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Gaspar Corte-Real (The Green North)

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Gaspar Corte-Real (c. 1450 -c. 1518) was the youngest son of Joao Vaz Corte-Real, born in 1450 in Tavira, the Algarve. He is credited with founding the Portuguese colony of Bacalao in the of Greenland.

First Expedition

Gaspar first sailed with an expedition of his father's in 1473. Having been a sickly child, thought by many today to have had tuberculosis, he was unwilling at first to go with his father. However his father wanted his son to become an explorer like himself and so brough him along. The expedition set sail from Lisbon on the 14th of August 1473 in three caravels, small Portuguese ships. After over a month of traveling the ships put to land at Selfoss in southern Iceland. Here Joao made a deal with Didrik Pining and Hans Pothorst, also seeking the North West Passage under the employ of the King of Denmark. Joao proposed that they join his expedition and the group of now six ships set off from Selfoss on the 25th September.

The west coast of Greenland was sighted on the 1st of October and on the advice of their Icelandic guides, the ships continued to Brattahlith. From here Joao decided to head south, setting sail of the 6th of October for "The Land of Forest", rumoured by the Greenland settlers to lie further south. Although land was sighted on the 24th of October 1473, Joao was unable to put to land, as there arose a disagreement between the Portuguese contingent and Pining and Pothorst's men, who objected to taking orders and worried that with winter was coming, they wouldn't find a safe place to land. In the ensuing fighting, Gaspar sustained a wound to his thigh which would later result in his wooden leg.

With the other's turning back north, Joao did likewise and buying some furs from the settlers, he headed home. He has well rewarded by Princess Beatrice, who impressed by what Joao had brought back, and his tales of new lands, appointed him as captain of Angra on Terceira island in the Azores.

Second Expedition

Manuel I, eager to expand his influence and strongly supported exploration of both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. On his mother, Queen Beatrice's advice, he hired Gaspar to return to the northern lands and try to find a navigable North West Passage to India. Thus Gaspar set out with five ships from Lisbon on the 16th June 1500. After taking a route similar to that of his father, Gaspar's expedition landed at Brattahlith on the 12th July. The colony was severely decimated even since his father's expedition. Black death, imported from Iceland had claimed much of the population of Greenland. This was capitalised upon by the natives, who regularly attacked the settlements. Gaspar helped fight off one such incursion during his stay at Brattahlith. However he saw that the people needed greater relief and so returned home with furs and other valuables.

Third Expedition

Gaspar and his brother Miguel Corte-Real made a joint expedition with sixteen caravels and four carracks, larger vessels, in 1501. They aimed to reinforce the dwindling population and perhaps claim land in the name of Portugal. They arrived back at Greenland on the 27th of May and helped the Brattahlith settlers once again repel a native attack. Then with the settlers permission, they sailed south and founded Bacalao in the name of Manuel I of Portugal. It was agreed that Miguel would sail back to Portugal with two ships to announce this to the King and gather more colonists. He set sail with sixty natives to sell as slaves. The maps made by the Corte-Real brothers was incorporated into the Cantino Planisphere back in Portugal.

Gaspar was left in charge of the newly established colony. He was responsible for the defensive wall around Bacalao, the remnants of which can still be seen today. The early settlement was effectively a fortress, designed to keep out the attacks of the natives. After the numbers of colonists were increased by the return of Miguel in June 1502 and the arrival of the third brother, Vasco Anes Corte-Real, in 1503, Balacao grew into a sizable colony.

Gaspar was the first Comandante of Bacalao until his death in 1518. His son Adão Corte-Real was his successor.

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