Portrait of Christopher Columbus seated

Source: Christopher Columbus, Library of Congress

"In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue" is a famous poem that reminds us of the important voyage of Christopher Columbus that led to the discovery of the New World. In this lesson, you will learn about Christopher Columbus and other Europeans who explored and colonized North America.

On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail westward from Spain on a voyage to Asia, a land where gold and spices were believed to be abundant. Columbus and his three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, arrived at what Columbus and his crew believed to be the East Indies on October 12, 1492. Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas that he named San Salvador.

Columbus returned to Spain and made a total of three more trips to the New World. Although Columbus did not reach Asia, his voyages sparked an era of exploration that would shape the future of the world in which we live today. Columbus never found the gold and spices that he was searching for in China and India, but he inspired other explorers to search for wealth and fame.

Click on each of the images below to learn more about the explorer and his routes.

Interactive exercise. Assistance may be required.

Although most European explorers set out to find spices, gold, and other riches, what they actually discovered became much more important to the world. These explorers discovered new sea routes and made contact with native people of these new lands. This period of exploration is sometimes called the Age of Discovery. European explorations eventually led to the European colonization of North America.

European countries began to claim territories in North America to expand their influence in the new lands. Slowly, the countries began to settle these areas to protect their newly claimed territories.

In the next section, you will read more about the impact of European exploration on the colonization and settlement of North America.

Source for images used in sections as they appear from top to bottom: