Sunday, July 20, 2008

I Heart New Angoulême?

Next time you visit Angoulême, be sure to ride to the top of the Empire State Building, windowshop along Fifth Avenue, take in a show on Broadway, and saunter through Central Park. And don't forget to pay your respects at the site of the World Trade Center.

No, that wasn't a typo. Angoulême. And I'm not talking about the city in France.

Angoulême, the family name of François I, was the original European name the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano gave to the island of Manhattan when he discovered it in 1524. Eager to please the king, who had funded his voyage, Verrazzano called New York Bay Santa Margarita, in honor of Marguerite de Navarre.

I'd never heard this fascinating bit of history until last week. I was visiting my parents, native New Yorkers, who recently moved to South Carolina. One afternoon I picked up a book off their coffee table, Picturing New York: The City from its Beginnings to the Present, by Gloria Deák (Columbia UP: 2000). Opening it at random, I fell upon a full-page reproduction of a 19th century drawing of François and Marguerite--hardly something I expected in a book about New York City! Intrigued, I began to read and was amazed at what I found.

François, hoping for a piece of the Oriental trade to finance his armies, commissioned Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano to find a passage to the Indies. On January 17, 1524, Verrazzano set sail in his carrack La Dauphine. Fifty days later, he sighted the North American continent sitting squarely in his way. Verrazzano made seven landfalls along the eastern coast, from the Carolinas north to Newfoundland. On April 17, 1524, he dropped anchor in New York Bay, making him the first documented European to touch the shores of what is now known as Manhattan. The local natives greeted the Europeans warmly; you can read the account of the encounter and Verrazzano's description of the island in his report to François, translated here.

Verrazzano paid tribute to his patron by dubbing the beautiful island Angoulême. He called the bay formed by this land Santa Margarita "after the name of your sister, who surpasses all other matrons in modesty and intellect." The French names of these territories were quickly incorporated into the engraved maps of the sixteenth century. However, Verrazzano's discovery--and the territories' French names--were eventually overshadowed by efforts of Henry Hudson, who managed to sail up the river which unfavorable winds had prevented Verrazzano from entering. In 1609 the name Manhattan appears in Hudson's logbook as Manna-hatta, native for "island of the hills." The elaborate Velasco map of the New World, printed in 1611 and presented to the King of Spain, used Hudson's names rather than Verrazzano's, effacing the city's French birth forever after.

François was captured at the battle of Pavia in 1525 and held prisoner by Emperor Charles V in Spain, so I suspect this is why he never followed up on France's claim to New York. I'll do some more digging to find out. In the meantime, read the report of the voyage. I almost cried when I read about the little Native American boy torn from his family and taken back to France. I wonder what ever happened to him?

[Factual content for this post taken from Deák's book, pages 1-8.]


Sheramy said...

Reading those kinds of narratives really does leave a bad taste in the mouth. He mentions taking the boy away as if the boy were just another New World trinket!

How completely fascinating, though. I had no idea an Italian explorer had preceded the Dutch. Thanks for sharing!

Catherine Delors said...

What a scoop! I knew about New Amsterdam, but had never heard of this Augouleme. Bravo, Julianne.

Julianne Douglas said...

Sheramy, the story of Henry Hudson's explorations of the area for the Dutch completely overshadowed Verrazzano's prior claim, which is interesting, given that Verrazzano's trip report, one of the first to describe the native people of the area, was widely read. As I conjectured, Francois's attention was diverted by his imprisonment, and I believe V. himself died only a few years after that voyage.

Catherine, I'm glad the story was news to someone else, and a French person at that! I'd heard of Verrazzano, but never knew of his connection to Francois. Who knows how things might have been different if Francois had not been captured at Pavia?