Columbus Sets Sail for New World - History

Columbus Sets Sail for New World - History

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Isabella, Queen of Spain financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus. His goal was to find a sea route to the Orient by sailing westward. He set sail on August 3, 1492 in his flagship the Santa Maria with 52 men aboard. Also sailing was the smaller Pinta and Nina. On October 12th land is sighted.

This Day In History: Christopher Columbus Sets Sail (1492)

On this Day in History, the Italian mariner Christopher Columbus sets sail with three ships—the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina. He was about to set out on a journey to find a new route to the east. Columbus wanted to find the sea route to Japan and China and to find the fabled riches of Asia.

Columbus had received permission and finance for his expedition from the King and Queen of Spain. He was a brilliant navigator and his study of maps and geography had convinced him that the world was round and that he could reach Asia by traveling west via the Atlantic.

This was a dangerous idea at the time as the Church taught that the world was flat and that anyone who spoke otherwise was a heretic. Columbus could have been arrested by the Inquisition and burned at the stake for his views.

Columbus pleading his case before the King and Queen of Spain

Columbus had tried to persuade the monarchs of Europe to back his plan but no-one was interested. He had left his native Genoa many years previously in order to fulfill his dreams of exploration and discovery. Only the Spanish showed any interest and Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, co-rulers of Spain only gave Columbus limited support.

After some months at sea, the expedition sighted land, an island in the Bahamas. They went ashore with a cross and claimed the island for Spain. Columbus later sighted Cuba. He had discovered a new continent but he believed that he was in Asia. For example, he mistook Cuba for one of the Japanese islands.

The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and natives in 1493 and was received with by the King and Queen, who gave him great honors and ennobled him. Columbus was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings visited modern day Canada in the 10th century.

One of Columbus&rsquo map

Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the New World, discovering various territories and islands. He was the first to discover the South American mainland. However, he did not believe that he had discovered a new continent and believed that he was in Asia. Columbus was a controversial character and at one time he was even sent back to Spain in chains. Columbus died in Spain in 1506, in poverty and ignored by the Spanish king. He did not realize the extent of his discoveries. He had discovered a New World and he had changed human history. Columbus expeditions and discoveries allowed Spain to become a great power in the following centuries as they established an empire in the lands and islands that he discovered.

Columbus reports on his first voyage, 1493

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Spain to find an all-water route to Asia. On October 12, more than two months later, Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas that he called San Salvador the natives called it Guanahani.

For nearly five months, Columbus explored the Caribbean, particularly the islands of Juana (Cuba) and Hispaniola (Santo Domingo), before returning to Spain. He left thirty-nine men to build a settlement called La Navidad in present-day Haiti. He also kidnapped several Native Americans (between ten and twenty-five) to take back to Spain—only eight survived. Columbus brought back small amounts of gold as well as native birds and plants to show the richness of the continent he believed to be Asia.

When Columbus arrived back in Spain on March 15, 1493, he immediately wrote a letter announcing his discoveries to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had helped finance his trip. The letter was written in Spanish and sent to Rome, where it was printed in Latin by Stephan Plannck. Plannck mistakenly left Queen Isabella’s name out of the pamphlet’s introduction but quickly realized his error and reprinted the pamphlet a few days later. The copy shown here is the second, corrected edition of the pamphlet.

The Latin printing of this letter announced the existence of the American continent throughout Europe. “I discovered many islands inhabited by numerous people. I took possession of all of them for our most fortunate King by making public proclamation and unfurling his standard, no one making any resistance,” Columbus wrote.

In addition to announcing his momentous discovery, Columbus’s letter also provides observations of the native people’s culture and lack of weapons, noting that “they are destitute of arms, which are entirely unknown to them, and for which they are not adapted not on account of any bodily deformity, for they are well made, but because they are timid and full of terror.” Writing that the natives are “fearful and timid . . . guileless and honest,” Columbus declares that the land could easily be conquered by Spain, and the natives “might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen and Princes and all the people of Spain.”

An English translation of this document is available.


I have determined to write you this letter to inform you of everything that has been done and discovered in this voyage of mine.

On the thirty-third day after leaving Cadiz I came into the Indian Sea, where I discovered many islands inhabited by numerous people. I took possession of all of them for our most fortunate King by making public proclamation and unfurling his standard, no one making any resistance. The island called Juana, as well as the others in its neighborhood, is exceedingly fertile. It has numerous harbors on all sides, very safe and wide, above comparison with any I have ever seen. Through it flow many very broad and health-giving rivers and there are in it numerous very lofty mountains. All these island are very beautiful, and of quite different shapes easy to be traversed, and full of the greatest variety of trees reaching to the stars. . . .

In the island, which I have said before was called Hispana, there are very lofty and beautiful mountains, great farms, groves and fields, most fertile both for cultivation and for pasturage, and well adapted for constructing buildings. The convenience of the harbors in this island, and the excellence of the rivers, in volume and salubrity, surpass human belief, unless on should see them. In it the trees, pasture-lands and fruits different much from those of Juana. Besides, this Hispana abounds in various kinds of species, gold and metals. The inhabitants . . . are all, as I said before, unprovided with any sort of iron, and they are destitute of arms, which are entirely unknown to them, and for which they are not adapted not on account of any bodily deformity, for they are well made, but because they are timid and full of terror. . . . But when they see that they are safe, and all fear is banished, they are very guileless and honest, and very liberal of all they have. No one refuses the asker anything that he possesses on the contrary they themselves invite us to ask for it. They manifest the greatest affection towards all of us, exchanging valuable things for trifles, content with the very least thing or nothing at all. . . . I gave them many beautiful and pleasing things, which I had brought with me, for no return whatever, in order to win their affection, and that they might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen and Princes and all the people of Spain and that they might be eager to search for and gather and give to us what they abound in and we greatly need.

In the New World: Columbus Sets Sail


The Spanish noon is a blaze of azure fire, and the dusty pilgrims crawl like an endless serpent along treeless plains and bleached highroads, through rocksplit ravines and castellated, cathedral-shadowed towns.

Noble and abject, learned and simple, illustrious and obscure, plod side by side, all brothers now, all merged in one routed army of misfortune.

Whither shall they turn? for the West hath cast them out, and the East refuseth to receive.

O bird of the air, whisper to the despairing exiles, that to-day, to-day, from the many-masted, gayly-bannered port of Pallos, sails the world-unveiling Genoese, to unlock the golden gates of sunset and bequeath a Continent to Freedom!

Emma Lazarus

It was Christopher Columbus, the "world-unveiling Genoese" himself, who first linked the Jews and the New World. In his letter to the king and queen of Spain which opens the Journal of the First Voyage, Columbus writes:

So after having expelled the Jews from your dominions, Your Highnesses, in the same month of January, ordered me to proceed with sufficient armament to the said region of India.

Actually, Columbus set sail on August 3, 1492, a day after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain began. Much has been written of Columbus's purported Jewish origins and of Jews who accompanied him on his first voyage. It is certain only that the expedition's interpreter, Luis de Torres, was born a Jew but had converted shortly before the expedition set sail that two "New Christians," Luis de Santangel and Gabriel Sanchez, had a hand in the financing and that two Jews, Abraham Zacuto and Joseph Vecinho, provided technical expertise that helped Columbus navigate the "Ocean Sea."

Abraham Zacuto (c. 1452-1515), a historian and astronomer, who wrote his major astronomical work, Ha-Hibur ha-Gadol, in Hebrew under the patronage of the bishop of Salamanca, served as court astronomer to kings John II and Manuel I of Portugal, where he took refuge after the expulsion from Spain. Zacuto prepared the charts used by Vasco da Gama on his successful journey to India, but his high position and contribution to Portuguese imperial expansion availed him little when, in 1497, the Jews in Portugal were forced to convert, and he was forced once again to flee. In Tunis, in 1504, Zacuto completed his historical narrative, Sefer ha-Yuhasin, in which he claimed: "My astronomical charts circulate throughout all the Christian and even Muslim lands."

The astronomical tables of the astronomer and rabbi, Abraham Zacuto, published by the last of the Jewish printers in Portugal, Abraham Orta, one year before the Jews were expelled. What makes this book of particular historical importance is that Christopher Columbus used the Zacuto astronomical tables in his journeys of discovery.

Abraham Zacuto, Tabulae astronomicae, Leiria, 1496. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Among those who made use of Zacuto's astronomical tables was Christopher Columbus. A copy of those tables with Columbus's notes is preserved in Seville. What made the tables accessible to Columbus was their having been translated into Spanish by a pupil of Zacuto, Joseph Vecinho, physician to King John II. According to tradition Vecinho gave his translated work to Columbus for his journey, which he had heretofore recommended against. In 1496, the tables were published in both Latin and Spanish editions in Leiria, Portugal, by Samuel D'Ortas. The D'Ortas family, Samuel and his three sons, had previously printed two Hebrew books in that city, Proverbs with commentary in 1492, and the Former Prophets with commentary in 1495. The contents of Tabulae astronomicae of Abraham Zacuthus, Leiria, 1496, are described by the full title: Tabula tabulay celestius motuuz astronomi zacuti necnon stelay firay longitudinez ac latitudinez.

The lower part of the Latin commentary on the right-hand side of this page of the Genoa, 1516 Polyglot Psalter provides the first description of Christopher Columbus and his discoveries in a Hebrew book. What occasioned this digressive comment are the words "the end of the earth" in verse 4 of chapter 19 of the Psalms. The learned commentator was eager to inform the reader of the intrepid Genoese who discovered "the ends of the earth."

Psalter, Genoa, 1516. Hebraic Section.

In the Library's fine copy of the Polyglot Psalter in the Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Chaldean (Aramaic), published in Genoa, 1516, is Christopher Columbus's first printed biography. in a Latin note on the phrase "the ends of the earth" from Psalm 19, the commentator, Agostino Giustiniani, states that the ends of the earth were discovered in his time through the daring deeds of Christopher Columbus of Genoa, claiming also that this native son of Genoa has explored more lands and seas than anyone else in all the world. Because of him, then, the words of the Psalmist that the glory of God would be proclaimed "to the ends of the earth" were now fulfilled.

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Learn More

  • Learn more about Columbus’ expedition by visiting the Library of Congress online exhibition, 1492: An Ongoing Voyage.
  • Read about the exploration and early settlement of the Americas in the Library of Congress exhibition Exploring the Early Americas.
  • View the maps in Discovery and Exploration documenting the European Age of Discoveries, from the late 15th century to the 17th century. Also included are 18th and 19th century maps documenting the exploration and mapping of the interior parts of the continents, reflecting the work of Lewis and Clark and subsequent government explorers and surveyors.
  • See Images of Christopher Columbus and His Voyages. No portrait of Columbus drawn or painted from life is known to exist. Many images depicting Columbus and his activities, however, can be found in the Library’s collections. The images in this list were selected to meet requests regularly received by the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Christopher Columbus 4 voyages to the New World

American Minute with Bill Federer

Muslim Turks conquered Constantinople on May 29, 1453.

William Lawson Grant, Professor of Colonial History at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, wrote in the introduction to Voyages and Explorations (Toronto, The Courier Press, Limited, 1911, A.S. Barnes Company):

“The history of Western Civilization begins in a conflict with the Orient, a conflict of which it may be the end is not yet.

But the routes between East and West have been trodden by the caravans of trade more often even than by the feet of armies.

The treasures of the East were long brought overland to Alexandria, or Constantinople, or the cities of the Levant, and thence distributed to Europe by the galleys of Genoa or of Venice.

But when the Turk placed himself astride the Bosporus, and made Egypt his feudatory, new routes had to be found.

In the search for these were made the three greatest voyages in history, those of Columbus, of Vasco da Gama, and greatest of all of Magellan.

In his search for the riches of Cipangu, Columbus stumbled upon America. The great Genoese lived and died under the illusion that he had reached the outmost verge of Asia.”

When Muslim Turks cut off the LAND routes to India and China, Europeans began to look for a SEA route.

In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama successfully sailed around South Africa to India.

But 6 years earlier, another explorer proposed a SEA route.

Beginning in 1492, Christopher Columbus took FOUR voyages to the New World:

1st voyage, he DISCOVERED land, 1492-93

2nd voyage, he ENCOUNTERED a hurricane, malaria and cannibals, 1493-1496

3rd voyage, he FACED rebellion and arrest, 1498-1500

4th voyage, he was SHIPWRECKED on Jamaica for a year, after surviving another hurricane and exploring Panama, 1502-1504.

On his FIRST voyage (1492-1493), Columbus used knowledge of the ‘trade winds’ to make the longest voyage ever out of the sight of land.

Thinking he had made it to India, he referred to the inhabitants as “Indians.”

These were peaceful Arawak natives.

Columbus thought that Cuba was the tip of China and that Hispaniola (Dominican Republican/Haiti) was Japan.

Returning to Europe, Columbus’ ship, Santa Maria, hit a reef and wrecked. He left 39 sailors in a make-shift fort named La Navidad.

On his SECOND voyage (1493-1496), Columbus was frustratingly saddled with 17 ships and 1,500 mostly get-rich-quick Spaniards.

This was the doings of the jealous Spanish Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, who was continually undermining Columbus at the royal court, as he thought the Spanish Monarchs should never have given so much authority to a “non-Spaniard.”

Now, rather than focusing on finding India and China, Columbus was tasked with managing hundreds of ambitious settlers.

Looking for a location for settlement, Columbus explored Puerto Rico and Jamaica.

Arriving at La Navidad, they were shocked to find that all the sailors Columbus had left the previous year were all killed.

The Spanish settlers felt Columbus misrepresented the new world “paradise,” especially after they encountered a hurricane and malaria.

Instead of paradise, Spaniards were shocked to discover that there were Carib natives, who emasculated, sodomized and cannibalized the peaceful Arawak natives.

Spanish settlers grew impatient at having to obey Columbus, who was, after all, not even Spanish, but rather an Italian from the city of Genoa.

Columbus unfortunately yielded to the demands of greedy settlers and let them set up European-style feudal plantations, called “mayorazgos,” which set a precedent for generations of mistreatment of native populations.

Columbus left his brothers Diego and Bartholomew in charge of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola, and sailed back to Spain.

On his THIRD voyage (1498-1500), Columbus barely made it across the southern Atlantic, encountering the windless “doldrums.”

When the winds finally picked up, Columbus named the first land he saw after the Trinity — “Trinidad.”

Columbus became the first European to set foot on South America, planting the Spanish flag at the Paria Peninsula of present-day Venezuela, August 1, 1498.

He explored the beautiful Orinoco River, thinking it was the outer regions of the Garden of Eden.

When Columbus arrived back at his settlement of Santo Domingo, he found that the greedy Spanish settlers had rebelled against his brothers.

In despair, Columbus sent a plea for help to the King.

The plea was intercepted by Bishop Fonseca, who convinced the King that, instead of sending help, he should replace Columbus as governor.

The King sent replacement governor Bobadillo in 1500.

Bobadillo arrested Columbus and his brothers, and sent them back to Spain in chains.

Columbus wrote to a friend and confidante of the Queen, Dona Juana de Torres:

“I undertook a new voyage to the New … World which hitherto had been hidden …

They judge me there as a governor who had gone to Sicily or to a city or town under a regular government …

I should be judged as a captain who went from Spain to the Indies.”

After a two year delay, Columbus was permitted to sail on his FOURTH voyage, MAY 12, 1502, from Cadiz, Spain.

He was forbidden to visit his settlement of Santo Domingo, but upon reaching the Caribbean, Columbus became alarmed by a hurricane brewing.

Weighing the risk, he entered the harbor of Santo Domingo to warn them of the approaching danger and to seek shelter for his ships.

The replacement governor, Bobadillo, was preparing to set sail for Spain with 24 ships of gold, heading directly into the hurricane.

The warning of Columbus was spurned, as he had become a persona-non-grata.

Ordered to leave the harbor, Columbus sailed as fast as he could to seek shelter on the other side of the island.

The hurricane destroyed Santo Domingo.

All but one of the ships headed to Spain sank, including the one carrying Bobadillo.

The ship that survived had been the slowest and had not cleared the island mangroves when the hurricane hit.

When it reached Spain, to everyone’s amazement, it was found to be the one carrying Columbus’ portion of the gold, per his agreement with the Monarchs.

The providential nature of this incident vindicated Columbus’ reputation, though he did not find out about it for over a year, as he was blown around the Caribbean.

Describing the violent weather, Columbus recorded:

“The tempest arose and wearied me so that I knew not where to turn, my old wound opened up, and for 9 days I was lost without hope of life eyes never beheld the sea so angry and 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. The people were so worn out that they longed for death.”

After a day and a half of continuous lightning, Columbus’ 15-year-old son, Ferdinand, recorded that on December 13, 1502, a waterspout passed between the ships:

“… the which had they not dissolved by reciting the Gospel according to St. John, it would have swamped whatever it struck…for it draws water up to the clouds in a column thicker than a waterbutt, twisting it about like a whirlwind.”

Columbus’ biographer, Samuel Eliot Morrison described Admiral Columbus:

“It was the Admiral who exorcised the waterspout. From his Bible he read of that famous tempest off Capernaum, concluding, ‘Fear not, it is I!’ Then clasping the Bible in his left hand, with drawn sword he traced a cross in the sky and a circle around his whole fleet.”

Columbus briefly landed in Panama, but was too ill and too suspicious of the natives to cross to the Pacific side.

After being attacked by Indians, with his ships worm-eaten and taking on water, Columbus barely made it to the Island of Jamaica where he was shipwrecked for a year.

Natives at first accommodated them, but the situation deteriorated, and they began to threaten them.

Columbus correctly predicted a lunar eclipse which convinced the natives to respect him.

Columbus’ captain, Diego Méndez de Segura, set off from Jamaica with several natives to cross 450 miles of open sea to reach Hispaniola (Haiti).

Finally being rescued, Columbus returned to Spain on November 7, 1504.

Three weeks later, Columbus’ chief patron, Queen Isabella, died.

Columbus died a year and a half later at the age of 55.

Though tragically unsuccessful as a governor, Columbus was nevertheless one of the most renowned explorers in the world who changed the course of history.

While shipwrecked and in pain, July 7, 1503, Columbus wrote his Lettera Rarissima, not knowing if anyone would read it:

“The Indians were many and united and attacked … I was outside very much alone, on this rude coast, with a high fever and very fatigued. There was no hope of escape. In this state, I climbed painfully to the highest part of the ship and cried out for help with a fearful voice …

At length, groaning with exhaustion, I fell asleep, and heard a compassionate voice saying, ‘O fool, and slow to believe and serve thy God, the God of every man! … From thy birth He hath ever held thee in special charge … Of those barriers of the Ocean Sea, which were closed with such mighty chains, He hath given thee the keys …

Turn thou to Him and acknowledge thy faults His mercy is infinite thine old age shall not hinder thee from performing mighty deeds … Whatever He promises He fulfills with interest that is His way.”

Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.

Columbus’ Scandalous Treatment of Native Peoples Reaped Wrath of Spain

Columbus meeting with the Queen. Public Domain

For two years, the Catholic Monarchs negotiated with Christopher Columbus. There is speculation that Queen Isabella did not fully believe in the plan of exploration. But neither she nor King Ferdinand wanted Columbus to set sail for another European monarch. As such, the parties finally agreed to terms as documented in the Capitulations of Santa Fe.

If his voyage was successful, Columbus would earn the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea Viceroy and Governor of all new lands that he claimed for Spain 10% of all revenues from the new lands a stake in any commercial ventures established in the new lands that would pass down to his descendants for eternity and the power to nominate three people for any office he liked in the new government. Columbus set sail with a crew and three ships in early August 1492.

On October 12, 1492, at roughly 2 am, a sailor on watch aboard the Pinta spotted land. His captain confirmed this sighting and shot off a cannon to notify Columbus who was captaining the Santa Maria. Columbus stated that he too saw the land and had claimed it for Spain. This act ensured that Spain would grant him the terms stipulated in their agreement. In that instant, Columbus became a very wealthy and powerful man.

After a successful first voyage, Columbus set sail in September 1493 for his second voyage. He left Spain as the Viceroy and Governor of the Indies and took with him 17 ships, 1200 men, and enough supplies to establish a settlement in the New World. From these settlements, Spain had a policy that converting the non-believers was paramount and it was the official reason for colonization. This task was difficult to achieve and often resulted in violence.

Native inhabitants could not understand the demands of the Europeans that arrived from across the sea. They had no understanding of Christianity or any concept that the Europeans now claimed the land as their own. Europeans forced the native populations to adhere to the customs and tenants of Christianity without regard for differences in culture and language. Natives that refused or simply did not understand the demands placed upon them by the foreign invaders could be banished from their own villages, sold into slavery, mutilated, or even killed.

Soon after settlement occurred in Hispaniola, colonists began to complain of the harsh treatment they suffered under their governor and his brothers. When an investigation into charges against Columbus opened, 23 colonists testified about their governor&rsquos treatment of settlers and native people.

One account stated that Christopher Columbus ordered a man guilty of sealing corn to have his nose and ears cut off and then sold into slavery. Another person testified that when a woman stated that Christopher Columbus came from a low birth rank, his brother ordered the woman to parade through the streets of Santo Domingo naked. He then ordered her tongue cut out, for which Christopher Columbus reportedly congratulated his brother on protecting the family name.

The situation in the new settlement worsened. European sailors were not accustomed to the food sources in the New World. Wheat was a staple in the European diet, but in Hispaniola, maize was the staple crop. Men became ill because their bodies could not process the corn. Meat from the New World presented the same problem, causing men to have uncontrollable diarrhea and dysentery.

Did Columbus and Cabot Begin as Partners?

On August 6, 1497, almost precisely five years since Christopher Columbus had first set sail for the New World, his Venetian rival John Cabot navigated his tiny ship Matthew back up the River Avon to the English port of Bristol, and rode at speed to London to give the king the news of his extraordinary discovery on the other side of the Atlantic. Columbus had failed, he said. The intelligentsia of Europe believed, as Columbus did, that he had reached China, but Cabot believed he had proved &ndash correctly &ndash that Columbus&rsquos expeditions had actually lodged in some remote islands very far from the Chinese coast he had claimed to have found. But Cabot claimed much more: that his own expedition, one ship with a crew of less than twenty, had now found the route to China in a very different place, and that Bristol was now set to be the new Venice and Alexandria, all rolled into one.

We know now, of course, that Cabot was right about Columbus but wrong about himself. We know that his pioneering 1497 voyage was not really a voyage of discovery. Other races and civilizations occupied the &lsquoNew Founde Land&rsquo he had claimed. We also know, with the benefit of history, that the voyage led not to spice routes but a staggering exploitation of the cod trade, repeated and pointless exploration for the mythical northwest passage for the next three centuries, and the English claim to North America.

What is less well known is that Cabot&rsquos arrival in London, and his every move afterwards, was being reported to Castile by agents of Columbus, who was then working closely with the first man to correctly interpret the geography of these adventures, Amerigo Vespucci, the man whose name would eventually grace the new continent which hardly anyone had yet imagined. Cabot knew them both, certainly by reputation, but where history has been quiet until now &ndash if not silent &ndash is how much his voyages were bound up with theirs.

All history involves leaps of imagination. No matter how contemporary and how certain the facts, there are always holes in our knowledge that historians have to fill with the information they have. The story of the race for America is no exception. In fact, the separate tales of Columbus, Cabot and Vespucci have been almost unique in their susceptibility to bizarre theories, generation after generation, as critical maps or documents are alternatively discredited and vindicated.

Was Columbus Jewish? Was Cabot from the Channel Islands? Was Vespucci a fraud? Were they all double-agents? All these have been claimed by serious researchers within living memory, and the answer is almost certainly not. But in recent decades, a broad consensus has begun to emerge about the basic facts and documents, thanks to painstaking research and vital new discoveries over the past half century. Cabot&rsquos debts, Columbus&rsquos religious obsessions, have only become clear recently, and &ndash above all &ndash the three pioneers emerge, not so much as explorers, but first and foremost as merchants. Their motives may have been glory, but most of all, the enterprise they shared was about the prospect of astonishing profits.

The last few years have also yielded quite unprecedented progress in our understanding of all three men &ndash documented evidence of Columbus&rsquos extraordinary cruelties to his followers, indications of the true achievements of Cabot&rsquos mysterious final voyage, and insights into how Vespucci had reinvented his own story. All these have added to the consensus, but provided us with more rounded pictures. Taken together, they mean that it is possible at last to end the artificial divisions in the story which have emerged because separate historians and separate nations, have told their three stories separately. Their tales have always been separated by those whose self-appointed task has been to fight their corner and rubbish their opponents and their work.

We know that Columbus and Vespucci worked closely together we know that Cabot and Vespucci had common acquaintances interested in western possibilities. They collaborated, knew of each other&rsquos ambitions and followed each other&rsquos progress. Columbus and Cabot were also both born around the same time in Genoa and probably knew each other from their earliest lives. All three were admirers, and two were acquaintances, of the sage of Florence, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, who first urged explorers to sail West in order to find the East.

Writing the story of all three as one narrative has been, for me, a kind of research. When you link them together and put the stories in context, it is suddenly obvious &ndash for example &ndash why Cabot went to Mecca or why Vespucci abandoned his career to go to Spain. The business of profit becomes even more central to the tale than it was before. The race for America is as much business history as it is diplomatic history. Above all, it is more accurate. The race for America was one story, it makes sense when you tell it that way and, when you embark on historical reconstruction, you find an energy and thrust to the story that you never realized was there before.

The key relationship at the heart of this tale, and the one which still remains hazy to historians, is the one between Cabot and Columbus. Yet the whole thrust of the story implies that the enterprise of the Indies was not originally a separate undertaking, almost identical but happening by coincidence, but a joint project by Cabot and the Columbus brothers, Christopher and Bartholomew, which unraveled. That was what the historian of exploration David Quinn certainly suggested, but it is impossible to prove. Even so, their original collaboration now seems by far the most likely interpretation. Sometimes when you are writing about an era when the sources are so confused or missing, despite the growing certainty of the scholars, all you can hope for is plausible probability.

When an English double agent reported some of the details of Cabot&rsquos historic voyage to his Spanish masters later, he described the plan as &ldquoaccording to the fancy of this Genoese.&rdquo It was Quinn who said that this gave the strong impression in the letter that both voyages &ndash Cabot&rsquos and Columbus&rsquos &ndash had been part of a joint endeavor, by mariners from Genoa. &ldquoAnother Genoese like Columbus,&rdquo said another informant about Cabot. There may be an implication that, at some stage, Cabot and the Columbus brothers had been working together to the same end, and if they were, their plan must have begun to take shape around now.

There is other evidence too, none of it absolutely conclusive in itself, but taken together, the coincidences between the lives and plans of these two merchant adventurers are just too close to believe they were independent of each other. Both were indeed Genoese, probably with connections to the Fregoso party and to the coastal port of Savona. They were almost exactly the same age. Their plans for the enterprise of the Indies were almost identical, though Columbus in the end demanded more in return.

But that is not all. Research over the past few decades in the Venetian archives has also turned up some other connections that are hard to ignore. Both were involved around the edges of the wool and silk trade from southern Europe to Bristol and London. Both frequented the same ports, Lisbon and Huelva for Seville, both also frequented by sailors from Bristol with the stories of exploration that must have filtered out of there. What is more, as it turns out, both ended up so heavily in debt in the mid-1480s that they had to leave their homes with their families and find somewhere else to live.

Most history has some doubts at its heart, no matter how definitively it is written, and this one is certainly no exception. But what we know about Cabot and Columbus points towards a common position and common plans for the Indies that was more than simply a dream of crossing the Atlantic. If so, those joint plans must have included working together to raise the money they needed &ndash through one risky but ambitious deal that linked Venice, Lisbon and London, which went horribly wrong. Indeed, this is probably the missing element of the tale of the race for America &ndash a race where none of the participants had any conception of where they were actually going &ndash and without it, the full story is simply not coherent.

This joint venture must have emerged in snatched conversations in the Genoese community in Lisbon, when Cabot stopped over on his way to Bristol &ndash reminiscing about the extraordinary tides there, the mysterious expeditions and the secret maps. He and Columbus had not met since they were boys, and it was hard to imagine then how the voyage they both dreamed of might be possible. They were young and had few enough connections. But they probably also realized the crucial heart of their plans at this stage: they would need not just backers, but some means by which they could profit from their discoveries.

One option before prospective explorers in those days was to hitch themseles to the plans of a monarch, get an expedition paid for and commissioned by them. The difficulty was that gave them no personal rights over the territory they discovered. They would come back if they succeeded and the monarch would reward them, and that would be the end of the matter for them - they would wait for the monarch's call to go somewhere else, as Vasco da Gama or Bartholomew Dias had to. That was how the Portuguese organised matters. What Columbus and Cabot developed was something different - an agreement with a monarch that, if they succeeded, they would get a cut of all the proceeds of their discovery and other rights.

This explains why Cabot and Columbus ended up so disastrously in debt at the end of that year, why they needed to approach the crowned heads of Europe, and why Cabot made such a dangerous journey to Mecca to investigate the sources of the spice trade in the Far East.

It also goes some way to explaining the ambiguity at the heart of the story of exploration and discovery: if mariners had traveled regularly, if accidentally, to lands on the other side of the Atlantic before, then what was special about Columbus and Cabot? The answer is that they had cracked the basic problem: how to profit from their enterprise (and that is what it was &ndash not a voyage of discovery -- but an enterprise of enormous ambition). This was a plan with the dream of fame at its heart, but it was also one that underlines their joint ambition: it was a scheme which, if it worked, would have made them the richest men in the world.

They may not have discovered America in quite the way we have believed. It was already occupied, after all, and the Vikings, Chinese and Bristol fishermen probably went there first. But they were, at least, pioneers of Intellectual Property.


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]

Rediscovery 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]

High Point of His Life

  1. Columbus was at the high point of his life. In his remaining 14 years, difficulties would only intensify the qualities in his life:
  • His wanderlust. He took three more voyages across the Atlantic, each lasting several years and filled with harrowing storms, crew rebellions, illnesses (at one point his eyes bled), and encounters with native Americans.
  • His passion for evangelism. In May 1493, he asked Ferdinand and Isabella to set aside 1 percent of all gold taken from the islands to pay for establishing churches and sending monks. They instructed him “to win over the peoples of the said islands and mainland by all ways and means to our Holy Catholic Faith” and sent 13 religious workers on his second voyage. In his will, Columbus instructed his son Diego to support from his trust four theology professors to live on Hispaniola and convert the Indians.
  • His inflexibility. To his death he continued to argue (against other evidence) that he had landed in Asia. As a colonial governor, he ruled the farmers and settlers with such a heavy hand they rebelled. Columbus was arrested and shipped back to Spain in chains.
  • His drive for titles and money. Columbus became absolutely wealthy, “a millionaire by any standard.” But he had driven such a hard bargain with the crown—hereditary titles and “the tenth part of the whole” of gold he found—that the monarchs continually had to limit his power and wealth. Columbus spent his last years in legal battles and worries that his estate would be whitled away.
  • His encounters with the voice of God. Columbus had at least two more, both in dark hours.
  • In 1499, he said, “When all had abandoned me, I was assailed by the Indians and the wicked Christians the Spanish settlers who were rebelling against his inept administration]. I found myself in such a pass that in an attempt to escape death I took to the sea in a small caravel. Then the Lord came to help, saying, "man of little faith, be not afraid, I am with thee." And he scattered my enemies and showed me the way to fulfill my promises. Miserable sinner that I am, to have put all my trust in the vanities of this world!”
  • In the Americas again four years later, he found himself alone. His worm eaten ship was trapped by low waters from getting out into the open sea. A local Indian cacique [ruler] had vowed to massacre the Spaniards. Some of Columbus’s men had been killed. Feverish and in deep despair, he wrote, “I dragged myself up the rigging to the height of the crow’s nest. . . . Still groaning, I lost consciousness. I heard a voice in pious accents saying, "foolish man and slow to serve your God, the God of all! What more did he accomplish for Moses or for his servant David? From the hour of your birth he has always had a special care of you.” The voice continued at length and closed with “Be not afraid, but of good courage. All your afflictions are engraved in letters of marble and there is a purpose behind them all.”
  • His belief in his role in end-times prophecy. Late in life, with the help of a friend, a monk, Columbus assembled excerpts from the Bible and medieval authors. The unfinished work, titled Book of Prophecies, uses Scriptures to show that God had ordained his voyages of discovery and that God would be doing further wonderful things for the church. Some have criticized Columbus for the “providential and messianic delusions that would come to grip him later in life ” and accused him of megalomania.
  1. Columbus was often egocentric and, by today’s standards, loose in his hermeneutics. But he wasn't the first or last Christian to read his personal destiny into a Scripture verse. Scholar Kay Brigham writes that he was “a man who had an extensive knowledge of God’s plan for the world, revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and of the particular role that he was to play in the fulfillment of the divine purposes.”
  2. So why did Columbus sail? Certainly he sailed to “make a great lord of himself,” as his crew members grumbled. But he sailed for far more. As Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, “This conviction that God destined him to be an instrument for spreading the faith was far more potent than the desire to win glory, wealth, and worldly honors, to which he was certainly far from indifferent.”
  3. Columbus concluded the log of his first voyage with one simple desire: “I hope in Our Lord that it [the recent voyage] will be the greatest honor to Christianity that, unexpectedly, has ever come about.”
By Kevin A. Miller

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #35 in 1992]

Watch the video: Spanish Exploration of the New World


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