Social Studies Weekly Age of Discovery

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Social Studies Weekly

Age of Discovery

In 1492, a Portuguese sailor named Christopher Columbus sailed three ships from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean. Spain’s King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I supported Columbus, who hoped to find a faster trade route between Europe and Asia. Though he never reached Asia, Columbus did sail straight into land that became known as the “New World,” at least to the Europeans. It wasn’t new to the people who already lived there, of course!

Seven months after Columbus first set sail from Spain, he returned triumphantly to report to the king and queen. He brought back both gold and captured Indians. The king and queen were very pleased to hear of Columbus’ adventures and discoveries. Secretly the two had believed there was little chance the Portuguese explorer would ever return. Now they hoped to use the information Columbus brought back to make Spain richer and more powerful. Spanish leaders planned further explorations of the New World (the Western hemisphere, including North and South America). They sent Columbus and other explorers (people who travel to gain geographical or scientific information) back across the ocean. The explorers’ goals were not only to explore the new lands, but also to set up settlements in the name of Spain and convert the native people to Christianity.

The explorers made their way across the ocean. They found gold and excellent land to settle. Soon, talk of the New World reached other European powers. France and England sent adventurers to explore North America in search of riches. Explorers claimed land for the royalty of their countries. These countries became richer and more powerful with each piece of land the explorers claimed, and they established colonies in the New World. Colonies are areas ruled by another country and not by its own people. European explorers also conquered (took over) the native people of the New World and introduced Christianity to them.

Columbus’ explorations marked a turning point in history. People from very different parts of the world began to communicate and trade with each other. Many European countries became rich and powerful after taking over the land and people of North America. The kings and queens of Europe invested great amounts of money in and gathered adventurers to further explore and conquer the New World. The Age of Discovery had begun!

Is Columbus a Villain or Hero?

In

fourteen

hundred

and

ninety

two,

Columbus

sailed

the

ocean

blue

.”

Most children memorize this poem by first grade. For more than two hundred years, people in the United States have honored Christopher Columbus during October. In 1937, lawmakers named Columbus Day a federal holiday. But not everyone believes that Christopher Columbus may be a hero to celebrate.

Columbus thought he landed in the East Indies, but he was wrong. He was in what we know as the Bahamas. Later he explored Cuba and the area we now call Haiti. Historians say that Columbus did not treat the natives there very well, and evidence shows that Columbus forced some of them into slavery. Columbus and his men even killed some native people who opposed his actions. Historians also believe that Europeans brought new diseases that the people of North America had no immunity against.

Other people believe Columbus is a real hero. After all, he helped open up trade routes and begin the Age of Exploration. So the question remains, is Christopher Columbus a hero, a villain or a little of both? What do you think?

The success of Columbus' first voyage quickly caught the attention of other explorers. Soon, more Europeans engaged in far-reaching exploration. As they traveled the world, they often conquered the native people they met on their journeys. The explorers mapped the lands and established new trade routes. They traded gold, silver and spices. Most importantly, these early explorers led the way for several European countries to colonize, or settle, the New World. These colonies were the groups of people who settled far from home, but they maintained ties (close bonds) with their home countries.

Age of Discovery

England vs. France vs. Spain

When the Age of Discovery began, the great powers of Europe included England, Spain and France. All three realized that to be the richest, most powerful nation in the world they would have to explore and conquer as much of the New World as possible.

England's Chance

England's King Henry VII gave Italian-born explorer Giovanni Caboto, later called John Cabot, permission to explore unknown land for England in 1497. Cabot sailed north of Columbus' route across the Atlantic Ocean. He claimed land in present day Canada and explored the United States. However, Cabot believed he was in Asia. His ship sank before he could return home and Cabot never knew what he had really discovered.

Spain Sends More Explorers

Spain also wanted to be the great power in the world. The leaders realized they needed to continue to explore and conquer. People heard tales of New World cities made entirely of gold. Spaniard Hernan Cortes was determined to find gold and silver in the New World. He sailed to present day Mexico and conquered the Aztec people who lived there in 1521.

There were also stories of magical fountains with water that could turn old people young again. At about the same time Cortes was conquering the Aztec, another Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, set off from Puerto Rico. Some people believe he hoped to find the magic water, the "fountain of youth." He landed in present day Florida. Of course there was no fountain of youth to be found, but de Leon claimed the land of Florida for Spain.

France Takes a Turn

By 1521, Spain found a new route to Asia by sailing around the tip of South America. By that time, many knew that North America lay between Asia and Europe. King Francis I of France believed, though, that Asia was still very close to North America's west coast. He wanted to find a shortcut - a water passage across North America. In 1534, King Francis sent sailor Jacques Cartier to find the shortcut, but there was no such water passage for anyone to find. Cartier instead discovered Newfoundland in Canada. He also claimed land for France around a river he named Saint Lawrence. However, early French settlements there failed. It would be nearly six decades before France would have a permanent settlement in North America.

The Oldest Permanent Settlement in the United States

When Ponce de Leon landed on the coast of Florida in 1513, its beauty overwhelmed him. There were palm trees, beautiful flowers and exotic birds. The day he landed was the Spanish Feast of Flowers, or Pascua Florida, so Ponce de Leon named the new land Florida. Both Spain and France made several early attempts to colonize Florida, but these attempts were unsuccessful.

In 1564, word reached Spanish leaders that the French were once again exploring and colonizing the western coastal land. This news angered the Spanish leaders. They wanted a plan to keep France from claiming any more land and riches. They decided to send Pedro Menendez de Aviles to Florida to establish a base from which to attack the French.

On September 8, 1565, de Aviles and his men organized their territory. He named the new colony St. Augustine. De Aviles and his group had two goals. They were to continue to explore and claim land for their country because Spain wanted to continue to find gold and other riches. The men were there also to protect the land from other countries, especially France, and defend the trade route. They had orders to destroy Fort Caroline, which the French controlled. In addition, the Spanish government wanted control of the American Indians in the area.

Within a year, de Aviles and his men had forced the French out of the area. They had also taken over the council house of the Timucua tribe and started using it as a fort.

This makes St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest permanently settled city in the United States. This historic city is a reminder of the importance of European colonization in the New World.


Mapping the Age of Discovery

Before Columbus went on his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, no one knew much about the world. Mapmakers did not know about the landmasses between Europe and Asia. The explorations that began the Age of Discovery changed world maps for good. European mapmakers got new information about the world from explorers and sailors, and they were able to fill in the blank spaces on their maps.

Maps are plane, or flat, representations of the shapes of landmasses and bodies of water. Today’s many different types of maps include features to help people use them. A grid system with lines of longitude and latitude makes locating specific information on a map easier. Each map also has a scale to show distances and a compass rose to show direction.

Even today, maps constantly change. Almost every year cartographers, or mapmakers, change information on world maps because of new information they discover.

Worth Their Weight in Gold

Why did early explorers want to find a quicker trade route to Asia? One reason was to bring spices to consumers more quickly. Europeans could not grow most spices in their own countries.

Spices we use often like salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves and ginger were hard to find and very valuable back then. So, why were these spices so important?

Well, in Columbus' time, there were no refrigerators. Food often spoiled before people could eat it. Spices came to the rescue! Spices like salt helped dry and preserve meats. Other spices hid the flavor or not so fresh food. People also used spices to make medicines, perfume and incense, which produces a fragrant odor when burned.

Valuable spices were the same as money in some places. People often paid for housing or animals with spices. During the Middle Ages, some said a sack of pepper was worth a man's life. And that's nothing to sneeze at!

Clarity of Expression: Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson was an English sea captain and explorer who started off as a failure. He sailed on two voyages for England to find a northeast water route to the rich spice trade in Asia. But both times the icy northern seas blocked his way. He had to return home defeated.

Sounds like the end of his career, right? It wasn't. Hudson next convinced the Dutch East India Company to hire him for exactly the same expedition. In 1609 Hudson and his crew sailed west across the Atlantic. He reached the New World, landing on the island we know today as Manhattan. He sailed inland up a wide river and explored the surrounding valley.

It wasn't a passage to Asia. But Hudson's explorations allowed the Dutch to claim the land and build a fur trading post there in 1614, before the Pilgrims arrived. A Dutch settlement called New Netherland soon followed.

Unfortunately, Hudson's last voyage ended in mutiny. He refused his crew's demands to return home, so the sailors took over the ship, setting Hudson adrift in a small boat. His fate is unknown, but his legacy is Hudson Bay, Hudson River, Hudson Valley and the Dutch settlement that became New York City.

Henry Hudson must have had excellent clarity of expression. He had to be able to explain clearly to the Dutch that his experience and determination made him the best man for the job, even though he was an Englishman and not a Dutchman.

Think about a time that you wanted to convince your parents or teachers to let you try something new. Did you beg and plead? Or did you give them a clear explanation of your reasons? Which way do you think works better?

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