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Age of Exploration Essay

The age of exploration had many varied effects on the countries involved, mainly Spain, France, and England. By establishing a prosperous empire in South America by conquering the native people, Spain became vastly wealthy off of the gold collected by its native subjects. However, since the native people were dying off rapidly due to the foreign diseases brought over by the Conquistadors, as well as malnutrition and fatigue, Spain and Portugal were the first to introduce slavery to the New World by replacing them with African slaves brought over by Portuguese slave traders.

The silver mining by these slaves caused world trade to increase. Often, silver brought to Europe from America was then traded with China and other Asian countries, making silk, porcelain, and Indian spices more prevalent in Europe. Products from America that became popular in Europe included corn, potatoes, pineapples, and sugar cane. Many cultures spread and combined with others: Spanish missionaries converted natives to Christianity, which then combined the new Christian beliefs with the natives’ cultural traditions.

Another example, Arabian coffee with American sugar became quite popular throughout Europe. Although saying that anyone who crossed the Atlantic (at least when referring to modern theories) truly discovered America is ridiculous, I believe that the first to do so was Leif Eriksson and his group of Vikings whose settlement was found in Canada. According to the Greenlander saga and the Eric saga, his father, Eric the Red, a Viking outlaw, discovered Greenland. In order to establish himself as a man separate from his father, Leif sailed to the west in order to discover his own land.

He sailed west because there had been a rumor in Greenland for the past fifteen years of a merchant sailing from Iceland to Greenland whose ship had been blown off course in a storm. According to the rumor, the merchant claimed that there were three separate lands west of Greenland. Around the year 1000, Leif purchased the merchant’s ship from the story, and obtained directions from the same merchant. He set sail only for a few days, which was reportedly was miserable due to the conditions on the open boat.

On this expedition, they were seeking trees, which were scare in Greenland, but abundant in what is now northern Newfoundland, Canada, where the party landed. Leif named the new land Vinland after the wild grapes found there and the wine the grapes produced. Shortly thereafter, the settlers began to erect a settlement and scouted the land. In 1960, the archeologist and set out to find the fabled Vinland, using a four hundred year old Icelandic map and descriptions from the sagas. On the very northern tip of Newfoundland, they came across an area of mounds and ruins near a small town.

Because the ruins predated the settlement of the area, the locals had always believed that Native Americans created the mounds. In fact, through almost seven years of painstaking excavations and radiocarbon testing, it was proven that the ruins were of a settlement dating back to the year 1000. Various artifacts found at the site also confirmed its Norse origins. Archeologists have gone so far as to pinpoint which ‘house’ was Leif Eriksson’s, based on size and complexity of the structure. I believe that Leif Eriksson was the first to cross the Atlantic and settle in America because of many factors.

The radiocarbon dating of the site which puts it at 1000 C. E. immediately eliminates any of the explorers from the age of exploration, as well as the Chinese in 1492, in addition to the obvious implausibility of traveling above Canada in ice riddled waters in a flimsy wooden vessel. A case could perhaps be made for the merchant in the sagas who started the rumor, but as with all epic stories, the Icelanders who were the ones to transcribe the sagas based on oral stories, may have simply added him in as a fictional supporting character.

Because of this and other equally plausible scenarios, I have to concede that Leif Eriksson was the first to reach the New World by crossing the Atlantic. There is confusion among certain people about whether America was colonized because of a desire for more money on the part of England or because the colonists were seeking religious freedom from the Roman Catholic Church. This confusion stems mainly from the watered down version of Jamestown and the Mayflower that we teach students at a young age.

While it is true that Puritans did indeed come to the New World seeking religious freedom, the initial desire to colonize America was all about the desire for wealth. Because of Spain’s conquests in South America, the gold it had acquired from the natives and silver mining had made the country vastly wealthy and other nations were eager to get their share of the riches. America also had an abundant supply of farmland at a time when many farmers had small farms that they toiled over in an effort to merely support their families.

In addition, as more settlers moved to America and created a demand for indulgences that they were accustomed to in Europe, the companies that sold such items made more money because of the higher prices the settlers had to pay in order to accommodate shipping costs. In short, while religious freedom was a noble and idealistic dream, it wouldn’t benefit anyone or make any money, which is what people were chiefly concerned with. How would America be different if it had been settled one hundred years later, in 1592? To begin with, it probably would not be called ‘America’.

America is so named after Amerigo Vespucci; however, as he died in 1512, it is unlikely that we would have been named after him. Perhaps we would be named Raleigh, after Walter Raleigh, a British explorer of both North and South America in our actual history. Christopher Columbus would not be in history books, as he would not have been to Raleigh. Native Americans thus would have never been referred to as Indians. Because of our late start as a nation, it is reasonable to assume that certain historical events in our country would be delayed, let us say, fifty years or so.

Because colonization was delayed, it would take longer for tensions to raise between the colonists and the French, so the French and Indian War would not have started in 1689, but around 1739 instead. This in turn would delay the Seven years war and thus the taxed imposed by the British that led to the American Revolution, which would now begin in 1825. Thus, we would have the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1826 and become our own country in 1833. Or alternatively, because of the differing technology, we might have lost the war and still been English today.

But lets assume that we won and Raleigh was founded. I believe the Civil War would have been delayed as well until 1911, three years before World War One started. Both world wars, because we did not start them, would have happened the same years as they actually did, 1914 and 1939 respectably. However, I believe that the issue of civil and women’s’ rights would have been later in coming, perhaps in the 80’s. We would probably be dealing with racism more than gay rights today, if that were the case. And our music would be behind as well, so 60’s music today would then be 80’s music now.


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