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Columbus, Bartholomew (c. 1454–1514)

Columbus, Bartholomew (c. 1454–1514)

Bartholomew Columbus (Bartolomé Colón: b. ca. 1454; d. 1514). A wool carder in his youth in Genoa, Bartholomew played a key role in the achievements of his more famous brother, Christopher. A skilled chartmaker and a superb navigator, he preceded Christopher to Lisbon, where he endured poverty while making charts and planning the "great enterprise." Sharing his brother's hardships and suffering the same indignities, Bartholomew remained steadfast and resolute during the many years of frustration. Sent by Christopher in 1488 to seek the aid of Henry VII of England, he was unsuccessful; and though he fared no better at the court of Charles VIII of France in 1490, he was at least consoled by the king's sister Anne de Beaujeu, at Fontainebleau. Meanwhile, unknown to Bartholomew, Christopher had reached the Indies. By the time he learned of the feat and made his way to Spain (1493), Christopher had already sailed on his second voyage. Bartholomew was sent with three ships to Hispaniola, where he served as captain-general from 1494 to 1496 and founded the city of Santo Domingo. In the absence of Christopher from the island, he acted as governor until 1498, then as captain-general again until 1500, after which he returned to Castile. In recognition of Bartholomew's services, Christopher conferred on him the prestigious rank of Adelantado of the Indies.

A brave and bold leader, in 1497 Bartholomew faced a violent rebellion led by Francisco Roldán because he enforced strict and unrealistic rules on the colonists and meted out severe punishment. When Indians defiled sacred Christian religious images, the adelantado burned some of the natives at the stake. Continuing disorder in the colony resulted in the sending in 1500 of a royal agent, Francisco de Bobadilla, who arrested the Columbus brothers and shipped them in chains to Spain. Later Bartholomew was sorely tested when he accompanied Christopher on the disastrous fourth voyage (1502–1503) to Central America. With Christopher ill much of the time, Bartholomew explored Veragua, finding some gold and bravely fighting off Indians and mutineers, suffering two wounds in the process. Bartholomew returned to Spain but sailed again to Hispaniola with his nephew Diego in 1509. He continued to serve the crown until his death in Santo Domingo.

See alsoColumbus, Christopher; Explorers and Exploration: Spanish America; Hispaniola; Santo Domingo.


The most important work in English on the Columbus family is Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, 2 vols. (1942). See also Fernando Colón, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand, edited and translated by Benjamin Keen (1959), and Troy Floyd, The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492–1526 (1973).

Additional Bibliography

Alponte, Juan María. Colón: El hombre, el navegante, la leyenda. México, D.F.: Aguilar, 1992.

Davidson, Miles H. Columbus Then and Now: A Life Reexamined. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Heers, Jacques. Cristóbal Colón. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992.

Yewell, John, Chris Dodge, and Jan DeSirey. Confronting Columbus: An Anthology. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1992.

                                      William L. Sherman

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