Technically America was discovered by the first people to cross the Baring Straits during the Ice Ages, the ancestors of the indigenous peoples of that ancient continent. But from a European perspective the term applies to the first arrivals from the other side of the Atlantic
Historically the Italian Christopher Columbus and his Portuguese crew are credited as the first of these arrivals in 1502 on an expedition to discover India on a westward track. But then history has always been a mere consensus of prejudice, and opinions have now diversified.
However the true pioneers of the journey are hard to discover as little evidence of their presence exists. The earliest claim is probably for the Egyptians, Minoans, or Phoenicians but while the ships of these seafaring peoples could have theoretically have made the journey (as Thor Heyerdahl demonstrated), it is unlikely they could have made it back again (despite claims that the continent originated the Atlantis legend). Mayan sculptures, carved long before the first historical trans-Atlantic arrivals, do appear to depict Egyptian, African, European and Semitic faces however, something that remains a mystery. Other circumstancial evidence exists for this early contact but none is conclusive.
Later contact is accredited to British seafarers, either from the Romano-British period or the early Dark Ages. But again little if any evidence exists for this claim (it may have been a piece of (Elizabethan propaganda). The earliest concrete claim for a returned journey to the Americas is a Viking one. There is now a mounting body of evidence that by sailing along the coastline of Greenland and making short hops in open sea the Vikings Leif the Lucky and Thorfinn Karlsefni reached Newfoundland, or Vinland as they called it (due to its profusion of wild grapes), and established a colony there around the year 1000 A.D. There is also some possibility that the Welsh Prince Madoc captured Viking maps and attempted to establish a colony in Alabama in the 12th Century. A related claim is that the Norman family of Sinclair Earls of the Scots-Norse Orkneys also obtained Viking maps and made similar voyages.
This last claim ties in with more speculative allegations that families like the Sinclairs inherited a
Templar tradition and maintained contacts with other alleged Templar survivals, such as the Portugese Knights of Christ (and Christopher Columbus). But much of this is unverifiable.
The first colonialists, after the brief Viking stay, may have been Scots, Welsh or Portugese. Certainly tribes of 'white Indians' had been reported indicating early colonists had gone native (see
Croatan). One of whom was reported to have spoken a form of Welsh (perhaps from the Madoc expedition)! There is also some evidence of Scots in America closely connected with the Vinland colony and its expeditions further south. But it is the Melungeons who are the most intrigueing, a 'tribe of white Indians' according to official history, they denied either Indian or English descent claiming to be Portuguese ("Portyghee") or sometimes Spanish/Moorish or Turkish. Their original language was a mixure of Elizabethan English and Portugese, indicating a hybrid origin, though their ethnicity appears predominantly of Mediterreanean origin. Their descendents survive today and are predominantly Catholic, their original faith they claim. These people have also been connected to the construction of the mysterious Newport Tower on Rhode Island. A structure apparently modelled on the kind of Templar round churches found in Portugal.
The Elizabethan English connection is not surprising as the first recorded colony, in what became the United States was the settlement of Roanoake founded soon after the explorations of Sir Walter Raleigh (a member of the School of Night). The descendents of these people are known to have been the 'first' Croatans.
Subsequent colonisation follows the official historical scheme with both a grassroots American utopian current and one of imperialist ambitions.