Glossary

Adelantado:
The term for a Spanish colonial governor who was in charge of a newly founded, remote colony. The word comes from the Spanish word for "forward."
Adobe:
A type of brick common in the American Southwest, made of clay and straw and baked in the sun.
Alcalde-mayor:
A position in many Spanish New World colonies, the alcalde-mayor performed the duties of a town's mayor, sheriff and justice of the peace.
Alguacil mayor:
A sort of high sheriff or constable, in charge of maintaining order in an expedition or colony.
Altitude:
The elevation of an object from a known level such as sea level or the earth’s surface.
Anorak:
A hooded jacket developed in the Arctic by the Inuit. The original anorak was made from seal skin and kept waterproof with oil.
Anthropology:
The study of the origin and physical, social, and cultural development and behavior of humans.
Anti-Scorbutic:
Food or drink used to prevent scurvy. Examples include fruits, vegetables, preserved vegetables such as sauerkraut, and vinegar.
Bandolier:
A belt with wooden or metal containers that usually held gunpowder. It was regular issue to the European armies from the 16th to 18th centuries.
BCE:
“Before the Common Era” — a modern term used to replace BC or “Before Christ.”
Bibliophile:
A person who loves reading and collecting books.
Cartographer:
A person who makes maps and globes.
Cartography:
The study and practice of making maps and globes.
Cathay:
The name Europeans used for what is modern northern China.
CE:
“Common Era” — a modern term that replaces AD or “After Death.”
Chaplain:
A member of the clergy who accompanies an expedition or army in the field and sees to their religious needs.
Commodities:
Transportable items of commerce or trade.
Cosmology:
A science that is no longer practiced, but was quite popular during the Renaissance. Cosmology mixed elements of astronomy and geography together in an attempt to explain how the universe operates.
Dirigible:
An air ship that is self-propelled and steered such as a blimp. The air craft is usually filled with gases that are lighter than air.
Escribano:
A clerk or notary who oversaw the signing of government-related documents.
Escudero:
Spanish for "shield-bearer," the word once meant an assistant who carried the gear for a mounted knight. Over time, the job evolved and during the Age of Exploration, an escudero was a soldier (normally of noble birth) who signed on with an expedition to the New World.
Eunuch:
Usually refers to a man who has been castrated or a man who is impotent with women. Eunuchs were given a variety of jobs including positions in the government, as religious leaders, or, what they are most famous for, protectors of harems and queens.
Fealty:
The fidelity of a person to his lord or ruler.
Fjord:
A long narrow, often deep inlet from the sea with steep cliffs on either side.
Franciscan:
A member of the Franciscan order in the Catholic Church. Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans in the 13th century as a way to preserve and spread the Christian faith. Many Franciscan monks came to the New World.
Gangrenous:
The decay of the body’s tissue due to the lack of blood flow caused by an injury. The injured area is then infected by bacteria.
Geographic North Pole:
True North, the actual location where the Earth’s axis is found, the northern-most point on the Earth.
Geographic South Pole:
True South, the actual location where the Earth’s axis is found, the southern-most point on Earth.
Horizon:
The line where the sky and the land or water seem to meet.
Hydrographer:
A person who measures and describes water and its surrounding land.
Indigenous:
Refers to something or someone living in an area naturally or first. In the cases of many native peoples of America, Africa, and Polynesia, it refers to people who lived there before the Europeans arrived.
Inuit:
The indigenous peoples of the Arctic.
Isthmus:
A thin strip of land that connects two larger pieces of land. Panama is an isthmus, connecting Central America with the South American continent.
Jesuit:
A member of the Society of Jesus, a missionary organization founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1540. The Jesuits were hardy and adventurous, often going to very remote places in order to spread the Christian faith.
Kamik:
An Inuit word referring to a soft boot made of reindeer or sealskin.
Khan:
Used to refer to a commander, ruler, or a leader.
Lapp (Sámi) People:
The Lapp people of Lapland in Norway are sometimes described as “dressing the reindeer skins.” Lapp people are the indigenous people of modern-day northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. Lapp describes the patching of cloth when mending torn or ripped clothing. The Sámi people wore patched clothing, hence the Norwegian term, Lapp. Traditionally, the Sámi fished and trapped animals for furs, and today they are most commonly associated with reindeer. Around 1500, many Sámi began herding reindeer when the hunting became poor. Reindeer herding was originally a nomadic lifestyle, but today, the Sámi, as well as others, raise and herd reindeer like cattle.
Lard:
A white grease made from the fat of animals. It is generally used as a foodstuff.
Lead:
A gap in the ice that exposes water. As the ice moves, leads open and close.
Logbook:
A book that all ship captains wrote in daily. The information would include the ship’s direction, speed, wind speed, weather, and anything special that happened that day.
Magnetic North Pole:
A location in the Earth’s northern hemisphere where the magnetic field points downward. Magnetic North was used along with the compass to help navigators find their way. Since the magnetic field moves over the earth’s crust, magnetic north deviates from True North.
Magnetic South Pole:
A location in the Earth’s southern hemisphere where the magnetic field points upward. Magnetic South was used along with the southern hemisphere compass to help navigators find their way. Since the magnetic field moves over the earth’s crust, magnetic south deviates from True South.
Malaria:
An infectious disease common in the tropics that is spread by mosquitoes. Symptoms of malaria include fevers, cold sweats and sudden drops in body temperature.
Moors:
A Muslim group from North Africa that invaded Spain in the 8th century. They were expelled by the Spanish in 1492.
Mutineers:
People participating in a mutiny.
Mutiny:
Open rebellion against people in charge.
Nautical Mile:
A unit of measure for distance on the water or through the air. One nautical mile = 1,852 meters or 1.150779 miles.
New World:
Refers to the areas that Christopher Columbus and future European explorers introduced to Europe, i.e. North, Central, and South America, plus the Caribbean Islands.
Norseman:
A member of an ancient Scandinavian people.
Northwest Passage:
A supposed waterway that connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in northern North America. Many explorers hoped to find it, in order to save time sailing from Europe to Asia.
Norumbega:
A legendary fort and city supposedly established by Leif Eiriksson on the shores of the Charles River near present day Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Notary:
A type of clerk who oversees the signing of important documents and ensures that documents are not forgeries.
Old World:
Refers to the world before Christopher Columbus set sail, i.e. Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Pack Ice:
Sea ice that has formed into a mass and is free-floating.
Page:
In Medieval and Renaissance times, a page was a young boy who served a nobleman and learned the ways of war and etiquette. It was highly desirable for poorer noble families to place their sons in the households of more powerful lords.
Pemmican:
A traveling food developed by Native Americans in North America. It was made of ground dried meat, dried berries, and animal fat. The mixture, when stored in a sealed container, lasted for months. It was a high-energy food that many Arctic explorers adopted.
Pilot:
A skilled mariner, knowledgeable in the ways of navigation, capable of steering a ship, especially one who could pilot a ship in treacherous waters close to shore.
Pilot-major:
The person appointed by the Spanish Crown to oversee the training and licensing of pilots responsible for sailing ships to Spain's New World colonies. The pilot-major also was responsible for maintaining the kingdom's collection of maps and atlases.
Plateau:
A flat area that is higher than the land around it.
Polaris:
The North Star
Porter:
A person who can be hired to carry cargo or supplies (usually on his back) for an expedition or trading company.
Privateer:
A person who receives a Letter of Marques from his government to legally attack enemy shipping.
Quinto:
Spanish for "one-fifth," a quinto was the portion of an explorer’s or conquistadores' profits that was reserved for the Spanish Crown. Upon returning to Spain, the king's accountants would swarm aboard the explorer's ships in order to determine how large the Crown's share would be.
Renaissance:
The era roughly from the 14th century to the 16th century when Europe experienced a flourishing of the arts and sciences. The word comes from the Latin word for "rebirth."
Rudimentary:
A fundamental principle or skill.
Sauerkraut:
White cabbage fermented with vinegar.
Scurvy:
A disease that develops from the lack of vitamin C. Sailors developed the disease on long voyages when they had only dried meat and bread to eat. Most recovered when they ate vitamin C-rich foods. The actual cause of scurvy was not truly known until the 1930s. Until that time, doctors and captains alike knew that the lack of fruits and vegetables in a person’s diet would cause scurvy. If left untreated, scurvy was fatal.
Skraeling:
The name given to the natives of North America by Norse discoverers who attempted to settled Vinland under the leadership of Leif Eiriksson.
Sledgeboat:
A ship’s boat that is fitted with sled runners. The sailors would pull the sledgeboats across the snow and ice. When there was a gap in the ice, they would remove the runners and use the boat.
Small Pox:
Small Pox: A disease that has been recorded as far back as Egyptian times. It is highly contagious and can reach epidemic proportions. It had a devastating effect when Europeans transmitted the disease to African and Native American populations.
Smuggling:
The act of illegally transporting cargo into a country to avoid paying taxes on it. Those returning from the Americas in the Age of Exploration might have tried to hide taxable trade goods in hopes of not paying the king's taxes on imported cargoes.
Sovereign:
A King or Queen
Trade Winds:
In a zone between 30°N and 30°S, there is a pattern of warm winds. These are the winds that early explorers used to sail to the New World.
Transit of Venus:
This is when Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun. The phenomenon happens in a predictable pattern and is observed by astronomers and navigators alike.
Treaty of Tordesillas:
Pope Alexander VI, on June 7, 1494, decreed that the land west of 46°37’W belonged to Spain, and the land east of that meridian belonged to Portugal. This meant that the New World of North, Central and most of South America belonged to Spain, and that Africa, India, and the Spice Islands belonged to Portugal.
Veedor:
A trusted government official who oversaw the expenses of government-approved expeditions and the Spanish colonies in the New World. The word literally translates to "inspector" in Spanish, but many explorers and governors saw the veedor as something more like a spy, sent by the Spanish Crown to watch over them.
Viceroy:
The official, legal representative of the Spanish Crown in the New World, who oversaw a large number of colonies.