John Cabot (known in Italian as Giovanni Caboto; c. 1450 – c. 1499) was an Italian navigator and explorer whose 1497 discovery of parts of North America is commonly held to have been the first European encounter with the continent of North America since the Norse Vikings in the eleventh century. The official position of the Canadian and United Kingdom governments is that he landed on the island of Newfoundland.
Christopher Columbus (c. 31 October 1451 – 20 May 1506) was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in what is today northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere. Those voyages, and his efforts to establish permanent settlements in the island of Hispaniola, initiated the process of Spanish colonization, which foreshadowed the general European colonization of the "New World".
In the context of emerging western imperialism and economic competition between European kingdoms seeking wealth through the establishment of trade routes and colonies, Columbus' far-fetched proposal to reach the East Indies by sailing westward received the support of the Spanish crown, which saw in it a promise, however remote, of gaining the upper hand over rival powers in the contest for the lucrative spice trade with Asia. During his first voyage in 1492, instead of reaching Japan as he had intended, Columbus landed in the Bahamas archipelago, at a locale he named San Salvador. Over the course of three more voyages, Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Venezuela and Central America, claiming them for the Spanish Empire.
Though Columbus was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas (having been preceded by the Norse expedition led by Leif Ericson), Columbus' voyages led to the first lasting European contact with America, inaugurating a period of European exploration and colonization of foreign lands that lasted for several centuries. They had, therefore, an enormous impact in the historical development of the modern Western world. Columbus himself saw his accomplishments primarily in the light of the spreading of the Christian religion.
Never admitting that he had reached a continent previously unknown to Europeans, rather than the East Indies he had set out for, Columbus called the inhabitants of the lands he visited indios (Spanish for "Indians").Columbus' strained relationship with the Spanish crown and its appointed colonial administrators in America led to his arrest and dismissal as governor of the settlements in Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted litigation over the benefits which Columbus and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the crown.
Leif Ericson (ˈleɪf/ layf or /ˈliːf/ leef; Old Norse: Leifr Eiríksson; Norwegian: Leiv Eiriksson c. 970 – c. 1020) was a Norse explorer regarded as the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenland), nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, tentatively identified with the Norse L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada.
It is believed that Leif was born around the 970s—the son of mother Thjodhild and father Erik the Red, an explorer and outlaw from Western Norway. Erik founded the first Norse colonies in Greenland, and was based at the family estate Brattahlíð in the so-called Eastern Settlement, where Leif had his upbringing. Leif had two known sons: Thorgils, born to noblewoman Thorgunna in the Hebrides); and Thorkell, who succeeded Leif as chieftain of the Greenland settlement.
Henry Hudson (c. 1560/70s – 1611?) was an English sea explorer and navigator in the early 17th century.
Hudson made two attempts on behalf of English merchants to find a prospective Northeast Passage to Cathay (today's China) via a route above the Arctic Circle. Hudson explored the region around modern New York metropolitan area while looking for a western route to Asia under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company. He explored the river which eventually was named for him, and laid thereby the foundation for Dutch colonization of the region.
Hudson discovered a strait and immense bay on his final expedition while searching for the Northwest Passage. In 1611, after wintering on the shore of James Bay, Hudson wanted to press on to the west, but most of his crew mutinied. The mutineers cast Hudson, his son and others adrift; the Hudsons, and those cast off at their side, were never seen again.
Juan Ponce de León (English pronunciation: /ˈpɒns də ˈliən/ Spanish pronunciation: [ˈponθe ðe leˈon]; 1474 – July 1521) was a Spanish explorer. He became the first Governor of Puerto Rico by appointment of the Spanish crown. He led the first European expedition to Florida, which he named. He is associated with the legend of the Fountain of Youth, reputed to be in Florida.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, or Robert de LaSalle (November 21, 1643 – March 19, 1687) was a French explorer. He explored the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. La Salle claimed the entire Mississippi River basin for France.
Louis Jolliet (September 21, 1645 – last seen May 1700), also known as Louis Joliet, was a Canadian explorer known for his discoveries in North America. Jolliet and Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, a Catholic priest and missionary, were the first Europeans to explore and map much of the Mississippi River in 1673.