| American History Stories, Volume I|
|by Mara L. Pratt|
|Stories of early exploration and founding of American colonies, conflicts over religion, and troubles with the Indians, culminating in the French and Indian War. Ages 8-12 |
OTHER GREAT EXPLORERS
 But if Columbus discovered America, how did it happen that
the country was named America?
It certainly seems as if Columbia would have been
a better and more fitting title for it, and it would have
been but fair to Columbus, after all he had borne, to
have had his name remembered in naming the country.
But people were not very careful in those days about
being "fair" to anybody or anything; and so, when in
1497 Americus Vespucius made a voyage to the new world and
on his return talked much of the great continent he
had seen, and wrote a diary about it,
 people began speaking of this new world as the country
of Americus Vespucius; by and by they called it
America; and, since Columbus was not the man to whine
at injustice, and Americus Vespucius did not seem to
object to the honor conferred upon him, it soon became
customary throughout Europe to speak of the new world
STATUE OF AMERICUS VESPUCIUS, (PORTICO OF THE UFFIZI)
Americus Vespucius made another voyage a few years
later, and this time directing his course farther
south, he came upon the continent of South America. He
sailed along the coast for several thousand leagues,
very carefully noting all changes in the soil, the
climate, and even in the stars.
"In these southern skies," reported he, "there is a
constellation never seen by us,—a group of four bright
stars arranged in the shape of a cross. One cannot imagine
 strange these southern heavens look with this great central
figure of four bright stars."
The winds grew colder and colder as they sailed along. The
nights were fifteen hours long. Before them lay a great,
rocky, ice-bound coast. "Let us return," begged the
superstitious sailors; "we must be nearing the land of
perpetual cold and darkness and we shall all be caught in
the great fields of ice and be frozen to death."
So Americus turned his vessel homeward, glad and eager to
tell of his discovery of the "Land of the Southern
Cross," and of the marvellous sights he had seen. All
Europe rang with praises of the explorer. His writings
were passed from one to another, and everybody talked
about them; Americus Vespucius,
and not Columbus, was now the hero of the hour.
 But during all these years the Spaniards had been
sending over colonists, until now there were flourishing
Spanish towns on those islands round about where Columbus
had first landed. The Spanish had begun to be very cruel to
the poor Indians, and the Indians were not slow to see that
it was an unlucky day for them when the great white ships of
Columbus came to their shores.
About twenty years after the landing of Columbus, Balboa
came over with a small fleet on a voyage of discovery. A few
years later Balboa helped to found a colony on the Isthmus
of Panama, and was made its governor. He was very angry
because the Spaniards treated the Indians so unjustly;
and ordered that no man of his colony should treat them
as the other settlers had done.
The poor Indians, who had suffered so
 much from the Spaniards, were very glad to find these
new comers so kind to them; and when they found that the
great desire of Balboa was for gold, a chief sent him a
large box full of the precious metal as a peace offering.
No sooner, however, had Balboa opened the
box, than the men all began quarreling over it,
snarling and fighting each other like fierce dogs. The
Indian chief, looking with scorn upon their greedy
wrangle, said, "Shame upon you, Christians! There is a
land not far away where there is gold enough for all."
Balboa and his men cared very little for
the Indian's disgust, but began at once to beg him to lead
them to this land of gold.
One bright morning very soon after, they
started toward a ridge of mountain land
beyond which, so the Indian said, lay a great
ocean and also the land of gold. Balboa,
anx-  ious to see this great ocean first, left his men on the side
of the ridge and climbed to its top alone. There lay spread
out before him, rolling and sparkling so peacefully, the
great Pacific ocean, never seen before by a white man.
Calling his men to him, he descended the ridge and,
arriving at the shore, took possession of the ocean in the
name of Spain.
Since I have told you about Balboa and the new ocean, I must
tell you about the first voyage around the world. A
Portuguese named Magellan started out from Spain with a
large fleet, hoping to find a way through this new continent
by which he might sail to the Spice Islands. He sailed
directly across the Atlantic to America, and looked all up
and down the coast for an opening to the other ocean.
BALBOA DISCOVERS THE PACIFIC OCEAN
Finding there was none, he sailed down to
 the most southern point of South America, and
after sailing around that point he came out
into the new ocean. When he saw it first, it
looked as it did when Balboa first saw it—smiling
and peaceful. On account of its calm,
sunny appearance, he named it at once the
"Pacific," which means peaceful.
They saw some very strange people as
they sailed along the coast of South America, who, so
Magellan's men said, were ten and twelve feet tall. These
people were unusually tall, but it is not very likely that
they were quite as tall as the men said. Sailors in those
days liked to tell very big stories, I think, just as they
These natives of South America were as
surprised to see the white men as the white
men were to see them. The natives could not
understand how such little men could make
 such big ships move; and they thought the boats must be
the babies of the ships.
They pulled from the ground, and gave to the white men to
eat, something which Magellan and his men said looked like
turnips and tasted like chestnuts. The sailors ate them
eagerly without cooking, and carried some of them home to
Spain as great curiosities. Do you guess what they were?
Nothing but common potatoes, which are
eaten now everywhere, but which then were only known to the
natives of America.
THE WHITE MAN'S FIRST INTRODUCTION TO POTATOES
But it was not curiosities nor even gold and silver that
Magellan most desired to find. Like most of the
explorers, including Columbus himself, he was in search of
a short route to the East Indies. And as he sailed down
the Atlantic coast, he hoped at every little bend in the
shore to find himself able to steer his
 ship directly west towards the Indies. So onward he sailed,
till as we said, he finally reached the southern end of
South America, passed through the Straits of Magellan—as
they were afterwards called—and came into the Pacific. Here
was another route to India, that was sure. But,
unfortunately, it was not another but a shorter route the
European merchants wanted. However, Magellan sailed straight
across the new ocean as far as the Philippine Islands,
meaning to return to Spain by the old route around Africa.
He had five ships when he set out from Spain, but one of
these had been lost while sailing down the Atlantic coast of
South America. When he entered the straits the captain of
another vessel, discouraged by the distance before him,
turned and went back to Spain. With three ships then,
 crossed the Pacific. Then, at the Philippine Islands, two
more ships were lost in battles with the natives, and he
himself was killed. Only one ship—the Victoria—with
but eighteen men, and those sick and half starved, was able
to make its way back to Spain to tell
the story of the first voyage around the world.
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