Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Amerigo Vespucci

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Appletons' Amerigo Vespucci.jpg
Appletons' Amerigo Vespucci signature.jpg

AMERIGO (or AMERICO) VESPUCCI (or VESPUCIO) (ves-putch'-ee), Italian navigator, b. in Florence, Italy, 9 March, 1451; d. in Seville, Spain, 22 Feb., 1512. He was of a wealthy family of merchants, and received his education from his uncle, Giorgi Antonio Vespucci, a Dominican friar, a friend and colleague of Savonarola. He engaged in business, first in Florence and afterward in Seville, where he met Columbus, perhaps as early as 1493, and where in 1497 he equipped the fleet with which that navigator sailed on his third voyage. He had previously, in 1496, had charge of fitting out a fleet for the Spanish government. Amerigo sailed from Spain in 1499 in an expedition that visited the neighborhood of Cape Paria and several hundred miles of coast, and returned in June, 1500. In May, 1501, he entered the service of Emanuel, of Portugal, and participated in an expedition that visited the coast of Brazil. In May, 1503, he commanded a caravel in a squadron that sailed for the discovery of Malacca, but parted company from the rest, and finally made his way to the coast of Brazil, where he discovered the bay of All Saints, remained there two months, then ran 260 leagues farther south, where he built a fort, somewhere near Cape Frio, and, leaving a colony there, returned to Lisbon in June, 1504. Early in 1505 he obtained from King Ferdinand of Spain letters of naturalization, and on 22 March, 1508, was appointed pilot-major of the kingdom, an office that he held until his death, taking charge of the preparation of a general description of coasts and accounts of new discoveries, and also superintending the construction of charts and the examination of pilots. The controversy as to whether Vespucci took precedence both of the Cabots and of Columbus in the discovery of the mainland of America has been for centuries a matter of dispute. None of the original letters of Amerigo bearing on the subject are extant, except in translations, and these differ greatly among themselves and contain inconsistencies of fact and date. It is not even known in what language the letters were written. An account by Amerigo of his voyage of 1499, said to have been written 18 July, 1500, was published by Bandini in 1745. A letter of his to Lorenzo Piero de Medici, a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent, describing the voyage of 1501, was published in various editions, some in Latin, others in German, and in 1789 a new text, in Italian, was discovered by Bartolozzi. The Strasburg edition of 1505 bears the title “De Ora Antarctica.” In 1507 a “Cosmographiæ Introductio” was published at the little college of St. Dié in Lorraine, and to it was appended an account by Amerigo of his voyages, purporting to be addressed to René II., duke of Lorraine. Here it is asserted that four voyages were made, the date of the first being fixed at May, 1497. Amerigo would thus have reached the mainland a week or two earlier than Cabot, and about 14 months earlier than Columbus. It was also suggested in this book that Amerigo should give his name to the continent he had discovered. The best authorities now consider the evidence incontrovertible that this date of 1497 is incorrect, and doubt has thus been thrown upon the rest of Amerigo's narrative. He has been charged by many with deliberate falsification, and most of his apologists have contented themselves with defending his character, rather than the truth of his narrative, ascribing the inconsistencies of the latter to the errors of translators and copyists. Santarem, in his “Researches,” says he could find no mention at all of Vespucci in the royal archives of Portugal, nor in the diplomatic records, where all new discoveries were mentioned, and the fact that his reputed discovery of the mainland was not used as evidence by the Spanish government in an action at law in 1512, where it would have been in their favor, seems to show that it was not given credence at that day. The name of America, however, suggested by the “Cosmographiæ Introductio,” began soon to be generally used, and it was not until the publication of Schoner's “Opusculum Geographicum” (1533) that doubt began to be thrown on its propriety. See “Life and Voyages of Americus Vespucius,” by C. E. Lester (New York, 1846); Santarem's “Vespucius and his Voyages,” translated by E. V. Childe (Boston, 1850); and Winsor's “Narrative and Critical History of America” (Boston, 1884).