Example Of My Intention On This Voyage Was To Reach Cathay And The Critical Thinking
Giovanni da Verrazano letter to Francis, King of France, July 8th, 1524
In his letter to Francis, the King of France, Giovanni da Verrazano seems to be offering both a justification for the French sponsorship of his expedition and a sort of entertaining travelogue. When the Dauphine set sail in 1524, it was the age of exploration and da Verrazano’s storytelling is vivid and exciting. He seems to have a firm grasp of the geography of the new world, even though it refutes the beliefs of “the ancients.” There is also strong anthropological and sociological elements to the letter, focusing on the customs and appearance of the natives encountered, detailing everything from skin color to religious customs. At one point de Verranzano apologizes that he “could not learn the details of the life and customs of these people because of the short time we spent on land.” He also describes the land and flora in detail. The King must have been very interested in all aspects of the expedition, and was hungry for information about the new world. Periodically, de Verranzano would send his men ashore to explore and take notes for his reports. The societies and people involved in the formation of these expeditions were curious about everything and anything to do with the new world.
Like Columbus, the goal of the expedition was to reach Asia, in this case China. However, da Verranzano realizes he reached a new continent that was probably not connected to Europe or Africa.
extreme eastern coast of Asia, but I did not expect to find
such an obstacle of new land as I have found; and if for some
reason I did expect to find it, I estimated there would be some
strait to get through to the Eastern Ocean.
He estimates the new world to be bigger than Europe and Africa, and maybe
even Asia. It is clear da Verranzano was a real explorer, and something of a geographer as well, contributing to a more complete global mapping of the world. He informs the King that the area he explored is very large, and much bigger than anyone had anticipated:
In this way we find that the extension of the land is much
greater than the ancients believed, a contrary to the
Mathematicians who considered that there was less land
than water, have proven it by experience to be the reverse.
This was brave talk, and a radical new vision of the world, suggesting that the “ancients”, like Aristotle, were wrong. This was the beginning of a new era, a new global mapping of the world. This would contribute to other Renaissance ideas, and a new world-view that challenged pre-existing dogma about religion, cosmology and geography. It also opened the door for colonization and empire. The world was big, the land was fertile, the natives generally friendly (or at least non-threatening) and so the New World was ripe for the taking.
However, da Verranzano knew he would need further financial support for future expeditions. He tells the French King that the world needs more exploring to figure out the puzzle and appeals for more support: “I hope that with Your Majesty’s help we shall have more certain knowledge of this.” The letter is cleverly written because it was written to convince King Francis that his money was well spent, and makes the exploration seem successful, even though it failed to reach China. It was also an appeal to French pride, and to human knowledge during the age of science and reason. Furthermore, it is a interesting precursor to the ideology that would instigate the colonial period, and shows that what is now North America was an intriguing land for European rulers like Francis.
However, da Verranzano does not seem like a bloodthirsty Conquistador or an enterprising Dutch of English marketer. He seems like to like the natives, and his report sounds more like a National Geographic special than an explorer looing for land to plunder or natives to enslave. As an explorer, da Verranzano seems much more interested in “cosmology” or the mapping of Earth, and the anthropological study of natives than in looking for gold, slaves, or the fountain of youth. He appreciates the native women because they are “shapely and beautiful; very gracious, of attractive
manner and pleasant appearance.” These are not savages, but interesting new people to
experience. Again, this may be to make his travelogue more entertaining, but the reader
gets the genuine impression that da Verranzano likes these people. In what is now Rhode Island, he and his men spent two weeks interacting with the natives. His fascination, respect and appreciation for natives may help explain why he may have been eaten by cannibals. In his letter, he does describe on group of natives who were a little crude, but he does not seem very concerned when they attack his men with bows and arrows.
He does mention that they “did not find anything of great value in this land, except for the vast forests and some hills which could contain some metal: for we saw many natives with "paternostri" beads of copper in their ears.” This is an indication that his mission did involve surveying the explored areas for potential exploitable resources. These expeditions required a great deal of resources and the King wanted a return on his investment in the form of a trade route to China. In his short letter, da Verranzano does not dwell on the fact that there was no route to China, instead he focuses on the positive aspects of his expedition. The French could legitimately lay claim to portions of North America.
Some of the questions the letter raised in my mind involved da Verranzano. Why is he not as famous as Columbus or Magellan or even Cabot? He was the first European to pilot a great deal of the American eastern seaboard, including Manhattan. For all his contributions to exploration, particularly geography and mapmaking, he is not a celebrated explorer. There is confusion over his death, and some historians even doubted the authenticity of his letter to Francis. This is understandable, because the letter almost seems too good to be true. It is well written, entertaining, upbeat and positive. It paints the New World as a fantastic place full of noble savages, which would appeal to the French sensibilities. It also aligns with a theme in American colonialism in general – a sense of optimism. Colonizers had to believe in what they were doing to travel across the Atlantic and risk their lives on a strange continent. The letter da Veranzzano sent to the King was optimistic, not just to raise more money and justify expenses, but because the New World was exciting and new, and worth exploring and eventually colonizing.
"The Written Record of the Voyage of 1524 of Giovanni Da Verrazano as Recorded in a Letter to Francis I, King of France, July 8th, 1524."Verrazano. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.
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