Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Giovanni da Verrazano

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 15
Giovanni da Verrazano

by Thomas Francis Meehan


Navigator, b. about 1485, of good family, at Val di Greve, near Florence; executed at Puerto del Pico, Spain, November, 1527.

Entering the naval service of Francis I of France, he soon became famous as a corsair, preying on the ships of Spain and Portugal, one of his prizes in 1522 being the treasure-ship sent to Charles V by Cortés with Mexican spoils, valued at nearly two million dollars.

In Jan., 1524, he began a voyage of discovery to the New World on behalf of his patron Francis I, during which he kept a log-book of his experiences. In 1556 Ramusio published in his collection of voyages a letter written by Verrazano giving an account of his voyage to the coast of North America and its exploration from 30 degrees to 50 degrees N. lat. It is the first post-Columbian description of the North Atlantic coast, and gives the first description of New York Bay and harbour and the present Hudson River. Thence he sailed along Long Island Sound to Block Island and Newport, of which he makes mention. From this note-book of the voyage his brother Hieronimo drew in 1529 a map of the North Atlantic coast, which is now in the museum of the Propaganda at Rome, and testifies to the accuracy of Verrazano's observations along the coast as far as a point in the present State of Maine, whence he returned to France, arriving at Dieppe in July, 1524.

Little that is authentic is known of his subsequent career; Spanish records relate that he was captured in 1527, while cruising off the coast of Cadiz, and executed by order of the Emperor Charles V. The authenticity of his letter descriptive of his voyage along the Atlantic coast has given rise to an extensive historical controversy, but the most recent researches affirm its reliability as well as that of his brother's map, the best sixteenth-century map extant in its original form, which has special influence on the subsequent cartography of the time.

A bronze statute, set up in 1910, by his admiring fellow-countrymen, facing the mouth of the great river on whose east bank the metropolis of the United States has grown, proclaims their conviction that Giovanni da Verrazano, and not Henry Hudson, was its discoverer.

Memorial History of the City of New York, II (New York, 1892); BREVOORT, Verrazano the Navigator (New York, 1874); IDEM, Verrazano the First Explorer of the Atlantic Coast in Magazine of Am. Hist., VIII (New York, 1882), 481; DE COSTA, Verrazano the Explorer (New York, 1880); MURPHY, Voyages of Verrazano (New York, 1875); Collections of N.Y. Hist. Soc., I (New York, 1841), 37; BENNETT, Catholic Footsteps in Old New York (New York, 1909).

THOMAS F. MEEHAN