Verrazzano - A Favorite Son - and not Just to New York
A Journey into Hidden America - A Narrative from On the Road
New Yorkers being the proud lot tat they are have claimed Verrazzano as one of their own. The big bridge in his name not only connected Staten Island to Brooklyn, it attached the 5th borough to the other five and made it possible to take a car trip to the rest of New York without going through New Jersey or on a ferry.
But this pride might lead you to believe that Mr. Verrazzano was a founder of native son. He was neither. Moreover, he is now embraced as equally important by folks elsewhere - i.e. Rhode Island.
He is renowned as the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America between Florida and New Brunswick in 1524, including New York Bay and Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
Though historians are able to tell us that they believe Vaerrazzano was born near Florence , very little else is known about his personal life.
He did leave very detailed descriptions of his travels and discoveries.
He set out westward from France, his new home, in 1508 and explored Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence . In 1523, a subsequent visit brought him on behalf of Spain to explore an area between Florida and Terranova “New Found Land” with a goal of finding a sea route to the Pacific Ocean. That trip did not work out, but he did experience greater success in 1524 when he reached what was later to become known as today’s North Carolina, Delaware, New York Harbor, Narragansett Bay, Cape Cod, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. He remained confident that the passage China could be located though has was experiencing challenges in doing so.
Back in 1524, on April 17 entered New York Bay on the ship Delfina. He landed on the southern tip of Manhattan, where he stayed until a storm a pushed him toward Martha’s Vineyard. He finally came to rest at what is known today as Newport, Rhode Island. Verrazzano and his men interacted with the local population there for two weeks, before returning to France in July 1524.
It is Verrazzano who is said to be responsible, in part, for that the fact that Rhode Island, in fact not an island, is called Rhode ISLAND.
Sailing to Rhode Island in 1524, Verrazano "discovered an island in the form of a triangle, distant from the mainland ten leagues, about the bigness of the (Greek) Island of Rhodes," which he named Luisa after the Queen Mother of France. This was Block Island. Roger Williams and other early settlers thought that Verrazano was referring to Aquidneck Island and changed that island's native name to Rhode Island. In this way, Verrazano inadvertently gave the state part of its official name.
For this “mistake” (he never got to China either) he is honored in the Ocean State today. The bridge between Jamestown and S. Kingston is called the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge.
By the way, it is interesting to note that to the south in New York, Verrazano, now so prominent, for a long time was not very well known. Although occasionally cited in American history books, Verrazzano remained virtually unknown as the discoverer of New York Harbor, being overshadowed by the English explorer, Henry Hudson who arrived in New York Harbor over 80 years later in 1609. This state of affairs remained until the early 1950’s when the Italian Historical Society of America set out to bring to Verrazzano the greater recognition they felt he deserved – which culminated in the naming of that Staten Island-Brooklyn bridge after him.
Years later there is a monument in Delaware, and a couple of remembrances in Europe. And, of course, in Rhode Island folks remember the guy who helped name their state and make him their own by placing him the name of one their most important and picturesque bridges.
Some 500 years after his unsuccessful quest to find the Pacific connection, Verazzano’s discoveries are not forgotten – and not just by New Yorkers.