No one knows outside of the natives who settled here millenniums earlier who in modern history really discovered America, but for some time it has been agreed Christopher Columbus was not the first to land here.
You can take your pick from several possible choices. There are pictograms found on rocks in Albuquerque that appear to be Shang Dynasty Chinese script dating from about 1046 B.C. There are Irish annals of the possible journey of the well-known traveling monk Saint Brendan of Clonfert “the Navigator” (about 484-577) possibly landing there while looking for the Isle of the Blessed.
The Maine penny or Goddard coin (a silver coin of Olaf Kyrre of Norway, 1067-1093) claims to have been discovered at a Viking site in Maine dating from about 1180 to 1235.
Another possible choice is the Ming Dynasty eunuch Zheng He whom may have beaten Columbus to the Americas by 71 years. Zheng explored the western oceans and expanded China’s influence; however, the official imperial records of his voyages were destroyed.
The questions don’t end with who discovered America. Who was the first European to land on Newfoundland is also in question. Ignoring the possible Viking visit it has been accepted by tradition that the credit goes to explorer John Cabot. Cabot was an Italian navigator who was commissioned by King Henry VII of England to find a short cut to Asia by sailing west. Cabot traveled to the coast of North America in 1497.
Cabot didn’t find his route to Asia, but his discovery resulted in Newfoundland becoming England’s first possession in North America in 1583 and the establishment of fishing operations on the outer coastline of the island.
Just as the Goddard coin appears to be the physical evidence that the Vikings were in North America sometime around the reign of King Olaf Kyrre of Norway, now an undated 1422 to 1427 Henry VI London Mint gold quarter noble discovered on the southern coast of Newfoundland this past summer may be the smoking gun that will prompt historians to make some major history book revisions.
The recently encountered coin is an Annulet issue quarter noble listed as any of the Seaby 1810 to 1812 varieties in “Coins of England and the United Kingdom.” According to this catalog, “The supply of gold began to dwindle early in the reign, which accounts for the rarity of gold after 1426.” The coin was valued at 1 shilling 8 pence at the time. This equates to about $61 U.S. or $81 Canadian today.
Previous to this discovery the oldest English coin known to be found in Canada is a half groat from the 1490s (reign of Henry VII) found in 2021 at Cupids Cove Plantation Provincial Historic Site. The groat or twopence was minted at Canterbury.
The groat in turn had replaced an undated 1560 to 1561 Elizabethan coin found at the same site in 2001 as the oldest known English coin to be found in North America.
According to a Government of Newfoundland and Labrador press release, the recent find was discovered buried in sand on a beach whose location has not been publicly announced due to concerns regarding security of the site. Evidence of a Norse settlement found in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.
The Henry VI gold coin was found by amateur historian Edward Hynes. Hynes reported the coin to the provincial archaeology office, which is required under the Historic Resources Act.
According to provincial archaeologist Jamie Brake, “Between England and here, people over there were not yet aware of Newfoundland or North America at the time that this [coin] was minted,” adding, “There’s been some knowledge of a pre-16th century European presence here for a while, you know, excluding Norse and so on. The possibility of perhaps a pre-16th century occupation would be pretty amazing and highly significant in this part of the world.”
Blake continued, “It’s difficult to explain at this point why it’s there, who dropped it. It’s not the sort of thing that you’d expect to be hanging out of the pockets of migratory fishers.”
Brake said there may be a more formal excavation of the site at some future date, but nothing had been officially planned at the time this article was being written. The coin is anticipated to be put on public display at The Rooms Museum in St. John’s.