Did Columbus Really Discover America?

Exploration of North America

The Vikings made the first European attempt to colonize the New World by establishing a colony in Newfoundland and then sailing along the coast of North America. Europeans lacked the resources to explore further.

Between 1000 and 1650 certain developments in Europe led to exploration of America: the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Renaissance (stressing humans’ ability to change and control the world), the unification of small states into larger ones with centralized political power, and new technologies such as the sextant for navigation and shipbuilding.

The most powerful motive for exploration was trade. The Orient became a magnet to traders, and exotic products flowed into Europe. The newly unified states of the Atlantic (France, Spain, England, and Portugal) wanted to displace the trade moguls by finding a new route to the East.


Portugal was a leader in exploration, sailing southward along the African coast. They searched for a water route to the East to establish Lisbon as the major trade center.


Spain’s imperial ambitions were launched by Christopher Columbus in 1492. He found San Salvador and returned to Spain with unfamiliar products—coconuts, tobacco, sweet corn, potatoes—and with tales of dark-skinned native peoples whom he called “Indians” because he thought he had been sailing in the Indian Ocean.

Columbus made three more voyages to America between 1494 and 1502. By 1650 Spain’s empire was complete and fleets of ships were carrying riches back to Spain.

Religious Motivations

The idea of “America” pre-dated Viking exploration. Ancient tales described distant civilizations where European-like people lived simple, virtuous lives. Such utopian visions were reinforced by religious notions. Many Europeans (including Columbus) believed it was God’s plan for Christians to convert pagans wherever they were found.


While Spain was building its New World empire, France was also exploring the Americas. The French empire failed to match the wealth of New Spain or the growth of neighboring British colonies.

The Netherlands

Formerly a Protestant province of Spain, the Netherlands was determined to become a commercial power. The Dutch saw exploration as a means to achieve this goal. In 1609, Henry Hudson led an expedition to America for the Dutch East India Company and laid claim to the area along the Hudson River as far as present-day Albany.


In 1497, John Cabot explored a part of Newfoundland, but they were preoccupied with their European trade and establishing control over the British Isles. Sir Humphrey Gilbert headed two trips to the New World. He landed on Newfoundland but was unable establish military posts. By the seventeenth century, the English had taken the lead in colonizing North America, with settlements all along the Atlantic coast and in the West Indies.

Sweden & Denmark

Sweden and Denmark were also somewhat attracted to America.

Source: Did Columbus Really Discover America?
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