his dismay at learning the famed Cibola is just "villages of straw houses," but he describes the region near Tiguex as offering productive land for settlement.
    [Letter from Francisco Vazquez de Coronado to His Majesty . . . , 20 October 1541]

  • PHELIPE DE ESCALANTE and HERNANDO BARRADO, soldiers who accompanied the 1581-82 expedition from Mexico to explore New Mexico, submitted this report to King Philip II to encourage Spanish settlement in the region. The nine men, led by Francisco Chamuscado, visited over sixty pueblos of the native inhabitants, estimating their population as over 130,000. They reported vast herds of "humpbacked cows," lucrative deposits of silver and salt, and "much more wherein God our Lord may be served and the royal crown increased." They warn the king, in fact, that the promise and wealth of this region could be lost if the area is not settled quickly.
    [Escalante & Barrado, Brief and True Account of the Exploration of New Mexico, 1583]

  • GASPAR PÉREZ DE VILLAGRÁ was the official historian of the first Spanish expedition to attempt a settlement in New Mexico. Sixteen years after the small Chamuscado expedition, four hundred soldiers departed from Mexico City to head north across the Rio Norte (Rio Grande), led by the ambitious and single-minded Don Juan de Oñate. More conquistador than colonial official, he was eventually called back to Mexico City in disgrace, having neglected the isolated settlers, alienated the Indians with his cruelty, and squandered imperial resources by searching in vain for gold, silver, and the "western sea." In 1610 Pérez de Villagrá published a thirty-four-canto epic poem to chronicle the expedition—its goals, hardships, courageous soldiers, and, most notably, the warfare and brutality led by Oñate. Considered the first epic poem created by Europeans in North America, The History of New Mexico is a political device as well as a literary account, for Villagra's intended audience-of-one is the king of Spain with his control of the empire's purse. (In this translation, the cantos are rendered into prose. Permission was not granted to exerpt the 1992 translation in verse.)
    [Villagrá, Historia de la Nueva México, 1610]
Although failing to achieve their immediate goals, these explorers claimed vast territories for Spain that would define its relationship with the Indians and with its European rivals for the next two centuries. Study the two zoomable maps of the western hemisphere from 1570 and 1595. Explore the interior of North America in detail for the Europeans' growing knowledge of the continent itself and of their own ignorance of its extent ("parte incognita"). (31 pages, excluding the maps.)

2.  Into the Interior: The French» Reading Guide

- Cartier: Account of the second voyage to the St. Lawrence River, 1535-1536, excerpts
- Champlain: Account of a battle with the Iroquois, 1609
- Marquette & Joliet: Account of the Mississippi River expedition, 1673, Introduction, Pts. 4 & 8
- Maps:

1556: New France (map #1, La Nuova Francia)
1664: Canada (map #9, Le Canada faict par le Sr. de Champlain)
1673: Map of Marquette's expedition (Carte de la découverte faite l'an 1673)

As we turn to the French explorers, let us repeat the litany of hardships that explorers encountered—intense cold, disease and death, unknown hazards and uncharted routes, Indians who might be friend or foe, and other Europeans who might be friend or foe. For Europeans, North America would be a "hard-won achievement," writes historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman. "At times it almost seemed as if the land itself was actively hostile to European lifeways." With this in mind, we select three accounts of French expeditions in the St. Lawrence and Mississippi River regions:
  • JACQUES CARTIER explored the northeast part of the continent intending to find the elusive passage to the Orient. Sailing west of Newfoundland he "discovered" the St. Lawrence River and explored the region in three voyages between 1535 and 1541. He met several Iroquoian tribal groups, establishing friendly relationships, though cautious on both sides. He did not find a route to China; indeed the large sea described to him by the Indians—"there was never man heard of that found out the end thereof"—was probably Lake Ontario.

    In this selection from the account of his second voyage (perhaps written by one of the sailors), Cartier sails to the welcoming Iroquois village of Hochelaga (later Montreal). While in winter quarters near another Indian village, the crew becomes incapacitated with scurvy and the debilitating cold (for Europeans) of northern winters. (On the last page you will find a selection from Cartier's dictionary of the Indians' language.)
    [Author undetermined, Brief récit, & succincte narration de la navigation . . . , 1545]

  • SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN was the quintessential explorer. While aptly credited as the founder of Quebec in 1608, he spent little time there, leaving the small fortified post to others and heading further into the Canadian woodlands, where he functioned as the quintessential diplomat. Unlike the Spanish who brutally dominated the Indians for imperial gain, the French negotiated and traded with them, primarily for furs. But it was inevitable that alliances with some Indian groups would make the French foes of others. In this selection, Champlain and nine French soldiers join the Huron in an attack on the Iroquois ("discovering" Lake Champlain in the process). The Iroquois are initially shocked by the French use of firearms, yet within a few years the Iroquois would develop their own cache of modern guns through trade and raids.
    [Champlain, Journal of 1608]

  • JACQUES MARQUETTE & LOUIS JOLIET were sent to explore the Mississippi River in 1673 and answer two questions: Was the Mississippi the long-sought water passage to the Pacific Ocean? Were the fabled kingdoms of Quivira and Theguaio real? They are able to answer the first (no), but not the second. They encounter friendly Illinois Indians and unfriendly mosquitoes, describe "monster" fish (catfish) and "wild cattle" (buffalo). Reaching the Arkansas River, they realize they are risking capture by the nearby Spaniards and decide to turn back and return to their post on Lake Michigan. Joliet's journals of the expedition were lost, so we read several selections from Marquette's account.
    [Marquette, 1673 expedition journal, publ. in Thwaites, ed., Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Vol. 59, 1899]
While the French presence in North America remained small compared to the Spanish (and later the English), its influence on the northern environment, the Indian societies, and the European rivalries in Canada was definitive. Its explorers pursued the interior of the continent more deeply than others, forging trade routes and Indian relationships that survived into the 1800s. French dialects are still spoken in Quebec, Louisiana, and even Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Study the two maps of Canada for the changes over a century, and explore Marquette's expedition map for its revelations (French not required). (15 pages, excluding the maps.)

3.  Northwest Passage: The English» Reading Guide

- Reasons to pursue a Northwest Passage, 1577
- Report on Frobisher's second voyage to the north seas, 1577
- Report on the autopsy of an Inuit man, 1577
- Maps: 1528, 1595, 1597, 1600

Among the most powerful motives driving the English in their earliest attempts to explore the New World was the desire to find a northwest passage to Asia, what Raold Amundsen, who finally navigated it in 1906, called "the most formidable obstacle ever encountered by the inquisitive human spirit." Repeated English attempts from 1497 to 1613 ended in failure. Or did they? Although the explorers found no passage, they did begin to map the coast of North America, and, perhaps more important, they learned how to navigate northern waters. With this latter achievement, they began the process of transforming the Atlantic from a barrier separating England from the New World to a bridge linking the Mother Country to her colonies. Here we offer three selections that explore the meaning of what historian Glyn Williams termed "voyages of delusion."
  • MICHAEL LOK, as a member of one of London's leading merchant families and an underwriter of Martin Frobisher's voyages, had a deep interest in expanding England's international trade. In this excerpt from his account of their project, he offers a concise summary of the reasons why he and his countrymen sought the Northwest Passage. (This text is included with the Settle account below.)
    [Michael Lok, manuscript, 28 October 1577]

  • DIONYSE SETTLE, a gentleman who, in 1577, accompanied Frobisher on his second voyage to Arctic waters, gives us a "true report" of what it was like to search for the Passage. In his account we get a sense of both the optimism and the greed that propelled the early explorers, and we see how heavily they relied upon the skill of their navigators and the courage of their leaders. We also see how desperate Frobisher was to bring back gold, a desire that may have distracted him from his original mission. He had returned from his 1576 voyage with ore samples that yielded uncertain results when assayed for gold. To entice investors in another voyage, perhaps suggesting returns akin to those realized by the Spanish to the south, he embraced the most optimistic assay findings. Now he had to back them up. Thus in 1577 he was under considerable pressure to show his supporters that "the bowels of those Septentrionall [northern] Paralels" will yield "much more large benefite." (This text is included with the Lok text above.)
    [Dionyse Settle, A True Reporte of the Last Voyage into the West and Northwest Regions, &c. 1577. worthily achieved by Captain Frobisher of the said voyage the first finder and general, 1577]

  • AUTOPSY REPORT. Ore samples were not the only things Frobisher brought back to England. In 1576 he returned with an Inuit (Eskimo), whose somewhat Asiatic features helped to persuade the English that Frobisher was on the right track to the Orient. A year later he aroused great interest with three Inuit—a man, a woman, and an infant. (Settle refers to them in his report.) Frobisher thought the man and women were husband and wife, but they were not. All three died shortly after their arrival in England, with Calichoughe, the man, dying first. A physician named Edward Dodding performed an autopsy and concluded that he died when two broken ribs punctured a lung causing an "incurable ulcer." In the post mortem Calichoughe becomes something of a metaphor for the English experience thus far in the New World. Dodding likens the economic resources England sought through the Northwest Passage to "nerves and life-blood," the very things that England lost, quite literally, with the death of Calichoughe. Lamenting the man's death, Dodding vents frustration over England's failure to realize any gain from the "Herculean labour" of Frobisher and other explorers, and he expresses his disgust over the superstitions of the New World inhabitants.
    [Dr. Edward Dodding, Postmortem report on the Thule Inuit brought by Frobisher, 8 November 1577]
Settle's account and Dodding's report may profitably be used with students to explore the growing complexity of European-Native American relations. Also study the four enlargeable maps, including the 1600 Quad map that depicts a straight and clear passage to Asia through the northern seas. (12 pages, excluding the maps.)

4.  Illustrating the New World (Pt. II)» Reading Guide

- English: Theodore de Bry, engravings and publication of Harriot's account of the 1584 Roanoke expedition and the Algonquian Indians (North Carolina), 1590, selections
- French: Theodore de Bry, engravings and publication of Le Moyne's account of the 1564 French settlement at Fort Caroline and the Timucua Indians (Florida), 1591, selections
- Maps:

Roanoke, 1590, by de Bry after White (map #1, America pars, Nunc Virginia dicta)
Florida, 1591, by de Bry after Le Moyne (map #1, Floridae Americae Provinciae)

We say we live in a visual age, where media saturation makes the image more compelling than the written word. But images were also desired and highly marketable in sixteenth-century Europe. (See CONTACT #1.) Some of the selections in this Toolbox, in fact, became early European "best sellers." By 1497, seventeen editions of Columbus's 1493 letter, enhanced with several woodcut illustrations, had been published across western Europe. Soon artists were included on expeditions to document the environment and inhabitants of the New World, and their illustrations were popularized as engravings—often by the Flemish engraver and publisher Theodore de Bry, whose multi-volume Grands Voyages sold widely across Europe. Three of his publications are sampled here:
  • THOMAS HARRIOT served as the historian, natural scientist, and surveyor/cartographer on the 1585 British expedition to Roanoke Island (North Carolina). His account of the region and the Algonquian Indians was reprinted in 1590 by Theodore de Bry, with de Bry's engravings based on the watercolors by John White, a leader of the 1585 and 1587 Roanoke voyages. 14 engravings and accompanying text.
    [Harriot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590]

  • JACQUES LE MOYNE DE MORGUES was the official artist on two French voyages to Florida in the 1560s, and he documented the Timucuan Indians of the region as well as the construction and fate of the French settlement at Fort Caroline. His account is less well known for its text than for the forty-four engravings produced by Theodore de Bry from his drawings (all but one have disappeared). 11 engravings plus the one extant watercolor, and accompanying text.
    [Le Moyne, Brief Narration of Those Things Which Befell the French in the Province of Florida in America, 1591]

  • You can also return to las Casas's A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in Topic I: CONTACT to view four engravings of Spanish atrocities in the 1598 de Bry edition.
Perhaps it is too much to say that de Bry was the Norman Rockwell of his day, but his adapted illustrations soon became iconic of the "New World" and remain so today. They also document how Europe imposed order—and ownership—on the New World through graphic representation, in stark contrast to the bewilderment and powerlessness expressed in many of the written narratives. In the two maps, both engraved by de Bry based on originals by John White and Le Moyne, you will see the same process of claiming and interpreting the New World. The Europeans were chipping away at "Parte Incognita." (37 pages, primarily illustrations.)

5.  Catching Up: The English» Reading Guide

- Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, et al., Dedicatory poems urging an English colony in North America, 1583
- Richard Hakluyt, Reasons for an English colony in North America, 1584

By the 1580s, English financiers and navigators became anxious that their chances for North American wealth and claims were fading. Spain dominated the Caribbean and southern regions of the continent, and France had established missionary and trading posts deep into the northern woodlands. Mexico City was a metropolitan center of trade, politics, and culture. Tadoussac was a small but vital French post on the St. Lawrence River. And both nations had fledgling settlements on the Atlantic coast—San Agustín and Fort Caroline. The continent was being divided up, and England wasn't there.

By the end of the decade, however, England had sent three expeditions to Roanoke Island on the Atlantic coast and had established a colony there in 1587 (the ill-fated "Lost Colony"). Part of the impetus to explore and settle the continent came from men like Richard Hakluyt and George Peckham who wrote long promotional pieces—advertisements they were sometimes called—urging the Queen and the rich to support English exploration and colonization. Two are excerpted here:
  • FRANCIS DRAKE, MARTIN FROBISHER, and other well-known navigators contributed dedicatory poems for George Peckham's 1583 account of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's expedition to Newfoundland. It was more than a history for, as Peckham promised in his subtitle, he would also "briefly set down her highness's lawful title thereunto, and the great and manifold commodities, that is likely to grow thereby, to the whole realm in general, and to the adventurers in particular. Together with the easiness and shortness of the voyage." Six of the dedicatory poems are presented here, in addition to the book's table of contents.
    [George Peckham, A True Report of the Late Discoveries and Possession, Taken in the Right of the Crown of England, of the Newfound Lands: by that Valiant and Worthy Gentleman, Sir Humphrey Gilbert Knight, 1583]

  • RICHARD HAKLUYT (hak-loot) was an English scholar and writer who compiled numerous accounts of European voyages into the mega-volumes known as Divers Voyages and Principal Navigations. In 1584 he wrote the promotional piece known as Discourse of Western Planting to urge a reluctant Queen Elizabeth I to support English colonies and to convince rich businessmen to invest in them. Usually one finds only its chapter headings in anthologies and online collections, but a closer look is necessary to reveal Hakluyt's careful reasoning . . . and earnest naïveté, as historian David Quinn points out in his edition of Discourse. Also included is Hakluyt's final chapter in which he lists necessary personnel and supplies for a colony, again with astounding naïveté.
    [Hakluyt, A Particular Discourse Concerning the Great Necessity and Manifold Commodities that are Like to Grow to this Realm of England by the Western Discoveries Lately Attempted, Written in the Year 1584, known as Discourse of Western Planting, 1584]
We recommend reading both works aloud, with dramatic flourish, so the message of these sixteenth-century English marketing men comes through clearly. It's worth the effort, after all, for these Englishmen would come to dominate the continent in two hundred years. (15 pages.)

6.  Failed Colonies» Reading Guide

- French/Spanish: Accounts of the Spanish attack on Fort Caroline, 1565
- Spanish: Letter requesting food for Ajacan, 1570
- English: Account of the rescue attempt at Roanoke, 1590

If you were to recount the earliest European presence in North America as a history of the "proto-United States," you might start with Columbus in 1492, jump to Jamestown in 1607, and treat the intervening 115 years as a few decades. It is true there was little European presence in the midregion in the 1500s, due primarily to the disappointing forays into Parte Incognita that revealed no golden cities or Edenic sanctuaries, not even a water passage through the continent to Asia.

In addition, many of the first attempts at settlement north of the Caribbean failed. Roanoke, Ajacan, Fort Caroline, Sable Island, Charlesfort, Pensacola, San Miguel de Gualdape, Charlesbourg-Royal, France-Roy—all were short-lived settlements in the 1500s. A hurricane destroyed the first Pensacola settlement. Frigid winters and scurvy claimed several settlements; starving settlers abandoned others. Indians laid siege to settlements or attacked them outright. Rebellion by brutalized soldiers or starved African slaves ended two colonies. Settlers were left to their own resources when the founders left for provisions (or for good). In most cases a few surviving settlers made it back to Europe, but in one famous case—the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke in what is now North Carolina—the settlers disappeared with little trace, their fate still undetermined. Most share the dooming factors of poor planning and unrealistic appraisals of the North American environment. Simply put, settling this continent was not going to be easy.

Especially with the added obstacle of rival Europeans. By the late 1580s the Spanish and French found themselves closer to each other's claims on the southeast Atlantic coast, and word had it that the English would soon join the competition. Attack-by-rival became another cause of failed colonies. The Spanish massacred the French Huguenots near Florida in 1565 and sent spies to Jamestown in 1613 to determine if eradicating the fledgling colony was its best move. The English destroyed the French trading post of Port Royal on Nova Scotia in 1612 and defeated the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1664. The imperial rivalries that would coalesce in the 1700s were taking shape.

These selections focus on three failed settlements on the southeast Atlantic coast, one Spanish, one French, and one English. The end comes from European attack, Indian attack, and "unknown." Inadequate foresight is a subtext of all three.
  • FORT CAROLINE. French Huguenots (Protestants) established this small settlement in 1564 on the southeast Atlantic coast, just north of the site where the Spanish would build St. Augustine a year later (partly to protect its Atlantic shipping corridor from the French encroachment). Who would attack the other first? They planned attacks simultaneously, but the Spanish succeeded after the French ships en route to St. Augustine were destroyed by a hurricane. We combine excerpts from two accounts of the attack: (1) the French perspective from Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, the colony's official artist (see #4. ILLUSTRATING THE NEW WORLD II), and (2) the Spanish perspective from Francisco Mendoza Grajales, the chaplain of St. Augustine.
    [Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, Brief Narration of Those Things Which Befell the French in the Province of Florida in America, 1591; and Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, Memoir of the Happy Result and Prosperous Voyage of the Fleet Commanded by the Illustrious Captain-General Pedro Menendez de Aviles, publ. 1875]

  • AJACAN. Nine Jesuit missionaries founded this settlement in 1570 on Chesapeake Bay, near the site where Jamestown was founded thirty-seven years later. They soon faced food shortages and demanded provisions from the Powhatan Indians. In this letter, they plead to the treasurer of Cuba for a shipment of corn to sustain them through the winter. Several months later, the Powhatans destroyed the mission and killed the men.
    [Luis de Quirós & Juan Baptista de Segura, Ajacan, Letter to Juan de Hinistrosa, 12 September 1570]

  • ROANOKE. Although the "Lost Colony" is a staple of historical lore, few have read John White's poignant account of the attempted rescue of the colonists in 1590. Governor of the 1587 settlement on the Outer Banks, White had returned to England for supplies soon after the colonists' arrival. Delayed for three years by war with Spain and pirates from France, White finally returned to the colony in 1590 but found only scattered possessions, the word "Croatoan" and a Maltese cross carved into a tree, and no people. The search itself led to more hardship and death.
    [John White, The Fifth Voyage of M. John White into the West Indies and Parts of America called Virginia, in the year 1590, 1590]
These accounts will flesh out, so to speak, the 115-year span between Columbus and Jamestown. Compelling reading, they also reveal how brave and/or foolhardy individuals respond when the risks they have courted turn real. (13 pages.)

7.  The Slave Trade» Reading Guide

- Portuguese: Accounts of the capture of west Africans, ca. 1450
- English: A sailor's account of slave trafficking, 1567
- Spanish: A priest's condemnation of the slave trade, 1587
- Map: West Africa, 1743 (Guinea propia)

We include the Atlantic slave trade here since its beginnings in the 1400s were as much part of the European breakout into the Atlantic Ocean as were the first voyages to North America. And, of course, the result of the west African explorations was the transport of hundreds of thousands of Africans to North America over four centuries. In addition, the accounts of African exploration and slave captures reflect the same encounter with the new and strange. A Portuguese seaman describes the "marvellous sight" of captives gathered on the African shore and recounts how other Africans "marvelled at the sight" of their ship. A English sailor is awed by the Africans' skill in capturing the "sea-horses" (hippos) that surround their ships. But the marvels give way to matter-of-fact accounts of slave trafficking (Hortop) and tracts on the immorality of slavery (Mercado).

The date we recognize for the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia is 1619, but the first recorded arrival in North America occurred 117 years earlier in 1502 when Juan de Córdoba sent several of his black slaves from Spain to Hispaniola. In 1517 the first slaves sent directly from Africa arrived to do forced labor on the Spanish plantations and mines in the Caribbean islands. As the Native Americans enslaved by the Spanish died by the thousands from overwork and disease, more Africans were captured and shipped to replace them. The Atlantic slave trade was on. It remained a critical and brutal element of the Spanish and English economies in North America for over four centuries. (The last nation in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery was Brazil in 1888). Here we read three documents of the early slave trade that you will find reminiscent of the exploration narratives in this section.
  • GOMES EANNES DE AZURARA. A Portuguese chronicler and archivist, Azurara compiled accounts of the earliest Portuguese voyages along the coast of West Africa in the 1400s (where he lived himself for a year). These two excerpts describe the capture and "division" of Africans, including "the first to be taken by Christians in their own land."
    [Azurara, The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, ca. 1450]

  • JOB HORTOP. An English sailor in the 1560s, Hortop joined the African expeditions of Sir John Hawkins, the first Englishman to join the Atlantic slave trade. In his memoir he blandly describes the capture of five hundred Africans "for traffick of the West Indies," in contrast to Azurara's emotive account of the same experience two centuries earlier.
    [Hortop, The Travailes of an English Man . . . , 1591]

  • TOMÁS DE MERCADO. A Spanish priest and economist in Mexico in the mid 1500s, Mercado condemned the slave trade for its human and political consequences, dehumanizing the Africans as well as the Europeans who competed to capture them.
    [Mercado, Practices and Contracts of Merchants, 1587]
Note the variety of tone and implied commentary in these selections, all written years before the first African slaves arrived in the present-day United States. The 1743 map of West Africa should be studied for its illustrations as well as its geographic interpretation of the slave trade. (6 pages, excluding the map.)

Image: Giacomo Gastaldi, map of New France entitled La Nuova Francia, published in Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Navigationi et Viaggi, Venice, 1565 (1st ed., 1556), detail. Reproduced by permission of Yale University Library.

Quoted statements from Karen Ordahl Kupperman (Silver Professor of History, New York University; Fellow, National Humanities Center, 1984-85). "North America and the Beginnings of European Colonization," in series Essays on the Columbian Encounter. Washington: American Historical Association, 1992.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
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