Europeans Exploration - Europeans First Arrival in the Americas

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This booklet provides the ideas of the Renaissance that contributed to the exploration of new lands, more practical concerns were also at play.
1400 – 1500
(Adapted from Discovery Education)
Why did Europeans first arrive in the Americas?
In the 1400s and 1500s, there was a new love for culture and scientific discovery
in Europe named the Renaissance. During this time, people used scientific
examination to explore how the natural world worked. This curiosity and spirit of
discovery, which led to numerous inventions and scientific
discoveries during the Renaissance, also led to a period of
During the Renaissance, people geographic exploration as individuals began to explore the
became more interested in science. seas and lands beyond Europe.
Although the ideas of the Renaissance contributed to the exploration of new lands, more
practical concerns were also at play. During this period, many European nations were in
constant conflict with each other as they struggled to increase their power and wealth. Europe suffered many wars in
Many of these nations believed trade with other countries was the best way to increase the 1400s and 1500s..
wealth. However, many of the land routes that were used for
trade with Asia were controlled by other countries that
blocked direct trade between European and Asian nations. As
a result, European leaders began to seek new sea routes to
European leaders like Spain's King Ferdinand and the
Portuguese prince known as Henry the Navigator financed
explorers who wanted to travel across the seas. Along with the
idea of looking for new trade routes, they also hoped to find
These were the most common trade route between Europe and new sources of gold, silver, and other valuables. Additionally,
Asia in the 1400s.
Europeans saw exploration as a way to bring Christianity to
other cultures that lived in other lands.
While some explorers sailed around Africa to Asia, others thought they could find a quicker route by sailing
west. These voyages led to the unexpected discovery of new lands, as sailors bound for Asia came to the
Caribbean islands and the continents of North America and South America.
Europeans Arrive in the Caribbean
On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three ships:
the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Columbus intended to cross the Atlantic Ocean to
find a quicker sea route to Asia. On October 12, 1492, men on the Pinta saw land.
Although Columbus and his men thought they
had reached Asia, they actually landed on what
would later be known as Watlings Island in the
Portrait of Christopher Columbus
For three months, Columbus and his men who discovered the Americas.
explored the islands of the Caribbean, landing
on the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola (the island that contains the
modern-day countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Columbus
Columbus’ three ships: the Niña, Pinta, and and his men also met the native peoples of these islands, the Taino. By
Santa Maria.
2. 1494, the Spanish, led by Columbus, had established a
permanent settlement on Hispaniola and begun their conquest
of the island. As a result of these first encounters in the
Caribbean, Europeans from different nations explored, settled,
and conquered the Americas over a period of about 300 years.
Competition for exploration led to a treaty between Spain and
Portugal in 1494, which gave Spain the exclusive right to
explore and conquer almost all of the land in the Americas.
The treaty gave Portugal the right to explore and conquer
lands in Africa, Asia, and the land in South America that Map of Columbus’ first journey to the Americas.
would become Brazil.
Despite the discoveries in the Americas, the search for a sea route to Asia continued. In
1519, Ferdinand Magellan launched five ships from Spain and navigated around the
southern tip of South America. Although he died in 1521, his expedition continued
without him. The first sailors to travel around the entire globe, Magellan's expedition
returned to Spain in 1522 and proved that the
world was indeed round. The sea channel that
Magellan took between the Pacific Ocean and
the Atlantic Ocean was named the Strait of
Portrait of Ferdinand Magellan.
During this important Age of Exploration, two vastly different worlds
intersected: the Americas and Europe. The exchange of people, ideas, Location of the Strait of Magellan.
plants, animals, technologies, and diseases between these two worlds
shaped their history for the next 500 years.
Conquering the Americas
How were the Spanish able to conquer Native American populations?
During the 100 years following Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas,
Spanish conquistadors, explorers, and soldiers conquered and claimed much
of the Americas for Spain. These men fought for many reasons. One reason is
that exploration and conquest could lead to great wealth. Other people came
because they were faithful Catholics and wished to convert Native Americans
to Christianity. Still others loved the idea of an
adventure in new places.
Several factors helped the Spanish conquer the
native populations. One factor that aided the
Spanish conquistadors. Spanish was their weapons. Using
sophisticated, strong weapons such as steel
swords, crossbows, and guns helped the Spanish against local people, who had
less powerful weaponry. The Spanish conquistadors also had horses, which
people in the Americas had never seen before. Fighting on horseback gave the
Spanish explorers an advantage over the Native American populations, who
fought on foot. Weapons used by the Spanish
3. However, one of the most important tools that the Europeans had
was one they did not even know they had brought with them to the
Americas—disease. European explorers carried over several
diseases that Native Americans had never encountered before. One
such disease was smallpox, a highly contagious disease that had
existed in Europe for thousands of years. Over time, the Europeans
developed some resistance to it. Native Americans, though, had
never encountered the disease and therefore had no resistance to it.
As a result, smallpox killed the Native American populations that
encountered it.
Smallpox was a deadly disease for Native
The effects of smallpox helped two of the most famous
Americans. Thousands died because of this
disease. conquistadors, Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizzaro. Despite
commanding forces that were significantly smaller than those of the
Aztec and Incan armies, these two conquistadors were still able to conquer the powerful empires.