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Richard Amerike

Richard Amerike (Ameryk or ap Meryk) (c. 1445-1503) was a wealthy English merchant who funded John Cabot's voyage of discovery. There is a theory, although not a widely held one, that the Americas are named after Amerike: see naming of America.

Richard ap Meryk (in Welsh, Richard, son of Meryk) was born in Weston-under-Penyard[?], near Ross-on-Wye[?], Herefordshire in England and was descended from the family of the Earl of Gwent[?]. The name was anglicised to become Amerike.

He married a Lucy Wells and lived at West Camel[?], near Ilchester[?], Somerset until he decided to move his family to Bristol. Bristol, at this time, was becoming a more and more important as a port, second only to London, and was attracting merchants and adventurers from all over the country. In Bristol, Richard Amerike became a wealthy and important merchant and dignitary, holding the post of King's Customs Officer three times and became the Sheriff of Bristol in 1497.

Richard Amerike's connection with the America's name surfaced in the 1890s when the 1497 and 1498 customs rolls, archived in Westminster Abbey, were found to contain his name in connection with the payment of John Cabot's pension. In 1908 local archaeologist and historian Alfred Hudd[?], first proposed the theory that the word America had evolved from Amerike or ap Meryk. He proposed that the word "America", as it was originally applied, was used to indicate a destination across western seas, possibly an island or a fishing station in Newfoundland. This would have been before the existence of an entire continent on the other side of the Atlantic was ever known. However no maps bearing this name or documents indicating a location for this proposed village are known. Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage[?] calls all pre-Cabot tales unproven including the existence of any fishing villages of any name on Newfoundland.

There had long been a suspicion that fishing ships in search of cod were regularly crossing the Atlantic from Bristol to Newfoundland before Columbus' first voyage. Bristol merchants bought salt cod from Iceland until 1475 when the King of Denmark stopped the trade. In 1479 four Bristol merchants received a royal charter to find another source of fish. Records discovered in 1955 suggest that from 1480, (12 years before Columbus), English fishermen may have established a facility for processing fish on the Newfoundland coast. In 1960 trading records were discovered that indicated that Richard Amerike was involved in this business. A letter from around 1481 suggests that Amerike shipped salt (for salting fish) to these men at a place they had named Brassyle. The letter also states that they had many names for headlands and harbours. Rodney Broome and others suggest that one of these names may have been "America".

John Cabot (originally Giovanni Caboto a Genoese seaman) had become a well known mariner in England and he came to Bristol in 1495 looking for investment in a new project. On March 5, 1496, Cabot received a letter of authority from King Henry VII to make a voyage of discovery and claim lands on behalf of the monarch. It is believed that Amerike may have been one of the principal investors in the building of Cabot's ship the Matthew.

Cabot is known to have produced maps of the Maine to Newfoundland coast though none have survived. He named an island off Newfoundland St. John's. Copies of these maps were sent to Spain by John Day[?], where Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci would have seen them. The theroy suggests that Cabot may have written the name America (or similar) on his maps but no extant maps are available to prove this assertion.

Vespucci sailed with Columbus in 1499 and determined that America was a separate continent and not part of Asia as Columbus had believed. Martin Waldseemüller, a German map-maker, published a world map in 1507 using Vespucci's documents. The theory suggests that Waldseemüller assumed that the "America" that Vespucci used was derived from his first name. Waldseemüller provided an explanation of this assumption as an attachment to the map. Vespucci himself never stated that this was the case. There were immediate protests from Columbus' supporters to get the continent renamed for Columbus but attempts were unsuccessful since 1,000 copies of the map were already in circulation. On later editions of the map he substituted the words "Terra Incognita" but it was too late, the name America was now firmly assocciated with the entire northern and southern continent across the Atlantic from Europe.

Bibliography

  • The Columbus Myth: Did men of Bristol reach America before Columbus? Ian Wilson (1991: ISBN 0671711679)
  • Cabot and naming of America, Peter Macdonald (1997: ISBN 0952700921)
  • Terra Incognita: The True Story of How America Got Its Name, by Rodney Broome (US 2001: ISBN 0944638228)
  • Amerike: The Briton America is named after, by Rodney Broome (UK 2002: ISBN 075092909X)

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