Amerigo Vespucci, also known as Americo Vespucio, was an explorer and cartographer hailing from Italy; best known for his association with the continents of America. You are likely to come across several sources which suggest that these continents were named after the Italian explorer after he proved to the world that the land on which Christopher Columbus set his foot (i.e. 'New World') was actually a newly discovered continent, and not Asia as Columbus believed it to be.
When Martin Waldseemuller (a German geographer) and Matthias Ringmann (a school teacher by profession) decided to rewrite Vespucci's travel accounts into a proper treatise they stated that the fourth quarter of the world should be called 'America' or the 'Land of Amerigo' as a tribute to this Italian explorer who was believed to have discovered it. There do exist several historians who refute these claims, but that is not at all surprising considering the fact that historical events have been always subject to distortion and debate.
Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512)
Amerigo Vespucci though, seems to be a bit more prone to such controversial debates with some historians going to the extent of questioning the credibility of his voyages (especially the fourth voyage) mainly due to the lack of records about them.
Furthermore historians are also divided over the number of voyages undertaken by Vespucci, with some suggesting that he only went on three voyages and others claiming that he did go on the fourth voyage though it was not documented properly. The timeline given below will shed some light on the life of this Italian explorer who has his share of fame and controversies.
- 1454: Amerigo Vespucci was born on 9th March, 1454, in Florence city of Italy, to Ser Nastagio (a notary by profession) and Elisabetta. (Vespucci's date of birth is again a subject of debate with some sources suggesting that he was born on 9th March, 1451.)
- 1478: Vespucci started working with Guido Antonio Vespucci at the embassy in Paris. Guido was his relative, and an ambassador of Florence to King Louis XI of France.
- 1483: Vespucci was appointed as a steward in the mansion of Lorenzo de Medici, an Italian statesman and the then ruler of Florence.
- 1491: He was sent to Seville, Spain to work for de Medici family. It was here that he was introduced to the world of voyages and exploration.
- 1497: He set out on his maiden voyage on 10th May, 1497, after he was granted permission by King Ferdinand of Spain, to undertake the voyage of discovery. Though, not much of information about this voyage is known, it is said that he reached the coast of America which was back then assumed to be Asia. Vespucci returned to Spain on 15th October, 1498.
- 1499: On 16th May, 1499, Amerigo Vespucci embarked on his second voyage from Cape Verde. He was accompanied by Alonzo de Ojeda as the fleet commander. During this voyage they ventured south, beyond the equator to the present day Guyana and discovered St. Augustine and the Amazon river.
- 1500: Vespucci returned from his second voyage in September 1500, and submitted his accounts to the de Medici family.
- 1501: He set sail for his third voyage from Lisbon on 14th May, 1501. This voyage was commissioned for the service of Portugal and was led by the Portuguese explorer, Goncalo Coelho.
- 1502: He returned from his third voyage, landing on the Lisbon coast in Portugal.
- 1503: Though the claim of fourth voyage is disputed, it is believed that Vespucci discovered Bahia and the Island of South Georgia on this voyage. He started a trading agency for Brazilian wood at Cape Frio, located exactly on the Tropic of Cancer.
- 1504: He returned to Lisbon, thus completing his fourth voyage.
- 1505: He acquired the citizenship of Spain, and married Maria Cerezo.
- 1507: It was the first time the word 'America' was used to represent the New World on a map. This map was printed by the renowned German map maker Martin Waldseemuller.
- 1508: Vespucci was made the Piloto mayor, or the Chief Pilot, of Spain.
- 1512: Amerigo Vespucci died on 22nd February, 1512, in Seville, Spain, after contracting malaria.
You are also likely to come across a few sources which claim that Amerigo completed the fifth and sixth voyage of his career somewhere between 1505 and 1507, but these claims are even more disputed than the claim of fourth voyage. In 1538, Gerardus Mercator, created a world map which became the first map to include North and South America, making the name America eonian.
A strong debate rages over the account of Vespucci's voyages - especially the fourth voyage and thereon - with no concrete evidence to support the claims related to them. Some scholars refute these claims, and further allege that Vespucci came out with them only to overshadow the achievements of Christopher Columbus. (Columbus however, never accused Vespucci of attempting to overshadow his achievements.) Though Amerigo Vespucci died centuries ago, his claims still seem to ruffle the calm history of America every once in a while.