Think you know a lot about Columbus? After all, many of us rely on stories from childhood or on contemporary professors for an assessment of Columbus. Will the real Columbus please stand? Enter historian Bill Federer. His uncanny knack for explaining historical facts with words, pictures, and word pictures is worth exploring. (link appears below) Federer notes that Columbus made a far better explorer than a (failed) governor. He backs up this claim with Columbus’ own words:
“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.”
-Excerpt from Columbus’s letter to Queen, Dona Juana de Torres
We all learned that Columbus undertook four voyages. There’s more to the story. Let’s take a brief look through Federer’s account:
1ST VOYAGE (1492-1493)
” Columbus used his 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,” and the name stuck. These first inhabitants were peaceful Taino Arawak natives.
Columbus thought Cuba was the tip of China and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic/Haiti) was Japan. Returning to Europe, Columbus’ ship, Santa Maria, hit a reef off the coast of Hispaniola and was wrecked on December 24, 1492. He left 39 sailors in a makeshift fort named La Navidad.”
2ND VOYAGE (1493-1496)
“Columbus was frustratingly saddled with 17 ships and 1,500 mostly get-rich-quick Spanish opportunists. This was the doings of the jealous Spanish Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, who continually undermined Columbus at the royal court.
Fonseca thought it was a mistake that the Spanish Monarchs, Ferdinand, and Isabella, gave so much authority to a “non-Spaniard” — Columbus being just a low-class Genoese, from the rival Italian city-state of Genoa.
In this sense, Columbus was the victim of racial discrimination.
Looking for a location for a settlement, Columbus explored Puerto Rico and Jamaica.
Arriving at La Navidad, Hispaniola, they were shocked to find that the sailors Columbus had left the previous year were all killed by natives.”
Federer notes that the peaceful Indian tribe had been invaded by the Carib tribe, who committed unspeakable atrocities against the Taino Arawak natives. A hurricane, malaria, and fear of cannibals were new realities for Columbus and his fellow explorers.
3RD VOYAGE (1498-1500)
“Columbus sailed across the Atlantic further south, closer to the equator.” Consequently, he encountered the no-wind doldrums of the region and the unforgiving sun’s heat.
“Columbus prayed that if the winds returned, he would name the first land he saw after the Trinity. When the winds picked up, Columbus named the first land he saw ‘Trinidad.'”
Meanwhile, Columbus soon encountered greed and civil unrest. He pleaded with the King to send help. Instead, the King sent a new governor to replace him, who sent Columbus back to Spain in chains.
4TH VOYAGE (1502-1504)
“After a two-year delay, Ferdinand and Isabella finally permitted Columbus to sail on May 12, 1502, from Cadiz, Spain, on his last voyage.”
Federer details the explorer Columbus’ ability to predict a hurricane approaching. He tried unsuccessfully to warn people in Santa Domingo but was ignored and “sent packing.” Columbus made it to the island’s far side, while much of it was destroyed. Federer documents the harrowing nature of the hurricane, water spouts, deaths, and destruction of all but four boats. One boat made it back to Spain. It was an old, slow boat that dragged behind and missed the hurricane. This boat had the treasure in it that was promised to the King and Queen of Spain. Columbus was vindicated.
With more adventure, prayer, and survival combined with illness and hardship, Columbus was prevented from discovering the isthmus of Panama. So close, yet so far. That discovery would have been his key to the passage to India.
Federer sums up Columbus this way: “Though unsuccessful as a governor, Columbus was nevertheless one of the world’s most accomplished sailors and explorers, and though he did not reach India or China, he did change history.”
In a day where true history is optional and heroes are seldom reported, today is a day to discover something new about the brave explorer Christopher Columbus.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸
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