It was altogether appropriate that the first successful expedition of discovery into the New Hemisphere should have been under the guidance of a Genoese navigator in the service of the Spanish crown. Genoa was one of the first commercial cities of the Mediterranean; Spain was one of the most powerful and progressive among European monarchies. Columbus had the maritime skill and daring of his own race together with the financial backing of a nation which from its location had much to gain from western discoveries. The story of his thirty-three-day voyage to the new Indies, his reception by the natives, and his glowing accounts of the new lands are known to every American schoolboy; but never can it be better recounted than in the discoverer’s own words.〖The letter of Columbus to Luis de Sant Angel announcing his discovery, in Harvard Classics, xliii, 21-44.〗 It is true that the honor of having been the first to touch upon the shores of the New World has been claimed by others. Nearly four centuries before Columbus set sail from Palos, some Norse navigators under the leadership of Leif Ericson, son of Eric the Red, are said to have sailed from the Norse colony in Greenland and to have reached the coasts of Wineland the Good. Whether this Wineland was Labrador or Nova Scotia or New England is something upon which historians have never agreed; but the general drift of opinion at present is that Leif and his followers in all probability never came south of Labrador, if, indeed, they proceeded so far.〖The Voyages to Vinland, H. C., xliii, 5–20.〗 But in any event these Norse forays never led to any permanent colonization; the planting of a new nation was reserved to those who followed where Columbus led the way.

The return of Columbus with his news concerning the wealth and resources of Hispaniola made a profound impression upon the imagination of all Europe. The Spanish Court hastened to follow up its advantage by sending Columbus on further voyages in order that the entire fruits of the discovery might be monopolized. The navigators of other nations also bestirred themselves to get some share of the New World’s spoil. Among these was the Florentine sea captain Amerigo Vespucci, who made his way across the Atlantic in 1497, and on his return presented the geographical information which led the map makers of Europe to name the new continent after him.〖Amerigo Vespucci’s Account of his First Voyage, H. C., xliii, 28–44.〗 Likewise the Cabots, father and son, sailed from Bristol in the same year under the auspices of King Henry VIII, and by their explorations along the Labrador coast laid the basis of later English claims to great regions of North America.〖John Cabot’s Discovery of North America, H. C., xliii, 45-48.〗 France, for her part, sent Jacques Cartier on his errands of discovery and in due course established French claims to the valley of the St. Lawrence in this way.

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