A Timeline of North American Exploration

Illustration of Comubus landing in North American.
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The age of exploration in North America began in 1492 with the journey of Christopher Columbus. It started with a desire to find another way to the East where the Europeans had created a lucrative trade route. However, once the explorers realized they had discovered a new continent, their countries began to explore and later settle in America. The following timeline covers the key events of the period 1492 - 1585.

1492-1493

Christopher Columbus explores islands off the coast of the North American continent, not realizing he has found a new land.

1497

John Cabot sights Newfoundland and Labrador, claiming this area for England before sailing south towards Maine and returning to England.

1498

John and Sebastian Cabot explore from Labrador to Cape Cod.
Vincente Pinzon and Solis explore the Gulf of Mexico and the coast of Florida.

1500

Pedro Álvares Cabral explores Brazil.
Vicente Yáñez Pinzón discovers the Amazon River in Brazil.

1500-1502

João Vaz Corte-Real explores the coast of North America.

1501

Amerigo Vespucci explores the Brazilian coast and realizes that he has found a new continent.

1513

Juan Ponce de León finds and names Florida. Legend has it, he searches for the Fountain of Youth.
Vasco Núñez de Balboa becomes the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean.

1519

Alonso Álvarez de Pineda sails from Florida to Mexico, mapping the gulf coast along the way.

1519-1521

Hernán Cortés defeats the Aztecs and conquers Mexico.

1519-1522 

Ferdinand Magellan sails around South America into the Pacific. Despite Magellan's death in 1521, his expedition becomes the first to circumnavigate the globe.

1523

Pánfilo de Narváez became governor of Florida but died after dealing with a hurricane, attacks by Native Americans, and disease.

1524

In a French-sponsored voyage, Giovanni de Verrazano discovers the Hudson River before sailing north to Nova Scotia.

1534-36

One of the four survivors from the Narváez expedition cited above, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, explores from the Sabine River to the Gulf of California. When he arrives in Mexico City, his tales reinforce ideas that the Seven Cities of Cibola, also known as the Seven Cities of Gold, exist and are located in New Mexico.

1535

Jacques Cartier travels up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec and Montreal.

1539

Fray Marcos de Niza searches for the Seven Cities of Gold and wanders over New Mexico.

1539-41

Hernando de Soto explores Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, and becomes the first European to cross the Mississippi River.

1540-42

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado explores the Gila River, the Rio Grande, and the Colorado River. He reaches as far north as Kansas before returning to Mexico City. He too searches for the legendary Seven Cities of Gold.

1542

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sails up the California Coast and claims it for Spain.

1543 

Followers of Hernando De Soto sail from the Mississippi River to Mexico.
Bartolome Ferrelo continues sailing north up California and reaches what is probably present-day Oregon.

1565

The first permanent European settlement is founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles at St. Augustine, Florida.

1578-1580

As part of his circumnavigation of the globe, Sir Francis Drake sails around South America and into San Francisco Bay. He claims the area for Queen Elizabeth.

1584

Sir Walter Raleigh lands on Roanoke Island and calls the land Virginia in honor of Queen Elizabeth.

1585

Roanoke in Virginia is settled. However, this is short-lived. When John White returns two years later, the colony has disappeared. An additional group of settlers is left at Roanoke. When John White returns in 1590, the settlement has yet again disappeared. To this day, mystery surrounds their disappearance.