As far as we know, English and Portuguese navigators were the first modern Europeans to reach the eastern coast of North America. They and their successors found a disconcertingly continuous landmass which they soon realized was not Asia, and which blocked the sea route to it. By 1530 French and Spanish explorers had skirted the coast from the south without entering any of the prospective passages: Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River, the Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of St Lawrence, Hudson Strait. Jacques Cartier, the first known explorer of the Gulf of St Lawrence, found a large river rather than a sea channel. Later the English delineated the massive embayments of Baffin Bay and Hudson Bay. In each case early expectations that a northwest passage to the western ocean had been found were not fulfilled as further exploration revealed western shores to these enormous chambers rather than open ocean.
The maps of 1502, 1529, 1550, and 1632 show four stages of the European understanding of northeastern North America: the first (Cantino map, 1502) after the landfalls of Cabot and the Corte Reals but before the continent of North America was recognized; the second (Ribeiro map, 1529) after an approximately continuous coastline had been identified between Labrador and the Caribbean; the third (Desceliers map, 1550) after Cartier had explored the Gulf of St Lawrence and the lower St Lawrence River; and the fourth (James map, 1632) more than fifty years after the English began the search for a northwest passage.