Life and career
Origins and voyages to America
The consensus amongst scholars is that Giovanni da Verrazzano was born in Val di Greve, south of Florence, then the capital and main city of the Republic of Florence, the son of Piero Andrea di Bernardo da Verrazzano and Fiammetta Cappelli. It is generally claimed that he was born in the
Castello di Verrazzano , hence its birth indicator (similar to Leonardo da Vinci). Some alternative theories have been elaborated; for example, certain French scholarship assumes that Verrazzano was born in Lyon, France, the son of Alessandro di Bartolommeo da Verrazano and Giovanna Guadagni. "Whatever the case," writes Ronald S. Love, "Verrazzano always considered himself to be Florentine," and he was considered a Florentine by his contemporaries as well. He signed documents employing a Latin version of his name—"Janus Verrazanus"—and he called himself "Jehan de Verrazane" in his will dated 11 May 1526 in Rouen, France (preserved at the Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime).
Verrazzano left a detailed account of his voyages to North America, but little is known about his personal life. After 1506, he settled in the port of Dieppe in France, where he began his career as a navigator. He embarked for the American coast, probably in 1508 in the company of captain Thomas Aubert, on a ship called La Pensée, equipped by ship owner Jean Ango. He explored the region of Newfoundland, possibly during a fishing trip, and possibly the St. Lawrence river in Canada; on other occasions, he made numerous voyages to the eastern Mediterranean.
In September 1522, the surviving members of Ferdinand Magellan's crew returned to Spain, having circumnavigated the globe. Competition in trade was becoming urgent, especially with Portugal. King Francis I of France was impelled by French merchants and financiers from Lyon and Rouen who were seeking new trade routes, so he asked Verrazzano in 1523 to make plans to explore (on France's behalf) an area between Florida and Terranova, the "New Found Land", with the goal of finding a sea route to the Pacific Ocean. Within months, four ships set sail due west for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, but a violent storm and rough seas caused the loss of two ships. The remaining two damaged ships, La Dauphine and La Normande, were forced to return to Brittany.
Repairs were completed in the final weeks of 1523, and they set sail again. This time, the ships headed south toward calmer waters, which were under dangerous Spanish and Portuguese control. After a stop in Madeira, complications forced La Normande back to home port, but Verrazzano's ship La Dauphine departed on January 17, 1524, piloted by Antoine de Conflans, and headed once more for the North American continent. It neared the area of Cape Fear on about March 1 and, after a short stay, reached the Pamlico Sound lagoon of modern North Carolina. In a letter to Francis I, Verrazzano wrote that he was convinced that the Sound was the beginning of the Pacific Ocean, from which access could be gained to China. This report caused one of many errors in the depiction of North America on contemporary maps. The continent was not fully mapped for hundreds of years.
Verrazzano's voyage in 1524
Continuing to explore the coast further northwards, Verrazzano and his crew came into contact with Native Americans living on the coast. However, he did not notice the entrances to the Chesapeake Bay or the mouth of the Delaware River. In New York Bay, he encountered the Lenape and observed what he deemed to be a large lake, which was in fact the entrance to the Hudson River. He then sailed along Long Island and entered Narragansett Bay, where he received a delegation of Wampanoag and Narragansett people. The words "Norman villa" are found on the 1527 map by Visconte Maggiolo identifying the site. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison writes, "this occurs at Angouleme (New York) rather than Refugio (Newport). It was probably intended to compliment one of Verrazzano's noble friends. There are several places called 'Normanville' in Normandy, France. The main one is located near Fécamp and another important one near Evreux, which would naturally be it. West of it, conjecturally on the Delaware or New Jersey coast, is a Longa Villa, which Verrazzano certainly named after François d'Orleans, duc de Longueville".
He stayed there for two weeks and then moved northwards. He discovered Cape Cod Bay, his claim proved by a map of 1529 which clearly outlined Cape Cod.
He then followed the coast up to modern Maine, southeastern Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, after which he returned to France by 8 July 1524. Verrazzano named the region that he explored Francesca in honor of the French king, but his brother's map labels it Nova Gallia (New France).
Verrazzano arranged a second voyage, with financial support from Jean Ango and Philippe de Chabot, which departed from Dieppe with four ships early in 1527. One ship was separated from the others in a gale near the Cape Verde Islands, but Verrazzano reached the coast of Brazil with two ships and harvested a cargo of brazilwood before returning to Dieppe in September. The third ship returned later, also with a cargo of brazilwood.
This partial success did not find the desired passage to the Pacific Ocean, but it inspired Verrazzano's final voyage, which left Dieppe early in 1528.
There are conflicting accounts of Verrazzano's demise. In one version, in 1528, during his third voyage to North America and after exploring Florida, the Bahamas, and the Lesser Antilles, Verrazzano anchored out to sea and rowed ashore, probably on the island of Guadeloupe. He was killed and eaten by the native Carib inhabitants. The fleet of two or three ships was anchored out of gunshot range, and no one could respond in time. Other sources suggest that Verrazzano was the same person as corsair Jean Fleury, who was executed for piracy by the Spanish at Puerto del Pico, Spain.
1527 map by Visconte Maggiolo
showing the east coast of North America with "Tera Florida" at the top and "Lavoradore" (Labrador) at the bottom. The information supposedly
came from Giovanni da Verrazzano's voyage in 1524.(Biblioteca Ambrosiana