Who Discovered America?

September 3, 2010 | In: Famous Explorers

Every school child learns the chant “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” as part of the lesson that teaches how Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. Only he didn’t.

In 1492, Columbus landed in the Caribbean islands, probably in the Bahamas. He thought he’d found a passage to the Indies. In subsequent trips he landed on several other Caribbean islands and thought he touched the mainland in what is now Venezuela.

However, it was Juan Ponce de Leon, another Spanish explorer, who, it is believed, first landed on North America at Florida on April 8, 1513. He was searching for the Fountain of Youth, fabled waters that would restore one’s vigor. He failed to find it but he claimed this new land for Spain and called it Pasqua de Flores, due to the many flowers he found there.

Many other European explorers discovered and charted areas of the New World. Spaniard Vasco Nunez de Balboa first spotted the Pacific Ocean in 1513; Spaniard Hernando Cortes marched in Mexico City in 1519; Giovanni Verrazano, sailing for France, spotted New York harbor in 1524; and Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River in 1542.

The explorers met friendly native Indians and discovered the tobacco plant, which the Indians smoked. Explorers took the plant back to Europe where smoking became popular.

The new country was named America after Amerigo Vespucci, who claimed to have discovered the country a year before Columbus; it is doubtful that he did.

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