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Columbus, Christopher

COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER

(b. Genoa. Italy, 26 August, 31 October 1451; d. Valladolid, Spain, 20 May 1506)

exploration.

Columbus was the eldest son of Domenico Colombo and Susanna Fontanarossa. Although there has been some debate about the site of his birth, several documents in the State Archives at Genoa confirm that city as his place of origin. Moreover, Columbus’ will of 22 February 1498 exhorts his eldest son to “make every effort… for the good, honor and increase of the city of Genoa, where… I was born” Christopher was the eldest of five children in this family of rather humble economic status. The other children were Giovanni Pellegrino (who died young), Bartolomeo, Jacopo (known later, in Spain, as Diego), and Bianchinetta. Bartolomeo and Diego accompanied Columbus on his voyages, the former displaying a forceful and energetic character that contrasted with Christopher’s indecision and his often excessive sub-missiveness under harsh circumstances. His two brothers proved very valuable to Columbus: in Haiti, Bartolomeo quelled a native rebellion; and in 1509 Diego replaced Nicolás de Ovando as governor of Santo Domingo.

Nothing certain is known about Columbus’ early years. According to a passage in the log of the first ocean crossing, he first went to sea at the age of eighteen; and in 1472 he referred to himself as a “Genoese wool draper.” Shortly afterward, in 1473, Columbus and his father moved to Savona, from which port Columbus made voyages on behalf of Genoese firms.

One of the many problems in modern Columbian literature is the alleged dependence of Columbus’ voyage plan on similar views held by the Florentine Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli (1397- 1482). Although a letter from Toscanelli to Ferdinando Martini has survived in a copy made by Columbus, there is no evidence of any direct correspondence between Columbus and Toscanelli. It is unreasonable to suppose that Columbus would have said that a letter was addressed to him when it was clearly headed “Ferdinando Martini canonico ulixiponensi Paulus physicus [dixit],” Moreover, Toscanelli favored a route on the Lisbon parallel, whereas Columbus held to that of the Canaries, fourteen degrees farther south; and when he reached Hispaniola he was convinced, after having traveled sixty degrees west, that he had arrived at Cipango (Japan). According to Toscanelli’s map, he would have been forty degrees away.

The principal theoretical assumptions drawn from classical sources (Aristotle, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Seneca. Marinus of Tyre, Ptolemy), sHebrew (Esdras), Arab (al Ma’mun), and European sources (from Marco Polo to d’Ailly and Pius II) that made possible the discovery of the New World were two major but fortunate errors: an exaggerated extension of the inhabited landmass eastward and a considerable reduction in the terrestrial meridian, which was estimated to be about one-fourth less than it actually is. Columbus correlated Toscanelli’s data with ancient and medieval sources and arrived at a colossal miscalculation. As Samuel Eliot Mori-son (The European Discovery of America, p. 30) has indicated, the distance from the Canaries to Japan via Antilia. which Toscanelli estimated at 3,000 nautical miles (and Columbus whittled down to 2,400), is actually about 10,000 miles between their respective meridians, measured on latitude 28° north.

Toscanelli’s Canaries-to-Quinsay route of 5,000 miles (reduced by Columbus to 3,550) is actually about 11,766 nautical miles by air, Columbus seems to have reduced the length of a degree of longitude by one-quarter, stretching ptolemy’s estimate of the length of the Eurasian continent (Cape St. Vincent to eastern Asia) from 180 degrees to 225 degrees, adding 28 degrees for the discoveries of Marco Polo and 30 degrees for his estimated distance from the east coast of China to the east coast of Japan. He also saved another 9 degrees of westing by starting his ocean crossing from the outermost of the Canary Islands. This left only 68 degrees of ocean to cross before reaching Japan, yet Columbus reduced this figure as well. Arguing that the medieval calculators used too long a degree of longitude, he proposed to cross on latitude 28° north, where he thought the degree measured only forty nautical miles; thus he estimated that he had only 2,400 miles of water to traverse. In other words, his figures placed Japan in relation to Spain about where the West Indies actually are.

Columbus’ miscalculations should not be construed as a lack of the necessary nautical and cosmographical training. His observations on magnetic declination, its variation, and the daily movement of the lodestar around the pole reveal that he was a very competent navigator.

In order to place the evolution of Columbus’ plan within its proper time frame, one would have to know details of his life and work in Portugal: yet even the date of his arrival there is unknown. We know only that in July 1479 he was in Genoa, about to depart for Lisbon. Columbus apparently went to Madeira and then to Porto Santo, where he married Felipa Perestrello e Moniz. Once established in Madeira, he sailed with the Portuguese as far as Mina (Elmina, on the Gulf of Guinea), thus obtaining valuable maritime experience.

There appears to be little basis for the traditional notion that Columbus submitted his plan for a voyage of discovery to the Portuguese king. John II (1481-1495), who rejected it. In 1485 or 1486 Columbus moved to Spain, but little is known of his activities there. He returned to Portugal in the fall of 1488 and was present, on 2 December, at Bartolo-meu Dias’ return from his southern exploration of 1487- 1488. Although Dias had reached the southern tip of Africa and opened a new sea route to Asia, his voyage of 6,300 miles still left him far short of China. Doubtless this circumstance encouraged Columbus to place even greater reliance on his own views.

Nevertheless, Columbus was compelled to wait for favorable political and economic conditions in Spain, to which he had returned by 1492; on 17 April of that year he received the title of almirante mayor del mar oceano and was granted the viceroyalty and governorship of any lands he might discover. Two brothers, Martín Alonso and Vicente Yañez Pinzón, wealthy and expert ship outfitters, organized the expedition and prepared the flagship, the Santa Maria, at their own expense. Columbus’ first transatlantic voyage set sail on 3 August 1492 from Palos with the Santa Maria, the Pinta, the Niña (totaling 450 tons) and with a letter from the Spanish sovereigns addressed to the grand khan of China. He touched land on 12 October on a little island in the Bahamas that was called Guanahani by the natives. Christened San Salvador by Columbus, it was later renamed Watling Island by the British. He then sailed to the northern coast of Cuba, which he mistakenly took for Zipango (Cipango), still convinced that he would soon reach Marco Polo’s Quinsay (Hangchow). Sailing along the coast of Cuba, he came to believe that he had reached Cathay and dispatched an embassy to deliver Ferdinand and Isabella’s letter to the grand khan. The mission soon aborted, and he turned his attention to the large island of Babeque (Great Inagua Island), where the natives had assured him gold was to be found.

Moving west, Columbus touched the northwestern tip of Haiti, established a settlement on its north shore, and traded with the natives, who, he was sure, would lead him to gold. Unfortunately, the Santa Maria was lost through carelessness on Christmas night, and Columbus was obliged to postpone his departure for Spain. Leaving forty-eight of his companions at a fortress he had established—Villa de la Navidad, on Hispaniola—and charging them to study the island’s inhabitants and produce, Columbus left for Spain on 3 January 1493, convinced that he had reached Asia. Severe storms nearly ended the return voyage, but he reached Palos on 13 March, after stopping in Lisbon to confer with the Portuguese king. Although all of Spain welcomed him, the voyage had made the international situation increasingly precarious, for Columbus’ route had taken him through Portuguese waters, thereby violating the Treaty of Toledo (1480). Through remarkable diplomatic skill Columbus managed to overcome the difficulty.

Six months later a new expedition was outfitted with fourteen caravels and about 1,400 men. The voyage began on 25 September 1493 and again proceeded toward the islands on the southern edge of the Caribbean Sea, Columbus discovered the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico on his way to Haiti. At Hispaniola he found that all forty-eight men he had left at Villa de la Navidad were dead — their greed had moved the once friendly natives to murder. Columbus set sail again, discovering Jamaica (May 1494) and skirting the southern coast of Cuba. Returning to Haiti shortly afterward, he found the colony in confusion. Word of the colonists’ discontent had reached Spain, and Juan de Aguado had been dispatched in June 1495 to learn the reasons for the situation and to take the necessary measures. Before Aguado reached Haiti, however, Columbus returned to Spain (11 June 1495), leaving his brother Bartolomeo in charge. Columbus succeeded in winning the court’s confidence and had his privileges confirmed; in addition, he obtained the right to transmit titles and rights to his descendants.

Despite this vote of confidence, Columbus, prestige had diminished. Disappointment was only too evident in Spain, where great hopes had been frustrated by the low level of profit that the distant posts had yielded. In order to outfit a third voyage, Columbus had to sign on convicts, and the fleet was reduced to eight caravels (fitted out by Amerigo Vespucci on behalf of the house of Berardi). Two vessels left in January 1498; but the other six, with Columbus, did not sail from Sanlúcar until 30 May. Taking three caravels, Columbus followed a more southerly route than those previously adopted and reached Trinidad on 31 July. Subsequently he sailed across the mouth of the Orinoco, thus fully meriting recognition—often mistakenly denied him—as the discoverer of the American continent.

Columbus headed north to Haiti and landed on the south coast of Santo Domingo, to which Bartolomeo had transferred the island’s seat of government. Rebellion and intrigue had left the colony in such wretched condition that Columbus felt unable to settle matters without harsh disciplinary action and the interference of the Spanish government. The Spanish court immediately sent Francisco de Bobadilla to act as royal commissioner. He reached Santo Domingo on 23 August 1500 and was shocked to find that Columbus was making frequent use of the gallows. He put Columbus in chains and sent him back to Spain (November 1500) with his brothers Bartolomeo and Diego. Despite his disgrace, the Spanish sovereigns received Columbus and granted him permission for a fourth voyage, although they stripped him of his governorship of Hispaniola.

Spain’s precarious political and economic situation quelled much of the enthusiasm for Columbus’ explorations, especially in view of the successful expedition (1497) of Vasco da Gama, who returned to Lisbon in 1499 after having reached the southern tip of India. Nevertheless, Columbus, taking his brother Bartolomeo and his thirteen-year-old son, Fernando, sailed from Seville with a fleet of four caravels on 3 April 1502, still in search of a passage to the Indian Ocean. He stopped briefly at Santo Domingo to replace a damaged caravel; but Nicolas de Ovando, his successor as governor, refused his request for aid and denied him permission to land. Setting off again, Columbus sailed south of Jamaica and reached the Gulf of Darien. His discovery there of a Mayan canoe persuaded him that he was on the brink of finding a civilization more advanced than that of the natives previously encountered; and he sailed further south, convinced that he would soon reach the long-sought passage to India. He discovered Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, from which hostile natives and malaria forced him to retreat. Columbus took refuge in Jamaica, his vessels unseaworthy and his crew on the verge of mutiny. Two of his officers, Diego Mendez and Bartolomeo Fieschi, outfitted a canoe and courageously paddled the 108 miles to Santo Domingo. It was nearly a year before they were granted permission by Ovando to outfit a ship, which rescued Columbus and his men on 28 June 1504. Returning to Spain broken and ill, Columbus died ignorant of the extent of his discoveries.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Columbus is credited with a number of writings, which are listed in J. H. Vignaud. Histoire critique de la grande entreprise de Christophe Colomb, 2 vols. (Paris, 1911).I 18, 21, 352-353, 547-548, 602, 672; and II, 6, 208, 242. There is still no adequate critical ed. to remove apocryphal material.

Much of our information on Columbus derives from two questionable sources: Historie della vita et dei fatti dell’ ammiraglio don Cristoforo Colombo— first published (Venice. 1571) under the name of Fernando, Columbus’ natural son, by Alfonso Ulloa (thirty-two years after the presumed, and still missing, original); and historia de lad Indias, by Bartolomeo de Las Casas (1474-1566). who began the work in 1527 and completed the final draft in 1553; it was finally published at Madrid in 1875-1876. The authorship and history of these two sources has long been debated. Henri Harrisse (1872) revealed many inconsistencies and contradictions in the Historie and concluded that it could not have been written by Fernando Columbus. His argument has been largely discredited, and Alberto Magnaghi has shown in the compilation of the Historie the responsibility of an anonymous author, probably Luis Colon, a descendant of Columbus who was exiled to Oran by Charles V. Various legendary details were inserted into the Columbian tradition: Columbus’ having graduated from the University of Pavia. the mention of other admirals in his family, and an account of a voyage to Tunis that portrays Columbus as a nautical buffoon and a shameless inventor of fairy tales. He also was reputed to have made an equally fanciful voyage to lceland and beyond in 1477. One must be wary in using these sources, for dates and personages often are confused.

The Columbian bibliography is constantly growing. Keeping pace with the critical study of the many complex questions that arise from tradition and from a facile appeal to innovative views that are not always adequate to the complexity and seriousness of the problems treated.

The following. cited in chronological order, offer useful guidance and background material for further research: J. B. Muñoz, Historia del nuevo mundo (Madrid, 1793); G.B. Spotorno, Codice diplomatico Colomboamericano (Genoa, 1823); M.Fernández de Navarrete. Colección de viajes y descubrimientos que lucieron pormar los españoles desde fines del siglo XV, 5 vols. (Madrid, 1825-1828):Washington lrving, History of the Life and Voyages of Columbus (London, 1828); A von Humboldt, Examen critique de I’histoire de la géographie du Nouveau Continent, 5 vols. (Paris, 1836-1839); H. Harrisse. Fernand Colomb. sa vie. ses oeuvres. Essai critique (Paris, 1872); Christophe Colomb, son origine. sa vie, ses voyages (Paris. 1884);Justin Winsor, Christopher Columbus and How He Reveived and imparted the Spirit of Discovery (Boston. 1891); H. Harrisse. Christophe Colomb devant I’histoire (Paris 1892); C. de Lollis, Cristoforo Colombu nella leggenda e nella storla (Milan. 1892); Italian Ministry of Education, Raccolta di documenti e studi pubblicati dalla R. Commissione colombiana. 15 vols. (Rome, 1892-1894); H. Harrisse, The Discovery of North America (Paris, 1897); J.Boyd Teacher, Christopher Columbus, His life, His work, His Remains, as Revealed by Original printed and Manuscript Records (New York, 1903); G. Nunn, The Geographical Conceptions of Columbus (New York, 1924); G. Pessagno. “Questioni colombiae,” in Atti della Società ligure di storia Patria,53 (1926), 539-691; L. Olschki, “Herman Pérez de Oliva’s Yistoria de Colon,” in Hispanic American Historical Review, 23 (1943), 165-196: Martín Torodash, “Columbus Historiography Since 1939,” ibid., 46 (1966), 409-428; and Antonio Rumeu de Armas. Hernando Colon. historiador del descubrimiento de America(Madrid. 1973).

Noted for novelty of research and for the use of innovational and thorough criticism are the writings of Alberto Magnaghi, which led to a more accurate presentation of Columbus as man, sailor and discoverer. See, for example, his “I presunti errori che vengono attribuiti a Colombo nella determinazione della Latitiudine,” in Bollettino della Società geografica italiana,64 (1928), 459-494, 553-582; “Ancora dei pretesi errori chevengono attribuiti a Colombo nella determinazione delle latitudini,” ibid., 67 (1930), 457-515; “Questioni colombiane,” in Annali della istruzione media,6 (1930), 691-515; “Incertezze e contrasti delle fonti tradizionali sulle osservazioni attribuite a C. Colombo intorno ai fenomeni della declinazione magnetica,” in Bollettino della Società geografica italiana, 6th ser., 10(1933). 595-641; “Di una recente pubblicazione italiana su Cristoforo Columbo,” in Atti dell Accademia delle scienze (Turin. Classe di scienze morali. storiche e filologiche.74 (1938-1939). 69-141; “La nuova storia della scoperta dell’ America,” in Miscellanea della Facoltà di lettere e filosofia dell Universitä di Torino (1933), 1-Ill.

The most useful works in English are those of Samuel Eliot Morison: The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus From Càdiz to Hispaniola and the Discovery of the lesser Antilles (Oxford, 1939); Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, 2 vols. (Boston, 1942), in 2 eds.-in 2 vols. with copious footnotes and other scholarly apparatus and in 1 vol. for the general public; Christopher Columbus, Mariner (Boston, 1955; New York, 1956); Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, S. E. Morison, ed. and trans. (New York, 1963); and The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages 1492- 1616 (New York, 1974).

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

The Italian navigator Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was the discoverer of America. Though he had set out to find a westward route to Asia, his explorations proved to be as important as any alternate way to the riches of Cathay and India.

The archives of Genoa show that the famous discoverer was born Cristoforo Colombo (Spanish, Cristóbal Colón) there between August and October 1451. His father, Domenico Colombo, followed the weaver's craft, and his mother, Suzanna Fontanarossa, came of equally humble stock. Christopher was the eldest child, and two brothers make some appearance in history under their Hispanicized names, Bartolomé and Diego.

Columbus had a meager education and only later learned to read Latin and write Castilian. He evidently helped his father at work when he was a boy and went to sea early in a humble capacity. Since he aged early in appearance and contemporaries commonly took him for older than he really was, he was able to claim to have taken part in events before his time.

In 1475 Columbus made his first considerable voyage to the Aegean island of Chios, and in 1476 he sailed on a Genoese ship through the Strait of Gibraltar. Off Cape St. Vincent they were attacked by a French fleet, and the vessel in which Columbus sailed sank. He swam ashore and went to Lisbon, where his brother Bartolomé already lived. Columbus also visited Galway, in Ireland, and an English port, probably Bristol. If he ever sailed to Iceland, as he afterward claimed to have done, it must have been as a part of this voyage. He made his presumably last visit to Genoa in 1479 and there gave testimony in a lawsuit. Court procedure required him to tell his age, which he gave as "past 27," furnishing reasonable evidence of 1451 as his birth year.

Columbus returned to Portugal, where he married Felipa Perestrelo e Monis, daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo, deceased proprietor of the island of Porto Santo. The couple lived first in Lisbon, where Perestrelo's widow showed documents her husband had written or collected regarding possible western lands in the Atlantic, and these probably started Columbus thinking of a voyage of investigation. Later they moved to Porto Santo, where his wife died soon after the birth of Diego, the discoverer's only legitimate child.

Formation of an Idea

After his wife's death, Columbus turned wholly to discovery plans and theories, among them the hope to discover a westward route to Asia. He learned of the legendary Irish St. Brandan and his marvelous adventures in the Atlantic and of the equally legendary island of Antilia. Seamen venturing west of Madeira and the Azores reported signs of land, and ancient authors, notably Seneca and Pliny, had theorized about the nearness of eastern Asia to western Europe, though it is not known just when Columbus read them. He acquired incunabular editions of Ptolemy, Marco Polo, and Pierre d'Ailly, but again it is uncertain how early he read them. He possibly first depended on what others said of their contents.

From Marco Polo, Columbus learned the names of Cathay (north China) and Cipango (Japan). The Venetian traveler had never visited Japan and erroneously placed it 1,500 miles east of China, thus bringing it closer to Europe. Furthermore, Columbus accepted two bad guesses by Ptolemy: his underestimate of the earth's circumference and his overestimate of Asia's eastward extension. With the earth's sphericity taken for granted, all Columbus's mistaken beliefs combined to make his idea seem feasible.

In 1474 the Florentine scientist Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli sent a letter and map to Fernao Martins of Lisbon, telling Martins that a western voyage in the Atlantic would be a shorter way of reaching the Orient than circumnavigation of Africa. Columbus obtained a copy of the letter and used it to clarify his own ideas.

In 1484 Columbus asked John II of Portugal for backing in the proposed voyage. Rejected, Columbus went to Spain with young Diego in 1485, and for nearly 7 years he sought the aid of Isabella of Castile and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon. The sovereigns took no action but gave Columbus a small annuity that enabled him to live modestly. He found influential friends, including the powerful Duke of Medinaceli and Juan Pérez, prior of La Rábida monastery.

While waiting, the widowed Columbus had an affair with young Beatriz Enriquez de Harana of Cordova, who in 1488 bore his other son, Ferdinand, out of wedlock. He never married her, though he provided for her in his will and legitimatized the boy, as Castilian law permitted.

Preparations for the First Voyage

In 1492 Columbus resumed negotiations with the rulers. The discussions soon broke down, apparently because of the heavy demands by Columbus, who now prepared to abandon Spain and try Charles VIII of France. Father Pérez saved Columbus from this probably fruitless endeavor by an eloquent appeal to the Queen. Columbus was called back, and in April he and the rulers agreed to the Capitulations of Santa Fe, by which they guaranteed him more than half the future profits and promised his family the hereditary governorship of all lands annexed to Castile.

Financing proved difficult, but three ships were prepared in the harbor of Palos. The largest, the 100-ton Santa Maria, was a round-bottomed nao with both square and lateen sails; the caravel Pinta was square-rigged; and the small Niña, also a caravel, had lateen sails. Recruitment proved hard, and sailing might have been delayed had not the Pinzón brothers, mariners and leading citizens of Palos, come to Columbus's aid and persuaded seamen to enlist. The eldest brother, Martin Alonso, took command of the Pinta, and a younger brother, Vicente Yañez, commanded the Niña.

The Departure

The fleet left Palos on Aug. 3, 1492, and, visiting the Canaries, followed the parallel of Gomera westward. Weather remained good during the entire crossing, "like April in Andalusia," as Columbus wrote in his diary, and contrary to popular tales, there was no serious threat of mutiny.

By mid-Atlantic, Columbus evidently concluded he had missed Antilia, so Cipango became his next goal. Landfall came at dawn of October 12, at the Bahama island of Guanahani, straightway renamed San Salvador by Columbus (probably modern San Salvador, or Watlings Island). Arawak natives flocked to the shore and made friends with the Spaniards as they landed. Believing himself in the East Indies, Columbus called them "Indians," a name ultimately applied to all New World aborigines.

The ships next passed among other Bahamas to Colba (Cuba), where the gold available proved disappointing. Turning eastward, Columbus crossed to Quisqueya, renamed Española (Hispaniola), where on Christmas Eve the Santa Maria ran aground near Cap-Haitien. No lives were lost and most of the equipment was salvaged. As relations with the local Taino Arawaks seemed good and Columbus wished to return to Spain immediately, he built a settlement named Navidad for the Santa Maria's crew and left, promising to return in a few months.

The Return

Columbus recrossed the Atlantic by a more northerly route than on his outward passage and reached Europe safely. He had an interview with John II of Portugal, who, by a farfetched interpretation of an old treaty with Castile, claimed the new western islands for himself. Columbus then sailed to Palos and crossed Spain to the court at Barcelona, bearing the artifacts he had brought from Hispaniola and conducting several natives he had induced or forced to accompany him. Strong evidence also suggests that his crew brought syphilis, apparently never reported in Europe before and known to have been endemic in mild form among the Arawaks.

Regarding John II's territorial claims, Isabella and Ferdinand appealed to Pope Alexander VI, an Aragonese Spaniard, for confirmation of their rights, and in 1493 the Pope obliged, granting Castile complete rights west of a line from pole to pole in the Atlantic. But the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) established a new line, from pole to pole, 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Spain was entitled to claim and occupy all non-Christian lands west of the line, and Portugal all those to the east.

Second Voyage

Following an enthusiastic reception by Ferdinand and Isabella, "Admiral" Columbus prepared for a second voyage. He sailed from Cadiz with 17 ships and about 1,200 men in September 1493. Columbus entered the West Indies near Dominica, which he discovered and named. Passing westward and touching Marie Galante, Guadeloupe, and other Lesser Antilles, the fleet came to large Borinquén (modern Puerto Rico).

On reaching the Navidad settlement on Hispaniola, Columbus found the place destroyed. The Spaniards had made themselves so hated in their quest of gold and women that Chief Caonabo, more warlike than the others, had exterminated them. Another settlement, Isabela, proved an equally unfortunate location, and in 1495 or 1496 Bartolomé Columbus founded Santo Domingo on the south side of Hispaniola.

From Isabela the Admiral sent home most of the ships, though retaining the bulk of the men. He dispatched expeditions into the center of the island in search of gold and accompanied one in person. Meanwhile, he installed himself as governor of Hispaniola, intending it to be a trading post for commerce with the rich Oriental empires he expected soon to discover.

Exploration in the Caribbean

Columbus now decided to explore Cuba further by tracing the island's southern coast. With three ships, including his favorite Niña, he left Isabela in the spring of 1494 and followed the Cuban coast nearly to its western end. Indians told him of Jamaica not far to the south, and the Admiral turned that way, discovered the island, and had several fights with hostile natives. Returning to the Cuban shore, Columbus sailed to Bahía Cortés, where leaky ships and sailors' complaints forced him to put back.

Back in Hispaniola, Columbus found the Spanish settlers unruly and nearly impossible to govern. Complaints against Columbus reached the Castilian court in such numbers that he at last decided to go to Spain to clear his name. He left in the Niña in March 1496 and reached Cadiz in June. Bartolomé, with the rank of adelantado, remained to govern the colony in his absence.

Third Voyage

The Admiral's reception at court was visibly cooler, but Vasco da Gama's departure from Portugal for India in 1497 caused the Spanish rulers to dispatch Columbus again the following year. There were reports of a great continent south of the Admiral's previous discoveries, and Columbus left Sanlúcar de Barrameda with six ships late in May 1498.

The first land sighted had three hills in view, which suggested the Holy Trinity, and Columbus promptly named the island Trinidad. Since it lies by the Gulf of Paria and the Venezuelan mainland, the Admiral became the discoverer of South America on Aug. 1, 1498. The welcome discovery of pearls from oysters in the shallow waters of offshore islands caused the name "Pearl Coast" to be applied for a time to Venezuela, which Columbus even then recognized as a land of continental proportions because of the volume of water flowing from one of its rivers.

Rebellion and Arrest

The Admiral had left Hispaniolan affairs in bad condition 2 years earlier and now hastened to return there and relieve his hard-pressed brother. On arrival he succeeded in partially quieting by compromise a revolt headed by Francisco Roldán, an officeholder, and resumed his governor-ship. But so many letters of complaint had gone back to Castile regarding the Columbus brothers that the rulers sent out a royal commissioner, Francisco de Bobadilla, with full powers to act as he saw best.

Bobadilla was honest and meant well, but he had already formed a bad opinion of the Columbus family. He put the Admiral and the adelantado in chains and sent them to Spain. Andrés Martin, commanding the ship in which they sailed, offered to remove the shackles, but the Admiral refused permission, as he meant to appear fettered before the sovereigns. On arrival in Cadiz in late November 1500, Columbus went to court to receive a kind welcome and assurance by the monarchs that the chains and imprisonment had not been by their orders.

In 1501 the Admiral began preparing for a fourth voyage. The fleet, consisting of four ships, left Cadiz on May 9, 1502, arriving in Santo Domingo on June 29. The Admiral next sailed to Guanaja Island off Honduras, then down the coast of Central America. When Columbus learned from the natives about another saltwater body, the Pacific, not far away, he felt certain that he was coasting the Malay Peninsula, of which he had learned through the writings of Ptolemy. A strait or open water should permit entry to the Indian Ocean. Although Columbus followed the coast nearly to the Gulf of Darien, he found no strait.

In April 1503 the ships left the mainland, but the hulls were thoroughly bored by teredos and had to be abandoned as unseaworthy in Jamaica. The Admiral and his crews were marooned in Jamaica for a year, during which time Diego Mendez and Bartolomeo Fieschi fetched a small caravel from Hispaniola. Columbus finally reached Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, on Nov. 7, 1504.

Columbus had 18 months of life remaining, and they were unhappy. Though only 53 he was physically an aged man, a sufferer from arthritis and the effects of a bout of malaria. But financially his position was good, as he had brought considerable gold from America and had a claim to much more in Hispaniola. He died in Valladolid on May 20, 1506.

Further Reading

The best works on Columbus are Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (2 vols. and 1 vol. condensation, 1942), which concentrates on the nautical aspects, and, in Spanish, Antonio Ballesteros y Beretta, Cristóbal Colón y el descubrimiento de América (2 vols., 1945), which discusses all phases of Columbus's career. Invaluable as a source is the 1959 translation by Benjamin Keen of Fernando Colón, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand (1571). Marianne Mahn-Lot, Columbus (1960; trans. 1961), gives a brief and accurate account of the discoverer's life.

More specialized works are Samuel Eliot Morison, The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus (1939), which traces this voyage until the arrival at Hispaniola, and George E. Nunn, The Geographical Conceptions of Columbus: A Critical Consideration of Four Problems (1924), which has not found general acceptance. A more convincing work by Nunn is The Columbus and Magellan Concepts of South American Geography (1932). Columbus's voyages are discussed in Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages (1971). Older works that still have considerable value are Washington Irving, A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (3-and 4-vol. eds., 1828), and John Boyd Thacher, Christopher Columbus: His Life, His Work, His Remains (3 vols., 1903-1904).

Writings devoted to unusual theses are Henry Vignaud, Toscanelli and Columbus: The Letter and Chart of Toscanelli (1901; trans. 1902), which maintains that the Toscanelli letters were forgeries; Salvador de Madariaga, Christopher Columbus (1939; 2d ed. 1949), which proves to the author's satisfaction that Columbus was a Jew; and Edmundo O'Gorman, The Invention of America (1958; trans. 1961), which asserts that Columbus was not a discoverer because he had no intention of making a discovery and never thought he had made one. □

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Columbus, Christopher

Christopher Columbus, Ital. Cristoforo Colombo (krēstô´fōrō kōlôm´bō), Span. Cristóbal Colón (krēstō´bäl kōlōn´), 1451–1506, European explorer, b. Genoa, Italy.

Early Years

Columbus spent some of his early years at his father's trade of weaving and later became a sailor on the Mediterranean. Shipwrecked near the Portuguese coast in 1476, he made his way to Lisbon, where his younger brother, Bartholomew, an expert chart maker, lived. Columbus, too, became a chart maker for a brief time in that great maritime center during the golden era of Portuguese exploration. Engaged as a sugar buyer in the Portuguese islands off Africa (the Azores, Cape Verde, and Madeira) by a Genoese mercantile firm, he met pilots and navigators who believed in the existence of islands farther west. It was at this time that he made his last visit to his native city, but he always remained a Genoese, never becoming a naturalized citizen of any other country. Returning to Lisbon, he married (1479?) the well-born Dona Filipa Perestrello e Moniz.

By the time he was 31 or 32, Columbus had become a master mariner in the Portuguese merchant service. It is thought by some that he was greatly influenced by his brother, Bartholomew, who may have accompanied Bartholomew Diaz on his voyage to the Cape of Good Hope, and by Martín Alonso Pinzón, the pilot who commanded the Pinta on the first voyage. Columbus was but one among many who believed one could reach land by sailing west. His uniqueness lay rather in the persistence of his dream and his determination to realize this "Enterprise of the Indies," as he called his plan. Seeking support for it, he was repeatedly rebuffed, first at the court of John II of Portugal and then at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Finally, after eight years of supplication by Columbus, the Spanish monarchs, having conquered Granada, decided to risk the enterprise.

Voyages to the New World

First Expedition

On Aug. 3, 1492, Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa María, commanded by Columbus himself, the Pinta under Martín Pinzón, and the Niña under Vicente Yáñez Pinzón. After halting at the Canary Islands, he sailed due west from Sept. 6 until Oct. 7, when he changed his course to the southwest. On Oct. 10 a small mutiny was quelled, and on Oct. 12 he landed on a small island (Watling Island; see San Salvador) in the Bahamas. He took possession for Spain and, with impressed natives aboard, discovered other islands in the neighborhood. On Oct. 27 he sighted Cuba and on Dec. 5 reached Hispaniola.

On Christmas Eve the Santa María was wrecked on the north coast of Hispaniola, and Columbus, leaving men there to found a colony, hurried back to Spain on the Niña. His reception was all he could wish; according to his contract with the Spanish sovereigns he was made "admiral of the ocean sea" and governor-general of all new lands he had discovered or should discover.

Second Expedition

Fitted out with a large fleet of 17 ships, with 1,500 colonists aboard, Columbus sailed from Cádiz in Oct., 1493. His landfall this time was made in the Lesser Antilles, and his new discoveries included the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico. The admiral arrived at Hispaniola to find the first colony destroyed by the indigenous natives. He founded a new colony nearby, then sailed off in the summer of 1494 to explore the southern coast of Cuba. After discovering Jamaica he returned to Hispaniola and found the colonists, interested only in finding gold, completely disorderly; his attempts to enforce strict discipline led some to seize vessels and return to Spain to complain of his administration. Leaving his brother Bartholomew in charge at Hispaniola, Columbus also returned to Spain in 1496.

Third Expedition

On his third expedition, in 1498, Columbus was forced to transport convicts as colonists, because of the bad reports on conditions in Hispaniola and because the novelty of the New World was wearing off. He sailed still farther south and made his landfall on Trinidad. He sailed across the mouth of the Orinoco River (in present Venezuela) and realized that he saw a continent, but without further exploration he hurried back to Hispaniola to administer his colony. In 1500 an independent governor arrived, sent by Isabella and Ferdinand as the result of reports on the wretched conditions in the colony, and he sent Columbus back to Spain in chains. The admiral was immediately released, but his favor was on the wane; other navigators, including Amerigo Vespucci, had been in the New World and established much of the coast line of NE South America.

Fourth Expedition

It was 1502 before Columbus finally gathered together four ships for a fourth expedition, by which he hoped to reestablish his reputation. If he could sail past the islands and far enough west, he hoped he might still find lands answering to the description of Asia or Japan. He struck the coast of Honduras in Central America and coasted southward along an inhospitable shore, suffering terrible hardships, until he reached the Gulf of Darién. Attempting to return to Hispaniola, he was marooned on Jamaica. After his rescue, he was forced to abandon his hopes and return to Spain. Although his voyages were of great importance, Columbus died in relative neglect, having had to petition King Ferdinand in an attempt to secure his promised titles and wealth.

Historical Perspective

Columbus was not the first European mariner to sail to the New World—the Vikings set up colonies (c.1000) in Greenland and Newfoundland (see Leif Ericsson and Thorfinn Karlsefni)—but his voyages mark the beginning of continuous European efforts to explore and colonize the Americas. Although historians for centuries disputed his skill as a navigator, it has been proved that with only dead reckoning Columbus was unsurpassed in charting and finding his way about unknown seas.

During the 1980s and 90s the long-standing image of Columbus as a hero was tarnished by criticism from Native Americans and revisionist historians. With the 500th anniversary of his first voyage in 1992, interpretations of his motives and impact varied. Although he was always judged to be vain, ambitious, desirous of wealth, and ruthless, traditional historians viewed his voyages as opening the New World to Western civilization and Christianity. For revisionist historians, however, his voyages symbolize the more brutal aspects of European colonization and represent the beginning of the destruction of Native American peoples and culture. All interpretations, however, agree that his voyages, which permanently linked the Old and New Worlds, were a turning point in history.

Bibliography

See biographies by S. E. Morison (1942), E. D. S. Bradford (1973), H. Koning (1982), and F. Fernández-Armesto (1991); J. M. Cohen, comp., The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1969); J. Axtell, Beyond 1492 (1992); W. D. and C. R. Philips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1992); M. Dugard, The Last Voyage of Columbus (2005); L. Bergren, The Four Voyages (2011); D. Hunter, The Race to the New World (2011).

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Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506)

Columbus, Christopher (14511506)

Italian navigator who led the first European expeditions to the coasts and islands of the Caribbean Sea and South America. Born in Genoa as Christoforo Colombo, he was the son of a weaver, Domenico Colombo, and Susanna Fontanarossa. He received some education and learned Latin and Greek, and may have apprenticed with his father as a weaver. But finding a stronger taste for adventure and the sailor's life, Columbus joined the fleet of Rene of Anjou, a contestant for the throne of Naples, and then enlisted as a sailor for his native city of Genoa, at that time one of Europe's wealthiest merchant cities. He was wounded off the coast of Portugal in 1476; taking shelter in Lisbon, he joined his brother, who was a mapmaker, and began conceiving the idea of a western expedition to the East Indies.

The conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, as well as the control of ports along the coast of North Africa and the Red Sea by Arab princes, made the land route to Asia hazardous to the health and wealth of European merchants. In the late fifteenth century, Portuguese navigators were exploring new routes to East Asia around the southern limit of Africa. Some time during his training and experience as a sailor, Columbus hit on the idea of a westerly route through unknown seas that would, he hoped, provide a much quicker route to the spices, silks, and other valuables of China, India, and the Spice Islands (of what is now Indonesia). Using the calculations of ancient navigators and geographers,

however, Columbus underestimated the circumference of the earth, a mistake that led him to the false notion that the westerly route would be faster and easier.

Historians generally credit Norwegian Vikings as the first European navigators to reach North America. However, the Viking expedition of around 1000 a.d. that established a small settlement in what is now Newfoundland was unknown to the rest of Europe and failed to establish a permanent settlement. In 1485, Columbus first proposed a new voyage to the west to the king of Portugal, John II. He asked for a fleet of three ships and a reward of 10 percent of all income from new land he discovered. The offer was rejected, after which Columbus turned to Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs of a newly united kingdom of Spain. He would sail from the port of Seville south to the Canary Islands, then head due west and remain on that course until reaching Japan. Columbus believed he would enjoy clear sailing all the way to Asia.

At the time the kingdom of Spain was struggling with debts and in dire need of trade and gold; the relatively weak Spanish fleets, however, had no hope of overcoming the Portuguese, who were building and strengthening trading ports throughout Asia. Although the king and queen of Spain were advised to reject Columbus's voyage by navigators who claimed he was misjudging the distance to Asia, they rewarded him with a pension to prevent him from sailing for any rival nation and finally agreed to support his expedition in 1492. Columbus was named Admiral of the Ocean Sea and was promised a generous portion of money earned from any new Spanish ports or colonies.

The first expedition of three small ships set out in August 1492, taking five weeks to sail from the Canary Islands to a small island in the Bahamas Columbus called San Salvador, on October 12. The expedition continued to Cuba and Hispaniola, where the flagship Santa Maria ran aground. On Hispaniola Columbus founded a small settlement, La Navidad, where he left behind thirty-nine sailors.

The success of his first expedition earned Columbus acclaim in Spain and an agreement by Ferdinand and Isabella to support a second, much larger expedition of seventeen ships, which left in September 1493. This time the admiral landed on Dominica and Guadeloupe, then turned north and sailed through the long chain of small islands now known as the Lesser Antilles. The fleet passed the Virgin Islands and landed at Puerto Rico, but on encountering a hostile Carib village Columbus ordered his ships to Hispaniola, where he founded the settlement of Isabela. The expedition touched at Cuba and Jamaica before returning to Spain in the early fall of 1494.

A third expedition left Spain in May 1498. Columbus reached Trinidad and the coasts of what is now Venezuela. His harsh management of his own sailors and mistreatment of natives, however, led to his arrest by the governor of Hispaniola. Columbus was put in chains and returned to Spain a prisoner along with two of his brothers. He was summarily relieved of all duties as governor of the lands he had discovered, and denied any profit from the income attained from the new Spanish colonies.

Still determined to find a passage to the Spice Islands, Columbus managed to win his freedom and convince Ferdinand and Isabella to support a fourth voyage. This fleet set out in May 1502. On arriving at Hispaniola, he was defied by the Spanish governor of Santo Domingo. His fleet then sailed to the coast of Honduras in Central America and then southward to Panama, where it encountered a fierce storm. Returning to Jamaica, his fleet was wrecked in another storm, and Columbus was forced to remain on Jamaica for more than a year awaiting rescue. The governor of Hispaniola, now the admiral's sworn enemy, finally sent help and Columbus succeeded in returning to Spain in November 1504.

Columbus has been hailed for more than five centuries as an intrepid navigatorand criticized for the harsh treatment he meted out to his sailors as well as Native Americans, whom he considered subhuman barbarians in desperate need of conversion to the Christian religion. His voyages began the era of exploration and colonization of North and South America by Europeans, an undertaking that greatly enriched and transformed Europe. He grew bitter at the imprisonment he suffered at the hands of his patrons in Spain, however, and died still unaware of the western hemisphere, and convinced he had found a faster route to Asia.

See Also: da Gama, Vasco; exploration; Ferdinand II of Aragon; Isabella I of Castile

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Columbus, Christopher

COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER

COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER (Cristofor Colombo, 14511506), explorer. Born in the Italian republic of Genoa, Columbus acted as a mariner in the Mediterranean and joined the Italian merchant colony in Lisbon in the 1470s. From Portugal, he sailed north to England, Ireland, and possibly Iceland. He also visited Madeira and the Canary Islands and sailed down the African coast to São Jorge da Mina. By his marriage to Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, member of an Italian-Portuguese noble family, he gained access to the Portuguese and Castilian royal courts.

Columbus became convinced that Asia could be reached by sailing west from Europe, based on rumors of undiscovered islands in the Atlantic, unusual objects found on Atlantic shores, and a wide reading of geography and other sources. He believed that the Earth's circumference was smaller than it is and that Asia would not be too far west from Europe.

After failing to interest the Portuguese king John II in his scheme for a westward passage to Asia, Columbus went to Spain. The Spanish monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, assigned experts to investigate the feasibility of a westward voyage. They disputed Columbus's flawed geography, but the spherical shape of the world was never in question. In early 1492, the monarchs, disregarding the skepticism of their experts, agreed to help support Columbus's first voyage at a modest financial risk. They promised to grant him noble status and the titles of admiral, viceroy, and governor-general for any lands he might discover.

With the support of the prominent mariner Martín Alonso Pinzón, Columbus outfitted three vessels for the voyage: the Niña, Pinta, and Mariagalante (Santa María). Leaving in early August of 1492, the fleet sailed first to the Canary Islands and then headed westward with following winds. Columbus and the other pilots in the fleet navigated by dead reckoning, estimating direction by compass, time by sand clock, and speed by eye and feel to plot their course and position.

Early on 12 October the fleet dropped anchor at an island that Columbus renamed San Salvador. Believing they were in Asia, the crew called the natives "Indians." Shortly thereafter, Martín Alonso Pinzón took the Pinta and sailed off to explore and trade on his own. Columbus visited Cuba, vainly seeking the vast commerce and rich ports of Asia, and then sailed to the island he named Hispaniola and explored its northern coast. After the Mariagalante ran aground and wrecked, Columbus founded a settlement for the thirty-nine men he left behind. After Pinzón returned, the Ninña and Pinta set sail for Spain, with seven captured Indians aboard.

Columbus made three other voyages to the Caribbean islands and the mainland of Central and South America. During the second and third he was required to act as a colonial administrator as well as an explorer; his limited administrative skills contributed to growing chaos. A royal investigator arrested Columbus and sent him back to Spain, thus ending his third voyage. The Spanish monarchs allowed him to keep his property, but his titles were thereafter devoid of authority, as the monarchs established a new colonial administration.

On his fourth and final voyage, Columbus mainly explored the coast of Central America, where he encountered fierce local resistance. Turning back, he grounded his two remaining worn-out vessels on the Jamaican coast and spent a miserable year before being rescued. Broken in health, he arrived in Spain on 7 November 1504.

Columbus made every effort to have all his grants and titles restored. Even without them, he was a wealthy man, but he felt betrayed and slighted by his royal patrons. For their part, the Spanish sovereigns justified their withdrawal of support by citing Columbus's mismanagement. Surrounded by family and friends, Columbus died in 1506, rich but dissatisfied. As a man of his time, Columbus was strongly influenced by contemporary norms and beliefs about commerce, religion, and science. Deeply religious, he hoped to supply funds to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims, in fulfillment of Christian crusading ideas and millenarian prophecies. At the same time, he was a shrewd businessman and used geographical and scientific works in newly available printed editions, making scientific observations of sea and wind and flora and fauna. He attempted to calculate longitude, noted the difference between true and magnetic north, and accurately predicted a lunar eclipse. Instead of finding a new route to Asia, Columbus made the lands and peoples of the Western Hemisphere known to Europeans and set in motion a chain of events that engendered today's close connections among all the world's societies.

See also Cartography and Geography ; Colonialism ; Europe and the World ; Exploration ; Shipbuilding and Navigation ; Spanish Colonies: The Caribbean .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Source

Columbus, Christopher. Textos y documentos completos, nuevas cartas. Edited by Consuelo Varela and Juan Gil. Madrid, 1992.

Secondary Sources

Henige, David. In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the First Voyage. Tucson, Ariz., 1991.

Phillips, William D., Jr., and Carla Rahn Phillips. The Worlds of Christopher Columbus. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1992.

William D. Phillips, Jr.

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Columbus, Christopher (1451-1506)

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

Explorer

Sources

Judging the Man. The quincentennial, or 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbuss arrival in America in 1992, raised many new questions about the man. Once nearly universally regarded as a hero, Columbus today also conjures up brutality, violence, and the destruction of Native Americans and their culture. However, rather than rushing to judgment one way or another, we need to consider him in the context of his times.

Background. For a long time historians believed that Columbus was the son of a poor Genoese weaver and that before going to sea he had been a trader of African slaves in Spain. His marriage to the daughter of a prominent Lisbon merchant gave him many connections to the royal court. More recently other scholars have argued that Columbus was too prominent to have come from such humble beginnings.

Gold and Christianity. Part of Columbuss desire to explore was to bring Christianity to the worlds peoples. He firmly believed, inspired by the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah, that the second coming of Christ would not be realized until every last individual was converted to Christianity. One of Columbuss goals was to personally deliver the Christian message. Ultimately he strove to bring enough gold back from his voyage to finance the final Crusade, the one that would achieve the Christianization of the whole world. Queen Isabella was convinced by Columbuss reasoning, and even though the Spanish Crown was impoverished, she agreed to fund his first voyage. Of course, gaining wealth, power, and fame was also a part of Columbuss agenda.

First Voyage. Seven weeks after going to sea in three small boats with a crew of about ninety men, Columbus landed in the Bahamas on 12 October 1492. He promptly erected two banners of the Green Cross, one each for Ferdinand and Isabella. He named the land San Salvador, or Holy Savior. The Indies were, to him, paradise, and he spent the next ten weeks exploring the Caribbean, including parts of present-day Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. Columbus returned with spices, slaves, and a small amount of gold. On his return voyage he authored a pamphlet extolling the lands he had found. They were, he exclaimed, filled with amiable natives and vast riches.

Second Voyage. Columbus returned to the New World for a second time in 1494. This second voyage witnessed not the conversion of the Native Americans as much as, in the words of one historian, the true beginning of the invasion of the Americas. An epidemic hit many of Columbuss crew, and the Grand Admiral of the Ocean Sea also fell ill for months. As he lay sick, despite his personal promise to Ferdinand and Isabella not to be violent toward the natives, many of his soldiers used the opportunity not to proselytize but to wander freely, abusing and killing as many as fifty thousand Native Americans. Violence and murder were a part of Spanish culture; fifteenth-century Spain was a brutal place in which the questioning of hereticsand swift, severe punishment if they were found guilty but did not confessfamine, and disease were parts of normal life. However, Columbuss men no doubt felt justified in their marauding by the fact that their victims were not Christians but beasts.

Book of Prophecies. Toward the end of his life, in 1500, after returning from his third voyage, Columbus composed the Book of Prophecies. This collection of thoughts, commentary, and biblical passages was an appeal to the Spanish monarchy to regain Jerusalem from Muslim control and affirmed that recovering the Holy City and finding and converting the native peoples he had discovered would lead to the second coming of Christ. Columbus placed himself squarely in this holy history which intended to show the schema of the salvation of the human race. Columbus was certain, he wrote Ferdinand and Isabella in 1503 from Jamaica, that Jerusalem would be rebuilt by a Christian and that this person would come from Spain. He appealed to the monarchs to continue to support his voyages to enable him to find more gold and thus be able to liberate the Holy City.

Legacy. In considering Columbuss legacy, we must also consider that he acted in the name of religion. He believed he was directed by divine guidance on all of his voyages. To Columbus, religion and the less-than-benevolent treatment of the Native Americans were not necessarily mutually exclusive. If such brutality led to greater riches for Spain, it could use this wealth to effect more conversions, according to his thinking.

Sources

Roberto Rusconi, ed., The Book of Prophecies edited by Christopher Columbus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997);

Margarita Zamora, Reading Columbus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

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Columbus, Christopher

Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506) Italian explorer credited with the discovery of America. He believed he could establish a route to China and the East Indies by sailing across the Atlantic since, along with many learned contemporaries, he believed the circumference of the Earth to be much smaller than it actually is. After several disappointments, he secured Spanish patronage from Ferdinand and Isabella. He set out with three ships (Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria) in 1492 and made landfall in the Bahamas, the first European to reach the Americas since the Vikings, whose achievement was then unknown. Believing he had reached the East, he called the inhabitants “Indians”. On a second, larger expedition (1493), a permanent colony was established in Hispaniola. He made two more voyages (1498 and 1502), exploring the Caribbean region without reaching the North American mainland. He never surrendered his belief that he had reached Asia. His discoveries laid the basis for the Spanish empire in the Americas.

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus.
1. (Christophe Colomb). Opera in 2 acts (27 scenes) by Milhaud to lib. by Paul Claudel. Comp. 1928. Prod. Berlin 1930. Paris (concert version) 1936. Uses cinema screen. Operas on this subject also by Ottoboni, Morlacchi, and Egk.

2. Early ov. by Wagner intended for play by Apel, comp. 1834–5, f.p. Leipzig 1835.

3. Incidental mus. by Walton (unpubd.) for radio play by Louis MacNeice broadcast BBC Oct. 1942.

4. The Voyage. Opera in 3 acts by Glass to lib. by D. H. Hwang. F.p. NY Met 1992. Commissioned by Met to commemorate 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in America.

5. Cristoforo Colombo. Opera in 4 acts by Franchetti to lib. by Illica. Comp. 1891–2, rev. 1922. F.p. Genoa 1892. Commissioned by Genoa, on Verdi's recommendation, to mark 400th anniversary of discovery of America.

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Columbus, Christopher

Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506), Italian-born Spanish explorer. He persuaded the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, to sponsor an expedition to sail across the Atlantic in search of Asia and to prove that the world was round. In 1492 he set sail with three small ships and discovered the New World (in fact various Caribbean islands).
Columbus Day in the US, a legal holiday commemorating the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. It is observed by most states on the second Monday of October.

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Columbus, Christopher

Columbus, Christopher

(b. Genoa, Italy, 1451 [?]; d. Valladolid, Spain, 20 May 1506),

navigation, exploration.

For a detailed study of his life and work, see Supplement.

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

source The First Ocean Decade of Peter Martyr of Anghiera and Milan, 1511. From Geoffrey Eatough, Editor and Translator, Selections from Peter Martyr in Repetorium Columbianum, Volume V (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1998), pp. 43-44.

introductionThis account of Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the New World in 1492 appeared in The First Ocean Decade of Peter Martyr of Anghiera and Milan (1511) by Peter Martyr, an Italian-born historian at the Spanish court. Martyr's goal, like other Spanish historians of the period, was to emphasize the glory of Spain. As such, Martyr cast Columbus's voyage as a great adventure that would lead to "an unimaginable abundance of pearls, spices, and gold." As Martyr foresaw, Columbus's discoveries of new lands, mineral wealth, and new people and animals launched a new era of European exploration, expansion, and colonialism.

The ancients, to show their gratitude, used to respect as gods men whose vision and toil revealed lands which had been unknown to their ancestors. We, however, who hold that beneath his three persons there is only one God to be worshipped, can nonetheless feel wonder at men such as these, even if we have not worshipped them. Let us revere the sovereigns under whose leadership and auspices it was granted these men to fulfill their plans; let us praise to heaven sovereigns and discoverers; and let us use all our powers to make their glory seen as is right and proper. Here then what is reported about the islands recently discovered in the western seas and about the authors of this event. Since in your letter you seem most eager to know, I intend to start my account from the beginning of the event to avoid doing harm to anyone.

A certain Christopher Columbus, a man from Genoa, made a proposal to Ferdinand and Isabela, our Catholic majesties, and persuaded them that he would find to the west of us the islands neighboring on India, if they would equip him with ships and items required for the voyage. By these means the Christian religion could increase and an unimaginable abundance of pearls, spices and gold be easily had. He persisted and it was arranged that he should have three ships paid out of the royal treasury: one a cargo ship, with a crow's nest; the other two light merchant ships, without crow's nests, which the Spaniards call caravels. When he had taken possession of them Columbus began his proposed voyage around the first of September in the 1492nd year of our salvation with about two hundred twenty Spaniards.

Out in the deep ocean are islands which in many people's opinion are the Fortunate Islands, named the Canaries by the Spaniards, discovered Sometime ago, 1200 miles from Cádiz by their reckoning, for they say that the distance is three hundred leagues, while the experts in navigation say that on their calculations each league contains four miles. Antiquity called them the Fortunate Isles on account of the mildness of their climate: for the inhabitants are not oppressed by intolerable winters or fierce summers, because they are situated in the south beyond Europe's climate. Some, however, would like those which the Portuguese call the Cape Verde to be the Fortunate Islands. The Canaries have, right up to the Present day, been inhabited by men who are naked and who exist without any religion. Columbus made for there in order to take on water and refurbish the ships, before committing himself to hard toils ahead.

From these islands Columbus sailed for thirty-three continuous days, Always following the westerning sun, though for a little while towards the left of it, happy with just the sea and sky. His Spanish companions began first to mutter in secret, then to harass him with open abuse and to think about murdering him; indeed in the end they deliberated on hurling him into the sea: they had been deceived by a fellow from Genoa; the were being dragged headlong into an abyss from where they would never be able to return. After what was not the thirtieth day, roused to fury, they shouted out to be taken back and urged the man to go no further; but he tried to soothe their anger and restrain their excesses, coaxing them, giving large grounds for hope, protracting the issue from one day to the next. He also stated that their majesties would change them with treason, if they made a hostile move against him, of if they refused to obey. In the end to their delight they gained sight of the land for which they had longed.

On this first voyage he revealed just six islands, and two of these were of Unprecedented magnitude. He called one of these Hispaniola, the other Juana, but he was not sure that Juana was an island. As they were shaved the shores of some of them, they heard, in the month of November, the song of the nightingale in the dense groves. They also found huge rivers of fresh water and natural harbors with room for large fleets. Licking the coast of Juana, north west on a straight line, they ran out not much less than eight hundred miles, for they say it was one hundred and eighty leagues. Thinking it was mainland, because there was no apparent end nor sign of any end on the island, for as far as their eyes commanded a view, they decided to retreat. The sea surge also forced them to turn back, for the shore of Juana with its twists and turns eventually bends and curves so far to the north that the ships were assailed by severe gales from the north, for the storms of winter were beginning.

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

1451-1506

Explorer

Sources

Crossing the Atlantic. Christopher Columbus, a Genoese merchant mariner sailing for the Spanish government, departed from Palos in Southern Spain on 3 August 1492. He sailed south along the coast of Africa to the Canary Islands and then turned west until he reached an uncharted island (present-day San Salvador). Columbus believed that he was somewhere to the east of Cathay (China) and the west of Japan. He mistakenly believed that he was close to his originally projected destination of India, and thus he called these islands the Indies.

Enterprise of the Indies. He had planned his Enterprise of the Indies for several years and had made pleas to the kings of Portugal and Spain. Both turned him down, but Isabella, the queen of Spain, had sufficient confidence in Columbus to underwrite a three-ship fleet: two caravels of seventy feet each, the Nina and Pinta, and a larger flagship named the Santa Maria. At one point the crew of the Santa Maria purportedly demanded that Columbus turn the boats around, but he negotiated two more days of sailing. Land was sighted on the second day. Columbus had reached the uncharted Caribbean Islands that lie between eastern North and South America, but until his death he believed that he had sailed to Asia.

Return Voyage. Columbus traveled as far west as Cuba before tacking north along the western edge of the Sargasso Sea, a vast track of the Atlantic Ocean filled with seaweed due to the circular pattern of currents. Columbus sailed north of the Sargasso Sea and then turned east toward the Iberian Peninsula. He was uncertain of his exact location until he reached the Azores that are west of Portugal. Columbus had little status and importance when he moved from Genoa to the Iberian Peninsula, but this one voyage transformed him into a powerful celebrity.

Family and Personality. At the conclusion of his first journey across the Atlantic Ocean, Columbus returned to Spain. Later that year (1493), he set out with his brother Diego on a second voyage to America. Columbus was accompanied by Diego and his other brother, Bartholomew, on his third voyage (1498-1500). Ferdinand, Columbus's fourteen-year-old son, accompanied the three brothers on a fourth and final voyage (1502-1504). Columbus's family was eager to sail with him, but other sailors were frequently disgruntled with his leadership. On the third voyage the three Columbus brothers were arrested and returned to Spain as prisoners, and on the fourth voyage Columbus lost all of his ships due to careless seamanship. Columbus's loyalty to his Genoese family has prompted some historians to label him a self-serving family man whose loyalty to the Spanish Crown was questionable. He was well known for his persistence, a trait that did not endear him to his crew or even his patrons (reportedly Ferdinand and Isabella were eager to be rid of him before the fourth voyage in 1502).

Round versus Flat Earth. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus and his sailors did not think they might sail off the edge of the world. In the Renaissance, navigators and sailors were relatively certain that the world was round. Columbus, however, did err in his calculation of the circumference of the globe. Like his contemporary, the Nuremberg globemaker Martin Behaim, Columbus appears to have calculated the circumference based on Marco Polo's land distances and Ptolemy's erroneous estimate of the earth's size. Behaim and Columbus agreed on the earth's circumference, but their views were not shared by the various committees that reviewed and ultimately rejected Columbus's proposal in January 1492. Shortly thereafter, Queen Isabella rapidly accepted the plan because powerful friends intervened on his behalf.

Navigator. Columbus made up for his weak sailing and interpersonal skills by proving to be an outstanding navigator. Having spent his young adulthood in Portugal and Spain, he had an opportunity to learn the best navigation techniques of the Iberian Peninsula. He also knew the Atlantic islands off of Africa, as he had lived on Madeira after his 1479 marriage. On his first voyage, Columbus was able to turn his familiarity with Mediterranean and Atlantic shipping to good use. He chose what was perhaps the best route to the West and, more remarkably, the best route back. Columbus headed south to the Canaries and then took the trade winds across the Atlantic on his outbound voyage. He was obviously aware of the winds off the western coast of Africa. On the return voyage, he turned northward and caught the westerlies (winds that blow from west to east) to the Azores. Columbus's successful voyages reveal a keen awareness of navigation techniques along with a familiarity of winds to the south and west of the Iberian Peninsula. He may have held wildly inaccurate views of the earth's size, but he understood the oceanic wind patterns.

Naming the New Land. Several years after Columbus, another Italian sailor named Amerigo Vespucci sailed to South America and correctly identified that he was on a new continent. A mapmaker named Martin Waldseemüller adopted the name America for South America in 1507 and twenty-one years later Gerardus Mercator used the name America for South and North America; hence, Vespucci's name identifies what Columbus mistakenly called the Indies.

Legacy. Columbus transformed himself from a self-interested Genoese merchant mariner into a Spanish national hero. He may not have been the first to sail to the Americas, but he was the first to construct a written record of his journey across the Atlantic. The record shows his mis-taken ideas about a narrow Atlantic and the location of the islands that he chartered. History also reveals a man of questionable personality traits, whose lack of political skills produced a good deal of animosity. Columbus and his contemporaries viewed his voyage as a contribution both to the expansion of European trade and an extension of the militant Christianity that had begun with the Crusaders’ assaults on Islam years earlier. Columbus's perseverance helped turn his erroneous quest for Asia into a voyage that changed the way Europeans viewed the globe. Historians may never agree on Columbus's intentions and merits, but they continue to recognize the fact that Columbus forced cartographers to reconsider how they mapped the world. Columbus's legacy lies in the convergence of the European quest for contact with Asia and the gradual mapping of the Atlantic Ocean.

Sources

Alfred W. Crosby, The Colombian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972).

Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Before Columbus: Exploration and Colonisation from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, 1229-1492 (Houndmills, U.K.: Macmillan Education, 1987).

Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston: Little, Brown, 1942).

William D. Phillips Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Peter Rivière, Christopher Columbus (Stroud, Gloucestershire, U.K.: Sutton Publishing, 1998).

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

1451-1506

Italian Explorer

If there is any explorer who, in the eyes of most Americans, seems to need no introduction, it is Christopher Columbus. Yet few figures in history have been the subject of so much myth. Old-fashioned political correctness maintained that Columbus was a sort of savior for discovering the New World, whereas modern political correctness—manifested particularly in 1992, during the 500th anniversary of his discovery—condemns him as a murderer of Native Americans and destroyer of the environment. In fact, both views miss the point that Columbus ultimately had no idea what he was doing: though he was right in surmising that it was possible to reach Asia by sea, he went to his grave believing (incorrectly) that he had done so.

He was born Cristoforo Colombo (Columbus" is an Anglicized version) in Genoa at some time between August and September 1451. His parents, Domenico and Suzanna Fontanarossa Colombo, were humble people: Domenico was a weaver, and what little education their son received was primarily a result of his own efforts. Young Columbus read, and was fascinated by, Marco Polo's (1254-1324) account of his odyssey on the ancient Silk Road to China. By Columbus's time, however, the Turks' destruction of the Byzantine Empire had virtually sealed off the eastward land route; thus explorers, beginning with those sent out by Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), had attempted to find a sea route.

Columbus, who first went to sea as a nine- or ten-year-old, gained considerable experience sailing the relatively safe Mediterranean. After being wounded in a battle off the coast of Portugal in 1476, he settled in that country, where he and his brother Bartholomeu worked as mapmakers. During this time, he married Felipa Perestrelo, who gave him one son, Diego, before dying in 1483. The loss of his wife seemed to spark a restlessness in Columbus, now in his early thirties, that led him into the events that would make him an immortal.

Portuguese efforts at eastward exploration had concentrated on attempts to round the coast of Africa and reach Asia via the Indian Ocean; Columbus, by contrast, presented King John II with the idea of a westward expedition to achieve the same goal. John turned a deaf ear, so Columbus went instead to the court of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. The latter did not agree to support the expedition, but took enough of an interest in Columbus to grant him a small annuity. He would wait for the better part of seven years to begin his voyage, during which time he had an affair with Beatriz Enriquez, with whom he had a son named Ferdinand. Then suddenly in 1492, a Spanish priest acted as broker in an agreement between the monarchs and Columbus, who promised them vast riches to be gained from the expedition.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail with some 100 men aboard the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. After 37 perilous days' voyage, the crew sighted land, and on October 12, set foot on what is now the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. There they were greeted by the aboriginal Arawaks, who Columbus—believing he had reached Asia—dubbed "Indians." After some time on San Salvador, the crew explored the islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. On the latter, they built a fort called Santo Domingo, today the capital of the Dominican Republic and the oldest continuous European settlement in the Americas. Frustrated in his attempts to find either treasure or clear confirmation that he had reached Asia, Columbus departed for Spain in January 1493 with a pair of captured Indians, a few trinkets, and a small quantity of gold he had managed to obtain from the Arawaks. He left behind a group of 40 men, and one of the ships, at Santo Domingo.

Columbus received a hero's welcome in Spain, and his rising fortunes were signified by the size of his second expedition: 17 ships, some 1,200 men, and six months' worth of supplies. Yet things began to turn sour upon their return to Hispaniola in November 1493: as it turned out, tensions between the Indians and the greedy Europeans had resulted in the slaughter of all 40 Spaniards. A number of Columbus's men began succumbing to New World illnesses, and with supplies dwindling, he sent a dozen ships back to Spain. He and the remaining group explored parts of Cuba and Jamaica, but their demands for treasure again put them into conflict with the Indians.

Returning without significant treasure in 1496, Columbus found that his standing with the royal couple had diminished considerably, and this was reflected in the size of the third expedition: just eight ships. This time Columbus, desperate to find the Asian mainland, sailed southward to Trinidad before returning to Hispaniola in August 1498. In Santo Domingo, he found a full-scale mutiny, and when returning sailors brought this news to Ferdinand and Isabella, they sent an official named Bobadilla to investigate. On Bobadilla's orders, Columbus was brought back to Spain in chains in October 1500.

Within a few weeks of his arrival, however, Columbus managed to talk his way back into the royal couple's good graces. Finally they authorized what would be his last voyage, in May 1502, this time with just four ships. The situation in the New World was even worse than before: a new governor in Hispaniola prevented Columbus from landing on the island, and after his crew survived a hurricane, he had to wait a year before the colonial governor sent him help. By November 1504 he was back in Spain, a virtually forgotten man.

Within days of his arrival, Columbus lost his chief supporter, Queen Isabella. He himself would not live more than 18 months, during which time he continually beseeched King Ferdinand for the rewards that had been promised him in their 1492 agreement. He died in the town of Valladolid on May 20, 1506.

JUDSON KNIGHT

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Columbus, Christopher

COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER

Italian, Cristoforo Colombo and Spanish, Cristóbal Colón, seaman, chartmaker, navigator, discoverer of America; b. Genoa, Italy, SeptemberOctober 1451; d. Valladolid, Spain, May 20, 1506. Christopher, Bartholomew, and Diego, sons of Domenico Colombo and his wife, Susanna Fontanarossa, became wool carders but not master weavers like their father and grandfathers. Christopher went to sea at 14, without schooling. His will of 1498 refers to Genoa as "that noble and powerful city by the sea." Throughout life, Columbus attempted to emulate St. Christopher, "the Christ bearer." Ardent in religious devotion, he desired to spread the Christian faith more than he wished for personal glory, wealth, and distinction. He had rare ability to acquire knowledge through observation and experience; he demonstrated superlative competence as a seaman and navigator during his four famous voyages. Little is known of his life prior to 1486. He served in a Genoese privateer; he made one or more voyages to Chios in the Aegean Sea. He survived the sinking of a ship in battle, off Cape St. Vincent, Portugal, Aug. 13, 1476. Although wounded, he seized a large oar and used it for partial support in swimming to the Portuguese coast. After being cared for in the Genoese colony of Lisbon, he became a chartmaker with his brother Bartholomew. He made a voyage to Iceland, and visited Galway, Ireland. Castilian Spanish was the language of the educated in Portugal when the Columbus brothers were establishing themselves as chartmakers. The writings of Christopher are in Castilian with Portuguese spellings, or in Latin learned after he began to think in Spanish. As an agent for Genoese merchants he visited Genoa and lived in Madeira for a time. In command of a merchant vessel, he made at least one voyage to equatorial west Africa. He married Doña Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, whose brother held the hereditary captaincy of the island of Porto Santo, near Madeira. Their son Diego was born c. 1480. She died before Columbus went to Spain and was buried in the Moniz family chapel in Lisbon's church of the Carmo.

The Indies. Portugal led Europe in sea exploration and a chartmaker in Lisbon could be familiar with Portuguese progress. Christopher studied geography, and three of his books have been preserved: Imago Mundi by peter of ailly of Cambrai, written c. 1410, printed c. 1480; Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (pius ii, 145864) written 1440, printed 1477; and the Far Eastern travels of Marco Polo, also in Latin. Both brothers read and reread these books. Christopher made some 2,000 marginal notes and filled the blank pages at the ends of the volumes. He conceived the idea of sailing westward to Asia. The "Fixed Idea" of Columbus was based on faith in his own ability as a seaman-navigator, combined with a gross underestimate of the distance involved. The size of the earth had been debated for 1,800 years. According to ptolemy (a.d. 145) the distance from Cape St. Vincent to easternmost China spanned 180° or halfway around the globe. Enthusiasm helped Columbus to prefer the earlier estimate of

Marinus of Tyre, viz, 225°. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo placed China and Japan farther east. Columbus argued that a degree on the equator measured 45.2 nautical miles, the smallest estimate ever made. Columbus obtained partial support from P. Toscanelli of Florence in 1481, when the latter estimated that Japan was only 3,000 miles west of the Canary Islands. Christopher calculated that 2,400 miles was the distance, and placed the coast of Japan in the longitude of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He asked the King of Portugal to send him westward to Asia, but Portuguese geographers advised that the voyage would require fully 100 days.

Preparations for the Voyage. Unsuccessful in his effort to engage the support of King John II of Portugal, Columbus sought help elsewhere.

Columbus in Spain. Upon arriving at Palos from Portugal in 1485, Christopher left his son Diego with the Franciscan friars at La Rabida. Bartholomew continued chartmaking in Lisbon. The head of the Franciscans in Seville, Antonio de Marchena (see pÉrez, juan), was favorably impressed by the ideas of Columbus, and the latter was able to explain them to Queen isabella at Córdoba, in May 1486. At that time the sovereigns were engaged in war against the Moorish Kingdom of Granada.

Columbus at Salamanca. Twice in Spain, and once in Portugal, royal commissions considered the advisability of financing an expedition for Columbus. Father Hernando de Talavera, later archbishop of Granada, headed the best known commission, December 1486, in Salamanca. It should be remembered that there was no accurate way to determine longitude prior to 1765. In 1486, neither the size of the earth nor the longitude of Japan was known. The commission reported that the earth was considerably larger than Columbus believed, that the distance to Japan was far greater than he estimated, and that available ships could not carry sufficient food and water for a voyage of that length. On these three points the commission was correct, but the members were favorably impressed by the dignity and earnestness of Columbus himself. The consensus in Spain then was that a degree on the equator measured 55.9 nautical miles; an underestimate of about 6.83 per cent in the size of the earth. By contrast, Columbus underestimated by about 24.67 per cent.

The popular "Columbus Myth" describes the Salamanca meeting as an attempt by Columbus to convince university professors, mostly churchmen, that the earth is round. The University of Salamanca was not involved. Spain had no capital at that time, and the royal commission met in that city because the court was there. The shape of the earth was not in question. Ever since men first built ships and put out from land it had been known that the earth is a sphere. The masts and spars of an approaching vessel appear over the horizon before the hull is seen. In heading away, a ship goes "hull down" before the masts disappear. Vessels often pass each other "hull down" at sea. Lookouts go to the masthead to see objects not visible from the deck. This explains the use of fires on headlands or lights on towers as aids to navigation. Lighthouses were in use for 2,100 years before the meeting at Salamanca.

Delays. The report of the Talavera Commission was delayed, and Columbus wrote King John II of Portugal. He was invited to return there, and he wrote in his copy of Imago Mundi that he was in Lisbon in December 1488 when Bartholomew Dias returned after discovering the Cape of Good Hope. With the route to India around Africa thus open to him, the King of Portugal lost interest in Columbus's idea. Columbus probably supported himself by selling books and charts in Seville. Bartholomew Columbus failed to interest King Henry VII of England in 1489. Although unsuccessful also in France, Bartholomew was retained at Fontainbleau as a chartmaker by the King's sister, Anne de Beaujeu, until he learned of his brother's discovery. Christopher suffered genuine distress after the unfavorable report of the Commission. Determined to go to France, he traveled first to La Rabida. Father Juan Pérez wrote to Queen Isabella and secured for Christopher another summons to court. His proposals were considered again, and referred to the Royal Council of Castile. Immediately after Columbus marched in the triumphal procession entering Granada on Jan. 2, 1492, his plan was rejected.

Queen Isabella's Decision. On the day that Christopher left court, one of King Ferdinand V of Castile's Aragonese advisers, Luis de Santangel, persuaded Isabella to reconsider. Columbus was recalled and had another interview with Isabella. She won her husband's approval. Santangel argued that the enterprise required little risk while offering great possibilities. Probably the character of Columbus won for him the support of the Queen and of many able men. The Franciscan Father Juan Pérez assisted in making the agreements with the crown.

The First Voyage. With a total of 90 men embarked, the ship Santa Maria and the caravels Pinta and Nina sailed from Palos on Friday, Aug. 3, 1492. They departed the Canary Islands on September 9. With favorable weather and winds, they were beyond the position where land was expected on October 10, and the crew complained. Columbus promised to turn back if land was not sighted in 2 or 3 days. San Salvador Island was discovered on Oct. 12, 1492; latitude 24° 00'north, longitude 74° 30' west; 33 days and 3,066 nautical miles from the Canaries. After exploring northeastern Cuba, Columbus crossed the Windward Passage to the north shore of Hispaniola, where the Santa Maria was wrecked on Christmas morning. Forty men were left in a fort on shore called "Navidad." With a number of natives and some gold, Columbus started his return passage in the Nina, from Samana Bay on Jan. 16, 1493. Heading northeast, Columbus weathered severe storms, stopped in the Azores, and was driven into Lisbon. After calling on the King of Portugal, Columbus reached Palos a few hours ahead of the Pinta on March 15, 1493.

News of the discovery spread rapidly in Spain and Italy, slowly elsewhere. Columbus visited the court at Barcelona, was ordered to prepare another expedition, and was confirmed in the title Admiral of the Ocean Sea. While recognizing his discovery, many educated men doubted that he had reached the Indies in 33 days from the Canaries.

Second Voyage. The second departure was on Oct. 13, 1493. A high mountainous island sighted Sunday, November 3 was named Dominica. Skirting the Leeward Islands, inside the Caribbean, via the Mona Passage, all 17 vessels reached Navidad safely on November 28. Columbus was shocked by the discovery that all of the garrison were dead, and influenced by the necessity of returning ships to Spain, he hastily chose for the new town of "Isabela" a site that lacked natural advantages. A better anchorage was available 20 miles east at Puerto Plata. Throughout the first voyage crews had been healthy, but hard work, exposure to mosquitos, rain, and strange diets made 300 men ill soon after work began at Isabela. Medicaments were exhausted; the doctor worn out. Columbus was not an experienced administrator; his errors were repeated, however, by the English in Virginia a century later, and by other colonizers. Columbus explored part of the southern coast of Cuba in May, circled Jamaica, and returned along the southern coast of Hispaniola, reaching Isabela on Sept. 29, 1494. His brother Bartholomew had arrived, and there was a letter from the sovereigns suggesting that he return to Spain to advise them. Although suffering from arthritis, Columbus remained while discontent increased in the colony. He sailed March 10, and reached Cadiz June 11, 1496.

Third Voyage . Departure was from the Cape Verde Islands July 4, 1498. Sighting Trinidad July 31, the admiral entered the Gulf of Paria, where he recognized that the volume of fresh water proved that the land to the South and West was part of a continent. Worried about conditions in Hispaniola, Columbus failed to seek the pearl fisheries after learning of them and seeing some pearls. Instead he left the coast near Margarita Island, heading for the colony. With the hope of improving matters, the admiral asked for a chief justice from Spain. Francisco de Bobadilla arrived while Christopher and Bartholomew were absent from Santo Domingo City; he listened to the malcontents and sent the brothers home in chains without hearing them. The sovereigns released Columbus, but King Ferdinand was preoccupied with diplomacy and did not study the colonial problem.

Fourth Voyage. This departure was from the Canaries May 26, 1502. Reaching Martinique June 15, the admiral headed for Santo Domingo with the hope of exchanging his flagship for a better vessel. Columbus recognized that a hurricane was imminent, asked for shelter in the Ozama River, suggested that all vessels be held in port until the storm passed. Disregarding the warning, 25 ships sailed; 20 ships and 500 men were lost. Denied shelter, the admiral rode out the storm at sea. He then spent nine months exploring the coast of Central America from Honduras to a point about 125 miles east of Porto Bello. He suffered from malaria, and bad weather, tropical rain, sickness, and difficulties with the natives affected all hands. Shipworms damaged the hulls of his vessels, and he was forced to run them aground in Saint Ann's Bay, Jamaica. Diego Méndez crossed to Cape Tiburon against wind and current, and made his way to Governor Ovando, but Ovando left the admiral and his men marooned for 370 days. Bartholomew and the admiral's younger son, Ferdinand, were on this voyage. Nearly half the men mutinied, and mistreated the natives, and the latter almost ceased to supply food. Columbus knew that a total eclipse of the moon was expected on the night of Feb. 29, 1504. Summoning the native chiefs to a conference, the admiral told them that the God of the Christians would make a sign with the moon to show his disapproval of their failure to supply food to the stranded white men. The eclipse was persuasive. Rescued June 29, he reached Spain Nov. 7, 1504, a few weeks before Isabella's death, and died two years later. His remains rest in the cathedral of Santo Domingo City. Those of his son Don Diego, the second Admiral of the Ocean Sea, are in the cathedral of Seville. The will of Columbus commended the family, including Beatriz Enríquez de Harana, mother of Ferdinand (b. 1488), to Diego's benevolence.

Achievements of Columbus. In the most famous voyages of modern history Columbus set an example for Europe, raising standards as a seaman, as a navigator, and as an explorer. Before the development of celestial navigation he demonstrated a degree of skill in "dead reckoning" that would be highly creditable to the best navigators of the 1960s. He exhibited outstanding practical seamanship in fair weather and during storms. Although he had spent only a few years in the Caribbean area, his observations of weather conditions enabled him to predict an impending hurricane. He gave Spain an empire and extended Christian civilization. As an administrator he made mistakes, but few men have done better under similar primitive conditions in colonization.

Bibliography: j. winsor, Christopher Columbus (5th ed. Boston 1892); ed., Narrative and Critical History of America, 8 v. (Boston 188489) 2:1128. R. Academia de la historia, Madrid, Bibliografía Colombina: Enumeración de libros y documentos concernientes a Cristóbal Colón y sus viajes (Madrid 1892). Raccolta di documenti e studi pubblicati dalla R. Commissione Colombiana, 14 v. (Rome 189294). j. b. thacher, Christopher Columbus: His Life, His Work, His Remains, 3 v. (New York 190304). f. colón, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus, ed. and tr. b. keen (New Brunswick, N.J. 1959). s. e. morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, 2 v. (Boston 1942); Christopher Columbus, Mariner (Boston 1955); ed. and tr., Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York 1963). a. ballesteros y beretta, Cristóbal Colón y el descubrimiento de América, 2 v. (Barcelona 1945). l. hanke, Bartolomé de las Casas (Philadelphia 1952). Studi Colombiana, 3 v. (Genoa 1952). c. sanz, Bibliotheca Americana vetustissima: Ultimas adiciones, 2 v. (Madrid 1960).

[j. b. heffernan]

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Columbus, Christopher

COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER

COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER (1451–1500), discoverer of America, thought by some to have been of Marrano extraction. He was himself mysterious when speaking of his origin, apparently having something in his background which he wished to conceal. However, he boasted cryptically about his connection with King David and had a penchant for Jewish and Marrano society. Spanish scholars have attempted to explain the fact that this great hero of Spanish history was almost certainly born in Genoa, Italy, by the assumption that his parents were Jewish or ex-Jewish refugees from Spain. In fact, the name Colon (or Colombo) was not uncommon among Italian Jews of the late medieval period. A document recently discovered suggests that Columbus was of Majorcan origin, and almost certainly belonged to a Marrano family: but the authenticity of the document still remains to be proved. On the other hand, Columbus' mysterious signature, which he adjured his son always to use, is susceptible to a Hebraic interpretation, which is no more improbable than the many other solutions that have been proposed. It is remarkable moreover that Columbus began his account of his voyage with a reference to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain; that in one document he refers to the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Hebraic term "Second House"; that he dates its destruction as being in the year 68, in accordance with the Jewish tradition; and that he seems to have deliberately postponed the day of his sailing until August 3, while all was ready for the purpose on the previous day, which was the un-propitious fast day of the Ninth of Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple. The mystery regarding Columbus' origins is largely the outcome of his own mendacity: and as a result it is equally impossible to exclude or to confirm the hypothesis that he was descended from a Jewish or ex-Jewish family.

The fact that he ultimately received the patronage of the Spanish sovereigns for his expedition was in large measure due to the enthusiasm and help of a group of New Christians around the Aragonese court, notably Luis de *Santangel and Gabriel *Sanchez as well as to some extent Isaac *Abrabanel. It was in fact to Santangel and Sanchez that Columbus wrote the famous account of his success on his return, which was immediately published and circulated throughout Europe in two recensions – one addressed to the former, the other to the latter. On his journeys, the explorer used the nautical instruments perfected by Jews such as Joseph *Vecinho, and the nautical tables drawn up by Abraham *Zacuto. It was formerly stated that several of the crew on his first voyage were of Jewish birth, but this was true in fact of only one of them – the interpreter Luis de *Torres, who had been baptized immediately before the expedition set sail.

[Cecil Roth]

The motivations behind Columbus' travels were varied. Alongside Franciscan-Joachimite traditions of the coming Third Age, Columbus had been interested for many years in biblical prophecies. He had collected them long before his first journey and later on as well, after his discoveries had verified his expectations. These prophecies are collected in his Libro de las profecías, where he uses well-known Catholic medieval authors. The chiliastic plans included not only the liberation of Jerusalem but the establishment of the Temple. The gold brought from the New World was supposed to serve for the coming crusade.

Unlike his entirely negative attitude to the Muslims, Columbus saw the Jews and Jewish tradition in a more positive light, as part of the religious quest of humanity.

The discoveries of Columbus were echoed in Jewish sources; a collection of correspondence from 16th century Italy (Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurentiana, Ms. Plut. 88.12 p. 13v) refers to the return of the second expedition (1496). A Hebrew translation of a book describing the discoveries in the New World was made in Voltaggio (near Genoa) in 1557, refering specifically to "the new world found by Columbus."

[Roni Weinstein (2nd ed.)]

bibliography:

M. Kayserling, Christopher Columbus and the Participation of the Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese Discoveries (1907); S. de Madariaga, Christopher Columbus (Eng., 1940); C. Roth, Personalities and Events in Jewish History (1953), 192–211; Cantera, in: Atlántida, no. 9 (May–June, 1964), 303–10; R. Llanas de Niubó, El Enigma de Cristóbal Colón (1964). add. bibliography: H.I. Avalos, "Columbus as Biblical Exegete: A Study of the 'Libro de las profecías,'" in: Studies in Jewish Civilization, 5 (1996), 59–80; G. Pistarino, "Christians and Jews, Pagans and Muslims in the Thought of Christopher Columbus," in: Mediterranean Historical Review, 10:1–2 (1995), 259–271; L.I. Sweet, "Christopher Columbus and the Millennial Vision of the New World," in: Catholic Historical Review, 72:3 (1986), 369–82.

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Columbus, Christopher

Columbus, Christopher
1451–1506

Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator and explorer whose four voyages to the Americas "opened the gates" for western Europe's overseas expansion.

Columbus was born in Genoa, a thriving commercial port on the Mediterranean Sea, in 1451—the same year as Queen Isabella (1451–1504). Two years later, Ottoman Turks took control of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey), the last Christian foothold in Asia. Columbus thus grew up among merchants seeking new routes to the silks, spices, and gold of the "Indies" to circumvent the routes that the Turks had restricted.

By age twenty, Columbus was a full-time trader with the Spinola family, sailing the Mediterranean and the Ocean Sea (the Atlantic) north to England. Shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal in 1476, he swam ashore near Prince Henry the Navigator's (1394–1460) school for mariners in Sagres. Columbus then moved to Lisbon, where he took up mapmaking. Lured by the sea, he sailed south to Portuguese trading forts along the African coast and far north of England, improving along the way his knowledge of commerce, navigation, and sea and wind currents. In 1479 he married Felipa Moniz Perestrello, an impoverished Portuguese noblewoman whose father had been raised by Henry the Navigator and was now governor of Porto Santo in the Canary Islands. Perestrello gave his son-in-law all his papers and nautical instruments.

It may have been while residing on Porto Santo, watching the sun set to the west and thinking about his future and that of his newborn son Diego (Felipa died shortly after giving birth), that Columbus came up with the idea for his Great Enterprise of the Indies—an enterprise that would take him west across the Ocean Sea to the riches of the East faster than the circum-African route the Portuguese were seeking. After Paolo Toscanelli (1397–1482), a scholar in Florence, confirmed that such an enterprise was feasible, Columbus approached King John II (1455–1495) of Portugal for backing. King John turned him down.

Columbus spent eight frustrating years seeking backing from the Spanish monarchs. In 1492, triumphant but broke after finally reconquering Granada, the last Moorish stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, Queen Isabella agreed to support Columbus and his enterprise. She needed money, and she admired Columbus's religious fervor.

Leaving Palos, Spain, on August 3, 1492, and stopping in the Canary Islands for fresh food and water, Columbus and his men sailed west in three ships, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María. They sighted land on October 12, an island that was part of a continent previously unknown to Europeans, later called America, though Columbus believed he had reached islands off the Asian continent.

Columbus returned to Spain in 1493 as viceroy and governor of the Indies, a title granted to him along with "admiral of the Ocean Seas" and a percentage of the Spanish Crown's profits through the legal agreement (capitulations) he had signed with the crown. He was quickly granted permission to return and colonize the island of Hispaniola, which Columbus said was rich with gold—1,200 Spaniards accompanied him in 17 ships. Although Columbus was an excellent navigator, he was not a good governor. So many complaints were made against him and his two brothers that the crown permanently replaced him as governor in 1502.

Columbus made two more exploratory voyages in 1498 and 1502. On his last voyage, he explored the eastern coast of Central America, seeking a strait to the Indian Ocean. Many scholars think he died without knowing he had discovered a new continent. Columbus's notes indicate that he realized it, but could not admit it, for that would nullify the capitulations and the benefits that were to be passed on to his heirs.

Columbus's discoveries of new lands, mineral wealth, and new people and animals, and the idea of a strait through the American continent to Asia, set off a new era of European competition, exploration, and expansion.

see also Empire in the Americas, Spanish; European Explorations in South America; Vespucci, Amerigo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Colón, Ferdinand. The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his Son, Ferdinand. Translated by Benjamin Keen. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1959.

Columbus, Christopher. The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America, 1492–1493, Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Edited and translated by Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley Jr. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

Dor-Ner, Zvi. Columbus and the Age of Discovery. New York: Morrow, 1991.

Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. Columbus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Boston: Little, Brown, 1942.

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Columbus, Christopher

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who sailed in the service of the king and queen of Spain. Between 1492 and 1504, he made four voyages to the Caribbean and South America, lands unknown to Europeans at that time.

Goes to sea as a teenager

Columbus was born some time in the fall of 1451 to a humble family in Genoa, Italy. He became a seaman at a young age. By the time he was in his twenties, he was a skilled sailor with enough knowledge to pilot his own boat. In 1476, Columbus traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, where his younger brother, Bartholomew Columbus (c. 1461–1515), operated a book and map store. Columbus educated himself in the store, studying navigation and the art of cartography, or mapmaking. A devout Catholic, Columbus also studied religion.

Enterprise of the Indies

During the 1470s and early 1480s, Columbus participated in several long voyages that took him as far as Iceland and Africa. Trade with Asia (then called the Indies) was very profitable at the time, and he began to formulate the idea that it would be faster and easier to travel to Asia by

sailing westward from Europe, going across the Atlantic Ocean, than by traveling east, as was commonly done. Contrary to legend, all educated fifteenth-century Europeans knew that the earth was round, but no one had any idea about its size; most theories underestimated the size of the earth by about one-third. Most people also believed the earth was one huge landmass, consisting of Europe, Africa, and Asia, surrounded by water. It was not surprising that Columbus guessed incorrectly at the distances between continents.

Naming his plan to reach Asia on a westward route “The Enterprise of the Indies,” Columbus tried unsuccessfully to persuade Portuguese king John II (1455–1495) to support an expedition proving his theory. In May 1486, Spanish queen Isabella I (1451–1504) agreed to hear his plan.

Besides finding a new trade route and untold riches, part of Columbus's goal in his enterprise was to bring Christianity to the world's peoples. This appealed to Queen Isabella, who wished to create a vast, worldwide, Spanish empire that would spread the Christian religion to every corner of the earth.

In April 1492, Queen Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand II (1452–1516), signed an agreement with Columbus to fund his voyage. Columbus secured three ships—the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria—and a crew of about ninety men and boys. The Santa Maria, at 100 feet in length, was the largest of the three ships.

The first voyage

The fleet sailed on August 3, 1492. By chance, Columbus found the best possible Atlantic route to the New World and the weather was good. Still, the voyage took weeks. Finally, on October 11, signs of land became apparent—branches with green leaves and flowers floating in the water. Very early on the morning of October 12, the lookout on the Pinta saw land.

The grateful crew landed on a small island in the present-day Bahamas. Columbus named the island San Salvador (Holy Savior). Columbus stayed on the island for two days, meeting with its inhabitants, members of the peaceful Arawak-speaking Taino tribe. Not knowing where he was, and always assuming that he had reached the Indies, he called these people Indians.

Columbus spent several days exploring the Bahamas, but the Taino told him about another much larger island named Colba (Cuba), and he set off for it, thinking it must be part of China or Japan. He landed on Cuba on October 28, 1492, and for the next month sailed along its north coast. After leaving Cuba on December 5, 1492, Columbus sailed

to another large island, which he named Hispaniola because it reminded him of Spain.

Meets Native Americans

In Hispaniola, Columbus met a young Arawak chief who was wearing gold ornaments, which he was willing to trade for European goods. Farther east, Columbus met a more important chief who had even larger pieces of gold. Columbus entertained him and his people on board the Santa Maria on Christmas Eve. After the festivities, while everyone was asleep, the ship hit a coral reef and began to sink. Helped by the chief and his followers, the Spanish were able to unload most of the ship's goods and carry them to shore. Making the best of a bad situation, Columbus founded the first European settlement in the Americas. He named it La Navidad (The Nativity) after the birthday of Christ.

Honored for achievement

In January, Columbus sailed for Spain, leaving twenty-one men behind in La Navidad. He returned with spices, slaves, and a small amount of gold. He had written a pamphlet praising the lands he had found. They were, he exclaimed, filled with amiable natives and vast riches. Columbus stayed in Barcelona for three months. For having discovered a new route to the Indies, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand gave him titles and honors and agreed to sponsor a second voyage.

Second voyage

Columbus's second expedition to the Americas in 1493 was much larger than the first, with seventeen ships and about twelve hundred to fifteen hundred men aboard. After a smooth crossing, the ships sailed through the Caribbean islands. There they encountered the native Caribs, a warlike people who were skilled navigators and made raids upon others from their large dugout canoes. After a brief fight, some of the Caribs were captured and sent to Spain as slaves.

When the Spanish fleet reached the settlement at La Navidad, they found it in ruins with the unburied bodies of Spaniards everywhere. Many historians assume that the once-peaceful Arawak Indians rebelled against Spanish abuses and killed the Spaniards. Abandoning the site, Columbus took his new colonists seventy-five miles to the east where he built a trading fort called Isabela in what is now the Dominican Republic. It turned out to be a poor location, but Columbus laid out a main square with a church and “royal palace” and constructed 200 huts for the settlers. Within four days, the settlers found gold near Isabela. Columbus then sent twelve ships laden with gold and spices back to Spain.

Fights with Native Americans

In 1494, Columbus's brother Bartholomew arrived from Spain. The Arawak, who were traditionally a peaceful people, had by that time realized that the arrival of the Spanish meant their destruction. Columbus and his men took the Arawaks as slaves; his men also sexually assaulted the Arawak women. In addition, the Europeans brought with them epidemic diseases that were deadly to the natives. So the Arawak put together a large force to try to drive the intruders off the island. At the end of March 1495, Columbus and his brother led a force that defeated the Native Americans and enslaved many of the survivors.

Despite Columbus's personal promise to Queen Isabella not to use unnecessary violence with the natives, many of Columbus's men were abusive to the Native Americans. Columbus, unsuccessful in imposing order, decided to return to Spain in 1496. He left his brother in charge of the colony, but Bartholomew quickly abandoned Isabela and moved the Spanish headquarters to the south side of the island at Santo Domingo.

News had already reached Spain of the trouble in Isabela. It took Columbus two years to convince Ferdinand and Isabella to send him out on a third voyage. The royals finally agreed. The small fleet did not actually leave until May 30, 1498, because Columbus had trouble finding ships and supplies.

Third voyage

Columbus landed on the island of Trinidad on August 1, 1498. The next day, he sailed to the mouth of the great Orinoco River in Venezuela, realizing almost at once he had reached a continental landmass. This was his first view of the mainland of the Americas.

When he returned to Hispaniola, Columbus found trouble. Isabella and Ferdinand had sent a new governor to replace Columbus in Hispaniola. When the new governor arrived, finding the Spanish inhabitants in a state of rebellion, he immediately arrested both Columbus brothers. He put them in chains and sent them back to Spain, where they arrived in October 1500. Columbus stayed in chains for five weeks after his return until he was released by Ferdinand and Isabella on December 12.

Final voyage

Columbus was granted one more expedition in 1502. He arrived in Santo Domingo in the middle of a hurricane, but its new governor would not let him enter the harbor. Columbus sailed across the Caribbean to the coast of Honduras and journeyed southward along the coast of Central America looking for a passageway west. When he reached Panama, he was close to the Pacific Ocean. It is possible that Columbus may then have realized the continent he had found was not Asia, but there are no records to prove this.

Columbus tried to found a new colony in western Panama. As one of the rainiest places in the world and inhabited by Native Americans hostile to the Europeans, it proved unsuitable for settlement. After great delays due to leaky ships, Columbus chartered a boat and left for Spain in September 1504.

Back in Spain

Columbus's biggest supporter, Queen Isabella, died in 1504. Ill himself, the disgraced navigator continued to try to convince King Ferdinand to sponsor another voyage, but he failed. Columbus moved into a house in the Spanish city of Valladolid in 1506 and died there on May 20.

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Columbus, Christopher

Columbus, Christopher

1451

Genoa, Italy

May 20, 1506

Valladolid, Spain

Italian explorer

"Thirty-three days after my departure from Cadiz I reached the Indian sea, where I discovered many islands, thickly peopled, of which I took possession without resistance in the name of our most illustrious Monarch, . . . "

Christopher Columbus.

Christopher Columbus was the Italian explorer credited with "discovering" the New World (a European term for the continents of North America and South America). Columbus made four voyages to the Caribbean and South America between 1492 and 1504. As governor of Hispaniola (an island in the Caribbean), he oversaw the establishment of the first European settlements in the Americas. Columbus later brought over other Europeans, an act that resulted in devastating consequences to the people he called "Indians." The mistreatment of Native Americans by the Spanish colonists was so cruel that it became known in Europe as "the black legend"—a terrible story of tyranny (the abuse of power) and exploitation. Beginning with Columbus's brutal rule, the Native Americans of Hispaniola were soon virtually exterminated. Although he made great strides in Spain's effort to colonize the New World, Columbus was taken from Hispaniola in chains and under arrest, his career and reputation permanently damaged.

Seeks sponsor for expedition

Christopher Columbus was born in the city of Genoa, Italy, in 1451. His family, who made and traded woolen fabrics, had lived in Genoa for at least three generations. From a young age, Columbus worked as a sailor on merchant and war ships in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1476 he went to Lisbon, Portugal, where he learned mathematics and astronomy (study of the stars), subjects that are vital for navigation. He made several voyages, including one to Iceland (an island between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans). In 1478 he married and settled on Madeira (an island off the northwest coast of Africa), where his son Diego was born. In 1488 he had another son, Fernando, with his Spanish mistress, Beatriz Enriquez.

In the early 1480s Columbus began to seek a sponsor for an expedition to Asia. He wanted to prove his theory that it would be faster and easier to get to Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean instead of going around Africa and into the Indian Ocean. For several years Columbus proposed his idea to the king of Portugal, but he was turned down. Not to be discouraged, Columbus went to try his luck in Spain. He first met with Queen Isabella I in 1486. Finally, in April 1492, Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand V, signed an agreement with Columbus in which they agreed to pay for his voyage. According to this deal, Columbus would be named admiral, become the governor of any lands he discovered, and receive a tax-free ten percent share of any riches found in the new lands.

First lands in Bahamas

So it was that three ships—the Santa Maria (with Columbus as captain), and the Niña and the Pinta—set sail on an historic journey on August 3, 1492. The ships made good progress across the Atlantic, but as the weeks passed the crew wondered if they would ever reach land. According to Columbus's calculations, they already should have reached their destination. By October 10, the men began to turn mutinous (rebellious), demanding that the ships turn back toward Spain. But the next day some sailors saw signs of land: branches with green leaves and flowers floating in the water. Early the following morning a lookout (a sailor who keeps watch atop a ship mast) on the Pinta sighted white cliffs in the moonlight and shouted, "Tierra! Tierra!" ("Land! Land!").

They had found a small island in the present-day Bahamas (a group of islands southeast of Florida). Not knowing where they were, Columbus incorrectly assumed he had reached Asia, or the "Indies." He therefore gave the name "Indians" to the Tainos (Native Americans who inhabited the island) he met there. When the Tainos told Columbus about a larger island to the south, he thought it must be part of China or Japan. Actually it was the island we now call Cuba.

Founds Hispaniola

After leaving the Bahamas, Columbus spent a month sailing along the coast of Cuba in search of gold. In early December 1492 he reached another large island, which he named Hispaniola (or Española, the Spanish word for Spain) because it reminded him so much of Spain. (Today Hispaniola is comprised of the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.) While sailing along the coast Columbus met an important Native American chief who was wearing gold ornaments that he gladly traded for European goods. On Christmas Eve, Columbus invited the chief and his people to come aboard the Santa Maria for a holiday celebration. When the party was over, everyone fell asleep and the Santa Maria hit a coral reef. The ship was damaged beyond repair.

The Native Americans helped the Spanish sailors unload most of the goods from the ship and carry them to shore. Columbus then founded the first European settlement in the Americas on that site, a small bay where the Haitian village of Limonade-Bord-de-Mer now stands. He named the settlement La Navidad ("the birth") in honor of the fact that the colony was founded on Christmas Day. When Columbus left La Navidad a few weeks later to return to Spain, twenty-one of his men remained at the settlement. Thus began the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

A new settlement at Isabela

When Columbus returned to Spain, he had no trouble winning support for a second voyage. After all, he had "discovered" previously unknown lands and had also brought evidence of gold and other riches. This time he was given seventeen ships that held more than one thousand colonists. But when they reached La Navidad in November 1493, the settlement lay in ruins, and unburied Spaniard bodies were everywhere. Either the Native Americans had turned against the Europeans, or the Spaniards had fought among themselves. No one had survived to tell the story.

Abandoning the site, Columbus took his new colonists seventy-five miles east, where he built a settlement called Isabela. He wasted no time in searching for the gold that would enrich Spain and secure his position and power. Only four days after landing at Isabela, Columbus sent one of his officers, Alonso de Ojeda, to look for gold. Ojeda found a small amount of the precious mineral in the mountains. Meanwhile, as Columbus was exploring nearby islands, a curious incident occurred. At one point Columbus gathered all his men together and made them swear that they had been sailing along the mainland of Asia, not the coast of an island. He was still convinced—or was trying to convince himself—that he had found the "Indies." If he suspected he had made a geographical error, he apparently did not want news of it to come from his men.

Spanish abuses of Native Americans

Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Spanish missionary who devoted his life to protecting the Native peoples of the New World, witnessed many horrible abuses of Native Americans on Hispaniola. He reported that Spaniards "made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow. . . . They tore the babes from their mother's breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks. . . . They spitted [held like meat over a fire] the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords." He also described the psychological impact of the mistreatment:

In this time, the greatest outrages and slaughterings of people were perpetrated, whole villages being depopulated. . . . The Indians saw that without any offence on their part they were despoiled [robbed] of their kingdoms, their lands and liberties and of their lives, their wives, and homes. As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to the earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite [extreme] tortures, some of the Princes . . . decided to abandon themselves to their unhappy fate with no further struggles, placing themselves in the hands of their enemies that they might do with them as they liked. There were still those people who fled to the mountains.

Source: The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. New York: Knopf, 1990.

"Innumerable outrages"

When Columbus returned to Isabela in late September 1494, he found tensions growing between the Native Americans and the Spaniards. The colonists were severely mistreating the Native Americans—taking them as slaves, beating them, and stealing from them. By this time the Native Americans were fighting back, and they organized an army to drive the Europeans off the island. The Spanish took harsh steps to subdue the Native Americans, including an attack led by Columbus and his brother Bartholomew in March 1495. The Native Americans, who were no match for the Spanish army of 220 soldiers, were completely defeated. During the next few years the Native people of Hispaniola were rapidly driven toward extinction.

The Spaniards governed harshly in Hispaniola. Columbus instituted a tribute system, which required every Native American over the age of fourteen to deliver a certain amount of gold to the Spanish every three months. Those who did not pay the tribute would receive severe punishment such as having their hands cut off. Another formal policy of the government was forced labor. Colonists were assigned Native Americans to use as they liked for performing strenuous tasks, such as farming or mining. Native American offenses against the Spanish were punished with hanging, burning at the stake, beheading, or amputation (cutting off arms or legs). Meanwhile the Spaniards acted without restraint or humanity, often attacking or killing men, women, and children on a whim. Other Native Americans were taken to Spain to be sold as slaves—thirty by Columbus himself and later three hundred by his brother Bartholomew.

Native Americans also died because of the diseases the Europeans brought with them. The original inhabitants of Hispaniola had had no previous contact with such illnesses, and therefore they had no resistance. Deadly diseases like smallpox (a skin disorder caused by a virus) proved fatal to the Native Americans of Hispaniola, and later of South America. Meanwhile, the first unfavorable reports about conditions in Hispaniola were beginning to reach King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain.

Recalled to Spain

The Spanish monarchs were displeased because little gold was being sent to Spain, the colonists on Hispaniola had voiced complaints about Columbus's rule, and almost no Native Americans had been converted to Catholicism. Columbus returned to Spain in 1496 to explain the situation. By now Ferdinand and Isabella had lost most of their confidence in his ability to govern the colony. It was some time before he could convince them to send him back to Hispaniola. During the two years he spent trying to restore their faith in him, Columbus wore the coarse dress of a Franciscan friar (member of the Roman Catholic monastic order of Saint Francis). His strange attire has never been completely understood. Some historians speculate that he may have adopted it out of regret for wrongdoing, to show humility, or even as a disguise.

Finally the king and queen gave Columbus another chance, putting him in command of a small fleet carrying supplies to Hispaniola. He set sail in May 1498. During this third voyage he observed the coast of Venezuela, therefore becoming the first European to see the continent of South America. Columbus had left his brother Bartholomew in command at Isabela. Since Columbus's departure Bartholomew had moved the settlement to the south side of the island to a place the Spaniards named Santo Domingo. Columbus reached the new location in August 1498, and for the next two years governed the island. Soon after Columbus took over, the colonists rebelled against his authority.

Colonists rebel

The Spanish colonists had many reasons to rebel. Prior to a big gold strike in late 1499, any gold found was in small quantities and required a great deal of labor to extract. Because so many Native Americans had either run away or died, the Spaniards could not get enough workers to farm or mine for gold. There was constant conflict between the remaining Native Americans and the colonists. At any given time a large number of colonists were sick with deadly diseases. Supplies were also scarce and living conditions were poor. Life on Hispaniola was not what Spanish colonists expected. By 1498 they were openly challenging the Columbus's authority.

Indeed Columbus did seem to make a very poor governor. It appears he was more interested in managing his own fortune and promoting himself to the Spanish crown (the king and queen) than in solving the problems of the colonists. In a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella he even complained that he wanted "to escape from governing a dissolute [immoral] people [the Spanish] who fear neither God nor their king and queen, being full of folly and malice." He seems to have had little talent for leadership, at some points being harsh and tyrannical and, at others, neglectful of his duties. Columbus did not have the respect of the Spanish settlers, and he could not maintain order.

Columbus arrested

The Spanish king and queen continued to receive complaints about the Columbus brothers. Finally they sent a trusted knight, Francisco de Bobadilla, to replace Columbus as the new governor of Hispaniola. When de Bobadilla arrived in Santo Domingo in August 1500, he found the Spanish colony in chaos. The bodies of seven rebel Spaniards were hanging in the town square, and Columbus's brother Diego was planning to hang five more the following day. Columbus himself was not in Santo Domingo because he had gone to subdue a rebellion on another part of the island. His other brother, Bartholomew, was dealing with similar problems elsewhere. De Bobadilla immediately put Diego in jail, then arrested the other two brothers.

The colonists made serious accusations against Columbus and his brothers. After a hearing de Bobadilla decided to send them back to Spain for trial. In chains, the three brothers walked to the ships that would take them to Europe. Crowds of angry colonists shouted insults at them as they passed. It was a painful moment for Columbus. He later described his "great dishonor" this way to the king and queen: "Suddenly, when I was expecting the arrival of ships to take me to your royal presence, bearing triumph and great tidings of gold, in great joy and security, I was arrested and cast into a ship with my two brothers, shackled with chains and naked in body, and treated very badly, without being brought to trial or convicted." After months as a prisoner, Columbus was summoned to see the king and queen. He tried to convince them of his innocence and asked for the restoration of all his titles, including governor. They permitted him to keep the title of admiral, but they named Nicolás de Ovando the new governor of Hispaniola.

Final voyage a disaster

In 1502 Columbus set out on one more voyage of exploration to the Caribbean. This final trip was beset with misfortune and humiliation, however, and did nothing to improve his position with the king and queen. He actually had to be rescued after spending a year stranded on the island of Jamaica. Eventually he made his way back to Spain. Columbus asked to be sent to sea again, but King Ferdinand refused his request. Although he was ill, he had made a fortune during his time on Hispaniola. Retiring to a house in Valladolid, Spain, Columbus died shortly thereafter, in 1506.

For further research

Christopher Columbus and his Voyages.http://www.deil.lang.uiuc.edu/web.pages/holidays/Columbus.html Available July 13, 1999.

Columbus and the Age of Discovery.http://www.millersv.edu/_columbus/mainmenu.html Available July 13, 1999.

Columbus and the Native Americans.http://www.geocities.com/Capitol-Hill/8533/columbus.html Available July 13, 1999.

Columbus, Christopher. The Voyage of Christopher Columbus: Columbus's Own Journal of Discovery. John Cummins, translator. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Sale, Kirkpatrick, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Wilford, John Noble. The Mysterious History of Columbus: An Exploration of the Man, the Myth, the Legacy. New York: Knopf, distributed by Random House, 1991.

Yewell, John, and others, eds. Confronting Columbus: An Anthology. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 1992.

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Columbus, Christopher

Columbus, Christopher

"Christopher Columbus Reports to Ferdinand and Isabella"

Reprinted in Major Problems of American Colonial History

Published in 1993

Edited by Karen Ordahl Kupperman

"...I promise, that with a little assistance afforded me by our most invincible sovereigns, I will procure them as much gold as they need, as great a quantity of spices, of cotton,...and as many men for the service of the navy as their Majesties may require."

Exploration and settlement of the United States began in the late fifteenth century as a direct outcome of events in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. One of the most significant reasons was the Crusades (1099–1272), an unsuccessful Christian campaign to recapture the Holy Land (a region in the Middle East comprising parts of modern Israel, Jordan, and Egypt; today known as Palestine) from the Muslims (followers of the Islamic religion).

During four hundred years of interaction with Middle Eastern cultures Europeans were able to make significant advances in exploration based on information the Muslims provided. For instance, European civilizations drafted more accurate maps of the known world, built swifter ships, and charted sea routes by observing the Sun. Another important development was the discovery of luxury goods such as silks and spices that came from China and the East Indies (India and adjacent lands and islands in the Far East), which created a thriving market in Europe.

Motivated by greed, adventurers were willing to take risks to search for trade routes to previously unknown lands. At that time the only way for Europeans to reach the Far East was to sail south along the western coast of Africa and then east into the Indian Ocean. The most direct route was through the Mediterranean Sea, but the eastern end of that waterway was controlled by Turkey, a Muslim foe of the Europeans. Portugal was the first country to send explorers eastward. Financed by merchants, they traveled down the African coast in search of gold and ivory. The Portuguese also became involved in the small but lucrative business of buying African slaves from Muslim traders. Soon Spain entered into competition with Portugal to find the best trade routes. The Spanish were the principal defenders of Roman Catholicism throughout the world, and they seized the opportunity to gain converts to Christianity in the newly conquered lands. (Roman Catholicism is a branch of Christianity that is based in Rome, Italy, and headed by a pope who is considered infallible.) Thus the stage was set for the discovery of the New World (the European term for North America and South America) by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506).

Born in Genoa, Italy, Columbus began his career as a sailor on merchant and war ships in the Mediterranean. In 1476 he went to Lisbon, Portugal, where he learned mathematics and astronomy (study of the stars), subjects that were vital for navigation. He made several voyages, including one to Iceland (an island between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans) with other explorers. In the early 1480s Columbus sought a sponsor for his own voyage of exploration. He wanted to prove his theory that China and the East Indies could be reached more easily by sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean than by going around Africa to the Indian Ocean. If he succeeded, he would also confirm a long-held European belief that the world was round. Educated Europeans of the fifteenth century knew the Earth was a sphere, but no one had yet determined its size. Columbus also contended that by taking the Atlantic route, he could make an accurate measurement of the distance between Europe and China.

For several years Columbus had failed in his attempts to enlist the king of Portugal in this quest, primarily because Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias (c.1450–1500) had found the sea passage from Europe to India, which was considered the best route at the time. Not to be discouraged, Columbus decided to try his luck in Spain. He first met with Queen Isabella I (1451–1504) in 1486, but it wasn't until April 1492, that Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand V (1452–1516) agreed to finance an expedition. As part of the deal, Columbus would be named admiral, become governor of any territory he discovered, and receive a share of any riches he found.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Cadiz, Spain, with three ships—the Santa Maria (with Columbus as captain), the Niña, and the Pinta. Initially, the expedition made rapid progress. By October 10, however, the crew had turned mutinous (rebellious) because they had not seen land for months. Luckily for Columbus, two days later they spotted a small island in the present-day Bahamas (a group of islands south of Florida). After going ashore Columbus spent several weeks meeting the native peoples and exploring the islands. On December 25, 1492, he established the first European settlement in the Americas. Called La Navidad ("the birth"; in commemoration of being founded on Christmas Day), it stood on the site of present-day Limonade-Bord-de-Mer, Haiti. Columbus returned to Spain in early 1493, leaving twenty-two men at La Navidad. He wrote the report on his triumphant voyage on March 14, 1493.

Things to Remember While Reading "Christopher Columbus Reports to Ferdinand and Isabella":

  • When Columbus went ashore in the Bahamas, he mistakenly assumed he had reached the East Indies. For instance, in his report he mentioned "a certain island called Charis, which is the second from Española [now Haiti] on the side towards India." Columbus therefore gave the name "Indians" to the Native Americans—members of the Taino tribe—who greeted him. When the Tainos directed Columbus southward to a larger island, which he named Juana, he assumed it must be part of Cathay (the European term for China). In fact, the island is today known as Cuba.
  • The Tainos thought Columbus and his crew were gods, or "beings of a celestial [heavenly] race." This was a common reaction among native peoples upon meeting Europeans for the first time (see "The Coming of the First White Man.") They usually made elaborate preparations to greet these supreme beings. During the early years of exploration and settlement, Native Americans welcomed Europeans to their land, even after they learned that white men were also ordinary humans and not gods.
  • Columbus's voyage was tremendously expensive, and he was expected to find riches that would bring great profits for the Spanish monarchs and merchants. In his report he took every advantage to make a case for returning immediately to Hispaniola. For instance, he made extravagant promises of bringing back gold, cotton, spices, drugs, and even navy recruits from future voyages to the New World.
  • Columbus mentioned that the Native Americans, "like idiots," traded valuable commodities such as gold and cotton for ordinary European-made items. Keep in mind that although Columbus quickly prohibited "unjust" trading between his men and the Native Americans, he was not motivated by good will toward the "Indians." Instead he wanted to cast the Spanish in the best light and encourage friendly relations that would work to Spain's advantage. He was also preparing the way for Roman Catholic missionaries, making it easier for them to convert the native peoples to Christianity.

"Christopher Columbus Reports to Ferdinand and Isabella"

First Voyage, 1492–1493

Knowing that it will afford you pleasure to learn that I have brought in undertaking to a successful termination, I have decided upon writing you this letter to acquaint you with all the events which have occurred in my voyage, and the discoveries which have resultedfrom it. Thirty-three days after my departure from Cadiz I reached the Indian sea, where I discovered many islands, thickly peopled, of which I took possession without resistance in the name of our most illustrious Monarch, by public proclamation and withunfurled banners. To the first of these islands, which is called by the Indians Guanahani, I gave the name of the blessed Saviour (San Salvador), relying upon whose protection I had reached this as well as the other islands; to each of these I also gave a name, ordering that one should be called Santa Maria de la Concepcion, another Fernandina, the third Isabella, the fourth Juana, and so with all the rest respectively. As soon as we arrived at that, which as I have said was named Juana, I proceeded along its coast a short distance westward, and found it to be so large and apparently without termination, that I could not suppose it to be an island, but the continental province of Cathay [China]. Seeing, however, no towns or populous places on the sea coast, but only a few detached houses and cottages, with whose inhabitants I was unable to communicate, because they fled as soon as they saw us, I went further on, thinking that in my progress I should certainly find some city or village. . . . I afterwards dispatched two of our men to ascertain whether there were a king or any cities in that province. These menreconnoitred the country for three days, and found a most numerous population, and great numbers of houses, though small, and built without any regard to order: with which information they returned to us. In the mean time I had learned from some Indians whom I had seized, that that country was certainly an island: and therefore I sailed towards the east, coasting to the distance of three hundred and twenty-two miles, which brought us to the extremity of it; from this point I saw lying eastwards another island, fifty-four miles distant from Juana, to which I gave the name of Española [Hispaniola]: . . . In that island also which I have before said we named Española, there are mountains of very great size and beauty, vast plains, groves, and very fruitful fields, admirably adapted fortillage, pasture, and habitation. The convenience and excellence of the harbours in this island, and the abundance of the rivers, so indispensable to the health of man, surpass anything that would be believed by one who had not seen it. The trees,herbage, and fruits of Española are very different from those of Juana, and moreover it abounds in various kinds of spices, gold, and other metals. The inhabitants of both sexes in this island, and in all the others which I have seen, or of which I have received information, go always naked as they were born, with the exception of some of the women, who use the covering of a leaf, or small bough, or an apron of cotton which they prepare for that purpose. None of them, as I have

Unfurled

Unfurled: Unfolded

Reconnoitred

Reconnoitred: Made an exploratory survey

Tillage

Tillage: Cultivated land

Herbage

Herbage: Vegetation often used for grazing animals

already said, are possessed of any iron, neither have they weapons, being unacquainted with, and indeed incompetent to use them, not from any deformity of body (for they are well-formed), but because they are timid and full of fear. They carry howeverin lieu of arms, canes dried in the sun, on the ends of which they fix heads of dried wood sharpened to a point, and even these they dare not use habitually; for it has often occurred when I have sent two or three of my men to any of the villages to speak with the natives, that they have come out in a disorderly troop, and have fled in such haste at the approach of our men, that the fathersforsook their children and the children their fathers. This timidity did not arise from any loss or injury that they had received from us; for, on the contrary, I gave to all I approached whatever articles I had about me, such as cloth and many other things, taking nothing of theirs in return: but they are naturally timid and fearful. As soon however as they see that they are safe, and have laid aside all fear, they are very simple and honest, and exceedingly liberal with all they have; none of them refusing any thing he may possess when he is asked for it, but on the contrary inviting us to ask them. They exhibit great love towards all others in preference to themselves: they also give objects of great value fortrifles, and content themselves with very little or nothing in return. I however forbad that these trifles and articles of no value (such as pieces of dishes, plates, and glass, keys, and leather straps) should be given to them, although if they could obtain them, they imagined themselves to be possessed of the most beautiful trinkets in the world. It even happened that a sailor received for a leather strap as much gold as was worth three golden nobles, and for things of more trifling value offered by our men, especially newly coinedblancas, or any gold coins, the Indians would give whatever the seller required; as, for instance, an ounce and a half or two ounces of gold, or thirty or forty pounds of cotton, with which commodity they were already acquainted.

Thus theybartered, like idiots, cotton and gold for fragments of bows, glasses, bottles, and jars; which I forbad as being unjust, and myself gave them many beautiful and acceptable articles which I had brought with me, taking nothing from them in return; I did this in order that I might the more easilyconciliate them, that they might be led to become Christians, and be inclined to entertain a regard for the King and Queen, our Princes and all Spaniards, and that I might induce them to take an interest in seeking out, and collecting, and delivering to us things as they possessed ion abundance, but which we greatly needed. They practise no kind ofidolatry, but have a firm belief that all strength and power, and indeed all good things, are in

In lieu of

In lieu of: Instead of

Forsook

Forsook: Renounced

Trifles

Trifles: Objects of little value

Blancas

Blancas: Spanish coins

Bartered

Bartered: Traded by exchanging one object for another

Conciliate

Conciliate: To gain by pleasing acts

Idolatry

Idolatry: Worship of a physical object as a god

Celestial

Celestial: Heavenly

Cannibals

Cannibals: People who eat the flesh of other humans

Deference

Deference: Respect; esteem

heaven, and that I had descended from thence with these ships and sailors, and under this impression was I received after they had thrown aside their fears. Nor are they slow or stupid, but of very clear understanding; and those men who have crossed to the neighbouring islands give an admirable description of everything they observed; but they never saw any people clothed, nor any ships like ours. On my arrival at that sea, I had taken some Indians by force from the first island that I came to, in order that they might learn our language, and communicate to us what they knew respecting the country; which plan succeeded excellently, and was a great advantage to us, for in a short time, either by gestures and signs, or by words, we were enabled to understand each other. These men are still travelling with me, and although they have been with us now a long time, they continue to entertain the idea that I have descended from heaven; and on our arrival at any new place they published this, crying out immediately with a loud voice to the other Indians, "Come, come and look upon beings of acelestial race": upon which both women and men, children and adults, young men and old, when they got rid of the fear they at first entertained, would come out in throngs, crowding the roads to see us, some bringing food, others drink, with astonishing affection and kindness. . . . I could not clearly understand whether the people possess any private property, for I observed that one man had the charge of distributing various things to the rest, but especially meat and provisions and the like. I did not find, as some of us had expected, anycannibals amongst them, but on the contrary men of greatdeference and kindness. Neither are they black, like theEthiopians their hair is smooth and straight: for they do not dwell where the rays of the sun strike most vividly,—and the sun has intense power there, the distance from theequinoctial line being, it appears, but six-and-twenty degrees. On the tops of the mountains the cold is very great, but the effect of this upon the Indians is lessened by their being accustomed to the climate, and by their frequently indulging in the use of very hot meats and drinks.

Ethiopians

Ethiopians: Inhabitants of Ethiopia, an ancient country in northeast Africa

Equinoctial

Equinoctial: The time of equal day and night

Thus, as I have already said, I saw no cannibals, nor did I hear of any, except in a certain island called Charis, which is the second from Española on the side towards India, where dwell a people who are considered by the neighbouring islanders as mostferocious and these feed upon human flesh. The same people have many kinds of canoes, in which they cross to all the surrounding islands and rob and plunder wherever they can; they are not different from the other islanders, except that they wear their hair long, like women, and make use of the bows andjavelins of cane, with sharpened spear-points fixed on the thickest end, which I have before described, and therefore they are looked upon as ferocious, and regarded by the other Indians with unbounded fear; but I think no more of them than of the rest. . . . Finally, to compress into few words the entire summary of my voyage and speedy return, and of the advantages derivable therefrom, I promise, that with a little assistance afforded me by our most invinciblesovereigns, I will procure them as much gold as they need, as great a quantity of spices, of cotton, and ofmastic (which is only found inChios ), and as many men for the service of the navy as their Majesties may require. I promise alsorhubarb and other sorts of drugs, which I am persuaded the men whom I have left in the aforesaid fortress have found already and will continue to find; for I myself havetarried no where longer than I was compelled to do by the winds, except in the city of Navidad, while I provided for the building of the fortress, and took the necessary precautions for the perfect security of the men I left there. Although all I have related may appear to be wonderful and unheard of, yet the results of my voyage would have been more astonishing if I had had at my disposal such ships as I required. But these great and marvellous results are not to be attributed to any merit of mine, but to the holy Christian faith, and to the piety and religion of our Sovereigns; for that which the unaided intellect of men could not compass, the spirit of God has granted to human exertions, for God iswont to hear the prayers of his servants who love hisprecepts even to the performance of apparent impossibilities. Thus it has happened to me in the present instance, who have accomplished a task to which the powers of mortal men had never hitherto attained; for if there have been those who have anywhere written or spoken of these islands, they have done so with doubts andconjectures, and no one has ever asserted that he has seen them, on which account their writings have been looked upon as little else than fables. Therefore let the king and queen, our princes and their most happy kingdoms, and all the other provinces ofChristendom, render

Ferocious

Ferocious: Fierce or violent

Javelins

Javelins: Light weapons thrown as spears in hunting or war

Sovereigns

Sovereigns: People who have supreme authority over a state, especially a king and queen

Mastic

Mastic: A pasty material secreted by a mastic tree

Chios

Chios: An island in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey

Rhubarb

Rhubarb: An edible plant then used in China and Tibet as a cure for stomach disorders

Tarried

Tarried: Waited

Wont

Wont: Accustomed to

Precepts

Precepts: Orders intended as general rules

Conjectures

Conjectures: Guesses

thanks to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has granted us so great a victory and such prosperity. Let processions be made, and sacred feasts be held, and the temples be adorned with festive boughs. Let Christ rejoice on earth, as he rejoices in heaven in the prospect of the salvation of the souls of so many nations hitherto lost. Let us also rejoice, as well on account of the exaltation of our faith, as on account of the increase of ourtemporal prosperity, of which not only Spain, but all Christendom will be partakers.

Such are the events which I have briefly described. Farewell.

Lisbon, the 14th of March.

Christopher Columbus,

Admiral of the Fleet of the Ocean

What happened next . . .

With promises of untold riches, Columbus had no difficulty persuading Ferdinand and Isabella to sponsor a second voyage. This time the monarchs rewarded the admiral with seventeen ships and sent along a thousand colonists to live in the new Spanish settlement. When the expedition reached La Navidad in November 1493, however, they found the settlement in ruins. Unburied Spaniard corpses were scattered everywhere. Either the Native Americans had turned against the Europeans, or the Spaniards had fought among themselves—no one had survived to tell the story. Columbus decided to move seventy-five miles east, where he started building a settlement called Isabela. Immediately he sent a party of men in search of gold while he explored the nearby islands.

Christendom

Christendom: A part of the world in which Christianity prevails

Temporal

Temporal: Of or relating to earthly life

When Columbus returned to Isabela in late September 1494, he learned that his men had found very little gold. He also encountered mounting tensions between the Native Americans and the Spaniards. Having been mistreated by the colonists, the Native Americans were organizing an army to try to drive the Europeans off the island. The Spanish took drastic measures, which led to the near extermination of the inhabitants of Hispaniola. During the next three years Columbus ruled harshly, imposing heavy taxes on the Native Americans and forcing them into slavery. Native American offenses against the Spanish were often punished with death, using such methods as burning at the stake or beheading. Colonists often attacked or killed native men, women, and children on a whim. Native Americans also died of diseases the Europeans brought with them.

Soon shocking reports about conditions on Hispaniola were reaching Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella were already displeased because they were receiving little gold from the New World, and very few Native Americans had been converted to Catholicism. No longer confident of Columbus's ability to govern the colony, the monarchs recalled him to Spain in 1496. Within two years, however, he had persuaded the king and queen to send him back to Hispaniola. On this third voyage Columbus sailed along the coast of Venezuela, thus becoming the first European to view the continent of South America.

When Columbus returned to Spain he left his brother Bartholomeo in charge at Isabela. In the meantime, Bartholomeo had moved the settlement to the south side of the island to a place called Santo Domingo. Upon reaching Santo Domingo in August 1498, Columbus was beset by numerous problems. The Spaniards found gold only in small quantities, and there weren't enough native workers. Friction had also continued between the surviving Native Americans and the colonists. Death and sickness were rampant, supplies were scarce, and living conditions were poor. It was not long before the Spanish colonists were openly challenging Columbus.

Finally Ferdinand and Isabella sent Francisco de Bobadilla (d. 1502) to replace Columbus as governor. When de Bobadilla arrived in Santo Domingo in 1500, he found the colony in chaos. The bodies of seven rebel Spaniards were hanging in the town square, and Columbus's brother Diego was planning to hang five others. Columbus himself was trying to put down a rebellion on another part of the island, and Bartholomeo was making similar efforts elsewhere. After arresting all three men, Bobadilla ordered that they be put in chains and sent back to Spain for trial. Although Columbus subsequently lost all of his titles except admiral, during his years in Hispaniola he had become a wealthy man. In 1502 he set out on a fourth voyage to the Caribbean, but the trip ended

Spanish abuses of Natives

Bartolome de Las Casas (1474–1566), a Spanish missionary, witnessed many horrible abuses of Native Americans on Hispaniola. He reported that Spaniards "made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head at one blow. . . . They tore the babes from their mother's breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks. . . . They spitted [held like meat over a fire] the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords." He also described the psychological impact of the mistreatment: "In this time, the greatest outrages and slaughterings of people were perpetrated, whole villages being depopulated. . . . The Indians saw that without any offence on their part they were despoiled [robbed] of their kingdoms, their lands and liberties and of their lives, their wives, and homes. As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to the earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite [extreme] tortures, some of the Princes . . . decided to abandon themselves to their unhappy fate with no further struggles, placing themselves in the hands of their enemies that they might do with them as they liked. There were still those people who fled to the mountains."

Source: Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. New York: Knopf, 1990, p. 157.

in humiliation: He actually had to be rescued after spending a year marooned (stranded) on the island of Jamaica. Ferdinand refused to send Columbus on another expedition, so the defeated explorer spent the last three years of his life in splendid retirement at Valladolid, Spain.

Did you know . . .

  • While Columbus was exploring the islands around Isabela in 1496, he assembled his men and made them take an oath that they had been sailing along the mainland of Asia, not the coast of an island. Apparently he was still convinced—or was trying to convince himself—that he had found the "Indies." If he suspected he had made a geographical error, he did not want the news to come from his men.
  • From 1496 to 1498 Columbus tried to persuade Ferdinand and Isabella to send him on a third voyage to Hispaniola. During that time he wore the coarse dress of a Franciscan friar (member of the Roman Catholic monastic order of Saint Francis). His strange attire has never been completely understood. Some historians speculate that he may have adopted it to express regret for wrongdoing, to show humility, or to use as a disguise.
  • The Portuguese introduced African slavery to North America. Soon after the Spanish arrived in the Caribbean, the Native Americans began to die of European diseases. Consequently the Spanish did not have enough slave workers. They found an alternative labor supply in 1510, however, when the Portuguese sent the first shipment of African slaves to Hispaniola.

For more information

Columbus and the Age of Discovery.http://www.millersv.edu/~columbus/mainmenu.html Available September 30, 1999.

Columbus, Christopher. The Voyage of Christopher Columbus: Columbus's Own Journal of Discovery. John Cummins, translator. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Kupperman, Karen Ordahl, ed. Major Problems in American Colonial History. Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1993, pp. 4–7.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Wilford, John Noble. The Mysterious History of Columbus: An Exploration of the Man, the Myth, the Legacy. New York: Knopf, distributed by Random House, 1991.

Yewell, John, and others, eds. Confronting Columbus: An Anthology. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 1992.

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Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506)

Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506)

Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506), Italian navigator and the discoverer of America. Though Columbus had set out to find a westward route to Asia, his explorations proved to be as important as any alternate way to the riches of Cathay and India.

The archives of Genoa show that the famous discoverer was born Cristoforo Colombo (Spanish, Cristóbal Colón) there between August and October 1451. His father, Domenico Colombo, followed the weaver's craft, and his mother, Suzanna Fontanarossa, came of equally humble stock. Christopher was the eldest child, and two brothers make some appearance in history under their Hispanicized names, Bartolomé and Diego.

Columbus had a meager education and only later learned to read Latin and write Castilian. He evidently helped his father at work when he was a boy and went to sea early in a humble capacity. Since he aged early in appearance and contemporaries commonly took him for older than he really was, he was able to claim to have taken part in events before his time.

In 1475 Columbus made his first considerable voyage to the Aegean island of Chios, and in 1476 he sailed on a Genoese ship through the Strait of Gibraltar. Off Cape St. Vincent they were attacked by a French fleet, and the vessel in which Columbus sailed sank. He swam ashore and went to Lisbon, where his brother Bartolomé already lived. Columbus also visited Galway, in Ireland, and an English port, probably Bristol. If he ever sailed to Iceland, as he afterward claimed to have done, it must have been as a part of this voyage. He made his presumably last visit to Genoa in 1479 and there gave testimony in a lawsuit. Court procedure required him to tell his age, which he gave as "past 27," furnishing reasonable evidence of 1451 as his birth year.

Columbus returned to Portugal, where he married Felipa Perestrelo e Monis, daughter of Bartolomeu Perestrelo, deceased proprietor of the island of Porto Santo. The couple lived first in Lisbon, where Perestrelo's widow showed documents her husband had written or collected regarding possible western lands in the Atlantic, and these probably started Columbus thinking of a voyage of investigation. Later they moved to Porto Santo, where his wife died soon after the birth of Diego, the discoverer's only legitimate child.


Formation of an Idea. After his wife's death, Columbus turned wholly to discovery plans and theories, among them the hope to discover a westward route to Asia. He learned of the legendary Irish St. Brendan and his marvelous adventures in the Atlantic and of the equally legendary island of Antilia. Seamen venturing west of Madeira and the Azores reported signs of land, and ancient authors, notably Seneca and Pliny, had theorized about the nearness of eastern Asia to western Europe, though it is not known just when Columbus read them. He acquired incunabular editions of Ptolemy, Marco Polo, and Pierre d'Ailly, but again it is uncertain how early he read them. He possibly first depended on what others said of their contents.

From Marco Polo, Columbus learned the names of Cathay (north China) and Cipango ( Japan). The Venetian traveler had never visited Japan and erroneously placed it 1,500 miles east of China, thus bringing it closer to Europe. Furthermore, Columbus accepted two bad guesses by Ptolemy: his underestimate of the earth's circumference and his overestimate of Asia's eastward extension. With the earth's sphericity taken for granted, all Columbus's mistaken beliefs combined to make his idea seem feasible.

In 1474 the Florentine scientist Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli sent a letter and map to Fernao Martins of Lisbon, telling Martins that a western voyage in the Atlantic would be a shorter way of reaching the Orient than circumnavigation of Africa. Columbus obtained a copy of the letter and used it to clarify his own ideas.

In 1484 Columbus asked John II of Portugal for backing in the proposed voyage. Rejected, Columbus went to Spain with young Diego in 1485, and for nearly 7 years he sought the aid of Isabella of Castile and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon. The sovereigns took no action but gave Columbus a small annuity that enabled him to live modestly. He found influential friends, including the powerful Duke of Medinaceli and Juan Pérez, prior of La Rábida monastery.

While waiting, the widowed Columbus had an affair with young Beatriz Enriquez de Harana of Cordova, who in 1488 bore his other son, Ferdinand, out of wedlock. He never married her, though he provided for her in his will and legitimatized the boy, as Castilian law permitted.


First Voyage. In 1492 Columbus resumed negotiations with the rulers. The discussions soon broke down, apparently because of the heavy demands by Columbus, who now prepared to abandon Spain and try Charles VIII of France. Father Pérez saved Columbus from this probably fruitless endeavor by an eloquent appeal to the Queen. Columbus was called back, and in April he and the rulers agreed to the Capitulations of Santa Fe, by which they guaranteed him more than half the future profits and promised his family the hereditary governorship of all lands annexed to Castile.

Financing proved difficult, but three ships were prepared in the harbor of Palos. The largest, the 100-ton Santa Maria, was a round-bottomed nao with both square and lateen sails; the caravel Pinta was square-rigged; and the small Niña, also a caravel, had lateen sails. Recruitment proved hard, and sailing might have been delayed had not the Pinzón brothers, mariners and leading citizens of Palos, come to Columbus's aid and persuaded seamen to enlist. The eldest brother, Martin Alonso, took command of the Pinta, and a younger brother, Vicente Yañez, commanded the Niña.

The fleet left Palos on Aug. 3, 1492, and, visiting the Canaries, followed the parallel of Gomera westward. Weather remained good during the entire crossing, "like April in Andalusia," as Columbus wrote in his diary, and contrary to popular tales, there was no serious threat of mutiny.

By mid-Atlantic, Columbus evidently concluded he had missed Antilia, so Cipango became his next goal. Landfall came at dawn of October 12, at the Bahama island of Guanahani, straightway renamed San Salvador by Columbus (probably modern San Salvador, or Watlings Island). Arawak natives flocked to the shore and made friends with the Spaniards as they landed. Believing himself in the East Indies, Columbus called them "Indians," a name ultimately applied to all New World aborigines.

The ships next passed among other Bahamas to Colba (Cuba), where the gold available proved disappointing. Turning eastward, Columbus crossed to Quisqueya, renamed Española (Hispaniola), where on Christmas Eve the Santa Maria ran aground near Cap-Haitien. No lives were lost and most of the equipment was salvaged. As relations with the local Taino Arawaks seemed good and Columbus wished to return to Spain immediately, he built a settlement named Navidad for the Santa Maria's crew and left, promising to return in a few months.

Columbus recrossed the Atlantic by a more northerly route than on his outward passage and reached Europe safely. He had an interview with John II of Portugal, who, by a farfetched interpretation of an old treaty with Castile, claimed the new western islands for himself. Columbus then sailed to Palos and crossed Spain to the court at Barcelona, bearing the artifacts he had brought from Hispaniola and conducting several natives he had induced or forced to accompany him. Strong evidence also suggests that his crew brought syphilis, apparently never reported in Europe before and known to have been endemic in mild form among the Arawaks.

Regarding John II's territorial claims, Isabella and Ferdinand appealed to Pope Alexander VI, an Aragonese Spaniard, for confirmation of their rights, and in 1493 the Pope obliged, granting Castile complete rights west of a line from pole to pole in the Atlantic. But the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) established a new line, from pole to pole, 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Spain was entitled to claim and occupy all non-Christian lands west of the line, and Portugal all those to the east.


Second Voyage. Following an enthusiastic reception by Ferdinand and Isabella, "Admiral" Columbus prepared for a second voyage. He sailed from Cadiz with 17 ships and about 1,200 men in September 1493. Columbus entered the West Indies near Dominica, which he discovered and named. Passing westward and touching Marie Galante, Guadeloupe, and other Lesser Antilles, the fleet came to large Borinquén (modern Puerto Rico).

On reaching the Navidad settlement on Hispaniola, Columbus found the place destroyed. The Spaniards had made themselves so hated in their quest of gold and women that Chief Caonabo, more warlike than the others, had exterminated them. Another settlement, Isabela, proved an equally unfortunate location, and in 1495 or 1496 Bartolomé Columbus founded Santo Domingo on the south side of Hispaniola.

From Isabela the Admiral sent home most of the ships, though retaining the bulk of the men. He dispatched expeditions into the center of the island in search of gold and accompanied one in person. Meanwhile, he installed himself as governor of Hispaniola, intending it to be a trading post for commerce with the rich Oriental empires he expected soon to discover.

Columbus now decided to explore Cuba further by tracing the island's southern coast. With three ships, including his favorite Niña, he left Isabela in the spring of 1494 and followed the Cuban coast nearly to its western end. Indians told him of Jamaica not far to the south, and the Admiral turned that way, discovered the island, and had several fights with hostile natives. Returning to the Cuban shore, Columbus sailed to Bahía Cortés, where leaky ships and sailors' complaints forced him to put back.

Back in Hispaniola, Columbus found the Spanish settlers unruly and nearly impossible to govern. Complaints against Columbus reached the Castilian court in such numbers that he at last decided to go to Spain to clear his name. He left in the Niña in March 1496 and reached Cadiz in June. Bartolomé, with the rank of adelantado, remained to govern the colony in his absence.


Third Voyage. The Admiral's reception at court was visibly cooler, but Vasco da Gama's departure from Portugal for India in 1497 caused the Spanish rulers to dispatch Columbus again the following year. There were reports of a great continent south of the Admiral's previous discoveries, and Columbus left Sanlúcar de Barrameda with six ships late in May 1498.

The first land sighted had three hills in view, which suggested the Holy Trinity, and Columbus promptly named the island Trinidad. Since it lies by the Gulf of Paria and the Venezuelan mainland, the Admiral became the discoverer of South America on Aug. 1, 1498. The welcome discovery of pearls from oysters in the shallow waters of offshore islands caused the name "Pearl Coast" to be applied for a time to Venezuela, which Columbus even then recognized as a land of continental proportions because of the volume of water flowing from one of its rivers.


Rebellion and Arrest. The Admiral had left Hispaniolan affairs in bad condition 2 years earlier and now hastened to return there and relieve his hard-pressed brother. On arrival he succeeded in partially quieting by compromise a revolt headed by Francisco Roldán, an officeholder, and resumed his governorship. But so many letters of complaint had gone back to Castile regarding the Columbus brothers that the rulers sent out a royal commissioner, Francisco de Bobadilla, with full powers to act as he saw best.

Bobadilla was honest and meant well, but he had already formed a bad opinion of the Columbus family. He put the Admiral and the adelantado in chains and sent them to Spain. Andrés Martin, commanding the ship in which they sailed, offered to remove the shackles, but the Admiral refused permission, as he meant to appear fettered before the sovereigns. On arrival in Cadiz in late November 1500, Columbus went to court to receive a kind welcome and assurance by the monarchs that the chains and imprisonment had not been by their orders.

In 1501 the Admiral began preparing for a fourth voyage. The fleet, consisting of four ships, left Cadiz on May 9, 1502, arriving in Santo Domingo on June 29. The Admiral next sailed to Guanaja Island off Honduras, then down the coast of Central America. When Columbus learned from the natives about another saltwater body, the Pacific, not far away, he felt certain that he was coasting the Malay Peninsula, of which he had learned through the writings of Ptolemy. A strait or open water should permit entry to the Indian Ocean. Although Columbus followed the coast nearly to the Gulf of Darien, he found no strait.

In April 1503 the ships left the mainland, but the hulls were thoroughly bored by teredos and had to be abandoned as unseaworthy in Jamaica. The Admiral and his crews were marooned in Jamaica for a year, during which time Diego Mendez and Bartolomeo Fieschi fetched a small caravel from Hispaniola. Columbus finally reached Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, on Nov. 7, 1504.

Columbus had 18 months of life remaining, and they were unhappy. Though only 53 he was physically an aged man, a sufferer from arthritis and the effects of a bout of malaria. But financially his position was good, as he had brought considerable gold from America and had a claim to much more in Hispaniola. He died in Valladolid on May 20, 1506.

EWB

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