Verrazzano was a native of Florence, Italy, and a pirate like many other sailors of that time. Being known as a daring seaman, he was asked by Francis I., King of France, to take command of a fleet of four vessels and try to find a western passage to rich Cathay. For Francis had become very jealous of the Spaniards, and felt that his country ought to have a share in the riches of the New World.
Verrazzano sailed from France full of hope and joy; but he had gone only a short distance when a severe storm arose, and two of his vessels were lost sight of forever. The two remaining vessels were obliged to return to France.
After some delay Verrazzano started again, with one vessel called the Dauphine. With this vessel he reached the island of Madeira, and from this island he sailed, January 17, 1524, for the unknown world.
The voyage lasted forty-nine days, after which time a long, low coast was sighted in the distance. This coast, which was probably North Carolina, afforded no landing place, and for some time Verrazzano sailed north and then south, searching for one. The search proved unsuccessful, and as the crew were in need of fresh water, Verrazzano decided to send a boat ashore.
So a small boat was manned, and the sailors tried very hard to reach the shore, but the surf was so high that they were unable to do this. At last one brave sailor jumped from the boat into the foaming breakers and swam toward the shore. He carried in one hand presents for the Indians, who were standing at the water's edge watching the strange sight. At length the sailor succeeded in swimming so close to the shore that he was able to throw the presents to the Indians.
His courage then deserted him, and in terror he tried to swim back to his vessel. The surf, however, dashed him on the sandy beach, and he would have been drowned had not some of the Indians waded in and dragged him ashore. These Indians quickly stripped him of all his clothing and began to build an immense bonfire. The poor sailor thought his end had come, and his former companions looked on from their ship in horror at the preparations.
All of them thought that the Indians meant to burn him alive or else to cook and eat him. To their great relief, the Indians treated him very gently and kindly; they dried his clothes by the fire and warmed him.
These kind Indians looked very savage. Their skin was copper colored, their long, straight hair was tied and worn in a braid, and their faces were very stern; for, you know, an Indian never laughs or smiles.
In spite of their fierce looks, however, they were very good to the pale-faced stranger, and when he was strong again they led him back to the shore, and he swam out to his ship.
Verrazzano was glad to see his sailor return in safety from this dangerous trip. The man had risked his life, but no water had been obtained for the crew. So Verrazzano started northward, and along the coast of Maryland he made a landing and secured the much-needed fresh water.
At this place the Frenchmen had an opportunity to return the kindness that the Indians had shown their companion, but I am sorry to have to tell you that they did not do so. While searching for the water, Verrazzano and his followers came suddenly upon a little Indian boy, whom they seized and carried off to their ship. The mother of the boy came quickly from some bushes to rescue her son, and they would also have stolen her, but she made so much noise that they were obliged to run in order to escape from the rest of the tribe, who came to help her. The Frenchmen reached their ship in safety with the poor little Indian boy, and quickly set sail.
Verrazzano proceeded northward, following the shore, and at length came to a very narrow neck of water, with rising land on both sides. Through this strait Verrazzano sailed, and, to his surprise, came out into a broad and beautiful bay which was surrounded on all sides by forests, and was dotted here and there with the canoes of Indians who were coming out from the land to meet him.
You have, of course, guessed that this strait was the Narrows, which separates Staten Island from Long Island, and that the bay was the beautiful New York Bay.
Verrazzano followed the shore of Long Island to a small island, which was likely Block Island. From this island he sailed into a harbor on the mainland, probably Newport, where he remained fifteen days. Here the Indians received their pale-faced visitors with great dignity and pomp. Two of the Indian chiefs, arrayed in painted deer skins and raccoon and lynx skins, and decorated with copper ornaments, paid Verrazzano a visit of state.
Soon after this Verrazzano sailed away, again northward. The climate grew cooler and the country more rugged, and the vegetation changed. Instead of the sweet-scented cypress and bay trees which the sailors had admired along the Carolina coast, there were dark forests of stately pines, which were grand but gloomy.
Great cliffs of rock extended along the shores, and from these heights the natives looked down upon the lonely little ship in fear, anger, and amazement. At length they consented to trade with the pale-faces; but they lowered a cord from the rocks and drew up the knives, fishhooks, and pieces of steel which they demanded in exchange for furs and skins. Once Verrazzano and a few of his men tried to land. But the Indians fiercely attacked them, and a shower of arrows and the sound of the dreaded war whoop caused the Europeans to fly to their ship for safety.
So Verrazzano gave up the plan of landing among these fierce Indians, and continued his voyage northward as far as Newfoundland. Here provisions grew scarce, and Verrazzano decided to sail for home.
The return voyage was a safe one, and Verrazzano was greeted with joy when he arrived in France. Upon his discoveries the French based their claim to all the country in the New World between Carolina and Newfoundland, extending westward as far as land continued.
Verrazzano wished very much to go again to this new land and try to plant a colony and to convert the Indians to the Christian religion. But France at this time was plunged into war at home, and all trace of Verrazzano is lost. Some say that he made a second voyage, and that while exploring a wild country he was taken prisoner and killed by a savage tribe of Indians. The story that is most likely true is that he did return to the New World, and that while there he was taken prisoner by the Spaniards and hanged as a pirate.