Verrazzano: A Bridge to the New World

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13029

Exploring for France, the Italian Giovanni Verrazzano became the first European to reach New York. Many years later, the state named a bridge after him. In a way, he was a "bridge" to the New World!


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • If you lived in Europe in the 1600s, would you want to go exploring the New World?
  • What would your goals and expectations be?

There are many reasons why European explorers wanted to go on these exciting, but dangerous, expeditions. Click on the reason below that would be most important to you.

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Explorers faced dangerous seas, pirates, hostile natives — even mutinies from their own crews! — to sail to the New World. Giovanni Verrazzano was one of them.

Giovanni da Verrazano, 1768

Image by F. Allegrini, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Verrazzano was born in 1485. (You will sometimes find his named spelled with one "z," but two is the more authentic version.) He grew up in Italy, but moved to France in his early twenties and became a navigator on a French merchant ship. A navigator is someone who helps steer the ship. During this time, there were wars between France and Spain, and Verrazzano may have even been guilty of piracy (being a pirate, or stealing from others' ships!) against the Spanish.

In time, he learned enough about navigation to take charge of a ship of his own. France's King Francis I asked him to take a voyage to the New World to see if he could discover the Northwest Passage.

Portrait of Francis I, King of France circa 1530

Image by Joos van Cleve, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

  • What was the Northwest Passage?

At this time in the 1500s, the New World had not been explored much yet. People knew there was a land mass between Europe and Asia, but they had no idea how big it was. And as many European kings were eager to trade with Asia, they wanted to find a water route through this land to the Pacific. As you probably know, there is no such route through the United States!

So, King Francis sent Verrazzano to look for the Northwest Passage in 1524. Here's a map of Verrazzano's first voyage to America:

Approximate route of the voyage of Giovanni da Verrazano in North America in 1524.

Image by Matthew Trump, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Verrazzano landed at Cape Fear, North Carolina, before going south to the northern tip of Florida. He then turned north and traveled up the coast of America, all the way to Maine! Exploring the coast, he thought a few times that he might be close to finding a way through America to the sea, but of course, he never found it.

While exploring the eastern U.S. coastline, he made very good maps of the coast and descriptions of the areas he explored. These maps and descriptions were later used by the English in planning other expeditions and colonial settlements. So Verrazzano really became a "bridge to the New World!"

However, another bridge was in Verrazzano's future. He became the first European to enter New York harbor, 85 years before the more famous Henry Hudson did so. He went through the strait (a narrow strip of water between two lands) that connected the lower part of New York Bay with the upper part of the bay. This straight is now named the "Verrazzano Narrows," and the bridge that connects the two pieces of land (now Staten Island, N.Y., and Brooklyn, N.Y.) is called the "Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge."   Verrazzano Narrows
  Image by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.


Verrazzano Narrows Bridge

Image by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Snyder, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Verrazzano had friendly encounters with Native Americans throughout most of his voyage. But in Maine, he found the natives very unfriendly, and they drove him off. He stopped at Newfoundland and then headed home.

Verrazzano took two more voyages to the New World. The second voyage was troubled, and the third voyage was disastrous.

In 1527, he landed in South America instead of North America. There were bad storms, and his crew mutinied. They tried to force him to return to France, but he cut down some valuable wood in Brazil and brought it back to Europe and made a good profit.

Finally, in 1528, he made his last trip, landing in an area now called the Lesser Antilles. These are islands in the Caribbean Sea between Puerto Rico and South America.

Lesser Antilles

He thought the natives would be friendly, as they had been on most of his travels, but he was mistaken this time. He met up with the very unfriendly Carib tribe, who killed him. (The Caribs were cannibals, so it's possible they may have eaten him as well.)

Next, move on to the Got It? section, where you'll examine Verrazzano's goals as an explorer and whether or not he achieved them!

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