Taking the High Road to Social Studies, Arlene Capriola and Rigmor Swensen
Who discovered America? Certainly, the there other side of the mountains. Balboa
Native Americans must be considered the led about 200 men on a difficult journey to
first people in America. But the people in the find it. They marched through the jungle and
rest of the world did not know about them. swampland in Central America. In 1513,
The Vikings came from what is now Balboa reached the Pacific Ocean, claiming
Scandinavia. Leif Ericksson led his men the area of Spain.
across the Atlantic Ocean. They sailed in
swift, wooden ships that curved up at both Magellan: His Ships and Crew
ends. Their sagas, or epic stories, tell about Circumnavigate the Globe
the Vikings arriving Vinland. The sagas
describe a land of forests, fields, and rivers Ferdinand Magellan, a
full of fish. Although they definitely came to Portuguese captain, got news
America in about 1000 A.D., they did not of Balboa’s discovery. He
succeed in building a settlement. Therefore, decided to sail to Asia through
Christopher Columbus continues to be this ocean. Portugal rejected
recognized as the man who discovered his request for ships. However, Spain
America. supported him, giving him five sailing
Christopher vessels. Magellan sailed south in search of
Columbus was an a water route through America. He finally
Italian mapmaker sailed through a narrow passage of water, a
and navigator. He strait, close to the southern tip of South
sailed for King America.
Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Experienced and brave, Magellan crossed
Columbus told them of his new idea. He the uncharted waters of the Pacific Ocean to
believed people could reach the East by the Indies. Unfortunately, he was killed in a
sailing west. However, Columbus thought battle in the Philippines. He had lost four
the Atlantic Ocean was much smaller than it ships and most of his men during the
is. voyage. The eighteen surviving sailors
After a long voyage, his three ships finally returned to Spain. They had crossed three
reached San Salvador in the Caribbean Sea. oceans and covered 40,000 miles, the first to
He was sure he head reached the Indies, circumnavigate, or sail around the world.
where spices grew. Columbus made four This finally proved that the world was indeed
voyages to America. He never found the round, and that Asia could be reached by
spices and he never realized he had not sailing west.
reached Asia. However, his efforts led to
continuing discovery and settlement. Aztecs
Cortez Conquers the Aztecs of Mexico
Meanwhile, Spain and Portugal focused
The Spanish in Central and South on conquering South and Central America.
Hernando Cortez, a Spanish explorer, led an
army of Conquistadors, or conquerors. They
Balboa Discovers the Pacific Ocean arrived in Mexico in 1519. Montezuma, the
Europeans soon realized that North and ruler of the Aztecs , thought the gods had
South America had to be continents. Still sent them. He welcomed them with gold and
looking for a waterway to the East, Spain silver. This only
sent explorers to find a way through or made Cortez and
around America. his men more
Vasco Nunez de Balboa lived in a eager to conquer
Spanish colony in what is now Panama. The the Aztecs.
Indians there told a story that interested him. Horses did not
They said there was a magnificent ocean on exist in the Americas and Cortez had
superior weapons and horses. The food, animals and disease was called the
Conquistadors quickly defeated the Aztecs Columbian Exchange.
and destroyed their capital, Tenochtitlan. The Inca and the Aztec civilizations were
This marked the end of the Aztec Empire and the most advanced cultures in the Americas.
the beginning of Spanish control of Mexico. This ended with the arrival of the Europeans.
In time, the Spanish built Mexico City on top
of the ruins of the old capital. Slavery Comes to the Americas
In ancient times, people made slaves of
Pizarro Conquers the Incas of Peru the groups they conquered in battle. In some
Francisco Pizarro, a Conquistador, arrived societies, people could be bought and sold.
in South America in 1531. The Incas had a However, slavery changed in the 1550s.
huge empire on the West Coast of South Spanish and Portuguese settlers planted
America. This empire, with its center in Peru, sugar on Caribbean Islands. The demand
covered an area of 2,000 miles along the for cheap labor to work the sugar plantations
West Coast of South America. grew rapidly.
The Incas also Europeans who traded in Africa, saw this
thought the need as a means to economic gain. African
conquistadors rulers on the coast of West Africa captured
were gods. people from inland areas. The captives were
Atahualpa, the then traded for European products, like guns,
Incan ruler, textiles, and wine. In the Americas,
ordered his plantation owners gladly bought these
people not to fight. The invading Spaniards slaves.
captured Atahualpa. They held him for a African slaves were
ransom of twenty-four tons of silver and gold. transported from
After receiving the treasure, Pizarro killed Africa to American
him anyway. The Spanish conquest of the under inhuman
Incan civilization was swift and vicious. conditions. They were
thrown like baggage
The Columbian Exchange into the cramped
The Spanish did find gold and riches to holds of the ship. Many of them died on the
bring back to their countries. They also way. Cruel treatment awaited the survivors
brought home foods people in Europe had who were sold at auction. The slaves
never seen before. These included potatoes, became a source of forced labor on
cacao, tomatoes, and corn. The explorers, in plantations, in mines, or in houses as
turn, introduced horses, chickens, pigs, servants. Living conditions were usually very
sugarcane, and wheat to the new land. poor. Slave families could be sold and
Diseases like separated from each other.
influenza, small pox,
and measles were not The Spanish in North America
known in the In 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon got
Americas. The permission from King Ferdinand of Spain to
Conquistadors spread these illnesses to the start a settlement in North America. When
Indians. Many Native Americans died he arrived in the Southeast, he named the
because they were not immune to them. area Florida, which in Spanish means “the
Native populations declined and then they season of flowers.” Here he heard stories
became easier to conquer. This transfer of from the Indians about a “Fountain of Youth.”
The thought of eternal youth sent him France. This claim was supported by
searching for this mythical fountain, which he Samuel de Champlain, who followed
never found. He also failed to establish a Cartier’s route. Champlain built a fortress
settlement because of battles with the which later became the city of Quebec. He
Indians. traded with Indians, exchanging tools and
Back in Spain people heard about the cloth for fur pelts.
treasure Pizarro had brought back from Peru. French traders followed the explorers.
A rumor spread that there were seven cities They traveled to the Great Lakes in canoes
of gold in America. Francisco Coronado to trade items for fur. Clothing made of fur
believed the legend and searched all over was very popular in Europe at the time and
the southwest region of the United States. brought the traders large profits.
He never found the cities of gold. However, Later, missionaries
in 1524, he claimed the Southwest for Spain. joined the explorers.
Meanwhile, Their goal was to
Hernando De Soto, bring the Christian
believing the same religion to the natives.
story, sailed to Florida Father Marquette, a
on a quest for the missionary, and Louis
treasure. He traveled Jolliet, a fur trader,
across the Southeast as far as the discovered the Mississippi River in 1673. A
Mississippi River. De Soto gave up his decade later, Rene-Robert La Salle sailed
search, but claimed the southeastern portion down the Mississippi to Arkansas and
of the United States, too, for Spain. claimed the Mississippi Valley for France.
He named it Louisiana in honor of King Louis
The French in North America: Explorers, XIV of France.
Traders, and Missionaries
The English and Dutch in North America
The stage for worldwide exploration was
set, soon other nations joined the race for The King of England sent John Cabot to
new lands and riches. French and English find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific
explorers headed for North America. They Ocean in 1497. Cabot went ashore in
came for a variety of reasons. Many went in Canada. Finding the area a rich fishing
search of a Northwest Passage to the ground, he named the region Newfoundland
sources of spices and riches in the East. for England. This established England’s right
Some were searching for gold, some wanted to territory in
furs, and others sought territory for their America.
countries. The fearless determination and Sir Frances
success of these men proved there was Drake was the
much to be learned about the world. captain of a sleek,
In 1524, Giovanni Verrazano sailed for quick British ship.
France. He explored the eastern coast of the Men like him got the
United States, from the Carolinas to Maine. nickname, “Sea
The Verrazano Bridge, which crosses the Dogs.” Drake’s smaller ship attacked the
Narrows of New York Harbor, is named after large Spanish galleons returning to Spain
him. from America and then stole their cargoes of
A short time later, in 1531, Jacques riches. In 1578, he sailed through the Strait
Cartier explored the coast of Canada and the of Magellan up the west coast of South
St. Lawrence River, claiming the region for America to Peru. Here he robbed Spanish
settlements and looted Spanish ships laden King Philip II of Spain wanted to remove
with cargoes of treasure. Elizabeth form the throne of England and
The British wanted to weaken the Spanish reinstate the Catholic religion. He was also
in the New World. Hence, they encouraged very angry about the “Sea Dogs,” who were
Drake and other “Sea Dogs” to continue their causing so much trouble in Spanish America.
attacks. Drake sailed up the west coast and King Philip decided to send a fleet of 130
claimed California for England. He was also ships, the powerful Spanish Armada, to
the first Englishman to sail around the world. conquer England. Using smaller, quicker
In 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman, ships, however, and help from the weather,
was hired by the Dutch to find a Northwest the English defeated the Spanish Armada in
Passage. He discovered the Hudson River 1588. This changed the balance of power in
in New York, which bears his name. Soon Europe and America.
people from Holland followed him to America.
Events in Europe Affect America
The Protestant Reformation
Religious and political events in Europe
from about 1500-1700 helped steer the
course of events in America. In 1517, Martin
Luther, a Catholic priest in Germany, started
the Reformation. This religious movement
marked the beginning of the Protestant
religion and divided the Catholic Church.
The result was conflict between Catholics
and Protestants. It included violence and
destruction. Catholics persecuted
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Members of the British Monarchy
1. How did life change for the Native
Convert Americans once Europeans began
King Henry VIII of England broke with the exploring the North American
Catholic Church and made himself head of continent?
the Church of England. However,
Protestants within his country differed on
religion. This state of continual religious
conflict and suppression caused many to
seek a new land where they would be free to
worship as they wished.
2. Why was the defeat of the Spanish
King Philip Sends the Spanish Armada Armada so important?
The religious issue turned into a political
one when King Henry VIII’s daughter came
to the throne. Queen Elizabeth I was a
Protestant. King Philip of Spain, however,
was a Catholic.