The Name America
In his Espanola letter of October, 1498, to the
Spanish sovereigns, Columbus told them two things: first, that he
had discovered the Earthly Paradise, which being on the top of the
stem of the earth was "near heaven" and unattainable "save by God's
permission"; and, second, that at Paria he had found pearls. The
latter announcement was the moving one, and in 1499 two private
expeditions set forth almost simultaneously to the Pearl Coast, one
piloted by Juan de la Cosa but commanded by
Alonso de Ojeda, a knight
of truly Spanish audacity, companion of Columbus in 1493; and the
other commanded by Pero Alonso Niño, one of Columbus's pilots in
1493 and 1498.
The voyage of Nino, so far as the gathering of riches was concerned, proved a success quite beyond anything achieved by Columbus, for it was rewarded by quantities of pearls. Ojeda was less successful in finding pearls, but he brought away some two hundred natives to be sold as slaves. In 1508 he was made Governor of the district of Urabá, which extended from the Darien (Atrato) River eastward to the Gulf of Venezuela and was called Castilla del Oro. West of Urabá, as far as Cape Gracias á Dios in Honduras, the coast, under the appellation of Veragua, was in 1508 assigned for government to Diego de Nicuesa, a rich and accomplished planter of Espanola.
The significance of Ojeda and Nicuesa, however, lies not so much in themselves as in their three associates — Vespucci, Balboa, and Pizarro; especially in Balboa, the true precursor of Cortés, with whom in a variety of respects he is not unworthy to be compared. As for Vespucci and Amerigo Pizarro, the latter we shall meet presently, and the former need not long detain us. He was, be it said, an alert Florentine who as contractor's clerk had seen to the outfitting of the ships for the second voyage of Columbus, and who had accompanied Ojeda on his pearl-seeking voyage of 1499. He had made three other transatlantic voyages, the third of which, by his literary handling of it in letters printed in Latin in 1504 and 1507 (the former under the title of Mundus Novus) had so established his fame that in 1507 Mundus Novus (South America) was beginning to be called Amerige — Americ's land or America. (See Life and Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci)
Vespucci and the naming of America has given rise to much discussion. John Fiske, following the Brazilian scholar Varnhagen, treats the subject controversially in The Discovery of America. His views are critically reviewed by E. G. Bourne in his Spain in America. Another treatment (one favorable to Vespucci) is by Vignaud, Améric Vespuce (1451-1512) (1917), a work in French. It is Mr. Vignaud's thesis that not only did Vespucci anticipate Columbus in the discovery of the mainland of America, but that he, first of all explorers and writers, realized that Mundus Novus (South America) was wholly distinct from Asia, a new continent and a new world. The letters of Vespucci have been printed in English by C. R. Markham, Letters of Amerigo Vespucci (Hakluyt Soc. Pubs., 1894). A more accurate translation of the earliest letter (the Soderini) was printed by Quaritch, The First Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci (1893); but by far the best translation is by George Tyler Northup, Vespucci Reprints, Texts and Studies, vol. IV, 1916.
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