Christopher Columbus (31 October 1451 – 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer and colonizer who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that opened the New World for conquest and permanent European colonization of the Americas. Columbus had embarked with intent to find and develop a westward route to the Far East, but instead discovered a route to the Americas, which were then unknown to the Old World. Columbus’s voyages were the first European expeditions to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. His Spanish-based expeditions and governance of the colonies he founded were sponsored by Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, the Catholic Monarchs of the budding Spanish Empire. Columbus never clearly renounced his belief that he had reached the Far East.
Columbus’s early life is somewhat obscure, but scholars generally agree that he was born in the Republic of Genoa and spoke a dialect of Ligurian as his first language. He went to sea at a young age and travelled widely, as far north as the British Isles (and possibly Iceland) and as far south as what is now Ghana. He married Portuguese noblewoman Filipa Moniz Perestrelo and was based in Lisbon for several years, but later took a Castilian mistress; he had one son with each woman. Though largely self-educated, Columbus was widely read in geography, astronomy, and history. He formulated a plan to seek a western sea passage to the East Indies, hoping to profit from the lucrative spice trade. After Columbus lobbied them for years, Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to sponsor a journey west, in the name of the Crown of Castile. Columbus left Castile in August 1492 with three ships, and after a stopover in the Canary Islands made landfall in the Americas on 12 October (later celebrated as Columbus Day). His landing place was an island in the Bahamas, known by its native inhabitants as Guanahani; its exact location is uncertain. Columbus subsequently visited the islands now known as Cuba and Hispaniola, establishing a colony in what is now Haitithe first European settlement in the Americas since the Norse colonies nearly 500 years earlier. He arrived back in Castile in early 1493, bringing a number of captive natives with him. Word of his discoveries soon spread throughout Europe.
Columbus made three further voyages to the New World, exploring the Lesser Antilles in 1493, Trinidad and the northern coast of South America in 1498, and the eastern coast of Central America in 1502. Many of the names he gave to geographical featuresparticularly islandsare still in use. He continued to seek a passage to the East Indies, and the extent to which he was aware that the Americas were a wholly separate landmass is uncertain; he gave the name indios (“Indians”) to the indigenous peoples he encountered. Columbus’s strained relationship with the Spanish crown and its appointed colonial administrators in America led to his arrest and removal from Hispaniola in 1500, and later to protracted litigation over the benefits that he and his heirs claimed were owed to them by the crown. Columbus’s expeditions inaugurated a period of exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for centuries, helping create the modern Western world. The transfers between the Old World and New World that followed his first voyage are known as the Columbian exchange, and the period of human habitation in the Americas prior to his arrival is referred to as the Pre-Columbian era.
Columbus’s legacy continues to be debated. He was widely venerated in the centuries after his death, but public perceptions have changed as recent scholars have given greater attention to negative aspects of his life, such as his enslavement of the indigenous population in his quest for gold and his brutal subjugation of the Tano people, leading to their near-extinction, as well as allegations of tyranny towards Spanish colonists. Many landmarks and institutions in the Western Hemisphere bear his name, including the country of Colombia and the name Columbia, which is used as a personification for the United States, and appears in many place names there.
Christopher Columbus at the gates of the monastery of Santa Mara de la Rbida with his son Diego, by Benet Mercad
The name Christopher Columbus is the Anglicisation of the Latin Christophorus Columbus. His name in Ligurian is Cristoffa Corombo, in Italian Cristoforo Colombo, in Spanish Cristbal Coln, and in Portuguese, Cristvo Colombo. He was born before 31 October 1451 in the territory of the Republic of Genoa (now part of modern Italy), though the exact location remains disputed.[b] His father was Domenico Colombo, a middle-class wool weaver who worked both in Genoa and Savona and who also owned a cheese stand at which young Christopher worked as a helper. His mother was Susanna Fontanarossa. He had three brothers, Bartolomeo, Giovanni Pellegrino, and Giacomo . He also had a sister named Bianchinetta. His brother Bartolomeo worked in a cartography workshop in Lisbon for at least part of his adulthood.
Columbus never wrote in his native language, which is presumed to have been a Genoese variety of Ligurian: his name in the 16th-century Genoese language would have been CristoffaCorombo (Ligurian pronunciation: ). In one of his writings, he says he went to sea at the age of 10. In 1470, the Columbus family moved to Savona, where Domenico took over a tavern. In the same year, Christopher was on a Genoese ship hired in the service of Ren of Anjou to support his attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Naples. Some modern authors have argued that he was not from Genoa but, instead, from the Aragon region of Spain or from Portugal. These competing hypotheses have generally been discounted by mainstream scholars.
Columbus’s copy of The Travels of Marco Polo, with his handwritten notes in Latin written on the margins
In 1473, Columbus began his apprenticeship as business agent for the important Centurione, Di Negro and Spinola families of Genoa. Later, he allegedly made a trip to Chios, an Aegean island then ruled by Genoa. In May 1476, he took part in an armed convoy sent by Genoa to carry valuable cargo to northern Europe. He docked in Bristol, England and Galway, Ireland. A few writers speculate that in 1477, he was in Iceland. It is known that in the autumn of 1477, he sailed on a Portuguese ship from Galway to Lisbon, where he found his brother Bartolomeo, and they continued trading for the Centurione family. Columbus based himself in Lisbon from 1477 to 1485. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of the Porto Santo governor and Portuguese nobleman of Lombard origin Bartolomeu Perestrello.
In 1479 or 1480, his son Diego Columbus was born. Between 1482 and 1485, Columbus traded along the coasts of West Africa, reaching the Portuguese trading post of Elmina at the Guinea coast (in present-day Ghana). Some records report that Filipa died sometime around 1485, while Columbus was away in Castile. He returned to Portugal to settle her estate and take his son Diego with him. He had left Portugal for Castile in 1485, where he found a mistress in 1487, a 20-year-old orphan named Beatriz Enrquez de Arana. It is likely that Beatriz met Columbus when he was in Crdoba, a gathering site of many Genoese merchants and where the court of the Catholic Monarchs was located at intervals. Beatriz, unmarried at the time, gave birth to Columbus’s natural son Fernando Columbus in July 1488, named for the monarch of Aragn. Columbus recognized the boy as his offspring. Columbus entrusted his older, legitimate son Diego to take care of Beatriz and pay the pension set aside for her following his death, but Diego was negligent in his duties.
Ambitious, Columbus eventually learned Latin, Portuguese, and Castilian. He read widely about astronomy, geography, and history, including the works of Claudius Ptolemy, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi, the travels of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, Pliny’s Natural History, and Pope Pius II’s Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum. According to historian Edmund Morgan,
Columbus was not a scholarly man. Yet he studied these books, made hundreds of marginal notations in them and came out with ideas about the world that were characteristically simple and strong and sometimes wrong, …
Throughout his life, Columbus also showed a keen interest in the Bible and in Biblical prophecies, often quoting biblical texts in his letters and logs. For example, part of the argument that he submitted to the Spanish Catholic Monarchs when he sought their support for his proposed expedition to reach the Indies by sailing west was based on his reading of the Second Book of Esdras (Ezra): see 2 Esdras 6:42, which he took to mean that the Earth is made of six parts of land to one of water. Towards the end of his life, he produced a Book of Prophecies in which his career as an explorer is interpreted in the light of Christian eschatology and of apocalypticism.
Carol Delaney has argued that Columbus was a millenialist and that these beliefs motivated his quest for Asia in a variety of ways. Columbus wrote often about seeking gold in the diaries of his voyages and writes about acquiring the precious metal in such quantity that the sovereignswill undertake and prepare to go conquer the Holy Sepulcher Comparative Studies in Society and History. April, 2006. . In an account of his fourth voyage, Columbus wrote that Jerusalem and Mount Sion must be rebuilt by Christian hands . It has also been written that conversion of all people to the Christian faith is a central theme in Columbuss writings which is a central tenant of some Millenarian beliefs. In a more specific identification of his motivations, Hamandi writes that the deliverance of Jerusalem from Muslim hands could be accomplished by using the resources of newly discovered lands.
Quest for Asia
Toscanelli’s notions of the geography of the Atlantic Ocean (shown superimposed on a modern map), which directly influenced Columbus’s plans.
Under the Mongol Empire’s hegemony over Asia (the Pax Mongolica, or Mongol peace), Europeans had long enjoyed a safe land passage, the Silk Road, to the Indies (then construed roughly as all of south and east Asia) and China, which were sources of valuable goods such as spices and silk. With the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the land route to Asia became much more difficult and dangerous. Portuguese navigators tried to find a sea way to Asia.
In 1470, the Florentine astronomer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli suggested to King Afonso V of Portugal that sailing west across the Atlantic would be a quicker way to reach the Spice Islands, Cathay, and Cipangu than the route around Africa, but Afonso rejected his proposal. In 1474, Toscanelli sent Columbus a map with the notion of a westward route to Asia. In the 1480s, the Columbus brothers proposed a plan to reach the Indies by sailing west across the “Ocean Sea” (the Atlantic). However, this was complicated by the opening of the southeast passage to Asia around Africa by Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, when he reached the Cape of Good Hope (modern-day South Africa).
Washington Irving’s 1828 biography of Columbus popularized the idea that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because many Catholic theologians insisted that the Earth was flat. In fact, nearly all educated Westerners had understood, at least since the time of Aristotle, that the Earth is spherical. The sphericity of the Earth is also accounted for in the work of Ptolemy, on which medieval astronomy was largely based. Christian writers whose works clearly reflect the conviction that the Earth is spherical include Saint Bede the Venerable in his Reckoning of Time, written around AD 723. In Columbus’s time, the techniques of celestial navigation, which use the position of the sun and the stars in the sky, together with the understanding that the Earth is a sphere, had long been in use by astronomers and were beginning to be implemented by mariners.
As far back as the 3rd century BC, Eratosthenes had correctly computed the circumference of the Earth by using simple geometry and studying the shadows cast by objects at two remote locations. In the 1st century BC, Posidonius confirmed Eratosthenes’s results by comparing stellar observations at two separate locations. These measurements were widely known among scholars, but confusion about the old-fashioned units of distance in which they were expressed led to some debate about the size of the Earth.
“Columbus map”, drawn c. 1490 in the Lisbon workshop of Bartolomeo and Christopher Columbus
From Pierre d’Ailly’s Imago Mundi Columbus learned of Alfraganus’s estimate that a degree of latitude (or a degree of longitude along the equator) spanned 562⁄3 Arabic miles (which works out to 66.2 nautical miles (122.6 km)), but did not realize that this was expressed in the Arabic mile rather than the shorter Roman mile with which he was familiar. He therefore would have estimated the circumference of the Earth to be about 30,200 kilometres (16,300 nmi) at the equator and 26,200 kilometres (14,100 nmi) at 30 degrees north (around where he was sailing), whereas the correct value is 40,075 kilometres (21,639 nmi) at the equator and 34,735 kilometres (18,755 nmi) at 30 degrees north.
Furthermore, most scholars accepted Ptolemy’s estimate that Eurasia spanned 180 longitude, rather than the actual 130 (to the Chinese mainland) or 150 (to Japan at the latitude of Spain). Columbus, for his part, believed an even higher estimate, leaving a smaller percentage for water. Some people have suggested he followed the estimate of Marinus of Tyre, which put the longitudinal span of the Eurasian landmass at 225. Other people have suggested he followed Esdras’s statement that “six parts are habitable and the seventh is covered with water.” He also believed that Japan (which he called “Cipangu”, following Marco Polo) was much larger, farther to the east from China (“Cathay”), and closer to the equator than it is, and that there were inhabited islands even farther to the east than Japan, including the mythical Antillia, which he thought might lie not much farther to the west than the Azores. In this, he was influenced by the ideas of Toscanelli.
Columbus therefore would have estimated the distance from the Canary Islands west to Japan to be about 9,800 kilometres (5,300 nmi) or 3,700 kilometres (2,000 nmi), depending on which estimate he used for Eurasia’s longitudinal span. The true figure is now known to be vastly larger: about 20,000 kilometres (11,000 nmi).[c] No ship in the 15th century could have carried enough food and fresh water for such a long voyage, and the dangers involved in navigating through the uncharted ocean would have been formidable. Most European navigators reasonably concluded that a westward voyage from Europe to Asia was unfeasible. The Catholic Monarchs, however, having completed an expensive war in the Iberian Peninsula, were eager to obtain a competitive edge over other European countries in the quest for trade with the Indies. Columbus’s project, though far-fetched, held the promise of such an advantage.
Though Columbus was wrong about the number of degrees of longitude that separated Europe from the Far East and about the distance that each degree represented, he did possess valuable knowledge about the trade winds, which would prove to be the key to his successful navigation of the Atlantic Ocean. During his first voyage in 1492, the brisk trade winds from the east, commonly called “easterlies”, propelled Columbus’s fleet for five weeks, from the Canary Islands to The Bahamas. The precise first land sighting and landing point was San Salvador Island. To return to Spain against this prevailing wind would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique, called beating, during which food and drinkable water would probably have been exhausted.
Instead, Columbus returned home by following the curving trade winds northeastward to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where he was able to catch the “westerlies” that blow eastward to the coast of Western Europe. There, in turn, the winds curve southward towards the Iberian Peninsula.
It is unclear whether Columbus learned about the winds from his own sailing experience or if he had heard about them from others. The corresponding technique for efficient travel in the Atlantic appears to have been exploited first by the Portuguese, who referred to it as the Volta do mar (“turn of the sea”). Columbus’s knowledge of the Atlantic wind patterns was, however, imperfect at the time of his first voyage. By sailing directly due west from the Canary Islands during hurricane season, skirting the so-called horse latitudes of the mid-Atlantic, Columbus risked either being becalmed or running into a tropical cyclone, both of which, by chance, he avoided.
Quest for financial support for a voyage
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Columbus offers his services to the King of Portugal; Chodowiecki, 17th c.
In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to King John II of Portugal. He proposed that the king equip three sturdy ships and grant Columbus one year’s time to sail out into the Atlantic, search for a western route to the Orient, and return. Columbus also requested he be made “Great Admiral of the Ocean”, appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands. The king submitted Columbus’s proposal to his experts, who rejected it. It was their considered opinion that Columbus’s estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,860 km) was, in fact, far too low.
In 1488, Columbus again appealed to the court of Portugal, resulting in John II again inviting him for an audience. That meeting also proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal with news of his successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa (near the Cape of Good Hope). With an eastern sea route to Asia apparently at hand, King John was no longer interested in Columbus’s far-fetched project.
Columbus before the Queen, as imagined by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1843
Columbus traveled from Portugal to both Genoa and Venice, but he received encouragement from neither. He had also dispatched his brother Bartholomew to the court of Henry VII of England to inquire whether the English crown might sponsor his expedition, but also without success.
Columbus had sought an audience from the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who had united several kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula by marrying and were ruling together. On 1 May 1486, permission having been granted, Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who, in turn, referred it to a committee. After the passing of much time, the savants of Spain, like their counterparts in Portugal, replied that Columbus had grossly underestimated the distance to Asia. They pronounced the idea impractical and advised their Royal Highnesses to pass on the proposed venture.
However, to keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps to keep their options open, the Catholic Monarchs gave him an annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and, in 1489, furnished him with a letter ordering all cities and towns under their domain to provide him food and lodging at no cost.
Agreement with the Spanish crown
The Flagship of Columbus and the Fleet of Columbus. 400th Anniversary Issues of 1893. (On ships.)
After continually lobbying at the Spanish court and two years of negotiations, he finally had success in January 1492. Ferdinand and Isabella had just conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, and they received Columbus in Crdoba, in the Alczar castle. Isabella turned him down on the advice of her confessor. Columbus was leaving town by mule in despair when Ferdinand intervened. Isabella then sent a royal guard to fetch him, and Ferdinand later claimed credit for being “the principal cause why those islands were discovered”.
In the April 1492 “Capitulations of Santa Fe”, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella promised Columbus that if he succeeded he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain. He had the right to nominate three persons, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to 10 percent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity. Additionally, he would also have the option of buying one-eighth interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive one-eighth of the profits.
Columbus was later arrested in 1500 and dismissed from his posts. He and his sons, Diego and Fernando, then conducted a lengthy series of court cases against the Castilian crown, known as the pleitos colombinos, alleging that the Crown had illegally reneged on its contractual obligations to Columbus and his heirs. The Columbus family had some success in their first litigation, as a judgment of 1511 confirmed Diego’s position as Viceroy, but reduced his powers. Diego resumed litigation in 1512, which lasted until 1536, and further disputes continued until 1790.
The voyages of Christopher Columbus
Between 1492 and 1503, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages between Spain and the Americas, each voyage being sponsored by the Crown of Castile. On his first voyage, he independently discovered the Americas and magnetic declination. These voyages marked the beginning of the European exploration and colonization of the American continents, and are thus of enormous significance in Western history.
Columbus always insisted, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the lands that he visited during those voyages were part of the Asian continent, as previously described by Marco Polo and other European travelers. Columbus’s refusal to accept that the lands he had visited and claimed for Spain were not part of Asia might explain, in part, why the American continent was named after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci and not after Columbus.
First voyage. Modern place names in black, Columbus’s place names in blue
On the evening of 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera with three ships. The largest was a carrack (Spanish: nao), the Santa Mara ex-Gallega (“Galician”)[further explanation needed]. The other two were smaller caravels. The name of one is lost: it is known today only by the nickname Pinta, which in Castilian of the time meant “painted one”. The Santa Clara was nicknamed affectionately the Nia (“the little one”), a pun on the name of her owner, Juan Nio of Moguer. The monarchs forced the citizens of Palos to contribute to the expedition. The Santa Mara was owned by Juan de la Cosa and captained by Columbus. The Pinta and the Nia were piloted by the Pinzn brothers (Martn Alonso and Vicente Yez).
Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands, which belonged to Castile. He restocked provisions and made repairs in Gran Canaria, then departed from San Sebastin de La Gomera on 6 September, for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean. At about 2:00 in the morning of 12 October (21 October, Gregorian Calendar New Style), a lookout on the Pinta, Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodrguez Bermeo), spotted land, and immediately alerted the rest of the crew with a shout. Thereupon, the captain of the Pinta, Martn Alonso Pinzn, verified the discovery and alerted Columbus by firing a lombard. Columbus later maintained that he himself had already seen a light on the land a few hours earlier, thereby claiming for himself the lifetime pension promised by Ferdinand and Isabella to the first person to sight land.
Columbus called the island (in what is now the Bahamas) San Salvador (meaning “Holy Savior”); the natives called it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas this corresponds to is unresolved. Based on primary accounts and on what one would expect from the geographic positions of the islands given Columbus’s course, the prime candidates are San Salvador Island (so named in 1925 on the theory that it was Columbus’s San Salvador),Samana Cay, and Plana Cays.
Landing of Columbus (12 October 1492), painting by John Vanderlyn
The indigenous people he encountered, the Lucayan, Tano, and Arawak, were peaceful and friendly. He called the inhabitants of the lands that he visited indios (Spanish for “Indians”). Noting their gold ear ornaments, Columbus took some of the Arawaks prisoner and insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. From the entry in his journal of 12 October 1492, in which he wrote of them: “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.” Columbus noted that their primitive weapons and military tactics made them susceptible to easy conquest, writing, “these people are very simple in war-like matters I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”
Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba, where he landed on 28 October. On 22 November, Martn Alonso Pinzn took the Pinta on an unauthorized expedition in search of an island called “Babeque” or “Baneque”, which the natives had told him was rich in gold. Columbus, for his part, continued to the northern coast of Hispaniola, where he landed on 5 December. There, the Santa Mara ran aground on Christmas Day 1492 and had to be abandoned. The wreck was used as a target for cannon fire to impress the native peoples. Columbus was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus left 39 men, including Luis de Torres, the converso interpreter, who spoke Hebrew and Arabic, and founded the settlement of La Navidad at the site of present-day Bord de Mer de Limonade, Haiti. Columbus took more natives prisoner and continued his exploration. He kept sailing along the northern coast of Hispaniola with a single ship, until he encountered Pinzn and the Pinta on 6 January.
The return of Christopher Columbus; his audience before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, painting by Eugne Delacroix”
The Letter of Columbus on the Discovery of America”
On 13 January 1493, Columbus made his last stop of this voyage in the New World, in the Bay of Rincn at the eastern end of the Saman Peninsula in northeast Hispaniola. There he encountered the warlike Cigayos, the only natives who offered violent resistance during his first voyage to the Americas. The Cigayos 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. Because of this and because of the Cigayos’ use of arrows, he called the inlet where he met them the Bay of Arrows (or Gulf of Arrows). Columbus kidnapped about 10 to 25 natives and took them back with him (only seven or eight of the natives arrived in Spain alive).
Columbus headed for Spain on the Nia, but a storm separated him from the Pinta, and forced the Nia to stop at the island of Santa Maria in the Azores. Half of his crew went ashore to say prayers in a chapel to give thanks for having survived the storm. But while praying, they were imprisoned by the governor of the island, ostensibly on suspicion of being pirates. After a two-day standoff, the prisoners were released, and Columbus again set sail for Spain.
Another storm forced him into the port at Lisbon. He anchored next to the King’s harbor patrol ship on 4 March 1493 in Portugal. There, he was interviewed by Bartolomeu Dias, who had rounded the Cape of Good Hope a few years earlier, in 1488-1489. Dias’s success had complicated Columbus’s attempts to secure funding from the Portuguese court because the sure route to the Indies that Dias pioneered made a risky, conjectural western route unnecessary. Not finding King John II of Portugal in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a letter to him and waited for John’s reply. John asked Columbus to go to Vale do Paraso north of Lisbon to meet him. Relations between Portugal and Castile were poor at the time. Columbus went to meet with John at Vale do Paraso. Hearing of Columbus’s discoveries, John told him that he believed the voyage to be in violation of the 1479 Treaty of Alcovas.
After spending more than a week in Portugal, and paying his respects to Eleanor of Viseu, Columbus again set sail for Spain. Ferdinand Magellan was a young boy and a ward of Eleanor’s court; it is likely he saw Columbus during this visit. After departing, and after reportedly being saved from assassins by King John, Columbus crossed the bar of Saltes and entered the harbor of Palos de la Frontera on 15 March 1493. Word of his finding new lands rapidly spread throughout Europe.
Columbus’s second voyage
Columbus left the port of Cdiz on 24 September 1493, with a fleet of 17 ships carrying 1,200 men and the supplies to establish permanent colonies in the New World. The passengers included priests, farmers, and soldiers, who would be the new colonists. This reflected the new policy of creating not just “colonies of exploitation”, but also “colonies of settlement” from which to launch missions dedicated to converting the natives to Christianity. Modern studies suggest that, as reported by the Washington Post, “crew members may have included free black Africans who arrived in the New World about a decade before the slave trade began.”
As in the first voyage, the fleet stopped at the Canary Islands, from which it departed on 13 October, following a more southerly course than on the previous expedition. On 3 November, Columbus sighted a rugged island that he named Dominica (Latin for Sunday); later that day, he landed at Marie-Galante, which he named Santa Mara la Galante. After sailing past Les Saintes (Los Santos, “The Saints”), he arrived at the island of Guadeloupe, which he named Santa Mara de Guadalupe de Extremadura, after the image of the Virgin Mary venerated at the Spanish monastery of Villuercas, in Guadalupe, Cceres, Spain. He explored that island from 4 to 10 November.
Michele da Cuneo, Columbus’s childhood friend from Savona, sailed with Columbus during the second voyage and wrote: “In my opinion, since Genoa was Genoa, there was never born a man so well equipped and expert in the art of navigation as the said lord Admiral.” Columbus named the small island of “Saona … to honor Michele da Cuneo, his friend from Savona.”
The same childhood friend reported in a letter that Columbus had provided one of the captured indigenous women to him. He 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 nakedas 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. Butto cut a long story shortI 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.”
The Inspiration of Christopher Columbus by Jos Mara Obregn, 1856
Pedro de las Casas, father of the priest Bartolom de las Casas, also accompanied Columbus on this voyage.
The exact course of Columbus’s voyage through the Lesser Antilles is debated, but it seems likely that he turned north, sighting and naming several islands, including:
- Montserrat (for Santa Mara de Montserrate, after the Blessed Virgin of the Monastery of Montserrat, which is located on the Mountain of Montserrat, in Catalonia, Spain),
- Antigua (after a church in Seville, Spain, called Santa Mara la Antigua, meaning “Old St. Mary’s”),
- Redonda (Santa Mara la Redonda, Spanish for “St. Mary the Round”, owing to the island’s shape),
- Nevis (derived from the Spanish Nuestra Seora de las Nieves, “Our Lady of the Snows”, because Columbus thought the clouds over Nevis Peak made the island resemble a snow-capped mountain),
- Saint Kitts (for St. Christopher, patron of sailors and travelers),
- Sint Eustatius (for the early Roman martyr, St. Eustachius),
- Saba (after the Biblical Queen of Sheba),
- Saint Martin (San Martn), and
- Saint Croix (from the Spanish Santa Cruz, meaning “Holy Cross”).
Columbus also sighted the chain of the Virgin Islands, which he named Islas de Santa rsula y las Once Mil Vrgenes, “Islands of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins” (shortened, both on maps of the time and in common parlance, to Islas Vrgenes). He also named the islands of Virgin Gorda (“Fat Virgin”), Tortola, and Peter Island (San Pedro).
One of the first skirmishes between Native Americans and Europeans since the time of the Vikings occurred on 14 November, when at Saint Croix, Columbus’s men rescued two native boys from several cannibalistic Island Caribs. Columbus’s men pursued the Carib canoe, which met them with arrows. Several Europeans were wounded, but they killed all of the Caribs, and learned that the two boys had recently been castrated by their captors. Columbus continued to the Virgin Islands, and landed in Puerto Rico, which he named San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist (a name that was later given to the capital city of San Juan).
On 22 November, Columbus returned to Hispaniola, where he intended to visit the fort of La Navidad, built during his first voyage and located on the northern coast of Haiti. Columbus found the fort in ruins, destroyed by the native Taino people. Among the ruins were the corpses of 11 of the 39 Spaniards who had stayed behind as the first colonists in the New World.
Columbus then sailed more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) eastwards along the northern coast of Hispaniola, establishing a new settlement, which he called La Isabela, in the present-day Dominican Republic. However, La Isabela proved to be poorly located and the settlement was short-lived.
According to the abstract of Columbus’s journal made by Bartolom 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 and sailed to the west with merchandise.”
On 30 May 1498, Columbus left with six ships from Sanlcar, Spain, for his third trip to the New World. 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.
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 Joo Gonalves da Camara, before sailing to the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. As he crossed the Atlantic, Columbus discovered that the angle between North as indicated by a magnetic compass and North as measured by the position of the pole star changed with his position (a phenomenon now known as “compass variation”). He would later use his previous measurements of the compass variation to adjust his reckoning.
After being becalmed for several days in the doldrums of the mid-Atlantic, Columbus’s fleet regained its wind and, dangerously low on water, turned north in the direction of Dominica, which Columbus had visited in his previous voyage. The ships arrived at King John’s hypothesized continent, which is South America, when they sighted the land of Trinidad on 31 July approaching from the southeast. The fleet sailed along the southern coast and entered Dragon’s Mouth, anchoring near Soldado Rock where they made contact with a group of native Amerindians in canoes. Columbus then landed on Trinidad at Icacos Point (which he named Punta de Arenal) on 2 August. After resupplying with food and water, from 4 to 12 August Columbus explored the Gulf of Paria, which separates Trinidad from what is now Venezuela, near the delta of the Orinoco River. He then touched the mainland of South America at the Paria Peninsula.
Exploring the new continent, Columbus correctly interpreted the enormous quantity of fresh water that the Orinoco delivered into the Atlantic Ocean as evidence that he had reached a large landmass rather than another island. He also speculated that the new continent might be the location of the biblical Garden of Eden. He then sailed to the islands of Chacachacare and Margarita. He sighted Tobago (which he named “Bella Forma”) and Grenada (which he named “Concepcin”.
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 of the New World. 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. 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 …”
Columbus was eventually forced to make peace with the rebellious colonists on humiliating terms. In 1500, the Crown had him removed as governor, arrested, and transported in chains to Spain (see “Accusations of tyranny” section below). He was eventually freed and allowed to return to the New World, but not as governor.
Columbus’s fourth voyage
Coat of Arms granted to Christopher Columbus and the House of Colon by Pope Alexander VI motu proprio in 1502.
Before leaving for his fourth voyage, Columbus wrote a letter to the Governors of the Bank of Saint George, Genoa, dated at Seville, 2 April 1502. He wrote “Although my body is here my heart is always near you.”
Columbus made a fourth voyage nominally in search of the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean. Accompanied by his brother Bartolomeo and his 13-year-old son Fernando, he left Cdiz on 11 May 1502, with his flagship Santa Mara and the vessels Gallega, Vizcana, and Santiago de Palos. He sailed to Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue Portuguese soldiers whom he had heard were under siege by the Moors.
On 15 June, they landed at Carbet on the island of Martinique (Martinica). A hurricane was brewing, so he continued on, hoping to find shelter on Hispaniola. He arrived at Santo Domingo on 29 June, but was denied port, and the new governor refused to listen to his storm prediction. Instead, while Columbus’s ships sheltered at the mouth of the Rio Jaina, the first Spanish treasure fleet sailed into the hurricane. Columbus’s ships survived with only minor damage, while 29 of the 30 ships in the governor’s fleet were lost to a storm on 1 July. In addition to the ships, 500 lives (including that of the governor, Francisco de Bobadilla) and an immense cargo of gold were surrendered to the sea.
After a brief stop at Jamaica, Columbus sailed to Central America, arriving at Guanaja (Isla de Pinos) in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras on 30 July. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants and a large canoe, which was described as being “long as a galley” and filled with cargo. On 14 August, he landed on the continental mainland at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before arriving in Almirante Bay in Panama on 16 October.
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.
Columbus awes the Jamaican natives by predicting the lunar eclipse of 1504.
In Panama, Columbus learned from the Ngobe of gold and a strait to another ocean, but was told by local leader Quiban not to go past a certain point down the river. After much exploration, in January 1503, he established a garrison at the mouth of the Beln River. On 6 April, one of the ships became stranded in the river. At the same time, the garrison was attacked by Quiban and the other ships were damaged. Shipworms also damaged the ships in tropical waters.
Columbus left for Hispaniola on 16 April heading north. On 10 May he sighted the Cayman Islands, naming them “Las Tortugas” after the numerous sea turtles there. His ships next sustained more damage in a storm off the coast of Cuba. Unable to travel farther, on 25 June 1503 they were beached in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica.
For one year Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica. A Spaniard, Diego Mndez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help from Hispaniola. The governor, Nicols de Ovando y Cceres, detested Columbus and obstructed all efforts to rescue him and his men. In the meantime Columbus, in a desperate effort to induce the natives to continue provisioning him and his hungry men, won their favor by predicting a lunar eclipse for 29 February 1504, using Abraham Zacuto’s astronomical charts. Help finally arrived, no thanks to the governor, on 29 June 1504, and Columbus and his men arrived in Sanlcar, Spain, on 7 November.
Accusations of tyranny and brutality
Following his first voyage, Columbus was appointed Viceroy and Governor of the Indies under the terms of the Capitulations of Santa Fe. In practice, this primarily entailed the administration of the colonies in the island of Hispaniola, whose capital was established in Santo Domingo. By the end of his third voyage, Columbus was physically and mentally exhausted, his body wracked by arthritis and his eyes by ophthalmia. In October 1499, he sent two ships to Spain, asking the Court of Spain to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern.
By this time, accusations of tyranny and incompetence on the part of Columbus had also reached the Court. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand responded by removing Columbus from power and replacing him with Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava. Bobadilla, who ruled as governor from 1500 until his death in a storm in 1502, had also been tasked by the Court with investigating the accusations of brutality made against Columbus.
Arriving in Santo Domingo while Columbus was away during the explorations of his third voyage, Bobadilla was immediately met with complaints about all three Columbus brothers: Christopher, Bartolomeo, and Diego. Bobadilla reported to Spain that Columbus regularly used torture and mutilation to govern Hispaniola. The 48-page report, found in 2006 in the national archive in the Spanish city of Simancas, contains testimonies from 23 people, including both enemies and supporters of Columbus, about the treatment of colonial subjects by Columbus and his brothers during his seven-year rule.
According to the report, Columbus once punished a man found guilty of stealing corn by having his ears and nose cut off and then selling him into slavery. Testimony recorded in the report stated that Columbus congratulated his brother Bartolomeo on “defending the family” when the latter ordered a woman paraded naked through the streets and then had her tongue cut out for suggesting that Columbus was of lowly birth. The document also describes how Columbus put down native unrest and revolt: he first ordered a brutal crackdown in which many natives were killed, and then paraded their dismembered bodies through the streets in an attempt to discourage further rebellion.
“Columbus’s government was characterised by a form of tyranny,” Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian who has seen the document, told journalists. “Even those who loved him had to admit the atrocities that had taken place.”
Because of their gross misgovernance, Columbus and his brothers were arrested and imprisoned upon their return to Spain from the third voyage. They lingered in jail for six weeks before King Ferdinand ordered their release. Not long after, the king and queen summoned the Columbus brothers to the Alhambra palace in Granada. There, the royal couple heard the brothers’ pleas; restored their freedom and wealth; and, after much persuasion, agreed to fund Columbus’s fourth voyage. But the door was firmly shut on Columbus’s role as governor. Henceforth Nicols de Ovando y Cceres was to be the new governor of the West Indies.