National Geographic : 1953 Jun
America in the Discovery Age: the Molineaux-Wright Chart LTHOUGH many of its features appear oddly distorted in the light of modern knowledge, the Molineaux-Wright chart (opposite page), published in England about 1600, was one of the most important maps of all time. It summed up what Euro peans knew by then about the New World. Named for Emeric Molineaux and Edward Wright, the most probable authors, the chart was the first to use Wright's definitive revision of the Mercator map projection, cornerstone of modern navigation. The National Geo graphic Society's cartographers have redrawn the map so that it can be easily read and have traced on it the routes of the explorers who added new lines to the face of the globe. Scholars believe Shakespeare had the Mol ineaux-Wright map in mind when he wrote in Twelfth Night: "He does smile his face into more lines than is in the new map, with the augmentation of the Indies." Seeking Asia, They Found America The New World was discovered somewhat in the manner of a sleepwalker who, venturing out of bed, stubs his toe and confronts an obstacle alien to his dream world. The ex plorers dreamed of finding an easy water route to China and India-and the spices, silks, and gems that caravaneers had carried overland for centuries before. But what they found instead was America. Christopher Columbus, if the traditional tale is true, reached Portugal, the center of oceanic discovery, by a lucky chance. He was washed ashore after a sea fight in 1476. Then he married into maps. According to his son, Columbus's widowed mother-in-law gave him her husband's library of charts. Again fortune smiled when Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain agreed to sponsor his discovery voyage after thrice rejecting it. In the half-light of dawn, August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera, Spain. Ten weeks passed before a lookout cried "Tierra! Tierra!" Going ashore in the Bahamas, the Admiral embraced the earth and named the land San Salvador. On his third voyage he discovered the mouth of the Orinoco and wrote to his royal sponsors, "I am convinced that this is main land, very large, unknown heretofore. .. ." In 1497 John Cabot persuaded Bristol mer chants to underwrite an adventure to the Orient. Sailing west, he appears to have coasted Nova Scotia from Cape Breton Is land to Cape Sable, perhaps reaching Maine. On his return he sighted Newfoundland. For the Portuguese, Gaspar Corte Real touched Greenland (1500) and Newfoundland (1501), places believed to have been known to Norsemen like Leif Ericson 500 years earlier. Giovanni da Verrazano, a Florentine cap tain, was the first (1524) to visit New York Harbor and describe the Atlantic shore of the future United States, but some historians dis credited his account. In 1909, just as Italian Americans were preparing to erect a statue to him, vindicating proof turned up in Rome: a previously unpublished version of Verra zano's letter to King Francis I of France. The explorer reported that, seeking Cathay, he had seen a new world "larger than our Europe and Africa and almost Asia." Although many people refused to believe Verrazano, cartographers long accepted the counterfeit of Nicolo Zeno, a Venetian, who published a map labeled the work of an an cestor. Mythical Freisland, here shown south east of Gronlande (Greenland), existed only in Zeno's imagination. "Cold Estotiland," which Milton referred to in Paradise Lost, appears to have been an equally fabulous "discovery" by Dutch fisher men before Columbus's voyages. Europeans took a long time to give up the notion of finding a westward passage to the Indies. Blocked to the south, they nosed into the subarctic for a Northwest Passage. Jacques Cartier in 1534 sailed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and claimed half a continent for France. Returning the next year, he ex plored the St. Lawrence River to the Lachine (China) Rapids and also christened Mount Royal, from which Montreal takes its name. He learned of the fresh-water sea, Lake Huron, shown here as the Lake of Tadousac. Frobisher Found Fool's Gold Sir Martin Frobisher's search for a North west Passage in 1576 resulted in a gold rush. After discovering Baffin Island's Frobisher Bay, the explorer returned to London with rock which was falsely analyzed as gold-filled. Subsequent expeditions proved his bay no passage to the Orient, his fool's gold good only for mending roads. Spaniards, looking to the south, became the discoverers of real gold. Hernando Cortes, conquering Mexico, looted a fortune in gold and emeralds from Montezuma. The same year Alonso de Pineda skirted the Gulf of Mexico's north coast. Panfilo de Narvaez saw the mouth of the Mississippi, but did not live to tell the story. Cabeza de Vaca, one of the survivors of the Narvaez party, wandered on to Mexico City. Then came Hernando de Soto with his band of horsemen, brilliantly bedecked, armed to conquer a king. They marched inland from Florida. For years they dragged through jungles, forests, and swamps, looking for riches. The treasure they found was the Mis sissippi River.