Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator from whom the name of America is derived, born in Florence, March 9, 1451, died in Seville, Feb. 22, 1512. He was in business in Seville as an agent of the Medici family when Columbus returned from his first voyage; and in 1496, while fitting out four caravels for the Spanish service in the countries lately discovered, he occasionally met with Columbus, and was induced to prepare for a career of nautical adventure. In 1499 he sailed from Spain in an expedition under Ojeda which visited the neighborhood of Cape Paria and several hundred miles of coast, and returned in June, 1500. In July Vespucci wrote to one of the Medici of Florence an account of the voyage, which lay hid in manuscript till 1745, when it was published by Bandini. In May, 1501, he entered the service of Emanuel, king of Portugal, and participated in an expedition which visited the coast of Brazil. Of this voyage he also wrote an account to the same member of the Medici family, which was first Drought to light by Bartolozzi in 1789. In 1504 he sent to the same person a fuller narrative of this expedition, which was published at Strasburg in 1505, under the title, Americus Vesputius de Ora Antarctica per Begem Portugallie pridem inventa.
From this voyage he acquired the reputation of being the discoverer of the mainland. In May, 1503, he commanded a caraval in a squadron that sailed for the discovery of Malacca, but parted company from the rest, and finally made his way to the coast of Brazil, where he discovered the bay of All Saints, remained there two months, then ran 260 leagues further S., where he built a fort, took in a cargo of Brazil wood, and after a stay of five months stood for Lisbon, which he reached in June, 1504. Early in 1505 he sought employment from the Spanish court, and received from King Ferdinand letters of naturalization. Before March 22, 1508, he became pilot major with a salary of 70,000 maravedis. He was placed over a deposito hydrogrdfico, and was charged with the preparation for the casa de contratacion of a general description of coasts and accounts of expeditions, in which every year new discoveries were to be entered, besides the construction of charts, the examination of pilots, and other duties.
After his return from hii Brazil expedition in 1504, he wrote from Lisbon a letter to Rene, duke of Lorraine, containing an account of four voyages to the new world, wherein he says that the first expedition in which he was concerned sailed from Cadiz May 20, 1497, and returned in October, 1498. This remark has been the source of a fierce controversy as to the first discovery of the mainland of America, and as to the true character of Vespucci, against whom it has been charged that after the return from his first voyage to Brazil he made a maritime chart, in which he gave his name to that part of the mainland. The statement in the letter is unquestionably false. The name Americi Terra was applied to this continent as early as 1507, by Waldsee-Muller (Martinus Hylacomylus), a geographer of Freiburg in Breisgau, in a small work entitled Cosmographies Introduction... insuper quatuor Americi Vespucci Navigatianes. It does not appear that Vespucci himself had any intention of taking the honor of the discovery from Columbus, with whom he was on friendly terms; and it was not until the appearance of the Opusculum Geographicum of Schoner in 1533, and of the attack of Servetus in the Lyons edition of Ptolemy in 1535, that charges were brought against him. - See "Life and Voyages of Americus Vespucius," by C. E. Lester (New York, 1846), and "Vespucius and his Voyages," by Santarem, translated by E. V. Childe (Boston, 1850).