The First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci and the Naming of America

Posthumous Portrait of Amerigo Vespucci

The First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci and the Naming of America

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You may not have heard of Amerigo Vespucci, but you have certainly heard of the America’s, North and South that is, which are named after the Italian Explorer named Amerigo.


Amerigo Vespucci was born in the 1450s into a wealthy family, who also happened to be friends with the Medici family. He lived what must have been a fairly privileged life, he was educated, once got to serve as a diplomat to France, and ran a banking business in Spain. 


But as is common even today, when Amerigo was in his 40s, it wasn’t enough. Something was missing in his life. 


Through Vespucci’s business he had become affiliated with the merchants who supplied a very famous explorer Christopher Columbus. And in 1496, Amerigo had the chance to meet and speak with Columbus in Seville Spain. 


This was it, their conversation awakened Amerigos spirit of adventure. His business was struggling anyway, and the Spanish crown was eager to fund daring explorers. 


In 1497, Amerigo Vespucci would go on his first of several adventures.


For this episode, I am going to share Amerigo’s alleged account of the adventure. More on the “alleged” part later….

Here for the "debunking" of this voyage mentioned in the podcast? Click this link Vespucci, A., & Markham, C. R. (2011). First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. In The letters of Amerigo Vespucci ; and, other documents illustrative of his career (pp. I-xliv). essay, Project Gutenberg.  


So without further ado here is the account of The First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci:


First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. 57

Magnificent Lord. 58 I submit humble reverence to you and offer due recommendations. It may be that your Magnificence will be astonished at my temerity that I should dare so absurdly to write the present long letter to your Magnificence, knowing that your Magnificence is constantly occupied in the high councils and affairs touching the lofty Republic. And I may be considered not only presumptuous but also idle in writing things not convenient to your condition nor agreeable, and written in a barbarous style. But as I have confidence in your virtues and in the merit of my writing, [2]which is touching things never before written upon either by ancient or modern writers, as will be seen, I may be excused by your Magnificence. The principal thing that moved me to write to you was the request of the bearer, who is named Benvenuto Benvenuti, our Florentine, who is very much the servant of your Magnificence, as he tells me, and a great friend of mine. He, finding himself here in this city of Lisbon, requested me to give an account to your Magnificence of the things by me seen in different parts of the world, during the four voyages that I have made to discover new lands; two by order of the Catholic King Ferdinand, by the Great Gulf of the Ocean Sea towards the west, the other two by order of the powerful King Manoel of Portugal, towards the south. He assured me that you will be pleased, and that in this I might hope to serve you. It was this that disposed me to do it, being assured that your Magnificence would include me in the number of your servants, remembering how, in the time of our youth, I was your friend, and now your servant, going together to hear the principles of grammar under the good life and doctrine of the venerable religious friar of St. Mark, Friar Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, whose counsels and doctrine, if it had pleased God that I had followed, I should have been another man from what I am, as Petrarch says. Quomodocunque sit, I am not ashamed, because I have always taken delight in virtuous things. Yet if these my frivolities are not acceptable to your virtue, I will reflect on what Pliny said to Mæcenas, "Formerly my witticisms used to entertain you." It may be that, though your Magnificence is continually occupied with public affairs, you may find an hour of leisure, during which you can pass a little time in frivolous or amusing things, and so, as a change from so many occupations, you may read this my letter. For you may well turn for a brief space from constant care and assiduous thought concerning public affairs.


Your Magnificence must know that the motive of my coming into this kingdom of Spain was to engage in mercantile pursuits, and that I was occupied in such business for nearly four years, during which I saw and knew various changes of fortune. As these affairs of commerce are uncertain, a man being at one time at the top of the well, and at another fallen and subject to losses, and as the continual labour that a man is exposed to who would succeed, became evident to me, as well as exposure to dangers and failures, I decided upon leaving the mercantile career, and upon entering on one that would be more stable and praiseworthy. I was disposed to see some part of the world and its wonders.

Time and opportunity offered themselves very conveniently. The King Don Fernando of Castille, 59 having ordered four ships to be dispatched for the discovery of new lands towards the west, I was chosen by his Highness to go in this fleet to help in the discovery. I left the port of Cadiz on the 10th of May 60 1497, and we took our way for the Great Gulf of the Ocean Sea, on which voyage I was engaged for eighteen months, discovering a great extent of mainland, and an infinite number of islands, most of them inhabited, of which no mention had been made by ancient writers, I believe because they had not any clear information. If I remember rightly, I have read somewhere that this Ocean Sea was without inhabitants. Our poet Dante was of this opinion, in the 26th chapter of the Inferno, where he treats of the death of Ulysses. 61 In this voyage I saw many wonderful things, as your Magnificence will [4]understand. As I said before, we left the port of Cadiz in four ships, and began our navigation to the Fortunate Islands, which are now called the Grand Canaria, situated in the Ocean Sea, on the confines of the inhabited west, within the third climate. 62 Over which place the Pole rises from the north, above the horizon 27° and a half, and it is distant from this city of Lisbon 280 leagues, 63 between south and south-west. Here we staid for eight days, providing ourselves with wood, water, and other necessaries. From thence, having offered our prayers, we weighed, and spread our sails to the wind, shaping our course to the west, with a point to south-west. 64 Our progress was such that at the end of thirty-seven days 65 we reached land which we judged to be the mainland, being distant from the island of Canaria, more to the west, nearly 1,000 leagues, 66 outside that which is inhabited in the Torrid Zone. For we found the North Pole was above its horizon 16°; and more to the westward than the island of Canaria, according to the observations with our instruments 70°. 67


We anchored with our ships at a distance of a league and a half from the shore. We got out the boats, and, filled with armed men, we pulled them to the shore. Before we arrived we had seen many men walking along the beach, at which we were much pleased; and we found that they were naked, and they showed fear of us, I believe because we were dressed and of a different stature. They all fled to a hill, and, in spite of all the signs of peace and friendship that we made, they would not come to have intercourse with us. As night was coming on, and the ship was anchored in a dangerous place, off an open unsheltered coast, we arranged to get under weigh the next day, and to go in search of some port or bay where we could make our ships secure. We sailed along the coast to the north, always in sight of land, and the people went along the beach. After two days of navigation we found a very secure place for the ships, and we anchored at a distance of half a league from the land, where we saw very many people. We went on shore in the boats on the same day, and forty men in good order landed. The natives were still shy of us, and we could not give them sufficient confidence to induce them to come and speak with us. That day we worked so hard with this object by giving them our things, such as bells, looking-glasses, and other trifles, that some of them took courage and came to treat with us. Having established a friendly understanding, as the night was approaching we took leave of them, and returned on board. Next day, at dawn, we saw that there were an immense number of people on the beach, and that they had their women and children with [6]them. We went on shore, and found that they all came laden with their food supplies, which are such as will be described in their place. Before we arrived on shore, many of them swam out to receive us at a cross-bow shot's distance; for they are great swimmers, and they showed as much confidence as if we had been having intercourse with them for a long time; and we were pleased at seeing their feelings of security.

Vespucci's first encounter with the Natives

What we knew of their life and customs was that they all go naked, as well the men as the women, without covering anything, no otherwise than as they come out of their mothers' wombs. They are of medium stature, and very well proportioned. The colour of their skins inclines to red, like the skin of a lion, and I believe that, if they were properly clothed, they would be white like ourselves. They have no hair whatever on their bodies, but they have very long black hair, especially the women, which beautifies them. They have not very beautiful faces, because they have long eyelids, which make them look like Tartars. They do not allow any hairs to grow on their eyebrows, nor eyelashes, nor in any other part except on the head, where it is rough and dishevelled. They are very agile in their persons, both in walking and running, as well the men as the women; and think nothing of running a league or two, as we often witnessed; and in this they have a very great advantage over us Christians. They swim wonderfully well, and the women better than the men; for we have found and seen them many times two leagues at sea, without any help whatever in swimming.

Their arms are bows and arrows, well made, except that they have no iron, nor any other kind of hard metal. Instead of iron they use teeth of animals or of fish, or a bit of wood well burnt at the point. They are sure shots, and where they aim they hit. In some places the women use these bows. They have other weapons like lances, hardened [7]by fire, and clubs with the knobs very well carved. They wage war among themselves with people who do not speak their language, carrying it on with great cruelty, giving no quarter, if not inflicting greater punishment. When they go to war they take their women with them; not because they fight, but because they carry the provisions in rear of the men. A woman carries a burden on her back, which a man would not carry, for thirty or forty leagues, as we have seen many times. They have no leader, nor do they march in any order, no one being captain. The cause of their wars is not the desire of rule nor to extend the limits of their dominions, but owing to some ancient feud that has arisen among them in former times. When asked why they made war, they have no other answer than that it is to avenge the death of their ancestors and their fathers. They have neither king nor lord, nor do they obey anyone, but live in freedom. Having moved themselves to wage war, when the enemy have killed or captured any of them, the oldest relation arises and goes preaching through the streets and calling upon his countrymen to come with him to avenge the death of his relation, and thus he moves them by compassion. They do not bring men to justice, nor punish a criminal. Neither the mother nor the father chastise their children, and it is wonderful that we never saw a quarrel among them. They show themselves simple in their talk, and are very sharp and cunning in securing their ends. They speak little, and in a low voice. They use the same accents as ourselves, forming their words either on the palate, the teeth, or the lips, only they have other words for things. Great is the diversity of languages, for in a hundred leagues we found such change in the language that the inhabitants could not understand each other.

Their mode of life is very barbarous, for they have no regular time for their meals, but they eat at any time that [8]they have the wish, as often at night as in the day—indeed, they eat at all hours. They take their food on the ground, without napkin or any other cloth, eating out of earthen pots which they make, or out of half calabashes. They sleep in certain very large nets made of cotton, 69 and suspended in the air; and if this should seem a bad way of sleeping, I say that it is pleasant to sleep in that manner, and that we slept better in that way than in coverlets. 70 They are a people of cleanly habits as regards their bodies, and are constantly washing themselves. When they empty the stomach they do everything so as not to be seen, and in this they are clean and decent; but in making water they are dirty and without shame, for while talking with us they do such things without turning round, and without any shame. They do not practise matrimony among them, each man taking as many women as he likes, and when he is tired of a woman he repudiates her without either injury to himself or shame to the woman, for in this matter the woman has the same liberty as the man. They are not very jealous, but lascivious beyond measure, the women much more so than the men. I do not further refer to their contrivances for satisfying their inordinate desires, so that I may not offend against modesty. They are very prolific in bearing children, and in their pregnancy they are not excused any work whatever. The parturition is so easy, and accompanied by so little pain, that they are up and about the next day. They go to some river to wash, and presently are quite well, appearing on the water like fish. If they are angry with their husbands they easily cause abortion with certain poisonous herbs or roots, and destroy the child. Many infants perish in this way. They are gifted with very handsome and well-proportioned [9]bodies, and no part or member is to be seen that is not well formed. Although they go naked, yet that which should be concealed is kept between the thighs so that it cannot be seen. Yet there no one cares, for the same impression is made on them at seeing anything indecent as is made on us at seeing a nose or mouth. Among them it is considered strange if a woman has wrinkles on the bosom from frequent parturition, or on the belly. All parts are invariably preserved after the parturition as they were before. They showed an excessive desire for our company.

We did not find that these people had any laws; they cannot be called Moors nor Jews, but worse than Gentiles. For we did not see that they offered any sacrifices, nor have they any place of worship. I judge their lives to be Epicurean. Their habitations are in common. Their dwellings, are like huts, but strongly built of very large trees, and covered with palm leaves, secure from tempests and winds. In some places they are of such length and width that we found 600 souls in one single house. We found villages of only thirteen houses where there were 4,000 inhabitants. They build the villages every eight or ten years, and when asked why they did this, they replied that it was because the soil was corrupted and infected, and caused diseases in their bodies, so they chose a new site. Their wealth consists of the feathers of birds of many colours, or "paternosters" made of the fins of fishes, or of white or green stones, which they wear on their necks, lips, and ears; and of many other things which have no value for us. They have no commerce, and neither buy nor sell. In conclusion, they live, and are content with what nature has given them.

They have none of the riches which are looked upon as such in our Europe and in other parts, such as gold, pearls, or precious stones: and even if they have them in their [10]country, they do not work to get them. They are liberal in their giving, for it is wonderful if they refuse anything, and also liberal in asking, as soon as they make friends. Their greatest sign of friendship is to give their wives or daughters, and a father and mother considered themselves highly honoured when they brought us a daughter, especially if she was a virgin, that we should sleep with her, and in doing this they use terms of warm friendship.

When they die they use several kinds of burial. Some bury their dead with water and food, thinking they will want it. They have no ceremonies of lights, nor of weeping. In some other places they practise a most barbarous and inhuman kind of interment. This is that when a sick or infirm person is almost in the throes of death, his relations carry him into a great wood, and fasten one of those nets in which they sleep to two trees. They put their dying relation into it, and dance round him the whole of one day. When night comes on they put water and food enough for four or six days at his head, and then leave him alone, returning to their village. If the sick man can help himself, and eats and lives so as to return to the village, they receive him with ceremony, but few are those who escape. Most of them die, and that is their sepulchre. They have many other customs, which are omitted to avoid prolixity. In their illnesses they use various kinds of medicines, so different from ours that we marvelled how anyone escaped. I often saw a patient ill with fever, when the disease was at its height; bathed with quantities of cold water from head to foot. Then they made a great fire all round, making him turn backwards and forwards for two hours until he was tired, and he was then left to sleep. Many were cured. They also attend to the diet, keep the patient without food, and draw blood, not from the arm, but from the thighs and loins, and from the calves of the legs. They also provoke vomiting by [11]putting one of their herbs into the mouth, and they use many other remedies which it would take long to recount. They abound much in phlegm and in blood, on account of their food, which consists of roots, fruit, and fish. They have no sowing of grain, nor of any kind of corn. But for their common use they eat the root of a tree, from which they make very good flour, and they call it Iuca.71 Others call it Cazabi 72 and Ignami. 73 They eat little flesh, unless it be human flesh, and your Magnificence must know that they are so inhuman as to transgress regarding this most bestial custom. For they eat all their enemies that they kill or take, as well females as males, with so much barbarity that it is a brutal thing to mention, how much more to see it, as has happened to me an infinite number of times. They were astonished at us when we told them that we did not eat our enemies. Your Magnificence may believe for certain that they have many other barbarous customs, for in these four voyages I have seen so many things different from our customs that I have written a book,74 to be called The Four Voyages, in which I have related the greater part of the things I saw, very clearly and to the best of my abilities. I have not yet published it, because my own affairs are in such a bad state that I have no taste for what I have written, yet I am much inclined to publish it. In this work will be seen all the events in detail, I therefore do not enlarge upon them here. For in the course of the said work we shall see many other special details; so this will suffice for what is general. In this beginning I did not see anything of much value in the land except some indications of gold. [12]I believe that this was because we did not know the language, and so we could not benefit by the resources of the land.

Cannibals in the New World 

We resolved to depart and to proceed onwards, coasting along the land; in which voyage we made many tacks, and had intercourse with many tribes. At the end of certain days we came to a port where we were in the greatest danger, and it pleased the Lord to save us. It was in this way. We went on shore in a port where we found a village built over a lake, like Venice. There were about forty-four large houses founded on very thick piles, and each had a drawbridge leading to the door. From one house there was a way to all the rest by drawbridges which led from house to house. The people of this little city showed signs that they were afraid of us, and suddenly they rose all at once. While looking at this wonder, we saw about twenty-two canoes coming over the sea, which are the sort of boats they use, hollowed out of a single tree. They came to our ships, as if to gaze with wonder at us and our clothes, but they kept at a distance. Things being so, we made signs to them to come to us, giving them assurances of friendship. Seeing that they did not come we went to them, but they did not wait for us. They went on shore, and made signs to us that we should wait, and that they would soon return. They went straight to a hill, and were not long before they came back, leading with them sixteen of their young girls. They got into the canoes and came to the ships, and in each ship they put four, and we were as much surprised at such a proceeding as your Magnificence will be. They were amongst our ships with the canoes, speaking with us. We looked upon this as a sign of friendship. Presently a number of people came swimming over the sea, and approached us without our feeling any suspicion whatever, having come from the houses. Then certain old women appeared at the doors of [13]the houses, uttering great cries and tearing their hair in sign of grief. This made us suspect something, and each man seized his arms. Suddenly the young girls who were on board jumped into the sea, and those in the canoes came nearer, and began to shoot with their bows and arrows. Those who were swimming had each brought a lance, concealed under the water as much as possible. As soon as we understood the treachery we not only defended ourselves from them, but also attacked them vigorously and sank many of their canoes with our ships. Thus we routed and slaughtered them, and all took to swimming, abandoning their canoes. Having thus suffered enough damage, they swam to the land. Nearly fifteen or twenty of them were killed, and many were wounded. Of our men five were wounded, and all escaped, thanks to God. We captured two girls and two men. We went to their houses and entered them, but only found two old women and one sick man. We took many of their things, but they were of little value. We would not burn their houses, because we felt compunctions of conscience. We returned to our ships with five prisoners, and put irons on the feet of each, except the girls. On the following night the two girls and one of the men escaped with great cunning. Next day we decided upon continuing our course onwards.

We sailed constantly along the coast, and came to another tribe, distant about 80 leagues from the one we had left, and very different both as regards language and customs. We came to an anchor, and went on shore in the boats, when we saw that a great number of people were on the beach, upwards of 4,000 souls. They did not wait for our landing, but took to flight, abandoning their things. We jumped on shore, and went along a road which led to the woods. At the distance of a cross-bow shot we found their huts, where they had made very large fires, and two were there cooking their food, and roasting [14]animals and fish of many sorts. Here we saw that they were roasting a certain animal like a serpent, except that it had no wings, and its appearance was so horrid that many of us wondered at its fierceness. We walked to their houses or sheds, and they had many of these serpents alive, fastened by their feet and with a cord round the snout, so that they could not open their mouths, as is done to pointers, 75 to prevent them from biting. Their aspect was so fierce that none of us dared to go near one, thinking they were poisonous. They are the size of a young goat, and a fathom and a half long. They have long and thick feet, armed with large claws, the skin hard and of various colours. The mouth and face are like those of a serpent. They have a crest like a saw, which extends from the nose to the end of the tail. We concluded that they were serpents and poisonous, yet they eat them. 76 We found that the natives made bread of small fishes, which they take from the sea, first boiling them, then pounding them into a paste, and roasting them in the cinders, and so they are eaten. We tried them, and found them good. They have so many other kinds of food, and a greater number of fruits and roots, that it would take long to describe them in detail. Seeing that the people did not come back, we determined not to touch any of their things, to give them more confidence. We also left many of our own things in their huts, that they might see them, and at night we returned to the ships. Next day, at dawn, we saw an immense crowd of people on the beach, so we went on shore. When they again showed fear we reassured them, and induced them to treat with us, giving them everything they asked for. When they became friendly [15]they told us that those were their habitations, and that they were come to fish. They asked us to come to their villages that they might receive us as friends. They showed such friendship because of the two men we had prisoners, who were their enemies. Seeing their importunity, and after a consultation, we decided that twenty-eight of our Christians, in good order, should go with them, with the firm intention to die if it should be necessary. When we had been there nearly three days we went with them into the interior. At a distance of three leagues from the beach we came to a village of few houses and many inhabitants, there not being more than nine habitations. Here we were received with so many barbarous ceremonies that the pen will not suffice to write them down. There were songs, dances, tears mingled with rejoicings, and plenty of food. We remained here for the night. Here they offered their wives to us, and we were unable to defend ourselves from them. We remained all night and half the next day. The multitude of people who came to see us was such that they could not be counted. The older men prayed that we would come with them to another village further in the interior, making signs that they would show us the greatest honour. So we agreed to go, and it cannot be expressed what great honour they showed us. We came to many villages, and were nine days on the journey, so that our Christians who remained on board became anxious about us. Being nearly eighteen leagues inland in a direct line, we determined to return to the ships. On the return journey the crowd was so great that came with us to the beach, both of women and men, that it was wonderful. If any of our people got tired on the way, they carried them in their nets very comfortably. In crossing the rivers, which are numerous and very large, they took us across by their contrivances so safely that there was no [16]danger whatever. Many of them came laden with the things they had given to us, which were their sleeping-nets, most of them richly worked, numerous parrots of various colours, many bows and arrows; while others carried burdens consisting of their provisions and animals. What greater wonder can I tell you than that they thought themselves fortunate when, in passing a river, they could carry us on their backs?

Having reached the shore, we went on board the ships. They made such a crowd to enter our ships in order to see them, that we were astonished. We took as many as we could in the boats, and took them to the ships, and so many came swimming that we were inclined to stop such a crowd from being on board, more than a thousand souls, all naked and without arms. They wondered at our arrangements and contrivances, and at the size of the ships. There happened a laughable thing, which was that we had occasion to fire off some of our artillery, and when the report was heard, the greater part of the natives on board jumped overboard from fear, and began to swim, like the frogs on the banks, which, when they are frightened, jump into the swamp. Such was the conduct of these people. Those who remained on board were so frightened that we were sorry we had done it, but we reassured them by saying that we frightened our enemies with those arms. Having amused themselves all day on board, we told them that they must go, because we wished to depart that night; and so they went away with much show of love and friendship, returning to the shore. Among this tribe, and in their land, I knew and saw so much of their customs and mode of life that I do not care to enlarge upon them here; for your Magnificence must know that in each of my voyages I have noted down the most remarkable things, and all is reduced into a volume in the geographical style, entitled the Four Voyages, in which work all things are [17]described in detail, but I have not yet sent out a copy, because it is necessary for me to revise it.

This land is very populous and full of people, with numerous rivers, but few animals. They are similar to ours, except the lions, ounces, stags, pigs, goats, and deer; and these still have some differences of form. They have neither horses nor mules, asses nor dogs, nor any kind of sheep, nor cattle. But they have many other animals all wild, and none of them serve for any domestic use, so that they cannot be counted. What shall we say of the birds, which are so many, and of so many kinds and colours of plumage that it is wonderful to see them? The land is very pleasant and fruitful, full of very large woods and forests, and it is always green, for the trees never shed their leaves. The fruits are so numerous that they cannot be enumerated, and all different from ours. This land is within the Torrid Zone, under the parallel which the Tropic of Cancer describes, where the Pole is 23° above the horizon, on the verge of the second climate. Many people came to see us, and were astonished at our appearance and the whiteness of our skins. They asked whence we came, and we gave them to understand that we came from heaven, and that we were travelling to see the world, and they believed it. In this land we put up a font of baptism, and an infinite number of people were baptised, and they called us, in their language, Carabi, which is as much as to say, "men of great wisdom."

We departed from this port. The province is called Parias, 77 and we navigated along the coast, always in sight of land, until we had run along it a distance of 870 leagues, always towards the North-West, 78 making many tacks and treating with many tribes. In many places we [18]discovered gold, though not in any great quantity, but we did much in discovering the land, and in ascertaining that there was gold. We had now been thirteen months on the voyage, 79 and the ships and gear were much worn, and the men tired. We resolved, after consultation, to beach the ships and heave them down, as they were making much water, and to caulk them afresh, before shaping a course for Spain. When we made this decision we were near the finest harbour in the world, which we entered with our ships. Here we found a great many people, who received us in a very friendly manner. On shore we made a bastion with our boats, and with casks and our guns, at which we all rejoiced. Here we lightened 80 and cleared our ships, and hauled them up, making all the repairs that were necessary, the people of the country giving us all manner of help, and regularly supplying us with provisions. For in that port we had little relish for our own, which we made fun of, for our provisions for the voyage were running short, and were bad.

We remained here thirty-seven days, and often went to their village, where they received us with great honour. When we wanted to resume our voyage, they made a complaint how, at certain times, a very cruel and hostile tribe came by way of the sea to their land, murdered many of them, subdued them, and took some prisoners, carrying them off to their own houses and land. They added that they were scarcely able to defend themselves, making signs that their enemies were people of an island at a distance of about 100 leagues out at sea. They said this so earnestly that we believed them; and we promised to [19]avenge their injuries, which gave them much pleasure. Many of them offered to go with us, but we did not wish to take them. We agreed that seven should accompany us, on condition that they went in their own canoe. For we did not want to be obliged to take them back to their land; and they were content. So we took leave of those people, leaving many friends among them.

Our ships having been repaired, we navigated for seven days across the sea, with the wind 81 between north-east and east, and at the end of the seven days we came upon the islands, which were numerous, some inhabited and others deserted. We anchored off one of them, where we saw many people, who called it Iti. 82 Having manned our boats with good men, and placed three rounds of the bombard in each, we pulled to the shore, where we found 400 men and many women, all naked. They were well made, and seemed good fighting men, for they were armed with bows and arrows, and lances. The greater part of them also had square shields, and they carried them so that they should not impede their using the bow. As we approached the shore in the boats, at the distance of a bowshot, they all rushed into the water to shoot their arrows, and to defend themselves from us they returned to the land. They all had their bodies painted with different colours, and were adorned with feathers. The interpreters told us that when they showed themselves plumed and painted, it is a sign that they intend to fight. They so persevered in defending the landing that we were obliged to use our [20]artillery. When they heard the report, and saw some of their own people fall dead, they all retreated inland. After holding a consultation, we resolved to land forty of our men, and await their attack. The men landed with their arms, and the natives came against us, and fought us for nearly an hour, 83 gaining little advantage, except that our cross-bow men and gunners killed some of the natives, while they wounded some of our people. They would not wait for the thrust of our spears or swords, but we pushed on with such vigour at last that we came within sword-thrust, and as they could not withstand our arms, they fled to the hills and woods, leaving us victorious on the field, with many of their dead and wounded. We did not continue the pursuit that day, because we were very tired. In returning to the ships, the seven men who came with us showed such delight that they could not contain themselves.

Next day we saw a great number of the people on shore, still with signs of war, sounding horns and various other instruments used by them for defiance, and all plumed and painted, so that it was a very strange thing to behold them. All the ships, therefore, consulted together, and it was concluded that these people desired hostility with us. It was then decided that we should do all in our power to make friends with them, and if they rejected our friendship we should treat them as enemies, and that we should make slaves of as many as we could take. Being armed as well as our means admitted, we returned to the shore. They did not oppose our landing, I believe from fear of the guns. Forty of our men landed in four detachments, each with a captain, and attacked them. After a long battle, many of them being killed, the rest were put to flight. We followed in pursuit until we came to a [21]village, having taken nearly 250 prisoners. 84 We burnt the village and returned to the ships with these 250 prisoners, leaving many killed and wounded. On our side no more than one was killed, and twenty-two were wounded, who all recovered. God be thanked! We prepared to depart, and the seven men, five of whom were wounded, took a canoe belonging to the island, and with seven prisoners that we gave them, four women and three men, they returned to their land with much joy, astonished at our power. We made sail for Spain with 222 prisoners, 85 our slaves, and arrived in the port of Cadiz on the 15th of October 1498, where we were well received, and where we sold our slaves. This is what befell me in this my first voyage, that was most worthy of note.


Vespucci, A., & Markham, C. R. (2011). First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. In The letters of Amerigo Vespucci ; and, other documents illustrative of his career (pp. 1–21). essay, Project Gutenberg.


Now that is a pretty awesome story right? An Epic voyage to some quote unquote uncivilized yet carefree Native Americans who eat the bodies of their enemies in a lush world full of vegetation and wildlife. And of course there a battles, that see the innocent Christian crew come under attack only to be overwhelmingly victorious, at times graceful to the defeated enemies and later on taking dozens and dozens into slavery to be sold in the markets in Europe, and inbetween baptizing untold numbers of these strange barbarous people.


It was an inspiring story of wonder and intrigue. But was it true? The consensus, dating all the way back to Vespucci’s own time period seems to be that the letter is a false account. 


The evidence is littered throughout the story. From things like not mentioning the name of a single of his shipmates, using words that that weren’t from the area he allegedly explored, and not to mention the implication that in such a short time, he actually understood the language of these foreign people in the New World. And Maps overseen by people very close to him and his family as early as 1511 not including any of his alleged discoveries. Not top mention no clear record of the Spanish Crown authorizing such an expedition.

A well known and respected historian named Las Casas who lived in the same era as Vespucci and some of the later explorers reached the conclusion that the account of first voyage was a fabrication. You can read more on the specific details by clicking the link to in the episode description!

Vespucci, A., & Markham, C. R. (2011). First Voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. In The letters of Amerigo Vespucci ; and, other documents illustrative of his career (pp. I-xliv). essay, Project Gutenberg.  

Perhaps all this evidence against the story of the voyage, is why Vespucci’s story caught on and became available seemingly everywhere except Spain where the story and the people involved would have all been based, could this have been by design?


So if the voyage was entirely or largely a fabrication then why did Amerigo’s name become the name of the New World?


In 1507, while Amerigo was still alive, A German Cartographer named Martin Waalsemuler used the feminine version of the name Amerigo, “America”, to name what is today South America, naming after its alleged discoverer Amerigo Vespucci. Some time later, based of these maps, the name was also transferred to the northern land mass that became known as North America. The maps become very popular and the name America stuck!

Waalsemuler's map

Vespucci did take other voyages that really happened and made real discoveries, and he did eventually become a “Master Navigator” for Spain. And in the context of America, Vespucci is still the one who asserted that it was in fact a New land mass and not the far edges of Asia which was the view held by Columbus. Vespucci did explore South America in these later voyages, he just didn’t do it as claimed in the letter, the timeline of which has Amerigo discovering Venezuela a full year before Christopher Columbus. 


So there you have it, some lore that quickly became a legend and became the name of two continents on planet Earth. Again, more details on this story as well as Vespucci’s other letters can be found by clicking the Link to found in the episode description.


That’s all for this episode, Cya Nex Time.