4th July: Independence Day

THE NAMING OF AMERICA

AMERICA, we learn as schoolchildren, was named in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, for his discovery of the mainland of the New World. The notion that America was named for Vespucci has long been universally accepted: however since the late 19th century conflicting ideas about the truth of the derivation have been set forth with profound cultural and political implications

Questions have been raised about the meaning of discovery itself because  neither Vespucci nor Columbus “discovered” America. They were preceded by the pre-historic Asian ancestors of Native Americans, who migrated across some ice-bridge in the Bering Straits or over the stepping stones of the Aleutian Islands. A black African discovery of America may also have taken place around 3,000 years ago, and influenced the development of Mayan, Aztec, and Inca civilizations. The records of Scandinavian expeditions to America are found in sagas

The 1497 voyage by John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), to the Labrador coast of Newfoundland constitutes  another discovery of the American mainland, which led to the theory that  New World was named after a Bristol-based Welshman, Richard Ameryk, This rich merchant was the chief investor in Cabot’s  second transatlantic voyage. It is believed that the name given to the newly found land by the Italian discoverer Cabot  was “Amerika,” in honor of the official from whom he received his money.

On his return to England the flamboyant Cabot, who dressed in silk, was celebrated as “the Great Admiral.” He had a reputation for his extravagance. He supposedly gave one of the islands he explored to a friend, another to his barber, and also promised some Italian friars that they could be bishops. If Cabot was  so free with his gifts to his poorer friends, it is easy to understand his wish to show gratitude to the King’s official, by conferring his name on “the new Isle” which, it was thought, lay off the coast of China — Cabot never realized that he had found a continent.

However, Columbus made a monumental discovery in showing Europe how to sail across the Atlantic;  and Vespucci told  Europe that the land Columbus had found was not Asia but a New World (and that a western route to Asia involved yet another ocean beyond it).

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