Did Muslims explore America? Was there a Swedish colony?

8/23/2012 • Ask Mr. History

I’ve heard that shortly after America was discovered by Columbus followers of Islam did try to send their own explorers over to the new lands of America. What happened to them?  

One more question: did Sweden have its own colonies in America where Northern Jersey is now?  

—Gregory Morrow

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Dear Mr. Morrow,  

First, there may be evidence that Islamic explorers reached America before Columbus, starting in 1178 with the Chinese Sung Document’s mention of Muslims exploring a place called Mu-lan-pi, identified as the New World.  

In 1310, an expedition from the West African kingdom of Mali allegedly reached the Americas, followed in 1312 by Mandingas (also West African Muslims) to the Gulf of Mexico.  

In 1513 Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis completed a world map that included reasonable (for the time) representations of the Americas.  

In 1539 Esevanico of Azamor, a Moroccan, explored the continent, particularly what is now Arizona and New Mexico.  

As for the Swedes, on March 29, 1638, the ships Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel landed in Delaware Bay to establish a colony to export tobacco and furs for the New Sweden Company, and to built fort Christina in what is now Wilmington. It was commanded by Admiral Clas Fleming, but the first governor was a Dutchman with previous experience in his own country’s service: Pieter Minuit. Settled by Swedes, Dutch and a plurality of forest Finns, New Sweden encompassed parts of Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania until 1655, when Dutch governor Pieter Stuyvesant forcibly occupied the area with his Dutch army. He did allow a certain amount of autonomy to the region, but that ended after the English took over in 1664 and began redividing it up among its own colonists. Among the legacies of New Sweden is the log cabin. The oldest in North America still standing, the C.A. Nothnable Log House, is kept up in Gibbstown, N.J.




Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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