Richard Amerike

Richard Amerike (or Ameryk) pronounced America (c. 1445–1503) was a wealthy English born merchant, Royal customs officer and Sheriff of Welsh descent. He was the principal owner of John Cabot's ship Matthew during his voyage of exploration to North America in 1497. Amerike is chiefly remembered because of old documents rediscovered in 1955, proving the discovery of Newfoundland in 1479 prompting Columbus's voyage of discovery in 1492. It is speculated that "America" is derived from his name, owing to his sponsorship of the voyages to Newfoundland, rather than from Amerigo Vespucci, the map-maker.


Richard Amerike was born in Weston under Penyard, near Ross-on-Wye in England. He was a descendant of the Earls of Gwent, and family name was an English spelling of the Welsh ap Meuric (or ap Meurig), meaning "son of Meurig".

Amerike married a Lucy Wells and settled at West Camel, near Ilchester in Somerset, before deciding to move his family to Bristol. At the time the city was growing in importance as a port, second only to London, and was attracting merchants and adventurers from all over the country. There Amerike became a wealthy and important merchant and dignitary, holding the post of King's Customs Officer three times and becoming the Sheriff of Bristol in 1497.

Theory of the naming of America


  • Amerike funded the earlier voyages of Bristol sailors to Newfoundland, beginning in 1479.
  • Amerike was the chief sponsor of John Cabot's voyage to Newfoundland.
  • In 1955, a letter was found in Spanish archives confirming the discoveries of Bristol sailors in Newfoundland before Columbus.
  • Documents in Westminster Abbey indicate that Columbus knew of the Bristolmen's discoveries.
  • Derivation of "America" from Amerike, the sponsor of the discovery of Newfoundland is etymologically easier than from "Amerigo Vespucci," the map-maker.
  • Two extant versions of the Amerike family's coats of arms include stripes and one, stars and stripes; the older, horizontal, red stripes, and the latter, vertical, blue stripes with a band of stars.

Richard Amerike's connection with the Americas' 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 Bristol antiquarian and butterfly collector Alfred Hudd first proposed the theory that the word America had evolved from Amerike or ap Meryk. Alfred Hudd was a gentleman of some leisure, known as an antiquary who was a member of the Clifton Antiquarian Club of Bristol, founded in 1884 to arrange meetings and excursions for the study of objects of archaeological interest in the west of England and south Wales, and a butterfly-collector and local naturalist and member of the Bristol Naturalists' Society around Bristol.

Hudd proposed that the word "America" was originally applied to a destination across the western ocean, possibly an island or a fishing station in Newfoundland. This would have been before the existence of a continent on the other side of the Atlantic was known to Europeans. However, no maps bearing this name or documents indicating a location of this supposed village are known.

According to Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage, "While it has been difficult to pinpoint the exact time frame of these North Atlantic probes, evidence that they were indeed occurring by the 1490s is found in a report sent by Pedro de Ayala, a Spanish envoy located in London. The year after Cabot's successful transatlantic voyage he wrote Ferdinand and Isabella stating that for the previous seven years the Bristolians had been equipping caravels to look for the islands of Brasile and the Seven Cities. While it is not possible to ascertain whether or not these were large scale ventures and precisely what their motives might have been, Ayala's words seem to supply some proof of westward bound voyages."

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, twelve 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 Venetian 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 coast from Maine to Newfoundland, 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 theory 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 to South America and the Caribbean with Alonso de Ojeda (Hojeda) in 1499 and Gonçalo Coelho in 1501 and became convinced that these were new lands, not Asia as Columbus believed. Martin Waldseemüller, a German map-maker, published a world map in 1507 using Vespucci's previously published letters. 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 maps Waldseemüller substituted the words "Terra Incognita," but it was too late; the name America was now firmly associated with the entire northern and southern continent across the Atlantic from Europe.

The above theory of the naming of America is also suggested in The Book of General Ignorance published by Faber and Faber in 2006.

Coat of arms

There is a further speculative theory, tending to be found only in support of the above theory concerning the naming of America, that the flag of the United States of America is influenced in part by the design of Amerike's coat of arms. This appears to be entirely based upon a perceived similarity in design. It may be inferred therefore that it is intended simply to add symbolic weight to the preceding theory. According to the American Flag Research Centre in Massachusetts, the heraldic origin of the American flag is not positively known. The popular belief however is that it derives in part from the coat of arms of George Washington, whose family bore arms of the Stars and Stripes. Amerike's coat of arms, which also feature a stars and stripes design (albeit rather dissimilar to the Washington family design), can be seen in the Lord Mayor's Chapel on College Green in Bristol, England. (Amerike coat of arms)



  • The Columbus Myth: Did men of Bristol reach America before Columbus? Ian Wilson (1991: ISBN 0-671-71167-9)
  • Cabot and naming of America, Peter Macdonald (1997: ISBN 0-9527009-2-1)
  • Terra Incognita: The True Story of How America Got Its Name, by Rodney Broome (US 2001: ISBN 0-944638-22-8)
  • Amerike: The Briton America is named after, by Rodney Broome (UK 2002: ISBN 0-7509-2909-X)

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