SS7 Chapter 02 Notes: Exploring the Americas

Section 1: A Changing World (p. 28-33)

New Ideas, New Nations

For a long time Western Europe was cut off from the rest of the world.  However in the 600s A.D. Islam (a new religion) began to spread throughout the Middle East and Africa.  Islam would end Western Europe’s isolation.

In the 1100s, Europeans attempted to seize control of holy land in the Middle East from Muslims in what was called the Crusades.  New Asian products became introduced to Europe.  Also Marco Polo‘s expedition increased European interest in Asian goods.

Asian goods were very profitable in Europe.  However, the products were traded by Arabs (general term for people from the Middle East) who marked up the prices.  If Europeans found a direct way to trade with Asia (without going through the Middle East) huge profits could be made.

New ideas inspired by the classical Greek and Roman periods started in Italy but spread throughout Europe.  It effected science and the arts.

The Renaissance which means “rebirth” was a period of intellectual and artistic creativity.  It set the stage for the age of exploration and discovery.

Western European nations (Spain, Portugal, France, and England) became stronger under new monarchs (kings).  They also became more competitive with one another especially in terms of exploration.

The Effects of New Technology

Technology is the use of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.  It was because of advancements in technology that exploration was possible.  The introduction of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg made it easier to print books in turn giving people more access to new information.  Marco Polo’s book caused Europeans to take interest in new, far-away places.

Cartographers (map makers) became much more accurate.  They used astronomy and latitude (measures the distance north and south of the Equator) to make maps more accurate.  Sailors started using astrolabes (measures the position of the stars) and magnetics compasses.

The Portuguese designed the most famous ships of the Age of Exploration, the caravel.  It traveled fast and could carry more cargo than previous ships.  They were used by Portugal and Spain for sea exploration.

Kingdoms and Empires in Africa

Western Africa (sub-Sahara) developed powerful kingdoms thanks to mining and trading.  Islam was introduced to eastern Africa through Arab traders and spread west.  These African kingdoms did some trading with Portugal.  The Sahara Desert (the world’s largest desert) acted as a natural barrier between western Africa and Europe.

Ghana grew wealthy through taxes placed on traders.  Many of the people of Ghana became Muslim (followers of Islam) because of its strong trade.  Because of disruptions in Ghana’s trade routes, the empire slowly declined.

Mali took over after Ghana and also became powerful through trade.  It most famous ruler was Mansa Musa who traveled to the Muslim holy city of Makkah (Mecca).  He returned from his pilgrimage (religious journey) with Arab architecture.  He built mosques (Muslim houses of worship) in Timbuktu (the capital of Mali).

Songhai replaced Mali.  Akiya Muhammad, the leader, divided the empire into two areas.  Everyone followed Islam.  Eventually Songhai would fall too.


Section 2: Early Exploration (p. 34-41)

The Search for New Trade Routes

Christopher Columbus discovered the “New World” in 1492 using three ships: the Santa Maria, the Nina, and the Pinta.  He was sailing on behalf of Spain.  Columbus mistakenly believed he landed in the Indies (islands located southeast of China).  Some reasons for the mistake:

  • Europeans did not know North and South America existed
  • No one really knew the size of the ocean
  • No one really knew the size of the earth

The Portuguese wanted to find a new route to Asia.  They also wanted to profit off of the riches of the Western African kingdoms.

Prince Henry (the Navigator) had sailors collect information about the geography West Africa and he analyzed the information.  He used astronomers, geographers, and mathematicians to make his maps and information as accurate as possible.  Africa’s west coast had lots of gold and became known as the “Gold Coast.”  The Portuguese also began buy enslaved Africans from other Africans.  The king of Portugal wanted their trade to extend around the south of Africa in hopes of reaching India and China.

Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the cape (a piece of land that sticks out into the water) of Africa (called the Cape of Good Hope) under Portugal’s flag.  It was hoped that this new passage might provide a new route to India.

Vasco da Gama was the first Portuguese explorer to sail around Africa and make it to Calicut, India thus fulfilling Portugal’s dreams of making it to Asia via sea-travel.

Pedro Alvares Cabral tried to follow in da Gama footsteps and sail to India around Africa.  Instead he sailed too far west and discovered/claimed what is today Brazil in the name of Portugal.  Over time, Portugal’s trade relationship with India grew stronger.

Columbus Crosses the Atlantic

Columbus, like most educated people back then, believed the Earth was round and that he could sail to Asia by going west.  His estimate of the size of the earth was too small.

In the 800s-900s, Vikings (Norsemen) from Scandinavia sailed to Greenland and Iceland (in North America).  Leif Erikson was the leader of the Vikings.  The story of their stories did not spread across Europe.  Also, the Viking did not permanently settle in North America.

Columbus received the money he need to fund his expedition from Spain.  Spain had recently removed Muslims from its country and now could focus on other goals.  Spain only promised to fund the voyage if:

  • Columbus spread Christianity to any land he found
  • Columbus would agree to share any riches he discovered (including new land)

Columbus along with 90 sailors departed with three ships: the Santa Maria, Nina, and Pinta.  On October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered an island that he named San Salvador.  He thought he landed in the West Indies (islands off the coast of Asia).  Columbus named the native people on the island Indians.  Columbus came back to Spain as a hero and received more funding for future expeditions.

Columbus went on three more voyages (four total).  He explored present-day Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Cuba, Jamaica, Central America, and South America.

Both Spain and Portugal wanted to protect their claim to the Americas.  They turned to the Pope who created a line of demarcation (an imaginary line to divide the land).  Portugal would own the land east of the line and Spain would own the land west of it.  Spain got much more land than Portugal.  They moved the line over to make it more fair and signed the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Another explorer named Amerigo Vespucci explored the coast of South America.  He realized that this land was not Asia but something new.  In honor of this accomplishment, European geographers started calling the continent “America.”  Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first explorer to cross Panama (in Central America) and see the Pacific Ocean.

Ferdinand Magellan is given credit as the first man to circumnavigate (sail around) the world.  He started in Europe and sailed around the bottom of South America (that is why it is called the Strait of Magellan).  He named the Pacific Ocean (which means “calm waters”) but died before he made it all the way around the globe.  His crew finished the voyage.


Section 3: Spain in America (p. 42-48)

European Explorers and Conquerors

Early Spanish explorers were known as conquistadors, or conquerors. Main goal was to find riches. Spanish rulers gave them the right to explore/settle the Americas in exchange for newly found wealth.

The Aztec Empire (present-day Mexico and Central America) and the Inca Empire (present-day Peru) were very wealthy.

Hernan Cortes was a conquistador. He landed in Mexico and conquered the Aztec Empire. He took gold from the Aztec and shipped it to Spain. Conquistador Francisco Pizarro led an army into the Inca capital and overtook the Inca Empire.

Reasons why small Spanish armies were able to overtake Native American empires:

  • The Spanish had better weapons
  • Many Native Americans helped the Spanish fight their Aztec rulers
  • Native Americans were weakened by European diseases for which they had no immunity, or resistance

Spain in North America

News of the riches that Cortes and Pizarro found spread in Europe. Other conquistadors came to search for riches in the Americas.  Most noticeable:

  • Juan Ponce de León who landed on Florida coast.  He was originally searching  for the “Fountain of Youth.”
  • Hernando de Soto who was searching for the “Seven Cities of Gold” but instead is credited as the first European to cross the Mississippi River.
  • Francisco Vásquez de Coronado also was searching for the “Seven Cities of Gold” but was one of the first Europeans to discover the Grand Canyon.

Life Under Spanish Rule

Spanish law called for three kinds of settlements in their colonies:

  • Pueblos which were towns/trading centers.
  • Missions which were religious communities devoted to spreading the Catholic religion (to Native Americans)
  • Presidios which were forts.

The different classes in Spanish American society were:

  • Peninsulares were people born in Spain and were the top class of society. They ran the government.
  • Creoles were people who were born in America to Spanish parents were next.
  • Mestizos were people with one Spanish parent and one Native American parent.
  • Native Americans and enslaved Africans were at the bottom level of society and were slaves.

Bartolome de Las Casas was a Spanish priest who tried to help protect Native Americans from the Spanish.

Some Spanish settlers had plantations, or large farms. They shipped crops and raw materials to Spain. Native Americans were used as slaves at first but they were eventually replaced by Africans.

The Spanish settled the American Southwest (California, Texas, New Mexico, etc). California was the northern border of Spain’s empire.

Native Americans were not only forced to build missions but also adopt the Catholic faith.


Section 4: Competing for the Colonies (p. 49-53)

Religious Rivalries

Part of the purpose of exploring the Americas was to spread the Christian religion there. The first explorers were Catholics. In Europe, a new form of Christianity began which opposed the Catholic Church. It was called Protestantism.

Protestantism started with Martin Luther, a German priest. He did not agree with many Catholic Church practices and questioned the power and authority of Catholic leaders. His actions led to the Reformation which was a religious movement that split the Roman Catholic faith. It led to widespread conflict throughout Europe.

King Henry VIII of England left the Catholic Church and later his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, turned the country into a Protestant nation.

The Catholic king of Spain saw a chance to invade England and wipe out the Protestant religion there. The king sent a monstrous armada, or war fleet, to attack England. It was the strongest naval force in the world. The smaller, faster English fleet was able to defeat the Spanish.

The defeat of the armada opened the oceans for English explorers and settlers. The English decided it was time to set up colonies in North America. Protestant English and Dutch settlers set up colonies along the Atlantic coast. The Catholic Spanish settlers moved to southwestern and southeastern North America. The French were also Catholic and settled in the northeast. Religious differences caused conflicts between the colonies.

Explorers mapped the coast of North America. They also wanted to discover a Northwest Passage, direct water route through the Americas to Asia. Many explorers looked for it and found other things instead.  This includes:

  • Jacques Cartier (French) sailed up St. Lawrence River and founded Montreal.
  • Henry Hudson (Netherlands) discovered Hudson River and Hudson Bay.

French and Dutch Settlements

The French were mainly interested in the rich natural resources (fishing and furs) of North America. The French went far inland into North America and formed a good relationship with Native Americans.

New France became a colony and was made up of estates along the St. Lawrence River.

The French explored the Mississippi River. Robert Cavelier de La Salle also traveled the Mississippi. He went all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the whole area for France. He called it Louisiana, after France’s king, Louis XIV. The French established a port city, New Orleans, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. French explorers had traveled west to the Rocky Mountains and southwest to the Rio Grande. This led to New France claiming that entire territory.

The Netherlands was a small country in Europe who people were called the Dutch. They were attracted by the vast lands and natural resources of North America. They already had a large fleet of trading ships. They sailed all over the world. The Netherlands set up the Dutch West India Company. Its purpose was to ship goods for the Netherlands between the Americas and Africa. This company took control of the country’s North American colony, New Netherland (New York state).

The center of New Netherland was New Amsterdam (New York City). New Amsterdam was located on the tip of Manhattan Island, where the Hudson River enters New York Harbor. Governor Peter Minuit purchased the land from the Manhattoes people in 1626 for about $24 worth of trade goods.