Could Columbus have suspected the New World lay on his path to India?

Could Columbus have suspected the New World lay on his path to India?

According to most historical textbooks Columbus made mistakes while measuring the size of the Earth. This led him to believe, that he can travel to India westwards in a reasonable time. This is however quite strange, that he let no one correct him in his mistake.

Could it be possible and was it ever considered by the historians, that Columbus was simply lying that he can find the way to India? That he knew about existence of Americas somehow and used the lie to get funding for his operation?


I think this is a valid question. But the answer is a rather resounding no. For one thing, we have no shred of evidence for such a conjecture. For another, this conjecture cannot be squared at all with the fact that Columbus to his dying day insisted on having actually landed in India - had he been dissimulating about his knowledge of the existence of America, surely after he got there he could have come clean.

The actual story how the great voyage was conceived is told with great detail (not all of it savoury) by Lord Acton in chapter 2 of his lectures on modern history.


Before the Columbian Exchange there were no tomatoes in Italy and no paprika in Hungary

Before the Columbian Exchange, there were no oranges in Florida, no bananas in Ecuador, no paprika in Hungary, no potatoes in Ireland, no coffee in Colombia, no pineapples in Hawaii, no rubber trees in Africa, no chili peppers in Thailand, no tomatoes in Italy, and no chocolate in Switzerland.

The Columbian Exchange refers to a period of cultural and biological exchanges between the New and Old Worlds. Exchanges of plants, animals, diseases and technology transformed European and Native American ways of life. Beginning after Columbus’ discovery in 1492, the exchange lasted throughout the years of expansion and discovery. The Columbian Exchange impacted the social and cultural makeup of both sides of the Atlantic. Advancements in agricultural production, evolution of warfare, increased mortality rates and education are a few examples of the effect of the Columbian Exchange on both Europeans and Native Americans.

Old World native plants. Clockwise, from top left: 1. Citrus (Rutaceae) 2. Apple (Malus domestica) 3. Banana (Musa) 4. Mango (Mangifera) 5. Onion (Allium) 6. Coffee (Coffea) 7. Wheat (Triticum spp.) 8. Rice (Oryza sativa). Source by GntMango2

The contact between the two areas circulated a wide variety of new crops and livestock, which supported increases in population in both hemispheres, although diseases initially caused precipitous declines in the numbers of indigenous peoples of the Americas. Traders returned to Europe with maize, potatoes, and tomatoes, which became very important crops in Europe by the 18th century. Similarly, Europeans introduced the manioc and peanut to tropical Asia and West Africa, where they flourished in soils that otherwise would not produce large yields.

New World native plants. Clockwise, from top left: 1. Maize (Zea mays) 2. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) 3. Potato (Solanum tuberosum) 4. Vanilla (Vanilla) 5. Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) 6. Cacao (Theobroma cacao) 7. Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica). Source by Wikipedia/Public Domain

The term was first used in 1972 by American historian Alfred W. Crosby in his environmental history book The Columbian Exchange. It was rapidly adopted by other historians and journalists and has since become widely known.

Before AD 1500, potatoes were not grown outside of South America. By the 1840s, Ireland was so dependent on the potato that the proximate cause of the Great Famine was a potato disease. Potatoes eventually became an important staple of the diet in much of Europe. Many European rulers, including Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia, encouraged the cultivation of the potato. Maize and manioc, introduced by the Portuguese from South America in the 16th century, have replaced sorghum and millet as Africa’s most important food crops. 16th-century Spanish colonizers introduced new staple crops to Asia from the Americas, including maize and sweet potatoes, and thereby contributed to population growth in Asia.

Inca-era terraces on Taquile are used to grow traditional Andean staples such as quinoa and potatoes, alongside wheat, a European introduction. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Tomatoes, which came to Europe from the New World via Spain, were initially prized in Italy mainly for their ornamental value. From the 19th-century tomato sauces became typical of Neapolitan cooking and, ultimately, Italian food in general. Coffee (introduced in the Americas circa 1720) from Africa and the Middle East and sugar cane (introduced from South Asia) from the Spanish West Indies became the main export commodity crops of extensive Latin American plantations. Introduced to India by the Portuguese, chili and potatoes from South America have become an integral part of Indian cuisine.

Portuguese trading animals in Japan detail of Nanban panel (1570–1616). Wikipedia/Public Domain

Initially, at least, the Columbian exchange of animals largely went through one route, from Europe to the New World, as the Eurasian regions had domesticated many more animals. Horses, donkeys, mules, pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, large dogs, cats and bees were rapidly adopted by native peoples for transport, food, and other uses. One of the first European exports to the Americas, the horse, changed the lives of many Native American tribes in the mountains. They shifted to a nomadic lifestyle, as opposed to agriculture, based on hunting bison on horseback and moved down to the Great Plains. The existing Plains tribes extended their territories with horses, and the animals were considered so valuable that horse herds became a measure of wealth.

Still, the effects of the introduction of European livestock on the environments and peoples of the New World were far from positive. In the Caribbean, the proliferation of European animals had large effects on native fauna and undergrowth and damaged conucos, plots managed by indigenous peoples for subsistence. The deadliest import from Europe to the New World was the plethora of diseases, brought by explorers, which devestated the native American population.


Top 5 Misconceptions About Columbus

Monday is Columbus Day, time to buy appliances on sale and contemplate other things that have nothing to do with Christopher Columbus. So much of what we say about Columbus is either wholly untrue or greatly exaggerated. Here are a few of the top offenders.

1. Columbus set out to prove the world was round.

If he did, he was about 2,000 years too late. Ancient Greek mathematicians had already proven that the Earth was round, not flat. Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C.E. was one of the originators of the idea. Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.E. provided the physical evidence, such as the shadow of the Earth on the moon and the curvature of the Earth known by all sailors approaching land. And by the third century B.C.E., Eratosthenes determined the Earth's shape and circumference using basic geometry. In the second century C.E., Claudius Ptolemy wrote the "Almagest," the mathematical and astronomical treatise on planetary shapes and motions, describing the spherical Earth. This text was well known throughout educated Europe in Columbus' time. [Related: Earth Is Flat in Many People's Minds]

Columbus, a self-taught man, greatly underestimated the Earth's circumference. He also thought Europe was wider than it actually was and that Japan was farther from the coast of China than it really was. For these reasons, he figured he could reach Asia by going west, a concept that most of educated Europe at the time thought was daft &mdash not because the Earth was flat, but because Columbus' math was so wrong. Columbus, in effect, got lucky by bumping into land that, of course, wasn't Asia.

The Columbus flat-earth myth perhaps originated with Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus there's no mention of this before that. His crew wasn't nervous about falling off the Earth.

2. Columbus discovered America.

Yes, let's ignore the fact that millions of humans already inhabited this land later to be called the Americas, having discovered it millennia before. And let's ignore that whole Leif Ericson voyage to Greenland and modern-day Canada around 1000 C.M.E. If Columbus discovered America, he himself didn't know. Until his death he claimed to have landed in Asia, even though most navigators knew he didn't. [Top 10 Intrepid Explorers]

What Columbus "discovered" was the Bahamas archipelago and then the island later named Hispaniola, now split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On his subsequent voyages he went farther south, to Central and South America. He never got close to what is now called the United States.

So why does the United States celebrate the guy who thought he found a nifty new route to Asia and the lands described by Marco Polo? This is because the early United States was fighting with England, not Spain. John Cabot (a.k.a. Giovanni Caboto, another Italian) "discovered" Newfoundland in England's name around 1497 and paved the way for England's colonization of most of North America. So the American colonialists instead turned to Columbus as their hero, not England's Cabot. Hence we have the capital, Washington, D.C. &mdash that's District of Columbia, not District of Cabot.

3. Columbus introduced syphilis to Europe.

This is hotly debated. Syphilis was presented in pre-Columbus America. Yet syphilis likely existed for millennia in Europe, as well, but simply wasn't well understood. The ancient Greeks describe lesions rather similar to that from syphilis. Perhaps by coincidence, an outbreak of syphilis occurred in Naples in 1494 during a French invasion, just two years after Columbus' return. This sealed the connection.

But aside from descriptions of syphilis-like lesions by Hippocrates, many researchers believe that there was a syphilis outbreak in, of all places, a 13th-century Augustinian friary in the English port of Kingston upon Hull. This coastal city saw a continual influx of sailors from distant lands, and you know what sailors can do. Carbon dating and DNA analysis of bones from the friary support the theory of syphilis being a worldwide disease before Columbus' voyages.

4. Columbus died unknown in poverty.

Columbus wasn't a rich man when he died in Spain at age 54 in 1506. But he wasn't impoverished. He was living comfortably, economically speaking, in an apartment in Valladolid, Crown of Castile, in present-day Spain, albeit in pain from severe arthritis. Columbus had been arrested years prior on accusations of tyranny and brutality toward native peoples of the Americas. But he was released by King Ferdinand after six weeks in prison. He was subsequently denied most of the profits of his discoveries promised to him by Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

After his death, though, his family sued the royal crown, a famous lawsuit known as the Pleitos colombinos, or Columbian lawsuits, lasting nearly 20 years. Columbus' heirs ultimately secured significant amounts of property and other riches from the crown. Also, most European navigators understood by the end of the 15th century, before his death, that Columbus had discovered islands and a large landmass unknown to them.

5. Columbus did nothing significant.

With all this talk of a hapless Columbus accidentally discovering the New World, as well as the subsequent genocide of native cultures, it is easy to understand the current backlash against Columbus and the national holiday called Columbus Day, celebrated throughout North and South America. This isn't entirely fair.

While Columbus was wrong about most things, he did help establish knowledge about trade winds, namely the lower-latitude easterlies that blow toward the Caribbean and the higher-latitude westerlies that can blow a ship back to Western Europe. Also, while Columbus wasn't the first European to reach the Western Hemisphere, he was the first European to stay. His voyages directly initiated a permanent presence of Europeans in both North and South America.

News of the success of his first voyage spread like wildfire through Europe, setting the stage for an era of European conquest. One can argue whether the conquest was good or bad for humanity: that is, the spread of Christianity, rise of modernism, exploitation and annihilation of native cultures, and so on. But it is difficult to deny Columbus' direct role in quickly and radically changing the world.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of the name of Giovanni Caboto.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of the books "Bad Medicine" and "Food At Work." His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.


The Viking Explorer Who Beat Columbus to America

Nearly 500 years before the birth of Christopher Columbus, a band of European sailors left their homeland behind in search of a new world. Their high-prowed Viking ship sliced through the cobalt waters of the Atlantic Ocean as winds billowed the boat’s enormous single sail. After traversing unfamiliar waters, the Norsemen aboard the wooden ship spied a new land, dropped anchor and went ashore. 

Half a millennium before Columbus 𠇍iscovered” America, those Viking feet may have been the first European ones to ever have touched North American soil.

Exploration was a family business for the expedition’s leader, Leif Eriksson (variations of his last name include Erickson, Ericson, Erikson, Ericsson and Eiriksson). His father, Erik the Red, founded the first European settlement of Greenland after being expelled from Iceland around A.D. 985 for killing a neighbor. (Erik the Red’s father, himself, had been banished from Norway for committing manslaughter.) 

Eriksson, who is believed to have been born in Iceland around A.D. 970, spent his formative years in desolate Greenland. Around A.D. 1000, Eriksson sailed east to his ancestral homeland of Norway. There, King Olaf I Tryggvason converted him to Christianity and charged him with proselytizing the religion to the pagan settlers of Greenland. Eriksson converted his mother, who built Greenland’s first Christian church, but not his outlaw father.

Icelandic legends called sagas recounted Eriksson’s exploits in the New World around A.D. 1000. These Norse stories were spread by word of mouth before becoming recorded in the 12th and 13th centuries. Two sagas give differing accounts as to how Eriksson arrived in North America. 

According to the “Saga of Erik the Red,” Eriksson crossed the Atlantic by accident after sailing off course on his return voyage from Norway after his conversion to Christianity. The “Saga of the Greenlanders,” however, recounts that Eriksson’s voyage to North America was no fluke. Instead, the Viking explorer had heard of a strange land to the west from Icelandic trader Bjarni Herjolfsson, who more than a decade earlier had overshot Greenland and sailed by the shores of North America without setting foot upon it. Eriksson bought the trader’s ship, raised a crew of 35 men and retraced the route in reverse.

After crossing the Atlantic, the Vikings encountered a rocky, barren land in present-day Canada. Eriksson bestowed upon the land a name as boring as the surroundings—Helluland, Old Norse for “Stone Slab Land.” Researchers believe this location could possibly have been Baffin Island. The Norsemen then voyaged south to a timber-rich location they called Markland (Forestland), most likely in present-day Labrador, before finally setting up a base camp likely on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland.

The Vikings spent an entire winter there and benefitted from the milder weather compared to their homeland. They explored the surrounding region abounding with lush meadows, rivers teeming with salmon, and wild grapes so suitable for wine that Eriksson called the region Vinland (Wineland).

After spending the winter in Vinland, Eriksson and his crew sailed home to windswept Greenland with badly needed timber and plentiful portions of grapes. Eriksson, who would succeed Erik the Red as chief of the Greenland settlement after his father’s death, never returned to North America, but other Vikings continued to sail west to Vinland for at least the ensuing decade. In spite of North America’s more bountiful resources, the Viking settlers remained in desolate Greenland. This was perhaps due to the violent encounters—including the slaying of Eriksson’s brother Thorwald–they had with the indigenous population of North America.

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that supports the sagas’ stories of the Norse expeditions to America. In 1960, Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad scoured the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland for signs of a possible settlement, and he found it on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland at L𠆚nse aux Meadows. An international team of archaeologists that included Ingstad’s wife, Anne, excavated artifacts of Viking origin dating from around A.D. 1000, and the remains of the Norse village are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

While Columbus is honored with a federal holiday, the man considered to be the leader of the first European expedition to North America has not been totally forgotten on the calendar. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation that declared October 9 to be Leif Eriksson Day in honor of the Viking explorer, his crew and the country’s Nordic-American heritage. 

The proximity of the days honoring Eriksson and Columbus is coincidence. October 9 was chosen because it is the anniversary of the 1825 arrival in New York of the ship Restauration, which carried the first organized band of Norwegian immigrants to the United States.


Christopher Columbus, Failure

No matter how widely he was hailed as a hero fourteen years earlier, Christopher Columbus was all washed up by the time he died in 1506 (511 years ago this May 20).

A sentimental imagining of the explorer's deathbed.

Crowds from across Spain lined the streets of Seville in 1493 to welcome him home from his first voyage to the Americas, but he already hadn’t found what he was looking for, a seaway to India’s spice-trade ports. He never would, though the search consumed the rest of his life. A little genocide here, some slavery there, several mutinies, and multiple executions of crew members later, and Columbus fell out of favor with the Spanish crown and the public. When he died he was surrounded by family and by the trappings of his substantial income. But he went to his grave with the gouging sense of injustice he couldn’t forgive and of failure he couldn’t explain.

His reputation began to sour during his second expedition. Flush with the success of 1492, he had been named viceroy and governor of all the islands he discovered. Some 1,400 men jostled for berths on his 17 ships bound for the gold-studded heaven on earth in the west. But the large crew was difficult to feed, and the work to be done—digging canals, searching for gold—was backbreaking. Instead of entering paradise, the Spanish settlers found hell on earth, complete with an inept governor. At the helm of a ship, Columbus’s navigational instinct, supreme confidence, and unflagging ambition made him an excellent admiral. But his leadership skills disappeared as soon as he set foot ashore. When he returned to Spain in June 1496 with 500 Indian slaves—much to the chagrin of Queen Isabella, who deplored slavery—he plunged into a cauldron of accusations from sick, embittered crew members, among them a priest he had denied rations to after he chastised Columbus for whipping recalcitrant settlers.

Read more in American Heritage:

King Ferdinand, for his part, was worried about competition with the Portuguese for claim to the new territory. The king of Portugal theorized that further lands lay south of Cuba. Columbus promised to find them for Spain. He persuaded the religious Isabella to back him by observing that any gold he might discover could fund a crusade to reclaim Jerusalem from the infidels.

On May 30, 1498, six caravels sailed west from Sanlcar de Barrameda, three on the usual passage for Hispaniola, where Columbus had left his brother Bartholomew in charge, and three in untested waters along the equator. But after a month of travel on the new course, Columbus and his crew found themselves becalmed for eight days under a blazing sun that putrefied their food and, they feared, might ignite the ships. When a breeze finally rescued them, Columbus steered toward familiar channels in the north, forsaking the route that would have brought him to the Amazon basin.

His men still managed to become the first Europeans to see South America. Lookouts spotted the forested hills of Venezuela’s Paria peninsula in August, but the sailors, conditioned by the Caribbean’s intricate beadwork of archipelagos, assumed this was just one more island. Weeks of staring into the sun to navigate had left Columbus’s eyes weepy, swollen, and bloodshot, and he simply couldn’t see the clues that Paria might be part of something larger. When his crewmen went ashore, on August 5, the first Europeans to walk on the American mainland, he stayed in bed. But when those same men returned, on August 11, with tales of an immense fresh-water delta—so big it must issue from a river longer than any island could hold—they planted the first seeds of doubt in Columbus’s mind. And as his attempts to circumnavigate Paria revealed more and more coastline, he floundered in confusion.

Geographical wisdom dating back to the ancients presumed only three continents. No one in Europe, the Islamic Middle East, China, or India had heard of a fourth. Could the thinkers of Greece, the authors of the Bible, and the leading modern cosmographers all be wrong? Columbus groped for another explanation. The Scriptures tell us that in the Earthly Paradise grows the tree of life, he wrote on August 15, and that from it flows the source that gives rise to the four great rivers, the Ganges, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Nile. The Earthly Paradise, which no one can reach except by the will of God, lies at the end of the Orient, and that is where we are. Explorers accepted the idea that the Garden of Eden was a physical place on earth until the mid-1500s. Nonetheless, Columbus hedged. If this river does not flow from Paradise, it must come from an immense land to the south, whereof no one till now has had any knowledge, he added. I believe that this is a most extensive mainland, which no one knew about until today.

But given the fine line between cosmography and theology, he had to challenge nothing less than church doctrine to assert that opinion, and doing so could earn him a heresy charge. The safest explanation, which he seems to have swallowed eagerly, was that this was just an uncharted province of China. With that settled, history’s most famous explorer made an uncharacteristic move: He decided he didn’t want to explore anything that might upset common knowledge. Jilting fate, he abandoned Venezuela to check up on his brother in Hispaniola. Thus the biggest discovery in geography passed completely unheralded by its discoverer. His whole life, Columbus had believed that God had destined him for glory. But once left behind, destiny seemed never to be on Columbus’s side again.

For starters, gory chaos greeted him on Hispaniola. Abused by the Spanish colonists, the Indians had struck back with violent uprisings. Disease and hunger, exacerbated by Bartholomew’s mismanagement, had split the settlers into two warring bands. A hundred men led by the colony’s chief justice, Francisco Roldan, were rebelling against those still loyal to Bartholomew. Columbus immediately recognized the mutiny as potentially fatal to both his colony and his authority as viceroy. The son of a plebeian Genoese merchant, he had risen to command the favor of the Spanish crown he got there with a concentrated lust for power and prestige. But with only 70 faithful, he couldn’t fight back against Roldon. So he eventually caved to all the rebels demands: Exempt from punishment, they could return to Spain or claim free land on Hispaniola they would be paid back wages and Roldon was promoted.

In a letter to the Spanish monarchs explaining the situation, Columbus requested 50 more men and an administrator of justice. Ferdinand and Isabella were not about to commit more subjects to this troublesome, seemingly pointless colony, but the administrator sounded like a good idea. Considering Hispaniola’s importance as a stopover in further exploration of the west, the monarchs realized they had granted Columbus too much power. They hoped Francisco Bobadilla, an officer of the crown, could get him to return home peacefully.

Bobadilla’s first sight upon landing on Hispaniola was a gibbet hung with the corpses of six rebellious Spanish settlers. Columbus and Bartholomew were on an expedition inland, but when Bobadilla questioned their brother, Diego, he found out that more settlers were scheduled to be hanged the next day. Bobadilla forbade the executions, but Diego replied that he only took orders from the viceroy. At that, Bobadilla jailed Diego and took over Columbus’s house, possessions, and job. When Columbus and Bartholomew returned, Columbus furiously challenged Bobadilla’s authority—so Bobadilla threw him and Bartholomew in prison too. There the three Columbus brothers waited for two months, until Bobadilla realized an inquest would be too much work and returned them to Spain for trial. As Christopher Columbus was led in chains from his cell in early October 1500, he thought he was about to be executed.

Instead, an equerry ushered him and his brothers onto a ship heading home. As soon they left port, the captain offered to remove Columbus’s restraints. I have been placed in chains by the order of the sovereigns, Columbus replied, and I shall wear them until the sovereigns themselves should order them removed. True to his word, he dragged his bonds with an ostentatious rattle through the streets of Cadiz and Seville. Ferdinand and Isabella ordered him freed as soon as the news reached them. They had wanted him removed from power, not humiliated.

But their long-unwavering confidence in him had vanished. He begged to be reinstated as viceroy they refused. To a man who believed he had been appointed by God to discover and rule the Indies, this felt like a perversion of destiny. He could continue to draw his duties on Spain’s profits from the New World, an income that would have allowed him to retire in luxury. But the 49-year-old explorer, nearly blind and crippled from arthritis, could never keep his eyes from the western horizon.

He sensed he was losing his influence to new explorers. Under the Portuguese flag in 1498, Vasco de Gama had reached India by sailing east around Cape Horn. The Portuguese had beaten Columbus. But if Columbus found a shorter route via the west, maybe he could win his governorship back. From Marco Polo, Europeans had learned about the only sea route between China and India—the Strait of Malacca, separating Sumatra and Malaysia. If Columbus had found the Asian continent on his last trip, the passage had to be nearby. Of course, his conception of Asian geography was a little off. He had no idea of the size of the continent and assumed that China and India were squished together with the Indies just offshore. But Ferdinand and Isabella were no better informed. They approved his expedition on March 14, 1502, with two caveats: He would send back no slaves, and he would not stop on Hispaniola except in an emergency.

So, with four rickety ships and 150 men, he set out across the Atlantic for one last shot in the dark. He made the crossing in record time—16 days—and headed straight for Hispaniola. The new governor refused to let him land and ignored his warnings of a coming hurricane. What man ever born, not excepting Job, would not have died of despair when in such weather, seeking safety for my son, brother, shipmates and myself, we were forbidden the land and the harbors that I, by Gods will and sweating blood, had won for Spain? As he found a safe inlet west of Santo Domingo, the governor dispatched 30 ships bound for Spain, 25 of which sank in the storm Columbus foresaw. Both Roldon and Bobadilla drowned. Four ships were forced to turn back, and only one reached Spain— the one transporting Columbus’s share of the New World gold.

When the sky cleared, Columbus and his crew journeyed west to an area of the Caribbean they had never explored. They reached what is now Honduras on July 31. There Bartholomew met a canoe full of Indians transporting the fruits of an advanced civilization: copper razors and knives, wooden swords set with flint, colorful cotton shirts, and beer. They were Chontal Mayans, traveling from Campeche Bay to the trading ports of Central America. Had Columbus followed them back to the Yucatan, he would have discovered the pyramids and monuments of Mexican civilization. But he had no time to divert from the search for the passage. After all, this was Asia how unusual should it be to find advanced Chinese? In a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, he wrote two lines about the Mayans and devoted four times as much space to a fight between a boar and a spider monkey. At yet another crossroads, Columbus, thinking he was choosing the path to discovery and accolades, again chose the route to pain and regret.

Traveling south against the wind and current, his ships moved only six miles a day for the next month along the east coast of Central America. What with the heat and dampness, his son Fernando wrote, our ship biscuit had become so wormy that, God help me, I saw many who waited for darkness to eat the porridge made of it, that they might not see the maggots. But Columbus, aware that this might be his last voyage, refused to give up. Finally the Spanish arrived in Panamas Chiriqui Lagoon in early October, where natives told them it was just a nine-day hike across the isthmus to another ocean. This must be the place. From here, Columbus calculated, it would be a ten-day sail to the Ganges. His men explored every inlet of the lagoon in search of the strait, but to no avail. Joyful anticipation turned to desperation, and desperation to bitter disappointment. After three days, Columbus returned to the open sea, his hopes suffocated, his only goal now the acquisition of wealth.

Low tide beached him until April at the gold fields of Panama, where his men waged bloody war with Indians. He himself caught malaria. When the waters finally rose, termite-like worms had made lace of the ships hulls. With only three viable caravels, he headed for Hispaniola one last time. He made it as far as Jamaica. From there, he sent an emissary by canoe the 105 miles to Santo Domingo to ask for transportation home. The governor of Hispaniola waited nine months to answer the request, nine months in which the starved, disease-ridden Spanish on Jamaica staged one last failed rebellion against their sickly captain. Finally, on September 12, 1504, a relief expedition left for Seville with Columbus on board. He would never again lay eyes on the land he had claimed for Spain 12 years earlier.

His previous returns home had been buoyed by triumph or righteous martyrdom, but when he reached Seville on November 8, he was weighted by failure. Prone to fevered deliriums, he continued to demand the offices of viceroy and governor of the Indies. Ferdinand refused, but he offered Columbus the title of admiral of the ocean sea as consolation. For the first time, Columbus registered the defeat. Immobilized by gout and arthritis at just 53, he retreated to bed.

In a few years, cartographers would name the vast lands of the Western Hemisphere after Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine explorer who first recognized South America as its own continent, and Ferdinand Magellan would find a passage to the Pacific in the west by looking south of the equator. By then the man who had opened the door for those advances—but balked at walking through—was no longer around to jockey for credit. On May 20, 1506, in Valladolid, Spain, with his two brothers and two sons at his side, Columbus uttered his last words: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum (Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit).

He died in the comfort of wealth—his descendants would live off his money for generations—and the silence of obscurity. But just a few miles away, King Ferdinand didn’t even receive word that Columbus was ill. The final journey of the explorer who reorganized the globe, a funeral procession through the city streets, passed unnoticed even by the residents of Valladolid.


2 Answers 2

Michael Shermer covers this in The Believing Brain, stating that Columbus held this belief until his death.

Vartec's link also supports this from an EDU site.

Columbus, who, to his death, clung to the idea that he had found the shores of Asia

In Shermer's book, he talks about finding data that is totally unexpected, so that you can't accept the new information, and thus integrate it with your already held notions. That is in essence what Columbus did. Columbus had no reason to "lie" since he was convinced by his own brain that he had found Asia, and he was going to stick to that story. He even had incentive to say he found new lands according to the wikipage you cited:

According to the contract that Columbus made with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, if Columbus discovered any new islands or mainland, he would receive many high rewards.

He didn't, although he did take on governorship of the islands he believed to be the Indies, and acted "poorly" as said governor.

What Spain was really interested in was to find a sea route to the orient (Asia) and principally India. At that time, all the various spices, silk and many other items came from Asia and were extremely valuable. The existing trade route was by land and it was long, arduous and dangerous. Spain wanted to compete with other European countries in this highly profitable market (Abernethy, David (2000). The Dynamics of Global Dominance, European Overseas Empires 1415–1980. Yale University Press).

At that time Portugal had asserted itself as a dominant sea power so Columbus first approached the Portuguese monarch suggesting that he could reach India by sailing west rather than southeast (around Africa) as was the Portuguese plan. The Portuguese already knew that there were other lands that could be found by sailing west - they had already begun colonization of the Azores archipelago in the North Atlantic and there were reports of other lands much further out west by fisherman and other Portuguese explorers (Boxer, Charles Ralph (1969). The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415–1825. Hutchinson).

The Portuguese were excellent sailors and cartographers and were skeptical that these lands were any part of Asia so they were dismissive of Columbus plan -The king submitted Columbus's proposal to his experts, who rejected it. It was their considered opinion that Columbus's estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was, in fact, far too low (Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: The Life of Christopher Columbus,(Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1942). Reissued by the Morison Press, 2007).

In 1488, Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal once again, and once again, John II invited him to an audience. That meeting also proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal with news of his successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa (near the Cape of Good Hope). With an eastern sea route to Asia apparently at hand, King John was no longer interested in Columbus's far-fetched project, but offered him a captain-ship in their fleet. Columbus declined and approached Spain with his proposal and plan which after much deliberation was eventually accepted. Columbus sailed west and reached the Caribbean Islands and thought that he had landed in some islands off the coast of Asia. He held to this belief until the day he died. ( Davidson, Miles H. (1997), Columbus then and now: a life reexamined, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press).


EXACTLY A YEAR FROM NOW THE WORLD WILL BE MARKING THE FIVE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT OF THE PAST MILLENNIUM. THE ZEAL OF ONE MAN BROUGHT ABOUT THAT EVENT, AND HIS NAME AND TALK OF HIS ACHIEVEMENTS WILL BE OMNIPRESENT HERE, THEN, IS A COLUMBUS CATECHISM TO HELP YOU THROUGH THE MONTHS AHEAD: WAS HE REALLY THE FIRST? IF HE SAILED FOR SPAIN, WHY DO ITALIANS MAKE SUCH A FUSS ABOUT HIS BIRTHDAY? HOW COME AMERICA ISN’T NAMED FOR HIM? WHY IS HE BEING CALLED A VILLAIN NOW?

1. DID COLUMBUS DISCOVER THE NEW WORLD?

No. But how pleased he would have been to learn that he is often credited with discovering two vast, far-flung continents whose size and variety he could scarcely have begun to imagine. Those continents had been populated for millennia by a mix of peoples whose cultures were as diverse as their lands. They may have migrated from northeastern Asia more than fifteen thousand years ago. When they came is still a matter of warring scholarship, but those natives were the discoverers of the New World.

Columbus met only a small number of them after he had successfully navigated the Ocean Sea, as the Atlantic was then known. His disclosure of their existence baffled Renaissance Europe but eventually led to knowledge of an entire new hemisphere. The Genoese mariner made the announcement of his triumphant crossing in a letter addressed to his Spanish patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. He declared that he had “found very many islands filled with people without number, and of them all I have taken possession for their Highnesses, by proclamation and with the royal standard displayed, and nobody objected.” This arrogant usurpation was wholly in line with Europe’s determination to expand its ordained and Christian world.

There are claims that other explorers crossed the Ocean Sea long before Columbus. St. Brendan and the Irish are credited with the earliest voyages, dating from the opening phase of the Middle Ages in the seventh century. The Vikings touched base in the far northern lands during the eleventh century, as did Bristol seamen four centuries later. But it was not until Columbus’s extraordinary feat of navigation in 1492 that the presence of a New World was revealed to the wonderment of the Old.

Of course, the term New World is thoroughly Eurocentric. But it’s convenient, it’s here to stay, and we shall use it.

2. WHAT EXACTLY DID HE DO IN 1492?

He sailed west from the Canary Islands following an ocean route he had mapped and survived a thirty-three-day trip to make landfall in a new world on October 12.

For years people had scoffed at the idea of a westward route to the Indies. The success of Columbus’s trip was due as much to his passionate belief in what he was doing as to his enlightened decision to sail west-southwest from the Canary Islands along the twenty-eighth parallel, thus avoiding the treacherous counter winds of higher latitudes. Had he invoked the words of the great Italian poet as he embarked? Dante had written in The Divine Comedy , “And turning our stern towards the morning we made wings of our oars for our wild flight, bearing always to the south-west.” It is doubtful that Columbus’s ships would have survived a more northerly crossing.

3. WAS COLUMBUS THE FIRST TO BELIEVE THE EARTH WAS ROUND?

Not at all. Every educated man in his day believed it was a sphere, and every European university taught the concept in geography classes. There were, of course, some who clung to the ancient biblical notions that the earth was a flat disk with Jerusalem in the center and that one could fall off the edge. But seamen like Columbus knew better from practical experience: They saw that mountains appeared on the horizon before the land came into view and that the hulls of departing ships disappeared before the masts.

The controversial issue in Columbus’s day was not the earth’s shape but its size. This had enormous implications for the explorer’s ambitious plans. Geographers projected widely divergent calculations, but they shared a common belief that the earth was much smaller than it is, some gauging it at two-thirds of its actual circumference. In the third century B.C. Eratosthenes had come quite close to an accurate guess at the world’s true belt size of twenty-four thousand miles. Among those who inspired Columbus were Marinus of Tyre and Ptolemy, both of the second century A.D. , and Pierre d’Ailly and Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, geographers of his own century. Columbus shared with the last two a firm belief that the Ocean Sea was navigable.

Toscanelli’s concepts were particularly appealing because the Florentine not only had put forward low figures for the width of the ocean on a world chart but, as early as 1474, had urged the Portuguese king to consider a voyage westward to Cathay (China). When Columbus subsequently used Toscanelli’s chart to substantiate his claim that he could cross the Ocean Sea, he further reduced its low mileage estimates.

4. WHERE DID HE THINK HE WAS GOING?

He hoped to reach the Indies. That was the geographic term then in use for the eastern stretches of Asia, which included the fabled land of Cathay, the island of Cipangu (Japan), Burma, India, Indonesia, and the Moluccas.

A route to the Indies had for some time been the goal of Portuguese princes who sought a nautical path to trade in Oriental silks and spices. Convinced the way lay eastward via the southern coast of Africa, they staunchly backed the repeated attempts of their navigators to find it. Columbus was aware of these forays but stubbornly held to his view that the most direct route to the Indies lay not eastward but westward, by the Ocean Sea. He expected he might pass some islands along the way, but he had no idea he would come upon new continents.

5. WHAT WERE HIS SHIPS LIKE?

Columbus sailed with a diminutive fleet of three-masted vessels: the Niña , the Pinta , and the Santa María . The Niña and the Pinta , classed as caravels, measured at about sixty tons each—that is, they could carry sixty Spanish tuns, a liquid measure, of wine. Lightly constructed, caravels were known for their speed. The Santa María was classed as a nao (a Spanish word for ship) and estimated at about ninety tons. This somewhat larger vessel was round and chunky, less graceful-looking than the caravels, and definitely less maneuverable.

Columbus was proud of his ships, as well he might be, since all three made it on a blind journey to a phantom destination. Still, he did have his troubles with them. On the third day out, the rudder of the Pinta jumped. He wrote in his diary that it was repaired off the Canary Islands “with great labor and diligence of the Admiral.” There, too, the Niña , which was lateen-rigged (outfitted with triangular sails hung at a forty-five- to sixty-degree angle to the deck), had to be fitted with square sails on yards parallel to the deck. Lateens could sail closer to the wind, but square-rigged vessels were easier to maneuver.

The Santa María was Columbus’s flagship, but the Niña became his favorite ( Niña was a nickname the craft’s true name was the Santa Clara ). The Santa María ran aground in the New World, and Columbus came home aboard the Niña . Measured against today’s transoceanic vessels, Renaissance ships were pitifully small. Their average length of seventy to one hundred feet would be dwarfed by the nearly one thousand sleek feet of the Queen Elizabeth 2 .

6. IF PEOPLE WERE ALREADY LIVING THERE, WHY DID THEY CALL IT THE NEW WORLD?

The phrase Mundus Novus (New World) was coined by a Venetian printer in 1504. He lit on it as a title for a letter written by the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci following the latter’s return from newly discovered Brazil. The phrase caught on. The revelation of an entirely unknown and inhabited world, credited to Vespucci, was far more sensational than Columbus’s report of a few islands and a new route to the Indies.

Moreover, Vespucci’s description of the New World, laden as it was with vivid accounts of cannibalism and sexual promiscuity among the natives, assured his account instant popularity. Columbus himself never used the phrase New World . His own characterization of the lands he discovered was Other World , a term perhaps more appropriate.

That other world was, of course, not new, but to this day we tend to date the history of the Americas in terms of the five centuries since Columbus’s landing there—the relatively brief span since European intervention. Shakespeare comes to the point in The Tempest when he has Miranda exclaim, “O brave new world, / That has such people in ’t!” and Prospero replies, “Tis new to thee.”

7. WHERE DID COLUMBUS THINK HE WAS WHEN HE MADE HIS LANDFALL?

He had no real idea. He imagined that he had reached the Indies, and he promptly spoke of the natives he encountered as Indians. But nothing he saw in the Caribbean coincided with descriptions of the East. Instead of sophisticated Orientals dressed in sumptuous brocaded coats, he found naked inhabitants who seemed gentle and naive. Instead of the glittering city with golden-roofed temples that Marco Polo had recounted, there were simple huts. It was all rather baffling. Columbus pressed on from island to island, and when he reached Cuba, which he named La IsIa Juana, he followed its coast west. “I found it to be so long,” he wrote, “that I thought it must be the mainland, the province of Catayo [in China]. And since there were neither towns nor cities on the coast, but only small villages, with the people of which I could not have speech because they all fled forthwith, I went forward on the same course, thinking that I should not fail to find great cities and towns.”

Although no glittering citadels appeared on the horizon, the explorer and his sailors were quick to notice that the natives wore small gold pendants as nose ornaments, and Columbus took this as a sign that the Bahamian island on which he had first landed, which he called San Salvador, would perhaps turn out to be a steppingstone to Cathay.

His subsequent discovery of gold on the large island he named Hispaniola convinced him and his men that they had indeed landed in the outer reaches of the Indies, and this was what he believed when he commenced his return voyage to Spain on January 4, 1493.

8. HOW DID HE COME UP WITH HIS IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Nobody knows. But one thing is certain: It was not an original idea. A westward route had been suggested as far back as Aristotle. Columbus’s interest in finding such a route may have arisen around 1476, when he was shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal and took up residence in Lisbon. At that time Portugal stood proudly at the head of European navigation. Columbus was then twenty-five years old. Intensely religious, he found his geographic convictions strengthened by passages from the Bible and from such predictions as one in Seneca’s Medea : “An age will come after many years when the Ocean will loose the chains of things, and a great part of the earth will be opened up and a new sailor such as the one who was Jason’s guide … will reveal a new world.” Columbus longed to be that sailor.

9. DID IT TAKE COLUMBUS LONG TO GET BACKING?

Years. He first presented the petition for his “Enterprise of the Indies,” as he called it, to King John II of Portugal in 1484 or a bit earlier. It was turned over to a commission of experts just as it would be today. They rejected it.

When Columbus turned to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain for support in 1486, his proposal was submitted to an assemblage of Spanish scholars and ecclesiastics known as the Talavera Commission. Again a rejection. The commission ruled that the distance was far greater than Columbus claimed, and the enterprise therefore not feasible. They were right on the first count, wrong on the second. Over the years Columbus persisted. Finally, through the intervention of Luis de Santangel, the keeper of the privy purse, who had befriended him at the Spanish court, he obtained Queen Isabella’s permission in the spring of 1492. “By these presents,” announced the royal decree, “we dispatch the noble man Christoforus Colon with three equipped caravels over the Ocean Seas toward the regions of India for certain reasons and purposes.”

10. HOW CAN SO MANY NATIONS CLAIM COLUMBUS AS ONE OF THEIR OWN?

Rival claims follow in the wake of any heroic accomplishment. Columbus was born in Genoa of Italian parents in 1451, and it has been insisted that he was a full-blooded Spaniard, a Catalan, or a Jew of Portuguese or Catalan descent, but the evidence suggests that he was a Catholic of Genoese origin. Whatever his background, he basked in that wondrous confluence of Arab, Jewish, and Christian genius that marked the intellectual world of Portugal and Spain during the early Renaissance. The undisputed facts are that his father was Domenico Colombo, and his mother was Susanna Fontanarossa, both of Genoa. They had two younger sons, Bartolomeo and Giacomo (later known as Diego), and a daughter, Bianchinetta. The family business was weaving. Domenico managed a decent living as a member of the clothiers’ guild, but his prospects for improvement were never very bright.

Columbus left Genoa as a young and illiterate sailor. After living in Portugal and then Spain and acquiring their languages, he taught himself to read and write. He also taught himself Latin, the medium of communication of educated men many of the books on which he relied for his navigational theories were in Latin.

In his writings Columbus more than once described himself as un estranjero . Indeed, the Spanish officers and sailors who were eventually to serve under him often resented the fact that he was a “foreigner.” Although the population of fifteenth-century Spain was of a distinctly cosmopolitan mix, a fierce wave of nationalism was on the rise by the time Columbus settled there. The same year he sailed, Spain conquered the last of the Moors and ordered the expulsion of all unconverted Jews.

11. HOW DID COLUMBUS FIND HIS WAY?

A compass, dead reckoning, and luck. Latitude and longitude existed as concepts, but both were shrouded in guesswork. Latitude was reckoned by Ptolemaic climata —parallel zones arbitrarily laid down on a chart in terms of climate and, where practical, by the length of the longest day of the year, found to be directly proportional to the angular height of the sun. Longitude was arrived at through a complicated procedure by timing an eclipse. Like most mariners, Columbus couldn’t manage it.

His indispensable instrument was a mariner’s compass. A combination of the ancient “rose of the winds” and a magnetized needle, the compass had been in use long before Columbus sailed. Known by the Chinese, Arabs, and Phoenicians, it had been rediscovered by the Europeans in the fourteenth century. In Columbus’s day the rose was a circular card on which a pattern of diamonds, lozenges, and lines marked the thirty-two compass points. No letters were used because most seamen could not read. Twelve winds were known to the ancients, but by Columbus’s time the number had been reduced to eight we indicate them today as N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW.

Perhaps most important, Columbus was a master at dead reckoning, a half-instinctual process that involved laying down compass courses, noting speed through the water, charting direction and strength of winds, being aware of currents, and constantly picking up where you had left off.

His double crossing over the “sea of darkness” is a near miracle of dead reckoning.

12. WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DID HE BRING TO THE JOB?

He had sailed in the Mediterranean and had been to Africa, England, Ireland, and allegedly as far north as Iceland. Having grown up in the maritime community of Genoa, he had begun seafaring when he was fourteen years old. At least that’s what he says in his chronicles, though neither the records nor his claims are completely reliable. He also tells us in his log for December 21, 1492, that by then he had been at sea for twenty-three years “without leaving it for any time worth telling.”

We have very little data on what kinds of ships he sailed on, in what capacities, or under whose banners. In any event, Genoese mariners were among the most renowned of the Middle Ages. It was the Genoese marine that the pope called upon during the First Crusade, in the eleventh century, to conduct a massive fleet from the southern ports of France to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. During the following centuries, as the Mediterranean bustled with commerce and political intrigue, the republic of Genoa rose in power along with the republic of Venice. By the end of the thirteenth century the Genoese were attempting to find a water route to the Indies by way of Africa and in the process sailed far out into the Ocean Sea—or, as it was also known, the “green sea of gloom.”

13. DID HE HAVE ANY REAL IDEA OF THE RISKS HE WAS RUNNING?

He certainly did. But he was deeply devout, charged with a messianic zeal, and determined to take risks. Shipwrecks, drownings, mutinies, scurvy, gales, starvation—all were part of every sailor’s job at the time. The Renaissance poet Luis de Camoëns detailed the seamen’s working environment:

Nevertheless, Columbus believed that the mariner must, as he put it, probe “the secrets of this world.”

Seneca had prophesied, “The time will come when every land shall yield its hidden treasure when men no more shall unknown course measure, for round the world no ‘farthest land’ shall be.” Columbus knew such words well. They fired his imagination and allayed his fears.

14. HOW DID COLUMBUS RECRUIT HIS CREW?

Columbus was a stranger at Palos de la Frontera, the small coastal town where the Spanish monarchs had made provision for two of his ships. He had virtually no connections with either common sailors or officers and was therefore obliged to rely on the help of two prominent seafaring families. The more powerful was that of Martin Pinzón of Palos the other was the family of Juan Niño, of the nearby Andalusian town of Moguer. Together with Columbus, the Pinzóns and Niños managed to recruit about ninety men and boys for the three vessels. Martín Pinzón himself assumed command of the Pinta , while Juan Niño (with whom Columbus developed a close friendship) sailed as master of the Niña .

We know the names of all but three of those who signed on for the epochal trip. They came primarily from towns and villages in Andalusia all but four were Spaniards. Columbus was, of course, one of the foreigners. Each ship had a master, a captain, a pilot, a marshal, and a surgeon, supported by the usual complement of able seamen and cabin boys.

Did they sign on eagerly? Not everyone. Experienced sailors questioned the feasibility of such a trip westward, but all were paid the going wage by the crown, and despite legends to the contrary, no prisoners were used to pad the crews.

One officer on board the flagship Santa María was the scholar Luis de Torres, a converted Jew who could speak Arabic. He was meant to be the interpreter between Columbus and the grand khan of China. Columbus, of course, never encountered the grand khan, and a leader of China wouldn’t have been likely to speak Arabic anyway, but Europeans believed that all languages stemmed from that tongue, and therefore it was best to be prepared.

15. WHY ISN’T THE NEW WORLD NAMED FOR HIM?

If the New World was destined to be named by Europeans, it should have been named after Columbus. A more appropriate European name would have been North and South Columbia. But the two continents were named instead after Amerigo Vespucci, who voyaged to the New World after Columbus. The name America was assigned by an Alsatian geographer named Martin Waldseemüller when he attempted to chart the New World discoveries in 1507. Because Vespucci was more aggressive in promoting himself, Waldseemüfcller believed the glory to be his. That Vespucci was indisputably the more popular explorer at this time we learn from Thomas More’s Utopia , a book based on the Florentine’s accounts: “Everyone’s reading about the four voyages of Vespucci.”

Renaissance geographers were skilled and conscientious scientists, but as they worked to locate obscure New World islands on their charts, they found the data vague and often misleading. The mapmakers could only put faith in intelligent guesses, a course taken by Waldseemüller when he charted the discoveries of Columbus, Vespucci, and other early explorers as one continuous, continental land strip. By this bold and imaginative step, he in effect introduced a new hemisphere. The name America had been suggested for this new land mass by a fellow geographer and poet named Matthias Ringman. “I don’t see why anyone should justly forbid naming it Amerige,” he wrote, “land of Americus as it were, after its discoverer Americus, a man of true genius, or America, inasmuch as both Europe and Asia have received their names from women.” The name caught on.

16. IS IT TRUE THAT COLUMBUS’S FLEET BROUGHT SYPHILIS BACK FROM THE NEW WORLD?

The disease indeed made its first epidemic appearance in Europe following Columbus’s first voyage, when camp followers spread it among the soldiers of King Charles VIII during the French monarch’s 1494 campaign to seize the kingdom of Naples. Several tracts of the period discuss the outbreak and indicate that until then the morbus gallicus (French disease) had been unknown in Europe. Many scholars hold that it was spread among women infected by Spanish soldiers who had sailed with Columbus to the New World and contracted it there. Whether or not the affliction had existed in Europe before, its first virulent manifestations did date from the Neapolitan campaign.

Columbus is silent on the subject in his writings. In any case, it was not a fit topic to raise with Queen Isabella, for whom, together with King Ferdinand, his reports were intended. But the Spanish chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés wrote of the New World origin of the disease as an unimpeachable fact. In his General History of the Indies , published in 1535, he discourses on it at some length, claiming that “up to the time King Charles passed through there [Italy], no such plague had been seen in those lands. But the truth is that from this island of Haiti or Hispaniola this disease spread to Europe, as has been said and it is a very common thing here among the Indians, and they know how to cure it, and have very excellent herbs, trees and plants appropriate to this and other infirmities. … ”

The disease became known in Europe by a string of names, most of them imputing blame for its spread: the French Pox, the German Sickness, the Polish Disease. Around 1512 Girolamo Fracastoro, an Italian physician and poet, wrote a Latin poem dramatizing the disorder’s importation from the New World. He called the work “Syphilis or Morbus Gallicus,” after a young shepherd named Syphilus who had invoked the wrath of the gods, and thus he coined the name by which the disease is known to this day.

17. DID COLUMBUS MAKE ANY ATTEMPT AT COLONIZING ON HIS FIRST VOYAGE?

Yes, but it was catastrophic. The tiny settlement was called La Navidad because the plan to set it up was made on Christmas Day of 1492. Located in a shallow bay off the northeast coast of the large island that Columbus called Hispaniola, the site was not the most advantageous, but then Columbus had not exactly chosen it. Nor had it been his intention to establish a colony. The heady step of planting Europeans in the New World came about as the result of the shipwreck of the Santa María . While Columbus slept on Christmas Eve, his helmsman ran the flagship aground on the reefs of a Haitian bay.

Ever optimistic, the explorer decided to interpret the woeful disaster as a sign “that our Lord had caused me to run aground at this place so that I might establish a settlement here.” He had a tower and a fortress constructed out of the ship’s timbers, and volunteers to man the settlement presented themselves eagerly, since word had got around that gold mines lay not far off in the territory of Cibao, a location that Columbus took to be the local name for Cipangu (Japan). Thirty-nine men, including three officers, were chosen to be the first Spanish settlers in the New World. Columbus left them with artillery, a year’s supply of bread and wine, seeds, merchandise for trading, and the Santa María ’s small boat. He was confident that when he returned to the New World, the colony would be nothing less than a storehouse of gold. But only desolation greeted him on his second trip, in November of 1493. In their greed for treasure and in their lust for local women, the colonists had quarreled with one another and antagonized the natives. None survived.

18. TO WHOM DID COLUMBUS FIRST REPORT HIS TRIUMPH?

To the king who had turned him down. Columbus’s ship was so battered on the return that he was forced to drop anchor in a Portuguese seaport before moving on to Spain. After receiving the crown’s permission to enter the outer harbor of Lisbon, he presented himself to King John II of Portugal on March 9, 1493, accompanied by some of the native Americans whom he had brought back from the New World. Confronted with this evidence of the navigator’s extraordinary discovery, the envious king attempted to make counterclaims of his own in the name of Portugal. After detaining Columbus for some tense days of interrogation, John II permitted the forty-two-year-old mariner to sail on.

Meanwhile, Columbus sent word of his discovery to the Spanish monarchs in Barcelona by a soon-to-be-famous letter that was forthwith printed and issued in many editions. A key passage reflects Columbus’s pride in what he had done: “For although men have talked or written of these lands, all was conjecture, without getting a look at it, but amounted only to this, that those who heard for the most part listened and judged it more a fable than that there was anything in it, however small.”

Columbus presented himself, at last, to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Barcelona in late April 1493. By then he had already received the reward for which he had yearned: a communication from the Spanish monarchs welcoming him back, addressed to “Don Cristóbal Colón [Columbus], their Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy and Governor of the Islands that he hath discovered in the Indies.” The illiterate sailor from Genoa had become a gentleman, an admiral, and a political power.

19. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SIX NATIVE AMERICANS COLUMBUS BROUGHT BACK TO SPAIN?

They were received ceremoniously. Columbus organized a grand procession to the Spanish court, and as the native Americans paraded through Barcelona in their exotic dress, crowds thronged to see them. What the Indians thought of it all, we shall never know.

In years ahead Columbus would exhibit a fierce authority over the inhabitants of the New World, but his first recorded impression of them is glowing: “Of anything they have, if you ask them for it, they never say no rather they invite the person to share it, and show as much love as if they were giving their hearts and whether the things be of value or of small price, at once they are content with whatever little thing of whatever kind may be given to them. … I gave them a thousand good, pleasing things which I had bought, in order that they might be fond of us, and furthermore might be made Christians and be inclined to the love and service of their Highnesses and of the whole Castillan nation, and try to help us and to give us of the things which they have in abundance and which are necessary to us.”

Making them Christians was the highest priority. The six he brought back to Spain were promptly baptized and given Christian names, with King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella, and the infante Don Juan, their godparents. When Columbus embarked on his second voyage to the New World, in September of 1493, five of them returned with him. The sixth, named Don Juan, remained attached to the royal Spanish household. He died within two years.

20. HOW MANY VOYAGES TO THE NEW WORLD DID COLUMBUS MAKE?

Four—in 1492, 1493, 1498, and 1502.

Columbus’s second voyage was crowded with events, few of which redounded to the glory of either the explorer or Spain. Yet it began in the grandest manner. With a fleet of no fewer than seventeen ships and his imposing new title of admiral, Columbus set sail on September 25, 1493, from the ancient port city of Cadiz in Spain. The trip was to last more than two and a half years. Officially the goal was the expansion of Christendom through the acquisition of territories and the conversion of the New World natives, but the quest for gold always took priority. The admiral was instructed to ensure that the natives were “treated very well and lovingly” by all the Spanish expeditionaries. These numbered around thirteen hundred: gentlemen-adventurers, cavalry and infantry, farm laborers, a wide range of craftsmen, and five ecclesiastics to perform conversions. Horses were brought for the first time to the New World, along with cattle, other livestock, grains, and seeds. There were no women.

By November 3, all seventeen ships had successfully crossed the Ocean Sea. It was an amazing maritime feat so large a Renaissance fleet had never gone so far in company. The fleet dropped anchor off a small Caribbean island, which Columbus named Marie Galante, after the nickname of his flagship.

There was much to be done. But first Columbus made his crew swear he was on the threshold of fabled Cathay. Having proved to the Renaissance world that the Ocean Sea was navigable, the admiral was now equally determined to prove that the Indies lay close to its western shores. As soon as he reached the New World on his second voyage, he began a systematic search for the Asian mainland. During nearly two months of the most skillful navigation, he made his way around hundreds of islands, giving many of them the names they hold today and describing the incomparable beauty of the region in terms evocative of a golden age. Groves of majestic palms on the shores of Cuba “seemed to reach the sky” above springs of water “of such goodness and so sweet, that no better could be found in the world.” His men rested on the grass “by those springs amid the scent of the flowers which was marvellous, and the sweetness of little birds, so many and so delightful, and under the shade of those palms so tall and fair that it was a wonder to see it all.”

The admiral insisted that Cuba was a “peninsular” island depending from the mainland of China, and with stores running low he sent his public notary to gather testimony supporting this shaky claim that he was on the threshold of Cathay. Depositions were taken from the men in Columbus’s entourage to the effect that Cuba was part of a mainland. All eighty were willing so to swear. Anyone who suggested the contrary could be fined ten thousand maravedis and the loss of his tongue.

The expedition left behind three colonies. Two soon disappeared, but the third, planned by Columbus and built by his brother Bartolomeo after the admiral’s return to Spain in early 1496, enjoyed a fine harbor and flourished. The brothers named it Santo Domingo after their father, and by early in the next century the town could boast a cathedral and a university. Today, as capital of the Dominican Republic, the busy port has a population of nearly 1.5 million and is the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Western Hemisphere.

But this second foray into the New World also left a less happy legacy. Spaniards forced the Indians to hunt for gold and to share their provisions and, when they failed to submit, exterminated them. In 1494 Columbus sent to Spain about five hundred captured members of the Taino tribe—the same people of whom he had written “they show as much love as if they were giving their hearts.” The three hundred who survived the passage were sold on the block in Seville. Here was the sorry inauguration of the slave trade between the Old World and the New.

21. DID ANYBODY SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE MURDER AND ENSLAVEMENT OF THE INDIANS?

Bartolomé de Las Casas, an eminent Spanish bishop, used the accounts of his father and uncle, who had sailed with Columbus, to frame his luminous Apologia . He devoted himself to the denunciation of the plundering and devastation of the new territories with the “loss of so many thousands of souls.” Appalled by Spanish cruelties, Las Casas passionately insisted that the peoples of the New World “are our brothers, redeemed by Christ’s most precious blood, no less than the wisest and most learned men in the whole world.” Through books, sermons, and direct representation to the crown, he pleaded the cause of the oppressed Indians for more than half a century.

22. WHY DID COLUMBUS GO BACK A THIRD TIME?

No sooner had he returned from his second expedition than he petitioned the Spanish monarchs to finance yet a third. He insisted that he was certain to discover the mainland of Asia if allowed to press westward beyond the islands he had already discovered—and he was sure that territories to the south of where he had been would prove abundant in gold. After all, lands in the Indies located in the same latitude as those where the Portuguese had struck it rich in Africa (eight to ten degrees above the equator, in Sierra Leone) must be topographically equivalent in tropical heat, in gold, and in spices. This equivalency theory had been conceived by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. , and the Admiral of the Ocean Sea swallowed it whole.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella assented to a third voyage, yet it was some two years before written permission, money, and the requested fleet of eight ships became a reality. Wars with France and the kingdom of Naples were denuding Spanish coffers, and there were marriage alliances to negotiate that required staggering outlays. For example, no fewer than 130 vessels were assembled in an elaborately equipped flotilla to escort the king’s daughter Joanna to Flanders for her marriage to the son of the Habsburg emperor. Columbus must have envied that fleet. But the Enterprise of the Indies no longer occupied center stage in the Iberian world. Vasco da Gama had just made it around the Cape of Good Hope to the real India in a stunning feat of navigation during the winter of 1497-98, and the Italian Giovanni Cabote was claiming islands off Nova Scotia for the English crown. Columbus’s glory as an explorer was being eclipsed, and he knew it.

23. ANY LUCK ON THE THIRD TIME OUT?

Almost none. Columbus touched on the mainland of South America, in what today is Venezuela, on August 4, 1498. He thus became the first European on record ever to set foot on a continent of the Western Hemisphere. He had mistaken the horizontal stretch of the peninsula for an island and turned north without trying to sail around it.

For Columbus this so-called island nonetheless represented an astounding discovery he believed it to be the doorway to the Earthly Paradise often cited in the Bible, in tales of antiquity, and in the medieval literature he knew so well.

His initial landing on the beautiful island of Trinidad was also one of the important discoveries of his third voyage. It had prompted the sensation that he was in this divine territory the land and sea in this region appeared to swell in height somewhat “like a woman’s breast,” he observed. Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi and Sir John Mandeville’s Travels , two books that had stirred Columbus’s imagination, claimed that the lands of the Earthly Paradise would swell almost to the height of the moon. Surely, then, Columbus was skirting the shores of Eden. If this was not Paradise, how could he account for the mysterious torrent of fresh waters—actually issuing from the delta of the Orinoco River—that mingled with the salt of the Ocean Sea? The Earthly Paradise was believed the locus of a great spring that flowed underground and resurfaced to become the four great rivers of the inhabited world: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Ganges, and the Nile. The admiral would have little success in promoting this idea. Renaissance scholars were abandoning the fable-laden geography of the medieval cosmos.

The admiral’s fortunes reached a nadir when he was arrested on Hispaniola for mismanagement of colonial affairs, by an official sent over to the New World by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. He was without question a poor administrator—by turns weak, stubborn, and horrifyingly ruthless. Yet few could have satisfactorily handled the crises that were continually arising as part of Spain’s conquest of the New World. There were rebellions and near rebellions among the hundreds of Spaniards cut off from their families and the comforts of their homeland, and the greed for gold drove them to break up into factions and to savagely abuse the natives. Columbus was returned to Spain in October 1500 in chains, along with his brothers, Bartolomeo and Diego, who had been given a large measure of authority in colonial affairs.

Thus the explorer’s third search for the splendors of Cathay in the name of the Spanish monarchs met its ignominious end.

It was a voyage that, indeed, appeared to have been ill fated from the start. It had begun with none of the excitement of the first and certainly little of the grandeur of the second. Columbus’s insistence on the magical reality of the Earthly Paradise struck his contemporaries as little more than the imaginings of a man obsessed with the idea that he was an agent of divine providence.

24. HOW DID COLUMBUS PERSUADE ANYONE TO LET HIM MAKE A FOURTH VOYAGE?

“In Spain they judge me,” he complained, “as if I had been governor of Sicily or of a province or city under an established government, and where the laws can be observed without fear of chaos. This is most unjust. I should be judged as a captain sent from Spain to the Indies to conquer a numerous and warlike people.”

Eventually the admiral was vindicated by the Spanish court, but the psychological damage to the infirm and aging man was profound. Now, more than ever, he wanted to seize those elusive riches, and this time he insisted that the wealth lay beyond a strait that led directly to the Indian Ocean. He proposed to find the strait.

Permission was long in coming, and humiliating when it arrived. The admiral would be accompanied by an official comptroller who was to keep a strict inventory of the gold, silver, pearls, and spicery that Columbus had long dangled before the imagination of the Spanish court, and the explorer would be under the jurisdiction of a Spanish governor whom the king and queen had appointed to replace him in the New World.

Thus began a gloomy voyage in a modest fleet of four caravels. He sailed past islands already discovered but found no strait. He believed—correctly—that he was on an isthmus between the waters but had neither the men nor the supplies to push through the jungles that separated him from becoming the discoverer of the Pacific.

His ships began to disintegrate. Two had to be abandoned. The admiral was frequently delirious, his men explosively dissatisfied. “What with the heat and dampness,” wrote Columbus’s fourteen-year-old son, Ferdinand, “our ship biscuit had become so wormy that, God help me, I saw many who waited for darkness to eat the porridge made of it, that they might not see the maggots.”

In the holds of his rotting vessels, captive natives committed suicide by hanging themselves from the low beams overhead, bending their knees in the cramped space to assure their death.

So ended the final voyage of Christopher Columbus.

25. WHAT SORT OF MAN WAS HE?

It would be foolish to conjure up Columbus as a dashing, brilliant seaman or even as a bold and enlightened explorer. He certainly was a great sailor, and his successful crossing of the Ocean Sea was an unparalleled feat of navigation. Yet very little comes through from the scant information we have on Columbus the man, or from his own writings, to suggest that he was the swashbuckling, decisive, and gallant Renaissance figure often portrayed in schoolbooks.

He was, rather, contained, inflexible, and high-minded. He was also capable of ruthlessness and extreme cruelty. That he was imaginative and intrepid there can be no doubt. And although he proved a weak and fumbling administrator, we do gain the sense of a magnetic personality: he was able to wed a woman who was by far his social superior, and he won the compassionate support of Queen Isabella for an enterprise that was decidedly risky. Like all those held up to heroic stature, he had that admirable mix of courage, single-mindedness, and zeal that saw him through overwhelming obstacles.

But if there was a single key to his character, it was his intense religiosity. Columbus had a fundamental belief in the Bible and a sense of destiny that was clearly messianic.

When he invoked mystical cosmology, the Bible, ancient legends, and empirical fact to authenticate his ideas, he gave no more weight to science than to prophecy. “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John … and he showed me the spot where to find it,” he wrote, after having taken his little fleet across a forbidding sea on that first epochal voyage. Such a statement helps us understand the Genoese explorer as a figure in transition from the medieval world, with its roots in the real and the unreal, to that of the boldly questioning Renaissance.

26. WHAT DID HIS WORLD MAKE OF WHAT HE FOUND?

The voyages of discovery by Columbus and his followers provoked predictable excitement, yet for decades there was little understanding of the magnitude of what had transpired. Renaissance Europe had been guided by maps on which North America and South America were nonexistent they did not suddenly jump into place. Scholars, merchants, and ecclesiastics found it inconceivable that the small islands first sighted by Columbus were not disconnected, negligible interruptions on the way to the Orient but part of a new land mass. Geographers worried that the astonishing disclosure of an undetected hemisphere would discredit traditional cosmography, built as it was on the precepts of classical antiquity and closely tied to biblical beliefs. That general bafflement prevailed is evident in the prelude to Sir Thomas More’s Utopia , in which the author remarks with a palpable sigh: “Nowadays countries are always being discovered which were never mentioned in the old geography books.” The process by which the Old World adjusted was slow, erratic, and frequently brutal. Acquisitiveness was stirred by the apparent sudden availability of silver and gold and the possibilities for territorial expansion further, the New World’s populations were viewed as the opportunity for mass conversions to Christianity. There was as much caution as curiosity, but the desire to know and the desire to convert were passionate forces in the Renaissance, and they ensured that the ultimate response of Christendom to what was once the dark side of the earth would be vigorous and decisive. Indeed, Europe could accept the New World only by imposing its dominion over it.


Contents

Many Europeans of Columbus's day assumed that a single, uninterrupted ocean surrounded Europe and Asia, although Norse explorers had colonized areas of North America beginning with Greenland c. 986 . [1] [2] The Norse maintained a presence in North America for hundreds of years, during which some degree of contact with Europe was maintained. This had ceased by the early 15th century. [3] [4] [5]

Until the mid-15th century, Europe enjoyed a safe land passage to China and India—sources of valued goods such as silk, spices, and opiates—under the hegemony of the Mongol Empire (the Pax Mongolica, or Mongol Peace). With the Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453, the land route to Asia (the Silk Road) became more difficult as Christian traders were prohibited. [6]

Portugal was the main European power interested in pursuing trade routes overseas, with the neighboring kingdom of Castile—predecessor to Spain—having been somewhat slower to begin exploring the Atlantic because of the land area it had to reconquer from the Moors during the Reconquista. This remained unchanged until the late 15th century, following the dynastic union by marriage of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon (together known as the Catholic Monarchs of Spain) in 1469, and the completion of the Reconquista in 1492, when the joint rulers conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada, which had been providing Castile with African goods through tribute. The fledgling Spanish Empire decided to fund Columbus's expedition in hopes of finding new trade routes and circumventing the lock Portugal had secured on Africa and the Indian Ocean with the 1481 papal bull Aeterni regis. [7]

Navigation plans Edit

In response to the need for a new route to Asia, by the 1480s, Christopher and his brother Bartholomew had developed a plan to travel to the Indies (then construed roughly as all of southern and eastern Asia) by sailing directly west across what was believed to be the singular "Ocean Sea," the Atlantic Ocean. By about 1481, Florentine cosmographer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli sent Columbus a map depicting such a route, with no intermediary landmass other than the mythical island of Antillia. [8] In 1484 on the island of La Gomera in the Canaries, then undergoing conquest by Castile, Columbus heard from some inhabitants of El Hierro that there was supposed to be a group of islands to the west. [9]

A popular misconception that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because Europeans thought the Earth was flat can be traced back to a 17th-century campaign of Protestants against Catholicism, [10] and was popularized in works such as Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus. [11] In fact, the knowledge that the Earth is spherical was widespread, having been the general opinion of Ancient Greek science, and gaining support throughout the Middle Ages (for example, Bede mentions it in The Reckoning of Time). The primitive maritime navigation of Columbus's time relied on both the stars and the curvature of the Earth. [12] [13]

Diameter of Earth and travel distance estimates Edit

Eratosthenes had measured the diameter of the Earth with good precision in the 2nd century BC, [14] and the means of calculating its diameter using an astrolabe was known to both scholars and navigators. [12] Where Columbus differed from the generally accepted view of his time was in his incorrect assumption of a significantly smaller diameter for the Earth, claiming that Asia could be easily reached by sailing west across the Atlantic. Most scholars accepted Ptolemy's correct assessment that the terrestrial landmass (for Europeans of the time, comprising Eurasia and Africa) occupied 180 degrees of the terrestrial sphere, and dismissed Columbus's claim that the Earth was much smaller, and that Asia was only a few thousand nautical miles to the west of Europe. [15]

Columbus believed the incorrect calculations of Marinus of Tyre, putting the landmass at 225 degrees, leaving only 135 degrees of water. [17] [15] Moreover, Columbus underestimated Alfraganus's calculation of the length of a degree, reading the Arabic astronomer's writings as if, rather than using the Arabic mile (about 1,830 m), he had used the Italian mile (about 1,480 meters). Alfraganus had calculated the length of a degree to be 56⅔ Arabic miles (66.2 nautical miles). [15] Columbus therefore estimated the size of the Earth to be about 75% of Eratosthenes's calculation, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan as 2,400 nautical miles (about 23% of the real figure). [18]

Trade winds Edit

There was a further element of key importance in the plans of Columbus, a closely held fact discovered by or otherwise learned by Columbus: the trade winds. A brisk westward wind from the east, commonly called an "easterly", propelled the ships of the first voyage for five weeks from the Canary Islands off Africa. To return to Spain eastward against this prevailing wind would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique upwind, called beating, during which food and drinkable water would have been utterly exhausted. Columbus returned home by following prevailing winds northeastward from the southern zone of the North Atlantic to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where prevailing winds are eastward (westerly) to the coastlines of Western Europe, where the winds curve southward towards the Iberian Peninsula. So he used the North Atlantic's great circular wind pattern, clockwise in direction, in both legs of his voyage.

Funding campaign Edit

Around 1484, King John II of Portugal submitted Columbus's proposal to his experts, who rejected it on the basis that Columbus's estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 nautical miles was about four times too low (which was accurate). [19]

In 1486, Columbus was granted an audience with the Catholic Monarchs, and he presented his plans to Isabella. She referred these to a committee, which determined that Columbus had grossly underestimated the distance to Asia. Pronouncing the idea impractical, they advised the monarchs not to support the proposed venture. To keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps to keep their options open, the Catholic monarchs gave him an allowance, totaling about 14,000 maravedís for the year, or about the annual salary of a sailor. [20]

In 1488 Columbus again appealed to the court of Portugal, receiving a new invitation for an audience with John II. This again proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal following a successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa. With an eastern sea route now under its control, Portugal was no longer interested in trailblazing a western trade route to Asia crossing unknown seas. [21]

In May 1489, Isabella sent Columbus another 10,000 maravedis, and the same year the Catholic Monarchs furnished him with a letter ordering all cities and towns under their domain to provide him food and lodging at no cost. [22]

As Queen Isabella's forces neared victory over the Moorish Emirate of Granada for Castile, Columbus was summoned to the Spanish court for renewed discussions. [23] He waited at King Ferdinand's camp until January 1492, when the monarchs conquered Granada. A council led by Isabella's confessor, Hernando de Talavera, found Columbus's proposal to reach the Indies implausible. Columbus had left for France when Ferdinand intervened, [a] first sending Talavera and Bishop Diego Deza to appeal to the queen. [24] Isabella was finally convinced by the king's clerk Luis de Santángel, who argued that Columbus would bring his ideas elsewhere, and offered to help arrange the funding. [b] Isabella then sent a royal guard to fetch Columbus, who had travelled several kilometers toward Córdoba. [24]

In the April 1492 "Capitulations of Santa Fe", Columbus was promised he would be given the title "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" and appointed viceroy and governor of the newly claimed and colonised for the Crown he would also receive ten percent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity if he was successful. [26] He had the right to nominate three people, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. The terms were unusually generous but, as his son later wrote, the monarchs were not confident of his return.

For his westward voyage to find a shorter route to the Orient, Columbus and his crew took three medium-sized ships, the largest of which was a carrack (Spanish: nao), the Santa María, which was owned and captained by Juan de la Cosa, and under Columbus's direct command. [27] [c] The other two were smaller caravels the name of one is lost, but is known by the Castilian nickname Pinta ('painted one'). The other, the Santa Clara, was nicknamed the Niña ('girl'), perhaps in reference to her owner, Juan Niño of Moguer. [28] The Pinta and the Niña were piloted by the Pinzón brothers (Martín Alonso and Vicente Yáñez, respectively). [27] On the morning of 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera, going down the Rio Tinto and into the Atlantic. [29] [30]

The Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María

A conjectural replica of the Niña

Three days into the journey, on 6 August 1492, the rudder of the Pinta broke. [31] Martín Alonso Pinzón suspected the owners of the ship of sabotage, as they were afraid to go on the journey. The crew was able to secure the rudder with ropes until they could reach the Canary Islands, where they arrived on 9 August. [32] The Pinta had its rudder replaced on the island of Gran Canaria, and by September 2 the ships rendezvoused at La Gomera, where the Niña ' s lateen sails were re-rigged to standard square sails. [33] Final provisions were secured, and on 6 September the ships departed San Sebastián de La Gomera [33] [34] for what turned out to be a five-week-long westward voyage across the Atlantic.

As described in the abstract of his journal made by Bartolomé de las Casas, on the outward bound voyage Columbus recorded two sets of distances: one was in measurements he normally used, the other in the Portuguese maritime leagues used by his crew. Las Casas originally interpreted that he reported the shorter distances to his crew so they would not worry about sailing too far from Spain, but Oliver Dunn and James Kelley state that this was a misunderstanding. [35]

On 13 September 1492, Columbus observed that the needle of his compass no longer pointed to the North Star. It was once believed that Columbus had discovered magnetic declination, but it was later shown that the phenomenon was already known, both in Europe and in China. [36] [d]

Discovery of the Americas Edit

After 29 days out of sight of land, on 7 October 1492, the crew spotted "[i]mmense flocks of birds", some of which his sailors trapped and determined to be "field" birds (probably Eskimo curlews and American golden plovers). Columbus changed course to follow their flight. [40]

On 11 October, Columbus changed the fleet's course to due west, and sailed through the night, believing land was soon to be found. At around 10:00 in the evening, Columbus thought he saw a light "like a little wax candle rising and falling". [41] [f] Four hours later, land was sighted by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodríguez Bermejo) aboard La Pinta. [42] [g] Triana immediately alerted the rest of the crew with a shout, and the ship's captain, Martín Alonso Pinzón, verified the land sighting and alerted Columbus by firing a lombard. [43] [h] Columbus would later assert that he had first seen land, thus earning the promised annual reward of 10,000 maravedís. [44] [45]

Columbus called this island San Salvador, in the present-day Bahamas or Turks and Caicos the indigenous residents had named it Guanahani. [46] According to Samuel Eliot Morison, San Salvador Island [i] is the only island fitting the position indicated by Columbus's journal. [39] [j] Columbus wrote of the natives he first encountered in his journal entry of 12 October 1492:

Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language. [48]

Columbus called the indigenous Americans indios (Spanish for "Indians") [49] [50] [51] in the delusion that he had reached the East Indies [52] the islands of the Caribbean are termed the West Indies after this error. Columbus initially encountered the Lucayan, Taíno, and Arawak peoples. [k] Noting their gold ear ornaments, Columbus took some of the Arawaks prisoner and insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. [54] Columbus noted that their primitive weapons and military tactics made the natives susceptible to easy conquest. [l]

Columbus observed the people and their cultural lifestyle. He also explored the northeast coast of Cuba, landing on 28 October 1492, and the north-western coast of Hispaniola, present day Haiti, by 5 December 1492. Here, the Santa Maria ran aground on Christmas Day, 25 December 1492, and had to be abandoned. Columbus was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus left 39 men, including the interpreter Luis de Torres, [55] [m] and founded the settlement of La Navidad. [56] He kept sailing along the northern coast of Hispaniola with a single ship, until he encountered Pinzón and the Pinta on 6 January.

On 13 January 1493, Columbus made his last stop of this voyage in the Americas, in the Bay of Rincón at the eastern end of the Samaná Peninsula in northeast Hispaniola. [57] There he encountered the Ciguayos, the only natives who offered violent resistance during his first voyage to the Americas. [58] The Ciguayos refused to trade the amount of bows and arrows that Columbus desired in the ensuing clash one Ciguayo was stabbed in the buttocks and another wounded with an arrow in his chest. [59] Because of this and because of the Ciguayos' use of arrows, he called the inlet where he met them the Bay of Arrows (or Gulf of Arrows). [60] On 16 January 1493, the homeward journey was begun. [61]

Four natives who boarded the Niña at Samaná Peninsula told Columbus of what was interpreted as the Isla de Carib (probably Puerto Rico), which was supposed to be populated by cannibalistic Caribs, as well as Matinino, an island populated only by women, which Columbus associated with an island in the Indian Ocean that Marco Polo had described. [62]

First return Edit

While returning to Spain, the Niña and Pinta encountered the roughest storm of their journey, and, on the night of 13 February, lost contact with each other. All hands on the Niña vowed, if they were spared, to make a pilgrimage to the nearest church of Our Lady wherever they first made land. On the morning of 15 February, land was spotted. Columbus believed they were approaching the Azores Islands, but other members of the crew felt that they were considerably north of the islands. Columbus turned out to be right. On the night of 17 February, the Niña laid anchor at Santa Maria Island, but the cable broke on sharp rocks, forcing Columbus to stay offshore until the morning, when a safer location was found to drop anchor nearby. A few sailors took a boat to the island, where they were told by several islanders of a still safer place to land, so the Niña moved once again. At this spot, Columbus took on board several islanders who had gathered onshore with food, and told them that his crew wished to come ashore to fulfill their vow. The islanders told him that a small shrine dedicated to Our Lady was nearby. [63]

Columbus sent half of the crew members to the island to fulfill their vow, but he and the rest of the crew stayed on the Niña, planning to send the other half to the island upon the return of the first crew members. While the first crew members were saying their prayers at the shrine, they were taken prisoner by the islanders, under orders from the island's captain, João de Castanheira, ostensibly out of fear that the men were pirates. The boat that the crew members had taken to the island was then commandeered by Castanheira, which he took with several armed men to the Niña, in an attempt to arrest Columbus. During a verbal battle across the bows of both craft, during which Columbus did not grant permission for him to come aboard, Castanheira announced that he did not believe or care who Columbus said that he was, especially if he was indeed from Spain. Castanheira returned to the island. However, after another two days, Castanheira released the prisoners, having been unable to get confessions from them, and having been unable to capture his real target, Columbus. There are later claims that Columbus was also captured, but this is not backed up by Columbus's log book. [63]

Leaving the island of Santa Maria in the Azores on 23 February, Columbus headed for Castilian Spain, but another storm forced him into Lisbon. He anchored next to the king's harbor patrol ship on 4 March 1493, where he was told a fleet of 100 caravels had been lost in the storm. Astoundingly, both the Niña and the Pinta had been spared. Not finding King John II of Portugal in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a letter to him and waited for the king's reply. After receiving the letter, the king agreed to meet with Columbus in Vale do Paraíso despite poor relations between Portugal and Castile at the time. Upon learning of Columbus's discoveries, the Portuguese king informed him that he believed the voyage to be in violation of the 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas. After spending more than a week in Portugal, Columbus set sail for Spain. Columbus met with Ferdinand and Isabella in Barcelona on 15 March 1493 to report his findings. [n]

Columbus showed off what he had brought back from his voyage to the monarchs, including a few small samples of gold, pearls, gold jewelry from the natives, a few Taíno he had kidnapped, flowers, and a hammock. He gave the monarchs a few of the gold nuggets, gold jewelry, and pearls, as well as the previously unknown tobacco plant, the pineapple fruit, the turkey, and the hammock. The monarchs invited Columbus to dine with them. [o] He did not bring any of the coveted East Indies spices, such as the exceedingly expensive black pepper, ginger or cloves. In his log, he wrote "there is also plenty of 'ají', which is their pepper, which is more valuable than black pepper, and all the people eat nothing else, it being very wholesome". [64] [p]

Upon first landing in the Americas, Columbus had written to the monarchs offering to enslave some of the indigenous Americans. [l] While the Caribs may have met the sovereign's requirements for such treatment on the grounds of their cannibalism and aggressiveness towards the peaceful Taíno, Columbus had yet to meet them and only brought Taínos before the sovereigns. [65] In Columbus's letter on the first voyage, addressed to the Spanish court, he insisted he had reached Asia, describing the island of Hispaniola as being off the coast of China. He emphasized the potential riches of the land and that the natives seemed ready to convert to Christianity. [66] The descriptions in this letter, which was translated into multiple languages and widely distributed, [67] were idealized, particularly regarding the supposed abundance of gold:

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful . the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals. [68]

Upon Columbus's return, most people initially accepted that he had reached the East Indies, including the sovereigns and Pope Alexander VI, [52] though in a letter to the Vatican dated 1 November 1493, the historian Peter Martyr described Columbus as the discoverer of a Novi Orbis ('New Globe'). [69] The pope issued four bulls (the first three of which are collectively known as the Bulls of Donation), to determine how Spain and Portugal would colonize and divide the spoils of the new lands. Inter caetera, issued 4 May 1493, divided the world outside Europe between Spain and Portugal along a north–south meridian 100 leagues west of either the Azores or Cape Verde Islands in the mid-Atlantic, thus granting Spain all the land discovered by Columbus. [70] The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, ratified the next decade by Pope Julius II, moved the dividing line to 370 leagues west of the Azores or Cape Verde. [71]

The stated purpose of the second voyage was to convert the indigenous Americans to Christianity. Before Columbus left Spain, he was directed by Ferdinand and Isabella to maintain friendly, even loving, relations with the natives. [73] He set sail from Cádiz, Spain, on 25 September 1493. [74]

The fleet for the second voyage was much larger: two naos and 15 caravels. The two naos were the flagship Marigalante ("Gallant Mary") [r] and the Gallega the caravels were the Fraila ("The Nun"), San Juan, Colina ("The Hill"), Gallarda ("The Gallant"), Gutierre, Bonial, Rodriga, Triana, Vieja ("The Old"), Prieta ("The Brown"), Gorda ("The Fat"), Cardera, and Quintera. [75] The Niña returned for this expedition, which also included a ship named Pinta probably identical to that from the first expedition. In addition, the expedition saw the construction of the first ship in the Americas, the Santa Cruz or India. [76]

Caribbean exploration Edit

On 3 November 1493, Christopher Columbus landed on a rugged shore on an island that he named Dominica. On the same day, he landed at Marie-Galante, which he named Santa María la Galante. After sailing past Les Saintes (Todos los Santos), he arrived at Guadeloupe (Santa María de Guadalupe), which he explored between 4 November and 10 November 1493. The exact course of his voyage through the Lesser Antilles is debated, but it seems likely that he turned north, sighting and naming many islands including Santa María de Montserrat (Montserrat), Santa María la Antigua (Antigua), Santa María la Redonda (Saint Martin), and Santa Cruz (Saint Croix, on 14 November). [77] He also sighted and named the island chain of the Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (the Virgin Islands), and named the islands of Virgen Gorda.

On Santa Cruz, the Europeans saw a canoe with a few Carib men and two women. They had two male captives, and had recently castrated them. The Europeans pursued them, and were met with arrows from both the men and women, [78] fatally wounding at least one man, who perished about a week later. [79] The Europeans either killed or captured all of the canoe's inhabitants, putting one to death by beheading. [80] Another was thrown overboard, and when he was spotted crawling away holding his entrails, the Arawaks recommended he be recaptured so he would not alert his tribe he was thrown overboard again, and then had to be shot down with arrows. [78] [s] Columbus's childhood friend Michele da Cuneo—according to his own account—took one of the women in the skirmish, whom Columbus let him keep as a slave Cuneo subsequently beat and raped her. [80] [78] [t] [u]

The fleet continued to the Greater Antilles, and landed on the island of San Juan Bautista, present-day Puerto Rico, on 19 November 1493. Diego Álvarez Chanca recounts that on this island, the Europeans rescued some women from a group of at least 20 that the local Caribs had been keeping as sex slaves. The women explained that any male captives were eaten, and that their own male offspring were castrated and made to serve the Caribs until they were old enough to be considered good to eat. The Europeans rescued three of these boys. [83]

Hispaniola and Jamaica Edit

On 22 November, Columbus sailed from San Juan Bautista to Hispaniola. The next morning, a native taken during the first voyage was returned to Samaná Bay. [79] The fleet sailed about 170 miles over two days, and at Monte Cristi, decomposing bodies of four men were discovered one had a beard implying he had been a Spaniard. [84] On the night of 27 November, cannons and flares were ignited in an attempt to signal La Navidad, but there was no response. A canoe party led by a cousin of Guacanagari presented Columbus with two golden masks and told him that Guacanagarix had been injured by another chief, Caonabo, and that except for some Spanish casualties resulting from sickness and quarrel, the rest of his men were well. [84] The next day, the Spanish fleet discovered the burnt remains of the Navidad fortress, and Guacanagari's cousin admitted that the Europeans had been wiped out by Caonabo. [85] Other natives showed the Spaniards some of the bodies, and said that they had "taken three or four women apiece". [85] While some suspicion was placed on Guacanagari, it gradually emerged that two of the Spaniards had formed a murderous gang in search of gold and women, prompting Caonabo's wrath. [86] The fleet then fought the winds, traveling only 32 miles over 25 days, and arriving at a plain on the north coast of Hispaniola on 2 January 1494. There, they established the settlement of La Isabela. [87] Columbus spent some time exploring the interior of the island for gold. Finding some, he established a small fort in the interior.

Columbus left Hispaniola on 24 April 1494, and arrived at the island of Cuba (which he had named Juana during his first voyage) on 30 April and Discovery Bay, Jamaica, on 5 May. He explored the south coast of Cuba, which he believed to be a peninsula of China rather than an island, and several nearby islands including La Evangelista (the Isle of Youth), before returning to Hispaniola on 20 August.

Slavery, settlers, and tribute Edit

Columbus had planned for Queen Isabella to set up trading posts with the cities of the Far East made famous by Marco Polo, but whose Silk Road and eastern maritime routes had been blockaded to her crown's trade. However, Columbus would never find Cathay (China) or Zipangu (Japan), and there was no longer any Great Khan for trade treaties.

In 1494, Columbus sent Alonso de Ojeda (whom a contemporary described as "always the first to draw blood wherever there was a war or quarrel") to Cibao (where gold was being mined for), [88] which resulted in Ojeda's capturing several natives on an accusation of theft. Ojeda cut the ears off of one native, and sent the others to La Isabela in chains, where Columbus ordered them to be decapitated. [89] During his brief reign, Columbus executed Spanish colonists for minor crimes, and used dismemberment as another form of punishment. [90] By the end of 1494, disease and famine had claimed two-thirds of the Spanish settlers. [91] [92] A native Nahuatl account depicts the social breakdown that accompanied the pandemic: "A great many died from this plague, and many others died of hunger. They could not get up to search for food, and everyone else was too sick to care for them, so they starved to death in their beds." [93]

By 1494, Columbus had shared his viceroyship with one of his military officers named Margarit, ordering him to prioritize Christianizing the natives, but that part of their noses and ears should be cut off for stealing. Margarit's men exploited the natives by beating, raping and enslaving them, with none on Hispaniola being baptized for another two years. Columbus's brother Diego warned Margarit to follow the admiral's orders, which provoked him to take three caravels back to Spain. Fray Buil, who was supposed to perform baptisms, accompanied Margarit. After arriving in Spain in late 1494, Buil complained to the Spanish court of the Columbus brothers and that there was no gold. Groups of Margarit's soldiers who remained in the west continued brutalizing the natives. Instead of forbidding this, Columbus participated in enslaving the indigenous people. [94] In February 1495, he took over 1,500 Arawaks, some of whom had rebelled against the oppression of the colonists, [54] [95] and many of whom were subsequently released or taken by the Caribs. [96] That month, Columbus shipped approximately 500 of these Americans to Spain to be sold as slaves about 40% died en route, [54] [95] and half of the rest were sick upon arrival. In June of that year, the Spanish crown sent ships and supplies to the colony on Hispaniola, which Florentine merchant Gianotto Berardi had helped procure. [97] [v] In October, Berardi received almost 40,000 maravedís worth of slaves, who were alleged to be either cannibals or prisoners. [97] [w]

The natives of Hispaniola were systematically subjugated via the encomienda system Columbus implemented. [99] Adapted from Spain, it resembled the feudal system in Medieval Europe, as it was based on a lord offering "protection" to a class of people who owed labor. [100] In addition, Spanish colonists under Columbus's rule began to buy and sell natives as slaves, including children. [101] Columbus's forced labor system was described by his son Ferdinand: "In the Cibao, where the gold mines were, every person of fourteen years of age or upward was to pay a large hawk's bell of gold dust [x] all others were each to pay 25 pounds of cotton. Whenever an Indian delivered his tribute, he was to receive a brass or copper token which he must wear about his neck as proof that he had made his payment any Indian found without such a token was to be punished." [88] The monarchs, who suggested the tokens, called for a light punishment, [102] but any Indian found without a copper token had their hands cut off, which was a likely death sentence. [68] Since there was no abundance of gold on the island, the natives had no chance of meeting Columbus's quota and thousands are reported to have committed suicide. [103] By 1497, the tribute system had all but collapsed. [104]

Columbus became ill in 1495, and during this time, his troops acted out of order, enacting cruelties on the natives, including torturing them to learn where the supposed gold was. [105] When he recovered, he led men and dogs to hunt down natives who fled their forced duties, killing them or cutting off their hands as a warning to others. [106] Brutalities and murders were carried out even against natives who were sick and unarmed. [106]

The Spanish fleet departed La Isabela on 10 March 1496. [107] Again set back by unfavorable trade winds, supplies began to ran low on 10 April, Columbus requested food from the natives of Guadeloupe. Upon going ashore, the Spaniards were ambushed by arrows in response, they destroyed some huts. They then held a group of 13 native women and children hostage to force a sale of cassava. [108] The Niña and India left Guadeloupe on 20 April. On 8 June, the fleeted landed at Portugal, near Odemira, and returned to Spain via the Bay of Cádiz on 11 June. [109]

According to the abstract of Columbus's journal made by Bartolomé de Las Casas, the objective of the third voyage was to verify the existence of a continent that King John II of Portugal suggested was located to the southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. King John reportedly knew of the existence of such a mainland because "canoes had been found which set out from the coast of Guinea [West Africa] and sailed to the west with merchandise." [110] [111] Italian explorer John Cabot had already reached the mainland in June 1497. [112]

On 30 May 1498, Columbus left with six ships from Sanlúcar, Spain, for his third trip to the Americas. Three of the ships headed directly for Hispaniola with much-needed supplies, while Columbus took the other three in an exploration of what might lie to the south of the Caribbean islands he had already visited, including a hoped-for passage to continental Asia. [113] Columbus led his fleet to the Portuguese island of Porto Santo, his wife's native land. He then sailed to Madeira and spent some time there with the Portuguese captain João Gonçalves da Camara, before sailing to the Canary Islands and Cape Verde.

On 13 July, Columbus's fleet entered the doldrums of the mid-Atlantic, where they were becalmed for several days, the heat doing damage to their ships, food, and water supply. [114] An easterly wind finally propelled them westwards, which was maintained until 22 July, when birds flying from southwest to northeast were sighted, and the fleet turned north in the direction of Dominica. [115] The men sighted the land of Trinidad on 31 July, approaching from the southeast. [116] The fleet sailed along the southern coast and entered Dragon's Mouth, anchoring near Soldado Rock (west of Icacos Point, Trinidad's southwesternmost point) where they made contact with a group of Amerindians in canoes. [117] [y] On 1 August, Columbus and his men arrived at a landmass near the mouth of South America's Orinoco river, in the region of modern-day Venezuela. Columbus recognized from the topography that it must be the continent's mainland, but while describing it as an otro mundo ('other world'), [118] retained the belief that it was Asia—and perhaps an Earthly Paradise. [119] On 2 August, they landed at Icacos Point (which Columbus named Punta de Arenal), narrowly avoiding a violent encounter with the natives. [120] Early on 4 August, a tsunami nearly capsized Columbus's ship. [121] The men sailed across the Gulf of Paria, and on 5 August, landed on the mainland of South America at the Paria Peninsula. [122] Columbus, suffering from a monthlong bout of insomnia and impaired vision from his bloodshot eyes, authorized the other fleet captains to go ashore first: one planted a cross, and the other recorded that Columbus subsequently landed to formally take the province for Spain. They sailed further west, where the sight of pearls compelled Columbus to send men to obtain some, if not gold. The natives provided nourishment including a maize wine, new to Columbus. Compelled to reach Hispaniola before the food aboard his ship spoiled, Columbus was disappointed to discover that they had sailed into a gulf, and while they had obtained fresh water, they had to go back east to reach open waters again. [123]

At sea, Columbus observed that the North Star is not fixed, then, making observations with a quadrant, "regularly saw the plumb line fall to the same point," instead of moving respectively to his ship. He divined that he had discovered the entrance to Heaven, from which Earth's waters extend, the planet forming a pear shape with the insurmountable "stalk" portion of the pear pointing towards Heaven. [124] He then sailed to the islands of Chacachacare and Margarita (reaching the latter on 14 August), [125] and sighted Tobago (which he named "Bella Forma") and Grenada (which he named "Concepción"). [126]

In poor health, Columbus returned to Hispaniola on 19 August, only to find that many of the Spanish settlers of the new colony were in rebellion against his rule, claiming that Columbus had misled them about the supposedly bountiful riches they expected to find. A number of returning settlers and sailors lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish court, accusing him and his brothers of gross mismanagement. Columbus had some of his crew hanged for disobedience. He had an economic interest in the enslavement of the Hispaniola natives and for that reason was not eager to baptize them, which attracted criticism from some churchmen. [127] An entry in his journal from September 1498 reads: "From here one might send, in the name of the Holy Trinity, as many slaves as could be sold . " [128]

Columbus was eventually forced to make peace with the rebellious colonists on humiliating terms. [129] In 1500, the Crown had him removed as governor, arrested, and transported in chains to Spain. He was eventually freed and allowed to return to the Americas, but not as governor. [130] As an added insult, in 1499, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama returned from his first voyage to India, having sailed east around the southern tip of Africa—unlocking a sea route to Asia. [131]

Governorship Edit

Colonist rebellions Edit

After his second journey, Columbus had requested that 330 people be sent to stay permanently (though voluntarily) on Hispaniola, all on the king's pay. Specifically, he asked for 100 men to work as wood men soldiers and laborers, 50 farmers, 40 squires, 30 sailors, 30 cabin boys, 20 goldsmiths, 10 gardeners, 20 handymen, and 30 women. In addition to this, plans were made to maintain friars and clergymen, a physician, a pharmacist, an herbalist, and musicians for entertaining the colonists. Fearing that the king was going to restrict money allotted for wages, Columbus suggested that Spanish criminals be pardoned in exchange for a few years unpaid service in Hispaniola, and the King agreed to this. A pardon for the death penalty would require two years of service, and one year of service was required for lesser crimes. They also instructed that those who had been sentenced to exile would also be redirected to be exiled in Hispaniola. [132]

These new colonists were sent directly to Hispaniola in three ships with supplies, while Columbus was taking an alternate route with the other three ships to explore. As these new Colonists arrived on Hispaniola, a rebellion was brewing under Francisco Roldán (a man Columbus had left as chief mayor, under his brothers Diego and Bartolomew). By the time Columbus arrived on Hispaniola, Roldán held the territory of Xaraguá, and some of the new colonists had joined his rebellion. Over months, Columbus tried negotiating with the rebels. At some point in these negotiations Columbus ordered Adrián de Mújica, Roldán's partner in rebellion, to be hanged. [ citation needed ] Eventually, though, he capitulated to much of the Roldán's demands. Several other revolts broke out after that, but Roldán, now restored as mayor, took part in putting them down, and tried and hanged one of the ringleaders, Adrián de Mújica. [133] [ contradictory ]

During Columbus's term as viceroy and governor of the Indies, he had been accused of governing tyrannically, called "the tyrant of the Caribbean". [ citation needed ] Columbus was physically and mentally exhausted his body was wracked by arthritis and his eyes by ophthalmia. In October 1499, he sent two ships to Spain, asking the Court of Castile to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern. On 3 February 1500, he returned to Santo Domingo with plans to sail back to Spain to defend himself from the accounts of the rebels. [134]

Bobadilla's inquiry Edit

The sovereigns gave Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava, complete control as governor in the Americas. Bobadilla arrived in Santo Domingo in August 1500, where Diego was overseeing the execution of rebels, while Columbus was suppressing a revolt at Grenada. [135] [z] Bobadilla immediately received many serious complaints about all three Columbus brothers, including that "seven Spanish men had been hanged that week," with another five awaiting execution. [136] [aa] Bobadilla had orders to find out "which persons were the ones who rose up against the admiral and our justice and for what cause and reason, and what . damage they have done," then "detain those whom you find guilty . and confiscate their goods." [138] The crown's command regarding Columbus dictated that the admiral must relinquish all control of the colonies, keeping only his personal wealth. [138]

Bobadilla used force to prevent the execution of several prisoners, and subsequently took charge of Columbus's possessions, including papers which he would have used to defend himself in Spain. [139] Bobadilla suspended the tribute system for a twenty-year period, then summoned the admiral. In early October 1500, Columbus and Diego presented themselves to Bobadilla, and were put in chains aboard La Gorda, Columbus's own ship. [140] Only the ship's cook was willing to put the shamed admiral in chains. [141] Bobadilla took much of Columbus's gold and other treasures. [140] Ferdinand Columbus recorded that the governor took "testimony from their open enemies, the rebels, and even showing open favor," and auctioned off some of his father's possessions "for one third of their value." [142]

Bobadilla's inquiry produced testimony that Columbus forced priests not to baptize natives without his express permission, so he could first decide whether or not they should be sold into slavery. He allegedly captured a tribe of 300 under Roldán's protection to be sold into slavery, and informed other Christians that half of the indigenous servants should be yielded to him. [143] Further, he allegedly ordered at least 12 Spaniards to be whipped and tied by the neck and feet for trading gold for something to eat without his permission. Other allegations include that he: ordered a woman to be whipped naked on the back of a donkey for lying that she was pregnant, had a woman's tongue cut out for seeming to insult him and his brothers, cut a Spaniard's throat for being homosexual, ordered Christians to be hung for stealing bread, ordered a cabin boy's hand cut off and posted publicly for using a trap to catch a fish, and ordered for a man to have his nose and ears cut off, as well as to be whipped, shackled, and banished. Multiple culprits were given a potentially fatal 100 lashes, sometimes while naked. Some fifty men starved to death on La Isabela because of tight control over the ship's rations, despite there being an abundance. [144]

Trial in Spain Edit

A number of returned settlers and friars lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish court, accusing him of mismanagement. By his own request, Columbus remained in chains during the entire voyage home. [141] [ab] Once in Cádiz, a grieving Columbus wrote to a friend at court:

It is now seventeen years since I came to serve these princes with the Enterprise of the Indies. They made me pass eight of them in discussion, and at the end rejected it as a thing of jest. Nevertheless I persisted therein. Over there I have placed under their sovereignty more land than there is in Africa and Europe, and more than 1,700 islands. In seven years I, by the divine will, made that conquest. At a time when I was entitled to expect rewards and retirement, I was incontinently arrested and sent home loaded with chains. The accusation was brought out of malice on the basis of charges made by civilians who had revolted and wished to take possession on the land. I beg your graces, with the zeal of faithful Christians in whom their Highnesses have confidence, to read all my papers, and to consider how I, who came from so far to serve these princes. now at the end of my days have been despoiled of my honor and my property without cause, wherein is neither justice nor mercy. [145]

Columbus and his brothers were jailed for six weeks before the busy King Ferdinand ordered them released. On 12 December 1500, the king and queen summoned the Columbus brothers to their presence at the Alhambra palace in Granada. With his chains at last removed, Columbus wore shortened sleeves so the marks on his skin would be visible. [141] At the palace, the royal couple heard the brothers' pleas Columbus was brought to tears as he admitted his faults and begged for forgiveness. Their freedom was restored. On 3 September 1501, the door was firmly shut on Columbus's role as governor. From that point forward, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres was to be the new governor of the Indies, although Columbus retained the titles of admiral and viceroy. A royal mandate dated 27 September ordered Bobadilla to return Columbus's possessions. [147] [ac]

After much persuasion, the sovereigns agreed to fund Columbus's fourth voyage. It would be his final chance to prove himself and become the first man ever to circumnavigate the world. Columbus's goal was to find the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean. [148] On 14 March 1502, Columbus started his fourth voyage with 147 men and with strict orders from the king and queen which instructed him not to stop at Hispaniola, but only to search for a westward passage to the Indian Ocean mainland. Before he left, Columbus wrote a letter to the Governors of the Bank of Saint George, Genoa, dated at Seville, 2 April 1502. [149] He wrote "Although my body is here my heart is always near you." [150] Accompanied by his stepbrother Bartolomeo, Diego Mendez, and his 13-year-old son Ferdinand, he left Cádiz on 9 May 1502, with his flagship, Capitana, as well as the Gallega, Vizcaína, and Santiago de Palos. [151] They first sailed to Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue the Portuguese soldiers who he heard were under siege by the Moors. [152]

After using the trade winds to cross the Atlantic in a brisk twenty days, on 15 June, they landed at Carbet on the island of Martinique (Martinica). [152] Columbus anticipated that a hurricane was brewing and had a ship that needed to be replaced, so he headed to Hispaniola, despite being forbidden to land there. He arrived at Santo Domingo on June 29, but was denied port, and the new governor refused to listen to his warning of a storm. While Columbus's ships sheltered at the mouth of the Haina River, Governor Bobadilla departed, with Roldán and over US$10 million of Columbus's gold aboard his ship, accompanied by a convoy of 30 other vessels. Columbus's personal gold and other belongings were put on the fragile Aguya, considered the fleet's least seaworthy vessel. The onset of a hurricane drove some ships ashore, with some sinking in the harbor of Santo Domingo Bobadilla's ship is thought to have reached the eastern end of Hispaniola before sinking. About 20 other vessels sunk in the Atlantic, with a total of some 500 people drowning. Three damaged ships made it back to Santo Domingo one of these had Juan de la Cosa and Rodrigo de Bastidas on board. Only the Aguya made it Spain, causing some of Columbus's enemies to accuse him of conjuring the storm. [153] [154]

After the hurricane, Columbus regrouped with his men, and after a brief stop at Jamaica and off the coast of Cuba to replenish, he sailed to modern Central America, arriving at Guanaja [155] (Isla de los Pinos) in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras on 30 July 1502. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants—possibly (but not conclusively) Mayans [156] [ad] —and a large canoe, which was described as "long as a galley" and was filled with cargo. [157] The natives introduced Columbus and his entourage to cacao. [158] Columbus spoke with an elder, and thought he described having seen people with swords and horses (possibly the Spaniards), and that they were "only ten days' journey to the river Ganges". [159] On 14 August, Columbus landed on the mainland of the Americas at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica looking for the passage, before arriving in Almirante Bay, Panama, on 16 October.

In mid-November, Columbus was told by some of the natives that a province called Ciguare "lie just nine days' journey by land to the west", or some 200 miles from his location in Veragua. Here was supposed to be found "gold without limit", "people who wear coral on their heads" who "know of pepper", "do business in fairs and markets", and who were "accustomed to warfare". Columbus would later write to the sovereigns that, according to the natives, "the sea encompasses Ciguare and . it is a journey of ten days to the Ganges River." This could suggest that Columbus knew he had found a unknown continent distinct from Asia. [160] [159]

On 5 December 1502, Columbus and his crew found themselves in a storm unlike any they had ever experienced. In his journal Columbus writes,

For nine days I was as one lost, without hope of life. Eyes never beheld the sea so angry, so high, so covered with foam. The wind not only prevented our progress, but offered no opportunity to run behind any headland for shelter hence we were forced to keep out in this bloody ocean, seething like a pot on a hot fire. Never did the sky look more terrible for one whole day and night it blazed like a furnace, and the lightning broke with such violence that each time I wondered if it had carried off my spars and sails the flashes came with such fury and frightfulness that we all thought that the ship would be blasted. All this time the water never ceased to fall from the sky I do not say it rained, for it was like another deluge. The men were so worn out that they longed for death to end their dreadful suffering. [161]

In Panamá, he learned from the Ngobe of gold and a strait to another ocean. After some exploration, he established a garrison at the mouth of Belén River in January 1503. By 6 April, the garrison he had established captured the local tribe leader El Quibían, who had demanded they not go down [ dubious – discuss ] the Belén River. El Quibían escaped, and returned with an army to attack and repel the Spanish, damaging some of the ships so that one vessel had to be abandoned. Columbus left for Hispaniola on 16 April on 10 May, he sighted the Cayman Islands, naming them "Las Tortugas" after the numerous sea turtles there. [162] His ships next sustained more damage in a storm off the coast of Cuba. [162] Unable to travel any farther, the ships were beached in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on 25 June. [163]

For a year Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica. A Spaniard, Diego Mendez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help from Hispaniola. The island's governor, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, detested Columbus and obstructed all efforts to rescue him and his men. In the meantime, Columbus had to mesmerize the natives in order to prevent being attacked by them and gain their goodwill. He did so by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse for 29 February 1504, using the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus. [164] [165]

In May 1504 a battle took place between men loyal to Columbus and those loyal to the Porras brothers, in which there was a sword fight between Bartholomew Columbus and Francisco de Porras. Bartholomew won against Francisco but he spared his life. In this way, the mutiny ended. Help finally arrived from the governor Ovando, on 29 June, when a caravel sent by Diego Méndez finally appeared on the island. At this time there were 110 members of the expedition alive out of the 147 that sailed from Spain with Columbus. Due to the strong winds, it took the caravel 45 days to reach La Hispaniola. This was a trip that Diego Méndez had previously made in four days in a canoe.

About 38 of the 110 men that survived decided not to board again and stayed in Hispaniola instead of returning to Spain. On 11 September 1504, Christopher Columbus and his son Hernando embarked in a caravel to travel from Hispaniola to Spain, paying their corresponding tickets. They arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on 7 November and from there they traveled to Seville.

The news of Columbus's first voyage set off many other westward explorations by European states, which aimed to profit from trade and colonization. This would instigate a related biological exchange, and trans-Atlantic trade. These events, the effects and consequences of which persist to the present, are sometimes cited as the beginning of the modern era. [166]

Upon first landing in the West, Columbus pondered enslaving the natives, [l] and upon his return broadcast the perceived willingness of the natives to convert to Christianity. [66] Columbus's second voyage saw the first major skirmish between Europeans and Native Americans for five centuries, when the Vikings had come to the Americas. [80] One of the women was captured in the battle by a friend of Columbus, who let him keep her as a slave this man subsequently beat and raped her. [80] [78] [t] [u] In 1503, the Spanish monarchs established the Indian reductions, settlements intended to relocate and exploit the natives. [167]

With the Age of Discovery starting in the 15th century, Europeans explored the world by ocean, searching for particular trade goods, humans to enslave, and trading locations and ports. The most desired trading goods were gold, silver and spices. For the Catholic monarchies of Spain and Portugal, a division of influence of the land discovered by Columbus became necessary to avoid conflict. This was resolved by papal intervention in 1494 when the Treaty of Tordesillas purported to divide the world between the two powers. [71] The Portuguese were to receive everything outside of Europe east of a line that ran 270 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. [71] The Spanish received everything west of this line, territory that was still almost completely unknown, and proved to be primarily the vast majority of the continents of the Americas and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean. In 1500, the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived at a point on the eastern coast of South America on the Portuguese side of the dividing line. This would lead to the Portuguese colonization of what is now Brazil. [168]

In 1499, Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci participated in a voyage to the western world with Columbus's associates Alonso de Ojeda and Juan de la Cosa. [169] Columbus referred to the West Indies as the Indias Occidentales ('West Indies') in his 1502 Book of Privileges, calling them "unknown to all the world". He gathered information later that year from the natives of Central America which seem to further indicate that he realized he had found a new land. [160] [159] Vespucci, who had initially followed Columbus in the belief that he had reached Asia, [170] suggested in a 1503 letter to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco that he had known for two years that these lands composed a new continent. [170] [171] A 1504 letter to Piero Soderini purportedly by Vespucci claims that he first voyaged to the American mainland in 1497, a year before Columbus. [172] In 1507, a year after Columbus's death, [173] the New World was named "America" on a map by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. [174] Waldseemüller retracted this naming in 1513, seemingly after Sebastian Cabot, Las Casas, and many historians convincingly argued that the Soderini letter had been a falsification. [172] On his new map, Waldseemüller labelled the continent discovered by Columbus Terra Incognita ('unknown land'). [175]

On 25 September 1513, the Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa, exploring overland, became the first European to encounter the Pacific Ocean from the shores of the Americas, calling it the "South Sea". Later, on 29 October 1520, Magellan's circumnavigation expedition discovered the first maritime passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, at the southern end of what is now Chile (Strait of Magellan), and his fleet ended up sailing around the whole Earth. Almost a century later, another, wider passage to the Pacific would be discovered farther to the south, bordering Cape Horn.

In the Americas the Spanish found a number of empires that were as large and populous as those in Europe. Small bodies of Spanish conquistadors, with large armies of indigenous groups, managed to conquer these states. The most notable amongst them were the Aztec Empire in modern Mexico (conquered in 1521) and the Inca Empire in modern Peru (conquered in 1532). During this time, pandemics of European diseases such as smallpox devastated the indigenous populations. [176] [177] [178] Once Spanish sovereignty was established, the Spanish focused on the extraction and export of gold and silver. [179]

  1. ^ Ferdinand later claimed credit for being "the principal cause why those islands were discovered." [24]
  2. ^ Some have argued that Santángel, a Jew who had converted to Catholicism to avoid Spanish persecution, aimed to open a channel to a safer place for fellow Jews to reside. [25]
  3. ^ Always referred to by Columbus as La Capitana ('The Captain')
  4. ^Shen Kuo discovered 400 years earlier, in Asia, the concept of true north in terms of magnetic declination towards the north pole, with experimentation of suspended magnetic needles and "the improved meridian determined by Shen's [astronomical] measurement of the distance between the polestar and true north". [37]
  5. ^ This map is based on the premise that Columbus first landed at Plana Cays. [38]The island considered by Samuel Eliot Morison to be the most likely location of first contact [39] is the easternmost land touching the top edge of this image.
  6. ^ Two others thought they saw this light, one independently from Columbus. The strong winds and the fact that they were some 56 kilometres (35 mi) from land indicate that this was unlikely from a native inhabitant fishing. [41]
  7. ^ According to Samuel Eliot Morison, Triana saw "something like a white sand cliff gleaming in the moonlight on the western horizon, then another, and a dark line of sand connecting them." [43]
  8. ^ Columbus is said to have responded to Pinzón, "I give you five thousand maravedis as a present!" [43]
  9. ^ Renamed from Watling's Island in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus's San Salvador [47]
  10. ^ Other candidates are the Grand Turk, Cat Island, Rum Cay, Samana Cay, or Mayaguana. [39]
  11. ^ At the time, three major indigenous peoples populated the islands. The Taíno occupied the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, and the Leeward Islands they can be subdivided into Classic Taínos, who occupied Hispaniola and Puerto Rico Western Taínos, who occupied Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamian archipelago and the Eastern Taínos, who occupied the Leeward Islands. [53] The other two peoples are the Kalinago and Galibi in the Windward Islands and Guadeloupe, and the Ciboney (a Taíno people) and Guanahatabey of central and western Cuba, respectively.
  12. ^ abc ". these people are very simple as regards the use of arms, as your Highnesses will see from the seven that I have caused to be taken . unless your Highnesses should order them all to be brought to Castille, or to be kept as captives on the same island for with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them." (Columbus 1893, p. 41)
  13. ^ Torres spoke Hebrew and some Arabic the latter was then believed to be the mother tongue of all languages. [55]
  14. ^ The Monument a Colom in that city commemorates the event.
  15. ^ A taster even tasted the food from each of his dishes before he ate to "make sure it was not poisoned". He was given his own footmen to open doors for him and to serve him at the table. Columbus was even rewarded with his own coat of arms.
  16. ^ The word "ají" is still used in South American Spanish for chili peppers.
  17. ^ Omitted from this image, Columbus returned to Guadeloupe at the end of his second voyage before sailing back to Spain. [72]
  18. ^ Officially known as the Santa María after the ship lost on the first voyage and also known as Capitana ("Flagship") for its role in the expedition. It was owned by Antonio Torres, brother of the nurse to Don Juan.
  19. ^ This was the first major battle between Europeans and Native Americans for five centuries, when the Vikings had come to the Americas. [80]
  20. ^ abTony Horwitz notes that this is the first recorded instance of sexuality between a European and Native American. [81]
  21. ^ ab Cuneo wrote,

While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores. [82]


MARTELLUS AND COLUMBUS

Contrary to popular myth, 15th-century Europeans did not believe that Columbus would sail off the edge of a flat Earth, says Chet Van Duzer, the map scholar who led the study. But their understanding of the world was quite different from ours, and Martellus’s map reflects that.

Its depiction of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea is more or less accurate, or at least recognizable. But southern Africa is oddly shaped like a boot with its toe pointing to the east, and Asia is also twisted out of shape. The large island in the South Pacific roughly where Australia can actually be found must have been a lucky guess, Van Duzer says, as Europeans wouldn’t discover that continent for another century. Martellus filled the southern Pacific Ocean with imaginary islands, apparently sharing the common mapmakers’ aversion to empty spaces.

Another quirk of Martellus’s geography helps tie his map to Columbus’s journey: the orientation of Japan. At the time the map was created, Europeans knew Japan existed, but knew very little about its geography. Marco Polo’s journals, the best available source of information about East Asia at the time, had nothing to say about the island’s orientation.

Martellus’s map shows it running north-south. Correct, but almost certainly another lucky guess says Van Duzer, as no other known map of the time shows Japan unambiguously oriented this way. Columbus’s son Ferdinand later wrote that his father believed Japan to be oriented north-south, indicating that he very likely used Martellus’s map as a reference.

When Columbus made landfall in the West Indies on October 12, 1492, he began looking for Japan, still believing that he’d achieved his goal of finding a route to Asia. He was likely convinced Japan must be near because he’d travelled roughly the same distance that Martellus’s map suggests lay between Europe and Japan, Van Duzer argues in a new book detailing his findings.

Van Duzer says it’s reasonable to speculate that as Columbus sailed down the coast of Central and South America on later voyages, he pictured himself sailing down the coast of Asia as depicted on Martellus’s map.


Aug 3, 1492 CE: Columbus Sets Sail

On August 3, 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus started his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History, World History

Caravels of Columbus

Columbus set sail from Spain in three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

Painting by N.C. Wyeth, courtesy National Geographic

On August 3, 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus started his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. With a crew of 90 men and three ships&mdashthe Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria&mdashhe left from Palos de la Frontera, Spain. Columbus reasoned that since the world is round, he could sail west to reach &ldquothe east&rdquo (the lucrative lands of India and China). That reasoning was actually sound, but the Earth is much larger than Columbus thought&mdashlarge enough for him to run into two enormous continents (the &ldquoNew World&rdquo of the Americas) mostly unknown to Europeans.

Columbus made it to what is now the Bahamas in 61 days. He initially thought his plan was successful and the ships had reached India. In fact, he called the indigenous people &ldquoIndians,&rdquo an inaccurate name that unfortunately stuck.

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.


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