African American Migration (Scroll down through the site and take notes)
During this time, the invention of the printing press made books, including Marco Polo’s, more available. As Europeans learned about the world beyond Europe, they became eager to explore these far-off lands.
Columbus’s Discoveries One of the people who was inspired by Marco Polo’s writings was an Italian seaman named Christopher Columbus. After studying maps of the world, which at that time did not include the Americas, Columbus became convinced that the shortest route to the Indies lay to the west, across the Atlantic Ocean.
Columbus looked for someone who could pay for the ships and men he needed to test his idea. Eventually, he was able to convince King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to sponsor a voyage.
In August 1492, Columbus sailed west with three small ships. After more than a month at sea, his sailors raised the cry of “Land!” The land turned out to be a small island in what we now call the Caribbean Sea.
Columbus was thrilled. In a later letter, he wrote, “I write this to tell you how in thirty-three days I sailed to the Indies with the fleet that the illustrious King and Queen . . . gave me, where I discovered a great many islands, inhabited by numberless people.” Mistakenly believing that he had reached the Indies, Columbus called these people Indians.
In reality, the islanders were native people who spoke a language called Taino (TIE-no). The Taino lived in a peaceful fishing community. Never had they seen people like the ones who had suddenly appeared on their shores. Yet they were friendly and welcoming. Columbus wrote, “They are so unsuspicious and so generous with what they possess, that no one who had not seen it would believe it.”
Columbus promptly claimed the island for Spain and named it San Salvador, which means “Holy Savior.” From there, he sailed on to other islands. Convinced that China lay nearby, Columbus sailed back to Spain for more ships and men.
Columbus made four trips to the Caribbean, finding more islands, as well as the continent of South America. Each time he discovered a new place, he claimed it for Spain. Columbus died still believing he had found Asia. Later explorers quickly realized that he had actually stumbled on a world previously unknown to Europe—the continents of North and South America.
The Columbian Exchange The voyages of Columbus triggered a great transfer of people, plants, animals, and diseases back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. This transfer, which still continues today, is called the Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange brought valuable new crops such as corn, potatoes, and squash to Europe. These foods greatly improved the diet of the average European. Many Europeans also found new opportunities by crossing the Atlantic to settle in the Americas. They introduced crops such as wheat and rice to these lands, as well as domesticated animals like horses, cows, pigs, and sheep.
For American Indians, however, the exchange began badly. The Europeans who came to America brought with them germs that caused smallpox and other diseases deadly to Indians. Historians estimate that in some areas, European diseases wiped out 90 percent of the native population.
Slavery Comes to America This high death rate contributed to the introduction of African slaves to the Americas. Many laborers were needed because some of the Spanish settlers in the Caribbean had started gold mines. Others raised sugar, a crop of great value in Europe. At first, the settlers forced Indians to work for them. But as native people began dying in great numbers from European diseases, the settlers looked for a new workforce. Before long, Africans were replacing Indians.
Slavery had existed around the world since ancient times. Often, people who were on the losing side in wars were enslaved, or treated as the property of their conquerors.
By the late 1400s, European explorers in West Africa were trading guns and other goods for slaves captured by African traders.
In the 1500s, European slave traders began shipping slaves to the Caribbean for sale. Over the next three centuries, millions of Africans would be carried across the Atlantic in crowded, disease-infested ships. The terrible voyage lasted anywhere from weeks to months. Many died before it was over.
When the Africans arrived in the Americas, they were sold to their new masters at auctions. Many perished from disease and overwork. Those who survived faced a lifetime of forced labor as slaves.
Cortés Conquers Mexico After Columbus’s voyages, Spain began sending soldiers called conquistadors (kahn-KEES-tah-dors), across the Atlantic. Their mission was to conquer a vast empire for Spain. The conquistadors hoped to get rich along the way.
In 1519, Hernán Cortés (ehr-NAHN kohr-TEHZ) arrived in Mexico with horses and 500 soldiers. There he heard about the powerful Aztecs who ruled much of Mexico. When Cortés and his men reached the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (tay-noch teet-LAN), they could not believe their eyes. A beautiful city seemed to rise out of a sparkling lake. One Spaniard wrote, “Some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream.”
The Aztecs were unsure what to make of the strangers. They had never seen men dressed in metal armor and riding horses. Some mistook Cortés for the great Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (kwet-zul-kuh-WAHtul) and welcomed him as a hero. They would soon change their minds.
With the help of Indians who hated their Aztec rulers, and with the spread of smallpox—which killed large numbers of Aztec warriors—Cortés conquered Tenochtitlán. The Spaniards pulled the city down and used its stones to build Mexico City, the capital of a new Spanish empire called New Spain.
Pizarro Conquers Peru Smallpox also helped another Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro (fran-SIS-co pi-ZAR-oh), conquer an empire in South America. In 1532, Pizarro led an attack on the powerful Inca Empire in present-day Peru. Luckily for Pizarro, smallpox reached Peru many months before him, killing thousands of Incas and leaving their empire badly divided.
Pizarro captured the Inca ruler, Atahualpa (ah-tuh-WAHL-puh), but promised to release him in exchange for gold. To save their ruler, the Incas filled three rooms with gold and silver treasures. Pizarro killed Atahualpa anyway and took over the leaderless Inca empire. From there, Spanish conquistadors conquered most of South America.