It was the claim of Amerigo Vespucci that he accompanied four expeditions to the New World, and that he wrote a narrative of each voyage. According to Amerigo, the first expedition sailed from Spain in 1497; the second, of which his own account is here given, in 1499; both by order of King Ferdinand. Grave doubt has been thrown upon the first of these expeditions, the sole authority for which is Vespucci himself.
The name America was given to two continents in honor of this naval astronomer on the authority of an account of his travels published in 1507, in which he is represented as having reached the mainland in 1497. The justice of this naming has always been and still remains a matter of warm dispute among historical critics.
But at the age of almost fifty—he was born in Florence in 1451—Vespucci unquestionably promoted and made a voyage to the New World. In May, 1499, he sailed from Spain with Alonzo de Ojeda, who commanded four vessels. During the summer they explored the coast of Venezuela ("Little Venice"), a name first given by Ojeda to a gulf of the Caribbean Sea, on the shores of which were cabins built on piles over the water, reminding him of Venice in Italy. Ojeda, who was but little acquainted with navigation, entered upon this voyage more as a marauding enterprise than an expedition of discovery, and he gladly availed himself of Amerigo’s scientific ability. Vespucci was also able to command the financial support of his wealthy acquaintances. It is said that many of the former sailors of Columbus shipped with this expedition.
The following account was written by Amerigo in a letter to Lorenzo Pier Francesco, of the Medici family of Florence, from whom Vespucci had held certain business commissions in Spain. Respecting this letter an Italian critic observes that “it is the most ancient known writing of Amerigo relating to his voyages to the New World, having been composed within a month after his return from his second voyage, and remaining buried in our archives for a long time. It is a precious monument, for without it we should have been left in ignorance of the great additions which he made to astronomical science. The most rigorous examination of this letter cannot bring to light the least circumstance proving anything for or against the accuracy of his first voyage. The diffidence with which he commences the matter is, however, a strong indication that he had previously written an account of his first voyage to the same Lorenzo de’ Medici, to whom he addressed this communication.”