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Amerigo Vespucci

Amerigo VespucciBorn: 9-Mar-1454
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Died: 22-Feb-1512
Location of death: Seville, Spain
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Abbazia Di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Explorer

Nationality: Italy
Executive summary: American eponym

Merchant and adventurer, who gave his name of Amerigo to the new world as America, was born at Florence on the 9th of March 1451. His father, Nastagio (Anastasio) Vespucci, was a notary, and his uncle, Fra Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, to whom he owed his education, was a scholarly Dominican and a friend of Girolamo Savonarola. As a student Amerigo is said to have shown a preference for natural philosophy, astronomy and geography. He was placed as a clerk in the great commercial house of the Medici, then the ruling family in Florence. A letter of the 30th of December 1492 shows that he was then in Seville; and until the 12th of January 1496 he seems to have usually resided in Spain, especially at Seville and Cadiz, probably as an agent of the Medici. In December 1495, on the death of a Florentine merchant, Juanoto Berardi, established at Seville, who had fitted out the second expedition of Christopher Columbus in 1493, and had also undertaken to fit out twelve ships for the king of Spain (April 9th, 1495), Vespucci was commissioned to complete the contract. As Ferdinand, on the 10th of April 1495, recalled the monopoly conceded to Columbus (this order of April 10th, 1495, was cancelled on June 2nd, 1497), "private" exploring now had an opportunity, and adventurers of all kinds were able to leave Spain for the West. Vespucci claims to have sailed with one of these "freelance" expeditions from Cadiz on the 10th of May 1497. Touching at Grand Canary on the way, the four vessels he accompanied, going thirty-seven days on a west-south-west course, and making 1000 leagues, are said to have reached a supposed continental coast in 16° N., 70° W. from Grand Canary (June 16th, 1497). This should have brought them into the Pacific. They sailed along the coast, says Vespucci, for 80 leagues to the province of Parias (or Lariab), and then 870 leagues more, always to the northwest, to the "finest harbor in the world", which from this description should be in British Columbia or thereabouts. From there 100 leagues more to north and northeast to the islands of the people called "Iti", from which they returned to Spain, reaching Cadiz on the 15th of October 1498. Still following Vespucci's own statement, he, on the 16th of May 1499, started on a second voyage in a fleet of three ships under Alonzo de Ojeda (Hojeda). Sailing southwest over 500 leagues they crossed the ocean in forty-four days, finding land in 5° S. From there, encountering various adventures, they worked up to 15° N., and returned to Spain by way of Antiglia (Española, San Domingo), reaching Cadiz on the 8th of September 1500. Entering the service of Dom Manuel of Portugal, Vespucci claims to have taken part in a third American expedition, which left Lisbon on the 10th (or 15th) of May 1501. Vespucci has given two accounts of this alleged third voyage, differing in many details, especially dates and distances. From Portugal he declares that he sailed to Bezeguiche (Cape Verde), and from there southwest for 700 leagues, reaching the American coast in 5° S. on the 7th (or 17th) of August. From there eastward for 300 (150) leagues, and south and west to 52° S. (or 73° 30'; in his own words, "13° from the antarctic pole", i.e. well into the antarctic continent). He returned, he adds, by Sierra Leone (June 10th), and the Azores (end of July), to Lisbon (September 7th, 1502). His second Portuguese (and fourth and last American) voyage, as alleged by him, was destined for Malacca, which he supposed to be in 33° S. (really in 2° 14' N.). Starting from Lisbon on the 10th of May 1503, with a fleet of six ships, and reaching Bahia by way of Fernando Noronha (?), Vespucci declares that he built a fort at a harbor in 18° S., and from there returned to Lisbon (June 18th, 1504). In February 1505, being again in Spain, he visited Christopher Columbus, who entrusted to him a letter for his son Diego. On the 24th of April 1505, Vespucci received Spanish letters of naturalization; and on the 6th of August 1508 was appointed piloto mayor or chief pilot of Spain, an office which he held until his death at Seville on the 22nd of February 1512.

If his own account had been trustworthy, it would have followed that Vespucci reached the mainland of America eight days before John Cabot (June 16th against June 24th, 1497). But Vespucci's own statement of his exploring achievements hardly carries conviction. This statement is contained (i.) in his letter written from Lisbon (March or April 1503) to Lorenzo Piero Francesco di Medici, the head of the firm under which his business career had been mostly spent, describing the alleged Portuguese voyage of March 1501 to September 1502. The original Italian text is lost, but we possess the Latin translation by "Jocundus interpreter", perhaps the Giocondo who brought his invitation to Portugal in 1501. This letter was printed (in some nine editions) soon after it was written, the first two issues (Mundus Novus and Epistola Albericii de Novo Mundo), without place or date, appearing before 1504, the third, of 1504 (Mundus Novus), at Augsburg. Two very early Paris editions are also known, and one Strassburg (De Ora Antarctica) of 1505, edited by E. Ringmann. It was also included in the Paesi novamente retrovati of 1507 (Vicenza) under the title of Novo Mondo da Alb. Vesputio. The connection of the new world with Vespucci, thus expressed, is derived from the argument of this first letter, that it was right to call Amerigo's discovery a new world, because it had not been seen before by anyone. This prepared the way for the American name soon given to the continent. (ii.) In Vespucci's letter, also written from Portugal (September 1504), and probably addressed to his old school-fellow Piero Soderini, gonfaloniere of Florence 1502-12. From the Italian original (of which four printed copies still exist, without place or date, but probably before 1507) a French version was made, and from the latter a Latin translation, published at St. Dié in Lorraine in April 1507, and immediately made use of in the Cosmographiae Introductio (St. Dié, 1507) of Martin Waldseemüller (Hylacomylus), professor of cosmography in St. Dié University. Here we have perhaps the first suggestion in a printed book that the newly discovered fourth part of the world should be called "America, because Americus discovered it." Since Alexander von Humboldt discussed the subject in his Examen critique de l'histoire de la géographie du nouveau continent (1837), vol. IV, the general weight of opinion, despite other defenses of Vespucci's voyages, general consensus has been that he had no share in the first discovery of the American continent.

Father: Nastagio Vespucci
Mother: Lisabetta Mini
Brother: Antonio
Wife: Maria Cerezo (m. 1505)

    Naturalized Spanish Citizen (24-Apr-1505)
    Eponyms America
    Italian Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Malaria

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