EARLY CROATIAN CONTACTS WITH AMERICA AND THE MYSTERY OF THE CROATANS*
Were Some Croats Present at Discovery of America?
George J. Prpic, Journal of Croatian Studies, I, 1960
After 1420 the whole eastern Adriatic coast with few exceptions was firmly in the possession of Venice, whose perennial policy was to rule these Croatian shores. Although the population of the entire eastern Adriatic region remained predominantly Croatian, a new political, religious and cultural center began to form in and around present day Zagreb - formerly Pannonian Croatia. However, one section of the southern Adriatic coast escaped Venetian hegemony. This was the Republic of Ragusa; an independent merchant state for over one thousand years. While all other Croats were for centuries to live either under Venetian or Turkish rule or under Austrian and Hungarian domination, the Croats in Dubrovnik (Latin "Ragusa") enjoyed complete political freedom and realized achievements which bordered on the miraculous.
Dubrovnik was founded in the seventh century in the vicinity of Epidaurus, which had been previously destroyed by the Slavs. The population which was originally Roman became slowly Croaticized, so that the end of the fourteenth century saw it as almost completely Croatian. From the beginning, the city developed a seafaring tradition, which manifested itself in early trade throughout the Balkans. Her commercial routes were eventually extended to all the Mediterranean countries and the Near East, and her trading ships sailed as far as Spain, Portugal and England.
She had exchanged Byzantine for Venetian suzerainty in 1205, which then lasted until 1358. The following era was to witness her complete independence. With a combination of diplomatic skill and sufficient gold, Dubrovnik succeeded in preserving her freedom from the powerful Turkish Empire, even though the Turks subjugated all the neighboring regions. The period from 1358 until 1808 - when Dubrovnik finally lost its independence to the military forces of Napoleon - was the golden era of the little republic's history.
In the beginning of the fifteenth century the city itself numbered only 40,000 inhabitants. Its government was composed of wealthy merchants and nobles who had already introduced in the Middle Ages many progressive institutions and measures. By the law of January 27th, 1416, slavery was abolished. The navy consisted of 300 vessels. "In all the large towns of the Balkans the speech of Dubrovnik was heard, the colonies flourished and Catholic churches and chapels were constructed... Dubrovnik was the channel through which flowed the trade between Turkey and Italy."The example of Dubrovnik was the best proof of the seafaring qualities of the Adriatic Croats. In the 1930's the Seaman's Guild in Dalmatia celebrated the one-thousandth anniversary of its existence.
Louis Adamic, fascinated by the history of Dubrovnik, goes as far as to claim: "Ragusa ... in its day was a greater sea power than Britain." "For hundreds of years Ragusan ships and seamen were among the most famous in the world. Ragusan shipmasters and sailors served not only under the Ragusan ensign, but under the flags of various Italian states, Greece, Spain and other foreign countries. It is almost certain that Ragusans were on Columbus' ships when he sailed to India and bumped into America. In fact; it is probable that Ragusan ships touched the American continent before Columbus. Certain is that a number of them reached Mexico, Central and South America, in the few years immediately after Columbus adventure."
In Ragusa the shipowners were the ruling class, the social aristocracy and "their ships sailed every known sea … Like themselves, their peasants were Slavs, Croats, calling themselves Ragusans." In the seventeenth century these Ragusan shipowners sacrificed enormous profits by refusing to ship negro slaves to the American colonies because slavery was forbidden in Ragusa.
see the complete article in http://www.studiacroatica.org/jcs/01/0103.htm