In 1524, sixty years before Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to settle Roanoke Island, Giovanni da Verrazano (1485-1528), a native of Florence, Italy, in the service of King Francis I of France, discovered the coast of North Carolina.
On July 8, 1524, Verrazano wrote a letter to the King of France describing this voyage, and a copy of this letter published in 1556 has recently been discovered in the Strozzi Library in Florence. Verrazano was born in Florence in 1480. At an early age he became a sea captain and entered the business of trading in the East. In 1552 he captured a Spanish ship laden with treasures off the Azores and was escorted into a French Port.
Captain Verrazano was commissioned by King Francis to make explorations for France in the new world. He set sail in the ship, the Dauphine, with a crew of fifty men late in 1523 and after about three months (1524) he anchored at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, about thirty miles below Wilmington. In his journal he mentions the sand dunes, the fine woodlands, the fertile plains, the abundance of wild game as well as the mildness of the weather. He specifically mentioned that he was in the vicinity of 34 degrees north latitude. He later made his way into the Pamlico Sound.
Verrazano sailed northward along the coast of Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, and he discovered the Hudson River and the New York Bay. The bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staton Island, completed in 1964 is named for Verrazano. He sailed on along the coast to Rhode Island where he spent 15 days in the harbor at Newport. As he proceeded northward, he found that the Native Americans were more hostile. He abandoned plans to visit Newfoundland and returned to France, arriving at Dieppe in July 1524.
Little is known of the life of Verrazano after this voyage, but we do know that he returned to privateering, was captured and hanged for piracy at New Castille, Spain, in November 1526. In 1529, Verrazano’s brother, Hieronimo, made a large map of the world on which the discoveries of Giovanni were shown. The original of this map is now preserved in the College of Propaganda in Rome.
This map shows North Carolina (named in 1629) as part of Florida. He believed that the Hudson River was a passage to the Western Seas where Japan was located.
The next explorer to visit the coast of North Carolina was a Spaniard by the name of Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon who attempted to plant a colony on the west bank of the Cape Fear River in 1526. This attempt was unsuccessful. The first permanent settlement in North Carolina was around 1653 on Albemarle Sound.