Hispanic Division: Back to Portuguese Role in Exploring and Mapping the New World

The First Circumnavigation of the Globe

One of the most noted of Portuguese-born explorers was Fernão de Magalhães (anglicized as "Magellan"), who instigated and organized the first circumnavigation of the globe from 1519 to 1522. Sailing for the King of Spain, he set out with the objective of finding a route to the Orient by sailing westward around the southern tip of South America.

Part of his legacy, especially in adding new place names to previously unmapped areas of the world, is reflected in this early eighteenth-century map of Magellanica or Tierra del Fuego. Magalhães named the strait that he discovered at the southern tip of South America, "Channel of All Saints." Other names have been applied to the strait, but this feature has come to be known by the name of the man who first discovered it -- "Strait of Magellan."

After navigating through the tempestuous waters of the strait, Magalhães encountered a very calm sea, which he appropriately named "Pacific." Interestingly, when Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama seven years earlier, he named the same ocean "Mar del Sur" (South Sea). Although both names appear on this eighteenth-century map, it was Magalhães' designation that eventually gained acceptance.

Although the course that Magalhães plotted did not become the primary route for Europeans sailing to the Orient during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it did become the primary route for nineteenth-century New England whaling ships as they searched for whales along the western coast of North America. It was this industry that provided the link between the Portuguese-American settlements on the northeast and west coasts of the United States during the nineteenth century.
Tabula Magellanica qua Tierra del Fuego
Tabula Magellanica qua Tierra del Fuego. Amsterdam: Schenk and Valk, [1709?]. Hand-colored engraving. Geography and Map Division, Title Collection, Chile-Magellan Strait (3).

Library of Congress Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian ( February 26, 2020 )
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Portugal during the Age of Discoveries

The Azore Islands

The First Circumnavigation of the Globe

Portuguese Exploration along the Northeast Coast of North America

Cabrilho's Discovery of California

Portuguese View of the World at the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century