Ferdinand Magellan


Early Years

Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal in 1480. As a boy, he worked in the Queen's household. This allowed him to hear about all the discoveries that were being made. It is possible that he was there when Columbus visited the Portuguese court in 1493. In 1505, Magellan finally got to go to sea on a military expedition. He fell immediately in love with the sea. As he continued his journeys, he became fascinated with the Spice Islands. Since this was the place that spices were grown, he thought it was the best place to purchase them. He felt that if he could find a strait through the newly discovered continent, he could just sail across the new sea all the way to the Spice Islands. Before he could do that thought, he needed full support from the king. The problem was that King Manuel did not like Magellan's idea and rejected it. When it became clear that the king would not support him, he asked permission to leave and work for a different king. King Manual made it obvious that he didn't want anything to do with Magellan. Magellan moved to Spain, married Diego Barbosa's daughter, and became a Spanish citizen. He then went to the king of Spain, Charles I. He presented a plan that he felt could not fail. He said that he knew of a secret strait through the new continent. He would sail through that strait and go to the Spice Islands. If for some reason he was unable to find the strait, he would turn back and sail the usual way around Africa. The king could not disagree with a plan that meant that one way or another, Magellan would get to the Spice Islands.


Magellan set sail for the Spice Islands on September 20, 1519. There were five ships and 265 men under his command. He took trinkets to trade with native along the way, and enough food for two years. He would not tell anyone where they were going, not even the captains. Magellan's secrecy caused problems with the captains who sailed the other ships. They didn't like being kept in the dark about Magellan's plans. This eventually lead to an unsuccessful mutiny during the voyage.

On December 15, Magellan's fleet landed on the coast of Brazil. The natives that they met were friendly. The men traded trinkets for fresh fruit and meat. Magellan felt that he had converted the natives to Christianity. He liked that idea very much!

They continued down the coast, looking for the strait. On January 10, 1520, they spotted a huge bay. To make sure that this was the strait, he sent his men into the bay to explore. Two weeks later, he was disappointed when his men returned, and had found a big river, but no strait. That meant that they had to keep sailing south..

When Magellan reached what is now called Port San Julian, he told the ships to drop anchor, and they spent the winter there. It was at this port that Magellan successfully stopped a mutiny. When the worst of winter was over, they once again began their search for the strait.

On October 20, 1520, they found another bay. They thought that this bay was just like all the others, and had no strait. But Magellan wanted to make sure, and sent two ships to go and look, but to come back within five days. While they were gone a huge storm came, and it seemed certain that the two ships had been lost. But on the fifth day, just as Magellan was ready to give up, the two ships returned. They were sure that they had found the new strait. All the ships entered the strait, and thirty-eight days later, after traveling for 344 miles, they had reached the new sea.

On November 28th, Magellan started sailing on the "unknown sea". He named it the Pacific because the waters were peaceful. While the waters may have been peaceful, the journey was very difficult. Because they could not find land, they did not have any fresh food for over three months. For this reason, 19 men died.

Finally, on March 16, 1521, Magellan landed on what he thought were the Spice Islands. They were actually the Philippines. The people there were very friendly, and Magellan's men enjoyed the fresh food. They rested for nine days, waiting for the men to recover from their difficult journey. As Magellan went from island to island, he converted the natives to Christianity. He loved doing this so much, that even though people advised against it, he went to the island of Mactan to convert more natives. Magellan rowed to the shore of the island with 60 armed men. What Magellan didn't know was that there was a coral reef between his boat and the shore. To reach the island, Magellan and his men had to get out of their boasts and wade ashore. When they reached the shore, they were attacked by 1500 natives. Magellan was hit by arrows and spears, and finally killed, on April 26, 1521.

His men continued on to the Spice Islands where they bought all the spices that they could. On September 6, 1522, only one of the original five ships made it back to Spain. While Magellan had started out with 265 men, only 18 made it back to Spain. They had however, proved that you could sail all the way around the world.

After Magellan

Many ships were destroyed trying to get through the new strait, and it was too far south. Explorers kept on trying to find a better strait.. When the English settled Jamestown, Virginia, John Smith tried exploring the Chesapeake Bay hoping that it might be the long sought after strait. Finally America built a canal though Panama, and then the word had a man made strait through the new continent.




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