Giovanni da Verrazano was born sometime around 1485 in his family’s castle (Castello Verrazzano) in Val did Greve, Italy. In 1507, Verrazano moved to Dieppe in the hopes of pursuing a career in navigation. While in Dieppe, he made voyages to the Eastern Mediterranean. He spent many years as a pirate, preying on Spanish and Portuguese sea vessels. He was responsible for stealing nearly two million dollars worth of gold from Spanish vessels that were bringing gold and jewels back from Mexico, stolen from the Aztec Empire.
In 1524, Verrazano was chosen by king Francis I of France to search for a “Northwest Passage” to Asia through North America. He left aboard La Dauphine in January of 1524. On March 1, 1524, he reached Cape Fear, North Carolina and proceeded north to explore the coastline. Verrazano believed he saw the Pacific Ocean as he explored the North Carolina coast on the other side of a narrow strip of land. He had actually found the Pamlico Sound, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean. Verrazano’s error in judgment resulted in erroneous maps printed in Europe. The maps depicted North America as being split into two parts, connected by a narrow strip of land. The error took over a century to correct.
As Verrazano explored the Atlantic coast of North America farther north, he discovered New York Harbor, Block Island and Narragansett Bay. Because he often anchored far off-shore, Verrazano missed discovering the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. He sailed farther north to Maine and Newfoundland before returning to France. Verrazano would make two more trips to the Americas. On the second trip, he was killed by natives on the island of Guadalupe. Today, New York Harbor’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge commemorates his epic journey.