From Cabot to Cartier: The Early Exploration of Eastern North America, 1497–1543

From Cabot to Cartier: The Early Exploration of Eastern North America, 1497–1543

By John L. Allen

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Volume 82, Issue 3 (1992)

Abstract: Initial European responses to the Columbian discovery included an exploratory process that, in the space of a half-century, delineated the basic geographical features of North America’s Atlantic coast. This exploratory process was conditioned by pre-Columbian European “geosophy’ or images of lands in the western Atlantic and by the desire to locate a water route to Asia. The first European explorers to make contact with North America did so far to the north of the area contacted by Columbus, and their voyages would almost certainly have taken place regardless of the success or failure of Columbus. John Cabot and the Corte-Real brothers explored the Labrador-Newfoundland region as early as 1497, searching for a sea-level strait through what they believed was an island archipelago off Asia’s eastern shores. Subsequent explorations by Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier added to the growing store of geographical information and developing geographical images about North America. Verrazzano’s coastal voyage from Florida to Canada and Cartier’s entry into the St. Lawrence helped define the key features of the Atlantic coast of the continent. Information derived from both voyages also helped perpetuate the belief in a sea-level route to Asia. Although the first half-century of European exploration of eastern North America resulted in a relatively accurate depiction of that region, the exploratory process also contributed to a growing body of theoretical and speculative geography of the Northwest Passage upon which much European exploration up to the mid-seventeenth century would be based.

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