Amerigo Vespucci was an Italian explorer who made at least two voyages to the New World and was the first to recognize the Americas as distinct continents and not part of Asia. He is most famous for being the person on whose name the Americas were named. Know about the life, voyages, contributions and achievements of Amerigo Vespucci through these 10 interesting facts.

 

#1 He was the third of four sons of a Florentine notary

Amerigo Vespucci portrait
Portrait of Amerigo Vespucci as a child

Born on March 9, 1454 (or 1451) in Florence, Italy, Amerigo Vespucci was the son of Ser Nastagio, a notary, and his wife Lisabetta Mini. He had two elder brothers named Antonio and Gerolamo; and a younger brother named Bernardo. Amerigo was educated by his uncle Giorgio Antonio. The Vespucci family were friends with the famous Italian family of Medici, who ruled over Italy for more than 300 years.

#2 Vespucci met and conversed with Columbus in 1496

When Amerigo was in his early 20s, one of his uncles, Guido Antonio, was sent by the Medici family to be their spokesman to King Louis XI of France, and Amerigo accompanied him. Vespucci then worked for the Medicis, first as a banker and later as a supervisor of their ship-outfitting business, which operated in Seville, Spain. Through his work in Spain Vespucci learned about exploration, a field which was on the rise since the advent of the Age of Discovery in early 15th century. His business also led to his meeting with Christopher Columbus in 1496.

#3 He made at least two voyages to the New World between 1497 and 1504

By late 1490s, when Vespucci was in his 40s, he decided to leave his struggling business behind and pursue exploration. There is controversy over the dates and number of voyages he made due to the existence of two different series of documents. While one puts it at 2, the other claims that he made 4 voyages. Most historians consider that Vespucci made only two voyages as they have serious doubts over the authenticity of the other document. So between 1497 and 1504, Vespucci undertook at least 2 voyages to the New World.

Vespucci 4 voyages route
The route of the 4 claimed voyages of Vespucci

 

#4 It is believed that he was the first to discover the mouth of the Amazon River

The first certainly authentic voyage of Vespucci was completed between May 1499 and June 1500. He was part of an expedition of four ships sent from Spain under the command of Alonso de Ojeda. After reaching the coast of what is now Guyana, they divided forces. Vespucci turned south and is believed to have discovered the mouth of the Amazon River. He probably went as far as Cape St. Augustine. On the way back he reached Trinidad, sighted the mouth of the Orinoco River, and then made for Haiti.

Amazon river map
Map of the amazon river

 

Amerigo Vespucci Statue in Florence
Statue of Amerigo Vespucci in Florence, Italy

#5 He went into service of Portugal after Spain rejected his expedition plan

Vespucci thought he had hit extreme eastern part of Asia during his first voyage. On his return to Spain he set about preparing for a new expedition with the aim of reaching the Indian Ocean and what now is the Bay of Bengal and Sri Lanka. However the Spanish government did not entertain his proposal. Due to this at the end of 1500, Vespucci went into the service of Portugal.

#6 Vespucci’s 1501-1502 Voyage was his most successful

Vespucci’s last certain expedition set of from Lisbon in Portugal on May 13, 1501. Led by Gonçalo Coelho, it proved to be his most successful voyage for which he is most known. The fleet sailed first to Cape Verde. It then sailed along the coast of South America from Cape Sao Roque to Patagonia, discovering present-day Rio de Janeiro and Rio de la Plata along the way. The return route of the fleet is not known. It reached Lisbon back in July, 1502.

 

#7 Amerigo Vespucci was the first to recognize Americas as distinct continents

During his voyage of 1501-1502, Amerigo Vespucci became convinced that the place he visited was an entirely separate continent from Asia as it was much larger than previously thought and different to what Asia had been described. He wrote a letter to his friend and former patron Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de’ Medici in 1503 describing his findings. It was published soon under the title Mundus Novus (“New World”), a term first coined by Vespucci and by which the Americas became known.

Allegory of the New World
Allegory of the New World – Amerigo Vespucci awakens the sleeping Americas

 

#8 The new continent America was named after Amerigo Vespucci

Vespucci’s voyage of 1501-1502 was of fundamental importance in the history of geographic discovery as scholars became convinced that the discovered lands were not part of Asia as previously conjectured from Columbus’ voyages, but a New World. In 1507, Martin Waldseemuller, a German cartographer, produced a world map using the information from Columbus and Vespucci’s travels. He named the new continent America using the Latinized form of Vespucci’s first name Americus and taking the feminized version America. This was the first use of the name America.

1507 World Map
Universalis Cosmographia, Waldseemuller’s 1507 world map which was the first to show the Americas separate from Asia

 

#9 He held the prestigious position of Pilot Major of Spain

King Ferdinand II of Aragon
King Ferdinand II of Aragon

In 1505, Vespucci became a naturalized citizen of Spain. On March 22, 1508, King Ferdinand made Vespucci Pilot Major (chief navigator) of Spain at a huge salary. He was commissioned to set up a school of navigation to standardize and modernize navigation techniques. He worked at this post until his death. On February 22, 1512 Vespucci died of malaria at his home in Seville, Spain and was buried at Vespucci family burial place in Florence, Italy. His widow Maria Cerezo was given a lifetime pension of 10,000 marvedis per annum.

#10 Vespucci has been blamed for usurping the credit of others

The reputation of Amerigo Vespucci has seen several highs and lows. Historians have blamed him for stealing the credit of others, mainly Christopher Columbus. Serious doubts over the authenticity of letters which magnify his accomplishments have further damaged his reputation. However, many scholars now believe that these letters were not written by Vespucci. Whatever might be the case, Amerigo Vespucci remains a pioneer of Atlantic exploration, an important figure in the Age of Discovery and his travel literature regarding the New World was instrumental in furthering geographic discovery.

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