A Timeline of the Age of Discovery

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A Brief History

This article presents a chronological timeline of key events that occurred during the Age of Discovery.

Digging Deeper

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus, the Italian adventurer sailing into the unknown in the name of the Spanish Crown, landed in the Bahamas, the landing that became known as the “discovery” of America (or, “The New World” if you prefer).

On March 15, 1493, Christopher Columbus made his triumphant return from his first voyage to the New World, a momentous occasion in human history and especially noteworthy for the Spanish Crown that he sailed for.

On March 5, 1496, in the wake of the tremendous news about the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World, King Henry VII of England granted “letters patent” to John Cabot, an Italian sailor and adventurer, along with his sons, to explore the world on behalf of the English Crown.

On December 27, 1512, the King and Queen of Spain issued the Laws of Burgos, a set of rules for how Spaniards were to treat Native Americans in the Caribbean islands colonized by Spain.

On July 7, 1550, chocolate is thought to have been introduced to Europe from the Americas.

On December 13, 1577, Francis Drake set out from Plymouth, England on his ship, The Golden Hind, on a voyage that would take the ship and crew around the world, the first circumnavigation of the globe by an English vessel. This voyage of course goes down in history as a famous one, as do the rest of the voyages listed here.

On July 22, 1587, a detachment of English settlers landed at Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina, with the intention of establishing a colony.

On August 18, 1587, Virginia Dare was born in the Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina.  Each year the current residents of Roanoke Island celebrate her birthday with an Elizabethan Renaissance Festival.

On July 19, 1588, during the Anglo-Spanish War’s Battle of Gravelines, the ultimately doomed Spanish Armada was sighted in the English Channel.

On May 24, 1607, 100 English settlers went ashore at a site chosen for the Jamestown Colony, the first permanent English settlement in mainland North America.  That is when things went wrong!

On July 25, 1609, the excellently named British ship, Sea Venture, encountered serious storms while crossing the Atlantic Ocean en route to Virginia, and was purposely run ashore to prevent loss of the ship and passengers.

On April 5, 1614, a milestone in European and Native American relations was reached when John Rolfe, English colonist, married Pocahontas, Native American princess!

On August 5, 1620, the Mayflower set out from England with another ship, the Speedwell, on its first attempt to take Puritans to the New World.

On August 5, 1620, 2 small English sailing ships left Southampton Water in England on a trip to the New World, carrying a group of Puritans seeking a land where they could practice their brand of religion without interference.

On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, headed for The New World in America.  Many Americans are under the false impression that these were the first white settlers of North America, and of course, they got history wrong! 

On March 16, 1621, only about 4 months after landing at Plymouth Rock and setting up their new colony in what was then called Plymouth Colony (Now Massachusetts and Maine) the Pilgrims that had traveled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower had their first friendly contact with a Native person, and that contact came as quite a shock!

On March 22, 1621, the European (basically British) colonists of Plymouth Colony, a “Pilgrim” venture for displaced religious zealots to find a place to practice their religion in peace, signed a peace treaty with Chief (or “Sachem”) Massasoit of the Wampanoag Native American coalition of tribes that had occupied what is now Massachusetts.

On May 24, 1626, Peter Minuit, Director of New Netherland, bought the island of Manhattan (in modern day New York City) from Native-Americans for goods valued at 60 guilders, the equivalent of $24. 

On August 12, 1676, John Alderman, known as a “Praying Indian” because he was a Native American converted to Christianity, shot and killed Chief Metacomet of the Wampanoag people, thus ending the conflict known as King Phillip’s War.

On August 7, 1679, a small ship named Le Griffon (The Griffon) that had been built under the direction of famous explorer of the New World René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was towed to a point on the Niagara River from which it became the first European sailing vessel worthy of the designation “ship” to ever sail the Great Lakes.

On January 31, 1747, The London Lock Hospital opened, the first clinic specifically for the treatment of venereal diseases!

On July 12, 1776, famous explorer English Captain James Cook set sail from Plymouth on what was to be his final voyage.

On April 20, 1828, French explorer René Caillié became the first European to return alive from a visit to the ancient African city of Timbuktu.

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have a favorite explorer?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Mancall, Peter C.  Travel Narratives from the Age of Discovery: An Anthology.  Oxford University Press, 2006.


About Author

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.