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Giovanni da Verrazzano

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Giovanni da Verrazzano
Val di Greve, Republic of Florence (present-day Italy)
Died1528 (aged 42–43)
Other namesJanus Verrazanus, Jehan de Verrazane
Parent(s)Piero Andrea di Bernardo da Verrazzano (Father), Fiammetta Cappelli (Mother)

Giovanni da Verrazzano (/ˌvɛrəˈzɑːn, -ətˈsɑː-/ VERR-ə-ZAH-noh, -⁠ət-SAH-,[1][2][3][4] Italian: [dʒoˈvanni da (v)verratˈtsaːno]; often misspelled Verrazano in English;[5] 1485–1528) was an Italian[6] (Florentine) explorer[7][8] of North America, in the service of King Francis I of France.

He is renowned as the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America between Florida and New Brunswick in 1524, including New York Bay and Narragansett Bay.[9]

Early life[edit]

Verrazzano was born in Val di Greve, south of Florence, the capital and the main city of the Republic of Florence,[10][11][12][13][14] the son of Piero Andrea di Bernardo da Verrazzano and Fiammetta Cappelli. It is generally claimed that he was born in the Castello di Verrazzano, hence its birth indicator (similar to Leonardo da Vinci).

Some alternative theories have been elaborated; for example, certain French scholars assume that Verrazzano was born in Lyon, France, the son of Alessandro di Bartolommeo da Verrazano and Giovanna Guadagni.[15][16]

"Whatever the case," writes Ronald S. Love, "Verrazzano always considered himself to be Florentine,"[17] and he was considered a Florentine by his contemporaries as well.[18]

He signed documents employing a Latin version of his name, "Janus Verrazanus", and he called himself "Jehan de Verrazane" in his will dated 11 May 1526 in Rouen, France (preserved at the Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime).[19]

In contrast to his detailed account of his voyages to North America, little is known about his personal life. After 1506, he settled in the port of Dieppe, Kingdom of France, where he began his career as a navigator.[20]

He embarked for the American coast probably in 1508 in the company of captain Thomas Aubert, on the ship La Pensée, equipped by the owner, Jean Ango.[20] He explored the region of Newfoundland, possibly during a fishing trip, and possibly the St. Lawrence River in Canada; on other occasions, he made numerous voyages to the eastern Mediterranean.[21][22]

1522–24 voyage to North America[edit]

Verrazzano's voyage in 1524
La Dauphine (model) sailed by Verrazzano in 1524

In September 1522, the surviving members of the Magellan expedition returned to Spain, having circumnavigated the globe. Competition in trade was becoming urgent, especially with Portugal.

French merchants and financiers urged King Francis I of France to establish new trade routes. In 1523, the king asked Verrazzano to explore on France's behalf an area between Florida and Newfoundland, intending to find a sea route to the Pacific Ocean.

Within months, four ships set sail due west for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, but a violent storm and rough seas caused the loss of two ships. The remaining two damaged ships, La Dauphine and La Normande, were forced to return to Brittany.[23]

Repairs were completed in the final weeks of 1523, and the ships set sail again. This time, the ships headed south toward calmer waters under hostile Spanish and Portuguese control.

After a stop in Madeira, complications forced La Normande back to home port, but Verrazzano's ship La Dauphine departed on January 17, 1524, piloted by Antoine de Conflans, and headed once more for the North American continent.[24]

It neared the area of Cape Fear on March 21, 1524[25] and, after a short stay, reached the Pamlico Sound lagoon of modern North Carolina. In a letter to Francis I, described by historians as the Cèllere Codex, Verrazzano wrote that he was convinced that the Sound was the beginning of the Pacific Ocean from which access could be gained to China.[26][27]

Continuing to explore the coast further northwards, Verrazzano and his crew came into contact with Native Americans living on the coast. However, he did not notice the entrances to Chesapeake Bay or the mouth of the Delaware River.[28]

In New York Bay, he encountered the Lenape in about 30 Lenape canoes and observed what he deemed to be a large lake, really the entrance to the Hudson River. He then sailed along Long Island and entered Narragansett Bay, where he received a delegation of Wampanoag and Narragansett people.

The words "Norman villa" are found on the 1527 map by Visconte Maggiolo identifying the site. The historian Samuel Eliot Morison writes that "this occurs at Angouleme (New York) rather than Refugio (Newport). It was probably intended to compliment one of Verrazzano's noble friends. There are several places called 'Normanville' in Normandy, France. The main one is located near Fécamp and another important one near Évreux, which would naturally be it. West of it, conjecturally on the Delaware or New Jersey coast, is a Longa Villa, which Verrazzano certainly named after François d'Orléans, duc de Longueville."[28] He stayed there for two weeks and then moved northwards.[29]

He discovered Cape Cod Bay, his claim being proved by a map of 1529 that clearly outlined Cape Cod.[29] He named the cape after a general, calling it Pallavicino.[30] He then followed the coast up to modern Maine, southeastern Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, and he then returned to France by 8 July 1524. Verrazzano named the region that he explored Francesca in honour of the French king, but his brother's map labelled it Nova Gallia (New France).[31] Stefaan Missinne, discoverer of the 1504 Globe da Vinci, has critically analyzed the contents of Verrazzano's travel diary. In the process, he has uncovered important, hitherto unknown iconographic aspects that shed new light on Verrazzano and his connection to Leonardo da Vinci evidence.[32][clarification needed]

Later life and death[edit]

Coat of arms of Giovanni da Verrazzano

Verrazzano arranged a second voyage, with financial support from Jean Ango and Philippe de Chabot, which departed from Dieppe with four ships early in 1527. One ship was separated from the others in a gale near the Cape Verde Islands. Still, Verrazzano reached the coast of Brazil with two ships and harvested a cargo of brazilwood before returning to Dieppe in September. The third ship returned later, also with a cargo of brazilwood.[33]

The partial success did not find the desired passage to the Pacific Ocean, but it inspired Verrazzano's final voyage, which left Dieppe in early 1528.[34]

There are conflicting accounts of Verrazzano's demise. In one version, during his third voyage to North America in 1528, after he had explored Florida, the Bahamas, and the Lesser Antilles, Verrazzano anchored out to sea and rowed ashore, probably on the island of Guadeloupe. He was allegedly killed and eaten by the native Caribs.[35] The fleet of two or three ships was anchored out of gunshot range, and no one could respond in time.[36] However, older historical accounts suggest that Verrazzano was the same person as the corsair Jean Fleury, who was executed for piracy by the Spanish at Puerto del Pico, Spain.[37][38]


1527 map by Visconte Maggiolo showing the east coast of North America with "Tera Florida" at top right and "Lavoradore" (Labrador) at bottom left. The information supposedly[39] came from Giovanni da Verrazzano's voyage in 1524. (Biblioteca Ambrosiana Milan.)

The geographic information derived from this voyage significantly influenced sixteenth-century cartographers.[40] Despite his discoveries, Verrazzano's reputation did not proliferate as much as other explorers of that era. For example, Verrazzano gave the European name Francesca to the new land that he had seen, in accordance with contemporary practices, after the French king in whose name he sailed. That and other names he bestowed on features he discovered have not survived. He had the misfortune of making significant discoveries in the same three years (1519 to 1521) that the dramatic Conquest of the Aztec Empire and Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the world occurred. Magellan did not complete his voyage, but his publicist Antonio Pigafetta did so, and Spanish publicity outweighed the news of the French voyage.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a great debate in the United States about the authenticity of the letters that he wrote to Francis I to describe the geography, flora, fauna, and native population of the east coast of North America.[41] Others thought that they were authentic, almost universally the current opinion,[42] particularly after the discovery of a letter signed by Francis I, which referred to Verrazzano's letter.[43]

Verrazzano's reputation was particularly obscure in New York City, where the 1609 voyage of Henry Hudson on behalf of the Dutch Republic came to be regarded as the de facto start of European exploration of New York. It was only by a great effort in the 1950s and 1960s that Verrazzano's name and reputation were re-established as the European discoverer of the harbour, during an effort to name the newly built Narrows bridge after him.[44]

South face of Verrazzano's monument in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware


Statue in Battery Park, Manhattan by Ettore Ximenes (1909)
Verrazzano's statue in the town of Greve in Chianti, Italy

In Commemoration of
Voyage to
erected by the
Delaware Commission on
Italian Heritage and Culture

The monument further states on its east face:

A native of Val Di Greve in the Tuscany region of Italy, he studied navigation as a young man and became a master mariner. He was engaged by the King of France to lead a voyage to North America in 1524. The purpose of Verrazzano's journey was to learn more about the continent. Traveling in a small ship known as the Dauphine, he explored coastal areas from the present-day State of North Carolina to Canada, observing the natural abundance of the land and the vibrant culture of its native peoples. His voyage is the earliest documented European exploration of this part of the Atlantic Coast.

This monument rests upon stone from Castello di Verrazzano, the explorer's ancestral home.[52]


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  10. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1971). The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 283. ISBN 0-19-215941-0.
  11. ^ Giovanni Da Verrazzano, "Life" – Centro Studi Da Verrazzano. Archived 2012-01-15 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Henry C. Murphy, The Voyage of The Verrazzano, Kessinger Publishing, 2004, p. 90. – Google Books
  13. ^ Dale Anderson et al., Explorers and Exploration, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2005, p. 765: "Giovanni da Verrazzano was born into a wealthy family in the Castle of Verrazzano, on a hilltop overlooking the Greve valley, a wine-producing area thirty miles south of Florence, in central Italy." – Google Books
  14. ^ "Verrazano, Giovanni da" entry in David Buisseret, The Oxford Companion to World Exploration, vol. 2, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 332: "Thirty miles south of Florence, in the Tuscan town of Greve, explorer Giovanni da Verrazano (sometimes spelt Verrazzano) was born." – Google Books
  15. ^ Habert, Jacques (1964). La vie et les voyages de Jean de Verrazane. Montréal & Ottawa: Cercle du livre de France. p. 182.
  16. ^ Boucher, Alain (2006). Jean de Verrazane : un lyonnais découvre le site de New-York. Lyon: University Claude Bernard Lyon-1.
  17. ^ Ronald S. Love, [Maritime exploration in the age of discovery, 1415–1800, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, p. 133: "Giovanni da Verrazano was probably born to an aristocratic family from Greve in Tuscany, Italy, though he might also have been born to Italian parents living in Lyon, France. Whatever the case, Verrazano always considered himself to be Florentine". – Google Books
  18. ^ Richard Di Giacomo, The New Man and the New World: The Influence of Renaissance Humanism on the Explorers of the Italian Era of Discovery [Perfect Paperback], Magnifico Publications, 2002: "he was considered a Florentine by his contemporaries, and his association with the Florentine colony of merchants and bankers living in Lyons proved to be of great benefit to his career as an explorer." – Google Books
  19. ^ Ballesteros-Gaibrois, Manuel (1968). La Découverte de l'Amérique. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin. p. 51. ISBN 978-2-7116-0172-1.
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  23. ^ Marcel Trudel, The Beginnings of New France 1524–1663 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1973), p. 4.
  24. ^ Shaw, Edward Richard (1900). Discoverers and Explorers. American Book Company. p. 103. ISBN 1-4353-8990-5. Verrazzano january 17.
  25. ^ Verrazano's Voyage Along the Atlantic Coast of North America, 1524, translation of letters by Giovanni da Verrazzano (University of the State of New York, 1916) p.6 ("The XXIIII day of February we suffered a tempest as severe as ever a man who has navigated suffered... In XXV more days we asailed more than 400 leagues where there appeared to us a new land.")
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  31. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1971). The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 323. ISBN 0-19-215941-0.
  32. ^ Stefaan Missinne: Leonardo da Vinci and Verrazzano's Royal Discovery of New York (1524–2024): Codex Cèllere Reassessed, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2024.ISBN: 1-0364-0017-4
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Further reading[edit]

  • Codignola, Luca (1999). "Another Look at Verrazzano's Voyage, 1524". Acadiensis. 29 (1): 29–42. ISSN 0044-5851. JSTOR 30303228.
  • Masini, Giancarlo; Gori, Iacopo (1999). How Florence Invented America, New York, Marsilio Publishers.
  • Castelnovi Michele (2005), Luoghi e tempi di un errore cartografico: l’istmo di Verrazzano (1524–1593), in Luoghi e tempo nella cartografia, Atti del Convegno nazionale dell’Associazione Italiana di Cartografia Trieste aprile 2005, a cura di C. Donato, in “Bollettino dell’Associazione Italiana di Cartografia”, nn. 123–124, Trieste, 2005, pp. 295–306.

External links[edit]