1524, THE VOYAGE OF DISCOVERIES
At the beginning of the 1500s the fame of the voyages undertaken by Colombo, Vespucci and Magellano on behalf of Spain and Portugal began to worry the French Court, which up until that time had not been concerned with such enterprises. The prospect of riches to be found in the New World and the possibility of expanding the dominions overseas was extremely enticing. The reason that had induced the three navigators to undertake such long voyages was the intention to find the shortest route to the Far East, a passage across the Atlantic.
In an official meeting at Rouen sometime between 1522 and 1523 with His Majesty King Francis I, Giovanni da Verrazzano convinced the King of the urgent necessity to undertake exploratory voyages in order to be able to reach the rich markets of the Orient by sailing West. Francis I fully agreed to such an enterprise, probably in the hope of equalling or surpassing the explorations promoted by Spain and Portugal. The preparations for the voyage took place at Dieppe in great secret, but inevitably the news leaked out and in April 1523 the Portuguese ambassador Giovanni da Silveira informed his king that Giovanni da Verrazzano was ready to set off "to discover Cathay". Four ships were armed ready for departure under the personal supervision of Giovanni. Defence weapons, ammunitions, cannons, rowers, lifeboats and scientific instruments were all in perfect order, the holds were stocked with provisions for 8 months; the pilots, the experts and the signal men were all audacious sailors chosen by the captain himself, Giovanni da Verrazzano. The flagship, a large 100 ton ship (caracca) suitable for the high seas with a crew of 50 men, was named Delfina, in honour of the King’s firstborn, and the other three caravels were called "Normanda", "Santa Maria" and "Vittoria". Out of the four ships in the convoy, two were lost in a storm and two, the Delfina and the Normanda, were employed in a battle, or according to Murphy and others, in privateer action against Spanish enemies.
Finally, only the largest and strongest of the fleet, the flagship Delfina, (view the report) was in condition to confront the ocean. The Delfina hid amongst the cliffs of the coast of Madera and waited for the opportune moment to elude the naval blockade of the two enemies Spain and Portugal, setting sail during the night of January 17th 1524. According to his calculations at table and scrupulously marked out on his map, Giovanni thought by sailing along the northern coastline of the New World, that he would find a safe and brief passageway which would take him from the Atlantic into the Pacific Ocean and thus towards the "amenable coast of Cathay".
The crossing lasted 50 days, longer than expected because they ran into a terrible storm on February 24th, which they survived, according to Giovanni "only by the help of God". The Delfina sighted land on March 7th and 8th and according to all the scholars, the locality is thought to be Cape Fear, south of Wilmington in North Carolina. Giovanni sailed first south, looking for a safe landing place but when he reached the northern tip of Florida he inverted his course and turned north. The navigator sailed always keeping the coast in view along which he sighted many fires at night and in the day he noted large forests and wild vines which grew along the beach inhabited by light skinned natives; a beach so pleasant that it was baptised "Arcadia".
It is difficult to say where the place was that Giovanni named Arcadia, but the identity of the place he reached afterwards is certain. Verrazzano described it as "a vast coastline with a deep delta in which every kind of ship could pass" and he adds: "that it extends inland for a league and opens up to form a beautiful lake. This vast sheet of water swarmed with native boats".
It was April 17th 1524 and the Navigator had entered into the Bay of New York, penetrating by way of the Strait now called the Narrows into the northern bay which he baptised Santa Margherita in honour of the King of France’s sister. He landed on the tip of Manhattan and perhaps on the furthest point of Long Island. Giovanni’s stay in this magnificent place was interrupted by a storm which pushed him north towards Martha’s Vineyard where he found respite in the town now known as Newport. The expedition rested here for two weeks, from April 24th to May 6th, entering in contact and fraternising with the local population. The great enterprise had been accomplished, the whole length of coast from Florida to Cape Breton, land to which the navigator gave the name "Francesca", had been discovered.
At the beginning of July 1524 the expedition returned to Dieppe. The notoriety and the prestige in scientific and political spheres achieved by Verrazzano after this enterprise induced many attempts by governments hostile to France to assure the collaboration of this great personality, but in vain since he preferred to continue to embellish his coat of arms with the French Fleur de Lys.