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North American exploration

Reconstruction of John Cabot's ship, the MatthewAfter Christopher Columbus first made landfall in the Americas in 1492, other European expeditions set off to explore the “New World”. The Italian John Cabot, sailing in the service of the King Henry VII of England, reached the coast of North America in 1497. It is from another Italian, the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, that we get the name "America". His exploration of the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1501 confirmed that the lands Columbus had discovered were part of a new continent. A German map-maker wrote a version of his first name, Amerigo, on an early map of the continent.


Memorial to Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca in Houston, Texas

Spanish explorers

The first Spanish settlement on the American mainland was Santa María la Antigua del Darién, in present-day Colombia, which was founded in 1510. By 1521, the Spaniard Hernán Cortés had conquered the Aztec Empire of Mexico. Soon, the Spanish began to explore the vast continent that lay to the north of their Mexican settlements. In 1528, Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez landed in Florida with a team of 300 men. They began to march inland, but the expedition was soon ruined by starvation, disease and battles with Native Americans. One survivor, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, was rescued by Yaqui tribesmen. He lived with them for several years before trekking across Texas and back to Mexico.

In 1793, the Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean by travelling overland. His was the first east to west crossing of North America north of Mexico.

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