Christopher Columbus dies

Christopher Columbus dies

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On May 20, 1506, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus dies in Valladolid, Spain. Columbus was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century. He explored the West Indies, South America and Central America, but died a disappointed man, feeling he had been mistreated by his patron, King Ferdinand of Spain.

READ MORE: Christopher Columbus: His Voyages & Legacy

Columbus was likely born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of his early life, but he worked as a seaman and then a sailing entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time, Europeans knew no direct sea route to southern Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. Contrary to popular legend, educated Europeans of Columbus’ day did believe that the world was round, as argued by St. Isidore in the seventh century. However, Columbus, and most others, underestimated the world’s size, calculating that East Asia must lie approximately where North America sits on the globe (they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed).

With only the Atlantic Ocean, he thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his “Enterprise of the Indies,” as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where he was also rejected at least twice by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina. On October 12, the expedition sighted land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas, and went ashore the same day, claiming it for Spain. Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493, and was received with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was given the title “admiral of the ocean sea,” and a second expedition was promptly organized.

Fitted out with a large fleet of 17 ships, with 1,500 colonists aboard, Columbus set out from Cadiz in September 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Landfall was made in the Lesser Antilles in November. Returning to Hispaniola, he found the men he left there slaughtered by the natives, and he founded a second colony. Sailing on, he explored Puerto Rico, Jamaica and numerous smaller islands in the Caribbean. Columbus returned to Spain in June 1496 and was greeted less warmly, as the yield from the second voyage had fallen well short of its costs.

READ MORE: The Ships of Christopher Columbus Were Sleek, Fast—and Cramped

Isabella and Ferdinand, still greedy for the riches of the East, agreed to a smaller third voyage and instructed Columbus to find a strait to India. In May 1498, Columbus left Spain with six ships, three filled with colonists and three with provisions for the colony on Hispaniola. This time, he made landfall on Trinidad. He entered the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela and planted the Spanish flag on South America. By the scope of the Orinoco River in Venezuela, he realized he had stumbled upon another continent, which Columbus, a deeply religious man, decided after careful thought was the outer regions of the Garden of Eden.

Returning to Hispaniola, he found that conditions on the island had deteriorated under the rule of his brothers, Diego and Bartholomew. Columbus’ efforts to restore order were marked by brutality, and his rule came to be deeply resented by both the colonists and the native Taino chiefs. In 1500, Spanish chief justice Francisco de Bobadilla arrived at Hispaniola, sent by Isabella and Ferdinand to investigate complaints, and Columbus and his brother were sent back to Spain in chains.

He was immediately released upon his return, and Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to finance a fourth voyage in which he was to search for the earthly paradise and the realms of gold said to lie nearby. He was also to continue looking for a passage to India. In May 1502, Columbus left Cadiz on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. After returning to Hispaniola against his patron’s wishes, he explored the coast of Central America looking for a strait and for gold. Attempting to return to Hispaniola, his ships, in poor condition, had to be beached on Jamaica. Columbus and his men were marooned, but two of his captains succeed in canoeing the 450 miles to Hispaniola. Columbus was a castaway on Jamaica for a year before a rescue ship arrived.

In November 1504, Columbus returned to Spain. Queen Isabella, his chief patron, died less than three weeks later. Although Columbus enjoyed a substantial revenue from Hispaniola gold during the last years of his life, he repeatedly attempted (unsuccessfully) to gain an audience with King Ferdinand, whom he felt owed him further redress. Columbus died on May 20, 1506.

READ MORE: Why Columbus Day Courts Controversy

The real legacy of Christopher Columbus: slavery and genocide

University of Wisconsin students march on the 500-year anniversary of Columbus's invasion (Image via UW - Madison Library Archives)

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day, celebrated as a federal holiday in the U.S. since 1971. This day marks the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s 1492 landing in the Americas, his “discovery of the New World” for the benefit of the Spanish monarchy.

Columbus Day is a day of parades, pageants and retail shopping bargains across the nation. Schools close and government employees get the day off. But exactly who and what are being celebrated?

To celebrate Columbus is to celebrate a legacy of genocide, slavery, rape and plunder. It commemorates the violent and bloody accumulation of capital for the ruling classes of Europe and, later, the U.S.

Columbus’ voyage was financed by the Spanish monarchy. Spain was then a newly unified nation-state in competition with other European powers to expand its domain and amass great wealth. The purpose of his expedition was to establish an alternative trade route to the East and return with riches. Gold and silver were of particular interest to Columbus.

When he landed in the islands now known as the Bahamas, Columbus encountered the Arawak Indians, whose kindness and generosity he noted in his journal and letters. Columbus quickly took a group of Arawaks captive, hoping they could lead him to gold. He then sailed to Hispaniola-Haiti and the Dominican Republic-where he enslaved even more Indians.

After returning to Spain and reporting on the incredible wealth in the islands of the “New World,” the monarchs gave Columbus 17 ships and more than 1,200 men to plunder the Caribbean. His new expedition went from island to island gathering slaves and gold with unprecedented brutality.

Opening the continent to slavery

Columbus was the first European slave trader in the Americas. He sent more slaves across the Atlantic Ocean than any individual of his time-about 5,000.

He and his men captured and enslaved the Arawak people almost as soon as they landed. Some were sent to Spain and others served Columbus on the islands. In 1496, Columbus jubilantly wrote Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella about the possibilities for exploitation in the West Indies: “In the name of the Holy Trinity, we can send from here all the slaves and brazil wood which could be sold.”

In Hispaniola, Columbus and the Spanish set up a system that made every Indian over the age of 14 responsible for gathering a certain amount of gold each month. They received copper tokens to hang around their necks if they succeeded. If an Indian was caught without a token, the Spanish cut off their hands and let them bleed to death.

Such murder and torture occurred frequently because the Spanish wildly overestimated how much gold existed on the island. Gathering enough gold to satisfy the Spanish conquerors was an impossible task.

When it became clear there was no more gold to take, the Spanish started a form of plantation slavery, known as the ecomienda system. This system thrived by working Indian slaves to death on large, privately owned estates. Indian slave labor was later used in gold and silver mines.

Sexual slavery was also widespread among the Spanish settlers. In 1500, Columbus wrote: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Spanish priest sympathetic to the plight of Indians, described the terrible violence against them: “[the Spanish] rode the backs of the Indians as if they were in a hurry,” and they “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.”

When the Arawaks tried to escape enslavement, they were hunted and killed. The Spanish sent hunting dogs to rip them apart. When the Arawaks tried to organize armed uprisings, they were crushed by the settlers’ advanced weaponry. Arawaks taken prisoner in battle were hanged or burned alive. Many turned to suicide out of misery and desperation.

The diseases brought by the colonizers rapidly felled the Indians. Through out the Americas, millions died from smallpox, influenza, viral hepatitis and other illnesses. European rodents and livestock wreaked havoc on the ecosystem of the Americas, which sustained the native population.

A brutal legacy

Columbus and his followers massacred an entire people. Some estimate that the pre-Columbian population on the island of Hispaniola was as high as 8 million. By 1516, the Indian population dropped to 12,000. Only 200 remained by 1542. Not one Arawak Indian was left alive on the island by 1555.

The atrocities committed by Columbus and his men were by no means isolated occurrences. Columbus set the model for other Europeans who sought to dominate the “New World.” The same method of terrifying, enslaving and slaughtering Indians was employed by all explorers portrayed as heroes in U.S. history books.

In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés and his fellow villagers waged a scorched-earth campaign against the Aztec empire, overcoming fierce resistance and looting everything they could find. Francisco Pizarro carried out a similar extermination against the Inca empire in Peru.

Captain John Smith from England helped colonize what is now the U.S. state of Virginia for profit. In 1624, he glowingly referenced the Spanish method for dealing with indigenous people: “… you have twenty examples of the Spaniards [and] how they got the West Indies and forced the treacherous and rebellious infidels to do all manner of drudgery work and slavery for them, themselves living like soldiers off the fruits of their labors.” The model of limitless brutality to accumulate resources can be seen through out U.S. history.

Slavery fueled capitalist profits

When it became clear that Indians were dying out too quickly to be useful laborers, settlers turned to the transatlantic slave trade. Settlers reaped huge profits from African slaves who were imported to provide labor to maintain the colonies. Plantation slavery soon spread throughout the Americas, providing agricultural production for the colonizers at very little cost.

It is impossible to know how many Africans were forced into slavery in the Americas from the time of Columbus through the 19th century. Slave traders would often record fewer slaves than they actually transported to keep insurance costs down. They also wanted to avoid criticism for exceeding the maximum capacity of their ships’ holds. For example, in 1788, a British House of Commons committee discovered that the slave ship The Brookes-built to carry a maximum of 451 people-carried more than 600 Africans across the Middle Passage.

Slave traders failed to note when slaves died on the high seas. Due to the brutal and unsanitary conditions on slave ships, nearly 1 in 5 slaves died this way.

Although Britain officially banned the slave trade in 1807, many Africans were illegally kidnapped and transported to the Americas thereafter. At least 12 million Africans were taken to the Americas as slaves.

The slave trade provided the European and U.S. ruling classes with centuries of free labor. In the 1600s, the Spanish began using African slaves in gold and silver mines. Most European colonies used the plantation system to produce sugar, cotton, tobacco, indigo, rice and other crops for export to the European market. This process provided Europe with enough material wealth to spur the rapid advances in technological development and production known as the Industrial Revolution.

Even today some U.S. companies can trace their success to profits made from slavery. A 2002 lawsuit against AETNA insurance, CSX and Fleet Boston sought reparations for African Americans from these companies based on their participation in the slave system. AETNA made its money insuring slaves as the property of their masters. CSX is the present permutation of a company that used slave labor to lay railroad tracks. Fleet Boston is a bank that was founded by a slave trader.

The lawsuit is important because it raises the African American community’s just demand for reparations and at tacks the greedy profiteers of slavery. It insists that African Americans be compensated for centuries of forced labor and discrimination. These historical conditions created the economic disparity faced by African Americans in the U.S. today.

It is not only specific companies that owe reparations the U.S. government must pay as well. Slave labor built the White House. The so-called “founding fathers” of America owned slaves. For nearly 100 years, the U.S. government and their capitalist partners reaped massive profits dripping with the blood of African slaves.

Genocide and slavery in the name of capitalist accumulation was practiced in the Americas and the rest of the colonized world. Karl Marx wrote in “Capital”: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skinned, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”

Columbus and those like him are heroes to the capitalists. They understand that the cruelty and exploitation that marked the colonization of the Americas benefited them. The capitalists’ unyielding search for profits and superprofits leaves them neither conscience nor morality.

Although legal chattel slavery no longer exists in the Americas, capitalist exploitation of poor and oppressed people continues to this day. This is the legacy of Christopher Columbus. For that reason, the masses of people who suffer exploitation have no reason to celebrate on Columbus Day.


Loewan, James, Lies My Teacher Told Me. Touchstone, NY, 1995.
Zinn, Howard, People’s History of the United States. Harper Collins, NY, 2003.

No, Christopher Columbus did not die poor

Christopher Columbus’s sarcophagus in the Cathedral of Seville (photo by Itto Ogami).

Old myths die hard. Many people still believe that Christopher Columbus died in poverty and disgrace, ignored by all in spite of having made the greatest geographical discovery of all times. Such a scene has a certain romantic appeal but let’s repeat it once and, hopefully, for all: it is FALSE.

Columbus’s finances are well known to historians, in particular since Spanish scholar Juan Gil published an article entitled “Las cuentas de Cristóbal Colón” (Christopher Columbus’s accounts) in the journal Anuario de Estudios Hispano-Americanos in 1984. Unfortunately this article is not available online and has never been translated into English, so its information has remained within a rather limited circle of experts.

Juan Gil painstakingly reviewed Columbus’s revenues, and concluded that on the day of his death Columbus was a very wealthy man. His annual income added up to more than 4 million maravedis. How much was that worth? For comparison, the annual salary of a pilot who steered ships across the ocean was around 24,000 maravedis – that is, 167 times less. The monthly rent for a good house in Seville ranged between 1,000 and 2,000 maravedis. Four million maravedis was a fortune that would be effortlessly earned by Columbus’ heirs every year to come. Another comparison: the wealthiest man in Spain at that time, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, had an annual income of 20 million maravedis. Columbus ‘only’ made a fifth of that, but that tells us that we was boxing in the top league of Spain’s millionaires.

So, where does this false idea that Columbus was poor come from? The main blame falls on Hernando Colón, Columbus’s second son (usually called Ferdinand Columbus in English). Don Hernando wrote a biography of his father in which he said that the Admiral had died in “pain of seeing himself fallen from his possession”, hinting that King Ferdinand was trying to deprive the Admiral of his wealth. As Juan Gil points out, Columbus’s heirs were by then involved in a long lawsuit against the Crown regarding their titles and privileges, and Don Hernando’s text may have been an attempt to make the reader feel sorry and sympathetic for Christopher Columbus. Chronicler Bartolomé de las Casas piled on Hernando Colón’s account, as he wrote that Columbus “passed away in a state of much distress, sadness and poverty”. Las Casas’s History of the Indies in turn became one of the main sources for 19th and 20th century historians of the Discovery of America, some of which believed and passed on the fabrication about Columbus’s finances.

Title page of the first edition of Hernando Colón’s biography of his father (Venice, 1571 translated into Italian by Antonio de Ulloa).

Early career and preparation for the first voyage

Little is known of Columbus’s early life. The vast majority of scholars, citing Columbus’s testament of 1498 and archival documents from Genoa and Savona, believe that he was born in Genoa to a Christian household however, it has been claimed that he was a converted Jew or that he was born in Spain, Portugal, or elsewhere. Columbus was the eldest son of Domenico Colombo, a Genoese wool worker and merchant, and Susanna Fontanarossa, his wife. His career as a seaman began effectively in the Portuguese merchant marine. After surviving a shipwreck off Cape Saint Vincent at the southwestern point of Portugal in 1476, he based himself in Lisbon, together with his brother Bartholomew. Both were employed as chart makers, but Columbus was principally a seagoing entrepreneur. In 1477 he sailed to Iceland and Ireland with the merchant marine, and in 1478 he was buying sugar in Madeira as an agent for the Genoese firm of Centurioni. In 1479 he met and married Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, a member of an impoverished noble Portuguese family. Their son, Diego, was born in 1480. Between 1482 and 1485 Columbus traded along the Guinea and Gold coasts of tropical West Africa and made at least one voyage to the Portuguese fortress of São Jorge da Mina (now Elmina, Ghana) there, gaining knowledge of Portuguese navigation and the Atlantic wind systems along the way. Felipa died in 1485, and Columbus took as his mistress Beatriz Enríquez de Harana of Córdoba, by whom he had his second son, Ferdinand (born c. 1488).

In 1484 Columbus began seeking support for an Atlantic crossing from King John II of Portugal but was denied aid. (Some conspiracy theorists have alleged that Columbus made a secret pact with the monarch, but there is no evidence of this.) By 1486 Columbus was firmly in Spain, asking for patronage from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. After at least two rejections, he at last obtained royal support in January 1492. This was achieved chiefly through the interventions of the Spanish treasurer, Luis de Santángel, and of the Franciscan friars of La Rábida, near Huelva, with whom Columbus had stayed in the summer of 1491. Juan Pérez of La Rábida had been one of the queen’s confessors and perhaps procured him the crucial audience.

Christian missionary and anti-Islamic fervour, the power of Castile and Aragon, the fear of Portugal, the lust for gold, the desire for adventure, the hope of conquests, and Europe’s genuine need for a reliable supply of herbs and spices for cooking, preserving, and medicine all combined to produce an explosion of energy that launched the first voyage. Columbus had been present at the siege of Granada, which was the last Moorish stronghold to fall to Spain (January 2, 1492), and he was in fact riding back from Granada to La Rábida when he was recalled to the Spanish court and the vital royal audience. Granada’s fall had produced euphoria among Spanish Christians and encouraged designs of ultimate triumph over the Islamic world, albeit chiefly, perhaps, by the back way round the globe. A direct assault eastward could prove difficult, because the Ottoman Empire and other Islamic states in the region had been gaining strength at a pace that was threatening the Christian monarchies themselves. The Islamic powers had effectively closed the land routes to the East and made the sea route south from the Red Sea extremely hard to access.

In the letter that prefaces his journal of the first voyage, the admiral vividly evokes his own hopes and binds them all together with the conquest of the infidel, the victory of Christianity, and the westward route to discovery and Christian alliance:

…and I saw the Moorish king come out of the gates of the city and kiss the royal hands of Your Highnesses…and Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians…took thought to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said parts of India, to see those princes and peoples and lands…and the manner which should be used to bring about their conversion to our holy faith, and ordained that I should not go by land to the eastward, by which way it was the custom to go, but by way of the west, by which down to this day we do not know certainly that anyone has passed therefore, having driven out all the Jews from your realms and lordships in the same month of January, Your Highnesses commanded me that, with a sufficient fleet, I should go to the said parts of India, and for this accorded me great rewards and ennobled me so that from that time henceforth I might style myself “Don” and be high admiral of the Ocean Sea and viceroy and perpetual Governor of the islands and continent which I should discover…and that my eldest son should succeed to the same position, and so on from generation to generation forever.

Thus a great number of interests were involved in this adventure, which was, in essence, the attempt to find a route to the rich land of Cathay (China), to India, and to the fabled gold and spice islands of the East by sailing westward over what was presumed to be open sea. Columbus himself clearly hoped to rise from his humble beginnings in this way, to accumulate riches for his family, and to join the ranks of the nobility of Spain. In a similar manner, but at a more exalted level, the Catholic Monarchs hoped that such an enterprise would gain them greater status among the monarchies of Europe, especially against their main rival, Portugal. Then, in alliance with the papacy (in this case, with the Borgia pope Alexander VI [1492–1503]), they might hope to take the lead in the Christian war against the infidel.

At a more elevated level still, Franciscan brethren were preparing for the eventual end of the world, as they believed was prophesied in the Revelation to John. According to that eschatological vision, Christendom would recapture Jerusalem and install a Christian emperor in the Holy Land as a precondition for the coming and defeat of Antichrist, the Christian conversion of the whole human race, and the Last Judgment. Franciscans and others hoped that Columbus’s westward project would help to finance a Crusade to the Holy Land that might even be reinforced by, or coordinated with, offensives from the legendary ruler Prester John, who was thought to survive with his descendants in the lands to the east of the infidel. The emperor of Cathay—whom Europeans referred to as the Great Khan of the Golden Horde—was himself held to be interested in Christianity, and Columbus carefully carried a letter of friendship addressed to him by the Spanish monarchs. Finally, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was known to have pressed southward along the coast of West Africa, beyond São Jorge da Mina, in an effort to find an easterly route to Cathay and India by sea. It would never do to allow the Portuguese to find the sea route first.

Murderer Christopher Columbus Dies a Wealthy Man

Christopher Columbus is known for committing a number of atrocities against Indigenous Peoples. Not only did he paint a horrific picture of peaceful Caribbean Natives, calling them 𠇎vil” and describing them as “savage cannibals,” he and his men raped and pillaged those peaceful Natives.

A close friend of Columbus, Michele de Cuneo, wrote a disturbing account that occurred between himself and a Native woman, who was given as a gift by Christopher Columbus:

“While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.”

There are many myths surrounding Christopher Columbus, such as that he never landed on American soil. Another myth circulating is that he died penniless, but that just isn’t true.

Columbus was first returned to Spain in chains in 1500, after being arrested and stripped of his governor title for mismanagement of the island of Hispaniola, but he was pardoned by King Ferdinand, and given a fourth voyage.

Christopher Columbus returned to Spain again in 1504 in poor health, and collected substantial revenue from gold extraction, reports Though he felt he deserved more wealth and recognition, he never manage to gain an audience with King Ferdinand to plead his case.

To obtain the amount of gold promised to Isabella and King Ferdinand, Columbus forced Natives to work in gold mines until they were exhausted. If they refused, they were beheaded or their ears were cut off.

History Today reports that Christopher Columbus spent his final 18 months unhappily. He died on May 20, 1506 surrounded by his family in Valladolid, Spain. His sons, his brother, and even some old shipmates were at his bedside when he passed. He was around 55 years old when he died.

Slavery, disease, death: the dark side of the Christopher Columbus story

On Monday, the United States will observe Columbus Day, schools and banks closing and parades marching in honor of the man who, as we all learned in school, discovered America in 1492.

And according to The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman, Columbus Day is a dangerous farce.

Inman contends in his current strip on The Oatmeal, a humor/political commentary website, that the legends we believe about Columbus are not only misleading but grossly unfair. He cites primary sources and journals recounted in Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and James Lowewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” to dispel the traditional narrative of Columbus as brave traveler who connected the Old World and the New.

Here are a few of The Oatmeal’s conclusions about Christopher Columbus:

• In 1492, no one actually thought the earth was flat. “Pretty much anyone with an education knew the earth was round. The Greeks had proved it 2,000 years before Columbus was born.”

Columbus didn’t actually “discover” the New World. Not only were there natives living in the Americas for 14,000 years, Leif Ericson found the same territory 500 years before Columbus.

Columbus wanted gold, and lots of it. His initial ideas for a new trade route to Asia fell by the wayside as he realized how much gold was available in the New World.

The natives would provide little resistance. According to his own journal, Columbus believed the indigenous Lucayans would not be a significant challenge. “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men,” he wrote, “and govern them as I pleased.”

For his second visit, Columbus armed for war. When Columbus returned to the New World, he brought 17 ships and 1,500 men.

Columbus treated the natives brutally. Columbus demanded treasure, food and sex for his men, and when the Lucayans refused, he ordered their noses and ears cut off to serve as a warning.

• Columbus treated his conquered people harshly. When the Lucayans rebelled, Columbus crushed the rebellion and carted off 500 Lucayans to be sold into slavery in Europe.

• Columbus disrupted the entire economy of three continents. Post-Columbian disease and starvation killed three to five million people over the next fifty years. And the influx of gold disrupted the global economy to the point that African slaves became a dominant commodity.

In short, The Oatmeal contends, Columbus “discovered the New World much like a meteorite discovered the dinosaurs,” and yet is still honored with a federal holiday. Making the point impossible to miss: “The father of the transatlantic slave trade is honored on the same level as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.”

As a replacement, The Oatmeal suggests Bartolome de los Casas, a wealthy plantation owner who sold off his holdings, freed his slaves, turned to the priesthood, and fought for the dignity of native Americans.

In other words, The Oatmeal suggests, Columbus Day might be worth celebrating if it were named for someone else.

He Was a Very Religious Man

Luis Garcia/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

Columbus was a very religious man who believed that God had singled him out for his voyages of discovery. Many of the names he gave to islands and lands he discovered were religious ones: On his first landing in America, he named the island San Salvador, in hopes that the natives he had seen from the ship would find "salvation in Christ." Later in life, he took to wearing a plain Franciscan habit everywhere he went, looking much more like a monk than a wealthy admiral (which he was). At one time during his third voyage, when he saw the Orinoco River empty out into the Atlantic Ocean off of northern South America, he became convinced he had found the Garden of Eden.

The Truth About Christopher Columbus

Many Americans celebrate the life of Christopher Columbus on the 2 nd Monday of October each year they falsely believe many now-debunked myths about Christopher Columbus and to this day continue to celebrate what many now believe to be a man who committed many atrocities against native or indigenous people. Native Americans do not in any way celebrate this day and many to this day are still trying to bring to light some of the atrocities he caused and let the truth be told.

As a little bit of background, Columbus Day was originally conceived by the Knights of Columbus which at the time was a Catholic Fraternal organization that existed in the 1930’s. Soon after the then, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the day into law as a federal holiday in 1937.

Christopher Columbus was a thief:

This is news that was buried by the then administration but at the time while sailing Christopher Columbus actually stole another sailor’s reward. At the time Columbus actually offered a reward of a years’ worth of salary to the first person who discovered land. The truth is another sailor actually discovered land but Columbus reneged on the deal later claiming that he had in fact seen a dim light from land before this sailor.

Christopher Columbus lied about Natives:

Columbus had ulterior motives to acquire large tracts of land and various valuables and to do this he lied about the indigenous people claiming they were violent, not to be trusted and many other untruths which many people believed at the time and allowed him to pave the way for some of the worst atrocities in history.

Rape and Pillage were common among his men:

There are many verified stories of Columbus leaving his men behind in newly discovered lands only for his men to go on and rape and pillage the locals for no other reason than their own sordid pleasures. They were barbarians who felt little to nothing for native life and there are horror stories of them beheading local natives only to test the sharpness of their knives and for their own sick pleasure.

Christopher Columbus was a greedy man and so was the men below him they would often enslave locals and put them in horrific working conditions only so they could enrich themselves with gold and other valuable minerals. On a daily basis, many of these natives would die from the horrific working conditions only to be replaced by more natives which were captured and enslaved by his mean. Sadly these conditions killed off most natives who were enslaved.

There you have it, a few hard truths that you may not have known about Christopher Columbus, we hope you share this information so others are aware of the true nature of Christopher Columbus and his horrible crimes.

Christopher Columbus

C hristopher Columbus. Admiral of the Ocean Sea. The Great Navigator. Renown as the champion of the belief that the earth was round. The man who sought the riches of the Far East by sailing to the west, and who happened instead upon a New World. The man who discovered America. How accurate is the portrait of Columbus that is painted today?

One Small Step for a Man

Where did Columbus really set foot on the New World? Theories and sites abound.

Originally published in VISTA magazine, October 6, 1991.

To read Columbus’s daily log (diario de a bordo) you would think that his small fleet was never very far from land. For 32 days after leaving Gomera in the Canary Islands on September 9th, the diario makes repeated reference to signs of land. Sailing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, more than 1,000 miles from the nearest land, Columbus observed “river weed” (sargassum seaweed), a live crab “not found more than 80 leagues (240 miles) from land,” a booby or gannet, birds that “do not depart more than 20 leagues from land,” and “a large cloud mass, which is a sign of being near land.” But it was not until two hours after midnight, the 12th of October, that land finally did appear.

The land was an island, which the native Lucayans called Guanahani, and Columbus renamed San Salvador (“Holy Savior”). Scholars agree that Guanahani is in the Bahama archipelago, but that is where agreement ends. To date, ten different islands have been identified as the first landfall a truly remarkable number when you consider that only 20 islands in the entire archipelago are even remotely possible candidates. In addition, more than 25 routes have been proposed to take Columbus to the three other Lucayan islands he visited before departing for Cuba. Represented on a single map these routes look like someone gone mad playing connect the dots.

Cat Island, in 1625, was the first to be proposed as the landfall island. Cat went unopposed until Watling Island was suggested in 1793. Grand Turk was next, followed by Mayaguana, and Samana Cay in time for the 400th anniversary in 1892. Cat Island’s claim was ably defended by the novelist Washington Irving (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”), while Watling was promoted by the Chicago Herald (site of the Columbian Exposition in 1893), and Samana was championed by Gustavus Fox who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1926, Cat and Watling entered a legal battle over who had the right to use the name San Salvador. The case was settled by the Bahamas legislature in favor of Watling. Known legally as San Salvador ever since, Watling gained its strongest support from the distinguished Harvard Historian Samuel Eliot Morison who retraced Columbus’s steps in his 1942 Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Columbus. Morison’s reconstruction seemed to end the debate once and for all.

Other first landfall islands have been suggested since — Conception (1943), East Caicos (1947), Plana Cays (1974), Egg/Royal (1981), Great Harbour Cay (1990) — but none has made a sufficiently strong case to sway popular opinion away from Watling. None, that is, until 1986 when National Geographic magazine told 40 million readers that Samana Cay was the place.

But why the debate? Why hasn’t Guanahani been identified with certainty? The answers lay in the quality of the evidence. The only detailed information concerning Columbus’s first voyage is contained in his diario. Columbus presented the original to Queen Isabel who had a copy made for Columbus. The whereabouts of the original are unknown, and all trace of the copy disappeared in 1545. What has survived is a copy made by Bartolomé de las Casas — a thirdhand manuscript handwritten in sixteenth-century Spanish that has numerous erasures, unusual spellings, brief illegible passages, and notes in the margins. The ambiguities, errors, and omissions in this manuscript have been compounded in modern-language translations.

Putting such problems aside for the moment, what of that account might be used to identify Guanahani? Arne Molander, an advocate of Egg/Royal Island, has identified 99 clues, many of which require specialized knowledge and most of which are subject to multiple interpretations. Such minutia are beyond the scope of this brief article, instead let us consider four general categories: ocean crossing, descriptions of the islands, sailing directions and distances, and cultural evidence.

Using a computer generated simulation of the first voyage that took into account prevailing winds and currents, the National Geographic team concluded that the crossing ended at Samana Cay (actually, they overshot Samana by more than 300 miles and had to shorten their league by 10% to land at Samana). When a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution substituted average for prevailing winds and currents, their simulated crossing ended in sight of San Salvador (without need to adjust for distance). However, not satisfied with that solution, this same team plugged new numbers into their computer and put Columbus near Grand Turk! Too bad, as one reviewer noted, Columbus didn’t have a computer on board.

A different approach to the crossing is to simply use Columbus’s statement that Guanahani was on the latitude of Ferro in the Canary Islands. Simple enough? Latitude sailing was certainly possible in Columbus’s day, and Arne Molander has shown that the latitude from Ferro crosses Egg Island, just north of Eleuthera. However, Robert Power, armed with maps of the day, has shown that the Americas are consistently displaced northerward on these maps and that in sixteenth-century cartography the line from Ferro crosses Grand Turk. In this way both northern and southern Bahamas landfalls have been supported.

The situation does not improve when you move to descriptions of the islands themselves. For example, prospective Guanahanis range in size from 10 to 389 square kilometers, the harbor that could hold “all the ships in Christendom” from .6 to 36.6 square kilometers, and the second island is either 5 by 10 leagues (as recorded in the diario) or 5 by 10 miles (a likely transcription error).

If we cannot be certain what he was describing, then we should at least be able to retrace how he got there. Yet the record of directions and distances has been used to defend more than 25 different routes. The most basic disagreements concern translation such as whether camino de should be translated as “the way from” or “the way to.” More complicated disagreements arise over interpolations. Between the night of October 17th and the morning of the 19th one route has the fleet sail fewer than 20 miles, while another has them cover more than 300. The first claims that bad weather prevented them from sailing on the 18th while the latter claims that storm winds propelled the three ships at breakneck speed.

Lastly, Columbus visited four native villages and spent three days trying to reach the village of a chief. I have used archaeological evidence to show that the Watling to Rum Cay to Long Island to Crooked Island to Cuba route best fits all of the data. Others, however, believe that there were so many Lucayans living in the Bahamas that virtually every route will find archaeological sites in the places where Columbus observed villages. Only more archaeology will tell.

Where was Columbus’s first landfall in the Americas? The Lucayans called the island Guanahani, and Columbus renamed it San Salvador. In my opinion it is known today by the name Columbus gave it.

Sailing into History

Small and feeble, the ships of Columbus opened a route to an unknown world.

Originally published in VISTA magazine, July 7, 1991

“We departed Friday the third of August of the year 1492 from the bar of Saltés at the eighth hour,” thus begins the daily log of Christopher Columbus. There had been no fireworks, no fanfare as the Santa Clara, Pinta, and La Gallega departed the port of Palos on the Río Tinto half an hour before sunrise. Columbus was aboard La Gallega, the largest of the three vessels. Originally named for Galicia, the town in which she was built, she was known to her sailors as “Marigalante,” literally “dirty Mary.” Columbus rechristened her Santa María. The others were also known by nicknames: Santa Clara, was known as Niña (“little girl”) a play on the name of her owner, Juan Niño Pinta means “painted one.”

The expedition was a community enterprise. The Niña and Pinta were outfitted with supplies and crew by the citizens of Palos and Moguer in payment of a fine imposed by the Crown “for some things done and committed.” Two of the areas leading families, Pinzón and Niño, headed the expedition. The crews were not the faint-hearted landlubbers and criminals of legend who became frightened during a long expedition and who threatened mutiny until calmed by Columbus. There was no mutiny. These were men with years of shared experience, knowledge of the sea, and confidence in their abilities. As Professor Carl Sauer noted in The Early Spanish Main: “Columbus had originated and promoted the idea of the voyage Spanish seamen made it possible and carried it through.”

That is not to say that Columbus heard no complaints. There were royal representatives and freed criminals aboard Santa María. Moreover, she was an uncomfortable vessel a slow, tubby, ship-rigged cargo carrier on which Columbus had the only private space — a 10 by 20 foot room under the poop deck in the back of the ship, which had small windows on either side and a door in front. Luxurious accommodations on a ship whose deck space, roughly the size of a modern tennis court, was shared by a 40 man crew.

Santa María was a “nao,” slightly larger and more round-bellied than the two caravels, Columbus described her as “very heavy and not suitable for the business of discovery.” Santa María sank on Christmas eve near Cap Haïtien, Haiti, the first of nine ships that would sink during Columbus’s explorations (four at La Isabela, 1495 two in Panama, 1503 two in Jamaica, 1504).

The other two vessels were “caravels,” a name used to describe a variety of relatively small ships of 70 to 80 feet in length having a capacity of 60 to 70 tons. Caravels reflected several major improvements in ship design, specifically, a change from single-masted square rigging to multiple lateen sails (large triangular sails that improved maneuverability into the wind), the use of pre-constructed framing upon which flush, end-joined (‘carvel’) planking was nailed, and the use of a stern-mounted rudder as opposed to traditional side-mounted steering oars. Caravels had one deck, no forward structure, and only a modest raised poop deck and transom stern. Because ships of the day were built of individually crafted pieces without benefit of plans or drawings, we cannot be certain of the exact dimensions of the Niña or Pinta. However, Professor Eugene Lyon has uncovered records pertaining to Columbus’s 1498 expedition in which the Niña took part. Lyon concluded that Niña was 67 feet long, 21 feet wide, seven feet draft, and a capacity of 52 tons.

By modern standards the ships were overcrowded, the Niña and Pinta carried 25 man crews, especially on the first transatlantic voyage which did not make port between September 6th and October 12th. With only one cabin below the poop deck, the crew spent most of the voyage exposed to the elements. At night they had the option of sleeping on deck or below deck on the ballast pile where cargo, the main anchor, and heavy armaments were stowed. The favorite place to sleep was the hatch covers, the only level spots on the ship. The adoption of hammocks from the native peoples of the West Indies revolutionized sleeping aboard ship.

Although most expeditions expected to make port within two weeks, Columbus’s three ships carried provisions for an entire year. Records of the 1498 voyage of the Niña listed stores of wheat, flour, wine, sea biscuit, olive oil, garbanzos, cheese, salt pork, vinegar, fatback, sardines, and raisins. Cooking was done on deck in large copper kettles over a fire in a sandbox kindled with vineshoots and fed with olivewood.

Because there is little mention of weapons in the earliest chronicles, most naval historians have concluded that the ships were not well armed. The work of Donald Keith, Director of Ships of Discovery, and other nautical archaeologists, has challenged that view. Dr. Keith reports that the earliest Caribbean shipwrecks have well-formed batteries of armament. For example, the Molasses Reef wreck, a late 15th to early 16th century Spanish wreck in the Turks and Caicos Islands, carried “ship-killing” wrought-iron cannons called bombardetas and a cerbatana three types of versos, swivel guns mounted on the “gunwale” (hence the name) which were useful for raking the decks of enemy ships or keeping unfriendly canoe-borne Indians at bay smaller swivel guns called harquebuts which could be mounted on the ship’s boats during amphibious assaults and a variety of portable arms including rifles (arquebuces), crossbows, lances, swords, and even hand grenades. These weapons show a sophisticated appreciation of guns and range of shot. Even though we cannot specify their effects, they were a key element in the conquest of the Americas.

These were not, however, warships. The warships of the day were galleys, long, sleek vessels driven to sea by an oversize lateen sail and then propelled into battle by scores of oarsmen. Their bows were constructed as battlefields with a battering ram leading the way below an artillery platform, from which large caliber cannons fired scrap metal, and a boarding platform from which archers, musketeers, and swivel gunners attacked the enemy from close range.

The ships of exploration were general-purpose cargo vessels (investors were reluctant to risk first class ships). They were uncomfortable and were not made for the business of discovery, yet their maneuverability, their flexibility of rigging, their ability to travel more than 100 miles per day under favorable conditions, and to sail in shallow water gave them a major role in voyages of exploration. In the words of Dr. Roger Smith, underwater archaeologist for the State of Florida, caravels were the “Mercury spacecraft of a long line of transoceanic vessels.”

It was only after the major discoveries of the sixteenth century had been completed that a new vessel was created for the purposes of transoceanic commerce. This new ship was the famed “galleon.” Designed in response to the need for speed and security, galleons combined the cargo capacity of the nao, the sleek water lines of the galley, and the sail patterns and rigging of the caravel.

Rumbo a la Historia

Pequeñas y débiles, las naves de Colón abrieron ruta hacia un mundo incógnito.

Originally published in VISTA magazine, July 7, 1991

“Zarpamos el viernes, tercer día de agosto del año 1492, a la octava hora,” comienza el diario de Cristóbal Colón. No hubieron ni fuegos artificiales ni fanfarrias cuando la Santa Clara, la Pinta y la Gallega salieron del puerto español de Palos, por el río Tinto, media hora antes que despuntara el sol.

Colón viajaba en la Gallega, la mayor se las tres naves, apodada por sus tripulantes “Marigalante” — María la disoluta. Colón la rebautizó Santa María. Las Otras naves también tenían apodas. A la Santa Clara se le conocía como la Niña, porque el dueño era Juan Niño Pinta significaba “la pintada.”

La expedición era una empresa comunitaria. La Niña y la Pinta llevaban víveres y tripulación suministrados por las ciudades de Palos y Moguer, en pago de una multa impuesta por la Casa Real de España. Miembros de las familias principales de la región, Pinzón y Niño, estaban al mando.

Los tripulantes no eran los medrosos ciudadanos que, según la leyenda, se amotinaron durante la larga expedición. No hubo tal motín. Estos eran hombres con años de experiencia, conocimiento del mar y confianza en sus habilidades. Como anotó el Professor Carl Sauer en Los Comienzos de la Armada Española, “Colón originó y promovió la idea del viaje. Los marineros españoles la hicieron posible y la ejecutaron.”

Esto no quiere decir que Colón no escuchó quejas. A bordo de la Santa María iban agentes de la Corona y criminales liberados. Era una “nao” (barco de transporte) regordeta, lenta, incómoda, donde Colón gozaba del único espacio privado: un camarote de 10 por 20 pies, bajo el puente de popa, con ventanillas a cada lado. Lujosa cabina ésta, en un barco cuyo espacio habitable — aproximadamente del tamaño de una cancha de tenis — era compartido por 40 tripulantes.

La Santa María era más grande que las carabelas, “muy pesada,” según Colón, “y no apropiada para el negocio de descubrimientos.” Se hundió esa Nochebuena cerca Cap Haitien, Haití, la primera de nueve naves de Colón que naufragaron durante sus expeciciones (cuatro en La Isabela, 1495 dos en Panamá, 1503, y dos en Jamaica, 1504).

Los otros dos navíos eran carabelas, barcos relativamente pequeños, de 70 a 80 pies de eslora (largo), con una capacidad de 60 a 70 toneladas. Las carabelas incorporaban varias mejoras en el diseño náutico, principalmente un cambio en las velas, de cuadradas a triangulares, que daban mayor maniobrabilidad. Tenían una cubierta, un modesto puente de proa. Se maniobraban con un timón montado a popa, no con los remos tradicionales. Sus costillas eran preconstruídas las tablas se clavaban sobre ellas cabo a cabo, en estilo “carabelado.”

Ya que los barcos de ese tiempo se construían sin uso de planos, no se conocen las dimensiones exactas de la Niña o de la Pinta. Sin embargo, el historiador Eugene Lyon ha descubierto archivos referentes a la expedición de Colón de 1498, en la que tomó parte la Niña. Lyon, un profesor de la Universidad de Florida, deduce que la Niña medía 67 pies de eslora, 21 de manga (ancho), 7 de calado (espacio bajo la línea de flotación) y que tenía una capacidad de 52 toneladas.

Con una tripulación de por los menos 20 marinos cada una, no cabe duda que la Niña y la Pinta estaban repletas. Con sólo una cabina abierta en la popa, los navegantes pasaban la mayor parte del tiempo a la intemperie. Por las noches, podían dormir sobre cubierta o en la estiba, junot a la carga, el lastre y los armamentos. Los lugares favoritos para dormir eran las cubiertas de las escotillas, las únicas superficies planas en la nave. Las hamacas descubiertas más tarde en el Nuevo Mundo, revolucionaron el estilo de vivir de los marineros.

Aunque la mayoría de los expedicionarios preveían entrar a puerto en dos semanas, los tres veleros de Colón llevaban provisiones para un año entero. El manifiesto de la Niña en 1498 indicaba cantidades de harima, trigo, vino, galletas, aceite, grabanzos, queso, puerco salado, vinagre, tocina, sardinas y pasas. El cocinero laboraba sobre la cubierta usando grandes ollas de cobre. Troncos de olivo ardían en una caja de arena, bajo las ollas.

Porque los relatos antiguos poco mencionan las armas, muchos historiadores han llegado a la conclusión que las naves no estaban bien apertrechadas. Donald Keith y otros expertos náuticos han corregido esa impresión al estudiar el armamento de naves hundidas en el Caribe. Un buque naufragado entre los siglos XV y XVI en las aguas de Turcos y Caicos portaba: Cañones de grueso calibre llamados bombardetas y una cerbatana tres tipos de versos, cañones giratorios montados en la balaustrada cañones giratorios pequeños, llamados harquebuts, que podían montarse en las lanchas para ataques anfibios y una variedad de armas de mano, incluyendo arcabuces, ballestas, lanzas, espadas y granadas. Esta fuerza bélica fue un elemento clave en la conquista de las Américas.

Las naves de Colón no rean sin embargo, buques de guerra. En su mayoría fueron veleros de carga, cuya maniobrabilidad, capacidad para navegar más de 100 millas diarias bajo condiciones favorables y para surcar aguas poco profundas les dieron un papel importante en los viajes de exploración.

Las carabelas, dice Roger Smith, arqueólogo marino para el estado de Florida, eran “las astronaves Mercury de una larga línea de navíos transoceánicos.”

Columbus, Hero or Heel?

500 years after his epoch-making trip, The Great Navigator remains an enigma.

Originally published in VISTA magazine, March 24, 1991

This “heroic” scene of Columbus “discovering” America erroneously depicts the event that led to the demise of Taino culture in less than one generation.

Christopher Columbus. Admiral of the Ocean Sea. The Great Navigator. Renown as the champion of the belief that the earth was round. The man who sought the riches of the Far East by sailing to the west, and who happened instead upon a New World. The man who discovered America. Removed from Hispaniola in chains in 1500 and wrongly persecuted in his later years. His story typifies that of a tragic heroic figure.

Yet how accurate is the portrait of Columbus that is painted today? How much of what we know comes from the deification of a long-dead hero whose personal attributes have been shaped to reflect the greatness of his discoveries? And how much of what we are being told today is simply a revisionist backlash that demands attention by attacking dead heros?

A century ago Columbus was a hero who was feted in the Columbian world expositions as a man whose single-minded pursuit of his goals was to be emulated. Today he is being reviled as a symbol of European expansionism, the forbearer of institutionalized racism and genocide who bears ultimate responsibility for everything from the destruction of rainforests to the depletion of the ozone layer. Impressive accomplishments for someone who died five centuries ago.

When one peels back the shroud of myth that today surrounds him we find that his portrait embodies a period of history more than an individual man. Professor Robert Fuson, a Columbus admirer, described him as a man of the Renaissance, whose sensibilities were still firmly rooted in the Middle Ages.

An example of the Columbus mythology illustrates those points. Columbus is often credited with being the first to accept that the earth was round. Yet this fact was first proved by the Greek mathematician Pythagoras in the 6th century B.C. Moreover, when Columbus obtained contradictory navigational readings off the coast of South America during his third voyage in 1498, he quickly abandoned his round earth. Instead he proposed that the earth was shaped like a pear with a rise “like a woman’s breast” on which rested the “Terrestrial Paradise” (Garden of Eden) to which no man could sail without the permission of God. To his detractors, such beliefs are those of a mentally unbalanced religious fanatic to his promoters, they are remarkably prescient (the earth does in fact bulge along the equator) and they illustrate his steadfast and consuming faith in God.

Beyond historical attributes, his personal characteristics and life history add to the intrigue. What was his real name? Kirkpatrick Sale notes the following possibilities: Christoforo Colombo, Christofferus de Colombo, Christobal Colom, Christóbal Colón, and Xpoual de Colón. Columbus himself, after 1493, chose to sign himself Xpo ferens, which glosses as “the christbearer.” As St. Christopher had before him, he saw himself fulfilling God’s plan by bringing Christ to a new world.

His place and date of birth are also uncertain. He was a Virgo or Libra (he was versed in Astrology), born between August 25th and October 31st, 1435 to 1460, with 1451 the most frequently given year. He claims to have been born in Genoa, although Chios (a Greek island that was a Geonoese colony), Majorca, Galicia, and other places in Spain have also been suggested. Wherever his place of birth, he seems to have thought of himself as a Castilian, the language in which he wrote.

His son Fernando described him as having a reddish complexion, blonde hair (white after age 30), blue eyes, an exceptionally keen sense of smell, excellent eyesight, and perfect hearing. A man of relatively advanced age in 1492 (at least forty years old) the description of him as having been in perfect physical condition must be an exaggeration. He was also reported to be moderate in drink, food, and dress and never swore!!

He was of the Catholic faith, although some claim a Jewish background on one side of his family. He expressed his faith in his choice of a Franciscan friar’s robes for an appearance before the Spanish Court, in leaving his son at the Franciscan monastery of la Rábida between 1481 and 1491, and in his eschatological Libro de las profecías, an array of prophetic texts, commentaries by ancient and medieval authors, Spanish poetry, and Columbus’s own commentaries.

He is said to have gone to sea at age 14. On the Atlantic coast to the north he made at least one voyage to England and possibly one to Iceland, while to the south he sailed as far as the Gold Coast of Africa. He is reputed to have been involved in a naval engagement between Franco-Portuguese and Genoese fleets in 1476. He made four voyages to the New World. Until recently, anything about Columbus character, except his skills as a mariner, was open to criticism. Recently, revisionist historians are unwilling to grant even that. Kirkpatrick Sale claims that Columbus never commanded anything larger than a rowboat prior to the first transatlantic crossing. Yet it remains a fact that he succeeded in crossing the Atlantic Ocean and, more important, he returned safely. It was Columbus’s voyage that set the stage for European expansion.

Columbus married Doña Felipa Perestrello e Moniz in 1479, and their son Diego was born in 1480 in the Madeira Islands. Doña Felipa died sometime between 1481 and 1485, after which Columbus consorted with Beatriz Enríquez de Arana. A second son, Fernando, was born to Beatriz in 1488. While Governor of Hispaniola, he was assisted by his younger (or older) brother (or uncle) Bartholomew Columbus. Christopher, Bartholomew, and their other brother Diego, were arrested in July, 1500, for mismanagement of the colony. They were sent to Spain in chains in October and released in December of that year.

As one looks behind the historical facade that has been built to represent the “discoverer” or “destroyer” of America, one encounters many more questions than answers. The story seems to begin with Columbus seeking financial sponsorship for a voyage to Asia and the Indies. But was Asia really Columbus’s objective? Henry Vignaud and others have maintained that Columbus pursued more personal goals. Upon reaching the islands Columbus spent two weeks searching for gold in the Bahamas. Why did he waste time in the Bahamas when his stated objective lay a short distance to the southwest? Why did Columbus bring trinkets for trade if the gold of the Grand Khan (in Latin “king of kings”) was his primary objective? Why did Columbus claim lands for the Spanish Crown, and himself as the Crown’s representative, if these belonged to an Asiatic Kingdom? Why is there no mention of Asia or the Indies in the titles awarded to Columbus by his royal sponsors?

Christopher Columbus died on May 20, 1506 in Valladolid, Spain of age-related causes. He was about 54 years old. Even in death Columbus left us wondering — Sevilla, Santo Domingo, and Havana all claim to be his final resting place. A fitting twist to the end of his story.

For 500 years there has been only one answer to the question, who was Columbus?

That answer is another question. Who do you want him to be?

One New World, Many Claimants

If Columbus didn’t get here first, who did? A historian rounds up the usual—and unusual—suspects.

Originally published in VISTA magazine, September 8, 1991

Marco Polo’s travels in Asia, and Portuguese expansionism in Africa, bear testimony to how little fifteenth-century Europeans knew about their neighbors. It is generally assumed that they knew even less of the continents that lay across the great oceans. In the 2nd century A.D., the Hellenistic scholar Claudius Ptolemy drew a map of the world that would survive until Columbus’s voyage. He depicted the world as a northern hemisphere comprised of a single Euro-Asian continent and northern Africa. The Americas were not depicted. Yet if various avocational historians are to be believed, the American continents had been known for almost two millennia.

Olmec carved stone head from Mexico is seen by some as having Negroid features.

Christopher Columbus is credited with the first successful round-trip transatlantic voyage, but even his priority has been questioned. In his day it was rumored that he simply followed a course disclosed to him by a Spanish sailor who died shortly after completing the circuit in 1484. Another story is that the King of Portugal told Columbus of trade between Africa and the Americas — a route that the Mandingo traders from Guinea had somehow managed to keep quiet for more than 150 years. Whether or not such expeditions took place, the Old and New Worlds were poised for contact by the close of the fifteenth century.

English fishermen from Bristol were fishing on the banks off Newfoundland by the 1490s, and John Cabot, sailing for England, reached northern North America in 1494 and cruised the coast of New England in 1497. The Portuguese were also capable mariners whose attempted crossings at the middle latitudes failed because the winds ceased a short distance out into the Atlantic. Their discovery of Brazil would have occurred even if Columbus had never sailed. The fastest course for rounding Africa is to follow the counterclockwise circulation of winds in the southern hemisphere. By sailing first toward Brazil, the Cape of Good Hope could be rounded with a following wind.

But what of encounters before the fifteenth century? The only well-documented case is that of the Vikings. The Norse established colonies on Iceland (A.D. 874), Greenland (A.D. 986), and Newfoundland (by A.D. 1000). An archaeological site called L’Anse aux Meadows has been identified as the short-lived Newfoundland colony. The dates for the site correspond to Norse sagas about Leif Ericson’s Vinland colony. The site was occupied for only a few years, apparently due to hostilities with the Native peoples. The Greenland colony was abandoned shortly after in the face of a deteriorating climate, the end of supply voyages from Europe, and hostilities with the Inuit.

But even Leif Ericson was a late-comer in the northern latitudes according to some. Irish legend holds that in the 6th century A.D. Saint Brendan sailed an oxhide boat westward over the ocean to “where God ruled supreme.” Evidence for the Brendan voyage is an apocryphal Latin text, and a recent recreation of the voyage. Furthermore, according to Harvard Biology Professor Barry Fell, King Woden-lithi of Norway established a permanent trading colony on the St. Lawrence River near Toronto in 1700 B.C. Evidence for this Bronze Age colony is a series of inscriptions in the bedrock that Fell likens to an early Scandinavian alphabet. The supposed colony was abandoned as the climate turned colder at the close of the Bronze Age.

All proposals concerning early trans-oceanic contacts use the same form of argument. Superficial similarities in materials (be they Olmec heads, symbols carved in rocks, pyramids, or even religious and social practices) are identified and are then explained as resulting from contacts (diffusion) between the areas. The distance separating these areas and the mode of transportation between them are rarely important concerns. [An early diffusionist argument had people walking across Antarctica to reach South America!]

Egypt provides an excellent example of how diffusionist arguments work. In the 1920s the distinguished anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith proposed the Pan-Egypt theory, which stated that civilization arose only once, in Egypt, and then spread across the globe. One part of this theory had civilization carried across the oceans by Phoenicians searching for the Egyptian Sun stone, gold. The theory was based on superficial resemblances between such things as Egyptian, Cambodian, and Aztec pyramids, and ignored often dramatic differences. In the final analysis all of the evidence points to independent origins and distinct sequences of development for these cultures.

The second involves demonstrating that contact, often against all odds, was possible. Thor Heyerdahl’s Ra expeditions showed that Egyptians could have crossed the Atlantic in reed boats and that Americans could have sailed reed boats to Polynesia. Likewise, Tim Severin showed that St. Brendan could have crossed the Atlantic in an oxhide curragh. Such recreations have demonstrated that people with a simple maritime technology could have successfully crossed expanses of ocean. They demonstrate what could have been, but can never prove what was.

A final case for Atlantic crossings was proposed on the basis of superficial resemblances between the physical appearance of black Africans and artifacts of the Olmec culture of Gulf-coast Mexico. According to Rutgers Professor Ivan Van Sertima, the Olmec’s colossal stone heads, terracotta sculptures, skeletal remains, and pyramids, along with ancient European maps, all point to contacts between Africans and Central Americans between 800 and 600 B.C.

On the Pacific coast, it is possible that Polynesians reached the Americas. Having succeeded in sailing between islands separated by more than 1000 miles of open ocean, it is reasonable to assume that they could have made the relatively short water-crossing to reach the Americas.

In addition, archaeologists working in Ecuador have noted a number of similarities in the decorations on pottery from the Valdivia site and from Jomon in Japan. Jomon pottery is among the earliest in the world (circa 5000 B.C.), and Valdivia pottery (circa 3000 B.C.) is among the earliest in the Americas. On the basis of this coincidence it was proposed that pottery making was introduced into the Americas by Asians. Earlier pottery-bearing sites away from the coast make an Asian source both less likely and unnecessary.

Speculations concerning contacts between widely dispersed peoples, captures the imagination and challenges conventional wisdom. However, with the exception of Leif Ericson’s colony, pre-Columbian contacts between the Americas and Asia, Africa, or Europe have not been proved. And though Christopher Columbus was certainly not the first to “discover” the Americas, he was definitely the last.

Columbus, My Friend

Published in VISTA, November 3, 1991

It has been called the Grand Fleet by Samuel Eliot Morison. Seventeen ships, 1500 men, horses, pigs, beasts of burden almost everything that would be needed to reproduce an Iberian homeland in what had been described as an earthly paradise. In reporting his discoveries to the crown, the Admiral himself had described the Tainos and their islands in these words: “I believe that in the world there are no better people or a better land.”

On this, Columbus’s second voyage, the fleet had taken a faster more-southerly route. Hurried by the desire to reach and resupply the fort, La Navidad, which he had established eleven months earlier, Columbus cruised the length of Puerto Rico’s south coast in a single day (November 19th). The next two days were spent collecting food and water while the fleet lay at anchored in Boquerón Bay on this island the native peoples called Boriquén and Columbus renamed San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist).

This day he was sailing to the west with the trade winds. How different from the previous year when, on December 6, 1492, the Santa María and Niña approached an island that the Bahamian and Cuban Tainos aboard his ship called Bohío, and which Columbus renamed La Ysla Española (the Spanish Island). Stalled by contrary winds, the two ships had been visited by hundreds, and on one day more than a thousand, Tainos who came in canoes or who swam to the ships. The rulers (caciques) of the villages and provinces (cacicazgos) along the north coast competed with each other to make their invitation to Columbus the most inviting. Yet in the end, the competition was decided by an act of God.

On Christmas day, shortly past midnight, the Santa María had her belly ripped open on a coral reef. Awakened by this explosion, which could be heard “a full league off” (about 3 miles), Columbus ordered the main mast cut away to lighten the vessel. He also sent Juan de la Cosa, the ship’s master, to take a boat in order to cast an anchor astern. Instead, Cosa fled to the Niña, whose captain refused to let him board and who sent his boat to aid the Admiral. It was too little too late the Santa María was stuck fast.

The wreck occurred in the vicinity of present-day Cap Haïtien, in the Taino province of Marien, which was ruled by a cacique named Guacanagarí. On learning of the wreck Guacanagarí wept openly and he sent weeping relations to console Columbus throughout the night. Afraid to risk the Niña in salvaging the Santa María, Columbus enlisted Guacanagarí’s assistance. His people recovered everything, including planks and nails, and assembled the materials on the beach. So thorough were the Tainos that not a single “agujeta” (lace-end or needle) was misplaced.

Columbus took the sinking of the Santa María as a sign from God that he should build a fort in this location. Guacanagarí gave Columbus two large houses to use. With the assistance of his people, the Spaniards began construction of a fort, tower, and moat in the cacique’s village using the timbers and other materials salvaged from the Santa María. Because the Niña could not accommodate all of the sailors, thirty-nine men would be left at La Navidad with instructions to exchange and trade for gold.

When word reached Columbus that the Pinta had been spotted (Martín Pinzon had left with the Pinta 36 days earlier to seek his own fortune), preparations were begun for their return to Spain. Three days later, on December 30th, Columbus and Guacanagarí sealed their friendship with the exchange of gifts. Guacanagarí removed the crown from his head and placed it on Columbus. In return, Columbus dressed Guacanagarí in a fine red cape, high-laced shoes, a necklace of multicolored agates, and a silver ring. Both men, perhaps unwittingly, had chosen the most important symbols of the other’s culture. Columbus’s “coronation” meant far more to Columbus than it would have to a Taino and the gift of a red cape was perhaps the greatest honor Columbus could have bestowed. Following the exchange, Columbus provided a display of the weapons aboard the Niña, and promised to protect Guacanagarí from his enemies.

When Columbus returned to La Navidad with the Grand Fleet on November 28, 1493, he learned that all of the Christians were dead and that La Navidad had been burned to the ground. Recent evidence of the conflagration has come from the work of archaeologist Kathleen Deagan of the Florida Museum of Natural History. In addition to a handful of objects of European origin and the bones of Old World rats and pigs, research at the archaeological site believed to be La Navidad has uncovered mineral-encrusted potsherds that could only have formed at temperatures greater than 1400° C. Thus, the inferno was so intense, the wattle-and-daub structures must have acted like kilns.

History records that the Spaniards were killed because they abused the local people. If such local violations were the cause, then the local leader, Guacanagarí, should have ordered the killing. Yet, Columbus did not blame Guacanagarí. Instead, Caonabó, the primary cacique for this region and the ruler to whom Guacanagarí owed fealty, was blamed. Would another leader have acted differently? Had he allowed Guacanagarí to harbor a well-armed garrison of Europeans his own survival would have been threatened. Columbus’s son Ferdinand wrote that when Caonabó was captured he admitted to killing twenty of the men at La Navidad. Caonabó was sent to Spain to stand trial, and Columbus moved his base of operations 70 miles to the east where he established the colony of La Isabela.

Always the restless explorer, Columbus soon tired of administration and set out to explore the coast of Cuba. On April 25, 1494, he stopped to visit Guacanagarí. The cacique, upon learning of the Admiral’s arrival, fled in fear of his wrath. His fear dated back to Columbus’s return to La Navidad in 1493. While passing the Leeward Islands and then Puerto Rico Columbus had taken on board a number of Indians called “Caribees.” Guacanagarí had helped these captives to escape. To make matters worse, he had kept one of the freed captives as a wife. Columbus was in too great of a rush to wait for his old friend’s return, but appears to have harbored no animosity.

By March of 1495 Columbus and Guacanagarí found that they again needed each other. The Tainos in the central part of the island were in open rebellion. With his brother Bartolomé, two hundred Christians, 20 horses and 20 dogs Columbus marched into the interior to quiet the rebellion. Guacanagarí and his men marched at the Admiral’s side. Revenge was his reason. He was hated by the other caciques for cooperating with the Spanish. They flaunted this hatred by killing one of his wives and stealing another — capital offenses in Taino society.

That campaign in the Vega Real contains the last words written about Guacanagarí. He was a man who had history thrust upon him. A man who saw the opportunity to improve his station in life and did so. Where others viewed the Spaniards as their enemy, he came forward and embraced Columbus as a friend.

Did Your Family Sail With Columbus?

Published in VISTA, July 7, 1991

Between 86 to 89 men accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first voyage. There were 20 on the Niña, 26 on the Pinta, and 41 on the Santa María. After the Santa María sank, 39 men were left to establish a fort, La Navidad (the Santa María sank on Christmas eve), in the village of the Taino cacique Guancanagari.

What follows is a listing of crew members by vessel along with a separate list for those who were left at La Navidad. The Pinta was away when the colonists were chosen so her crew remained the same shipwreck, with some remaining in Hispaniola and others returning on Niña.

Sailors of the day were often known only by their given name and the city whence they came for example, “Alonso de Palos” aboard the Pinta, the form in which many of the names appear. The list is probably not complete and contains both duplications and omissions. Alternate spellings are given in parentheses, and it is possible that the same person is listed more than once with a slightly altered spelling.

The list was compiled by Alice B. Gould (“Nueva lista documentada de los tripulantes de Colón en 1492”, Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia (vols. 85-88, 90, 92, 110, 111. Madrid, 1922-1938) and J. B. Thatcher (Christopher Columbus: His Life, His Work, His Remains, 3 vols. New York, 1903-194). The present list is modified from Robert H. Fuson, The Log of Christopher Columbus (Camden, Maine, 1987).


García Alonso
Pedro de Arcos, from Palos
Bernal, servant
Diego Bermúdez
Juan Bermúdez
Antón (Antonio) Calabrés
Maestre Diego, surgeon
Christóbal García Xalmiento (Jalmiento, Sarmiento), pilot
Bartolomé García
Francisco García Gallego
Francisco García Vallejo
García Hernández (Fernández), steward
Juan de Jérez (Xéres), from Palos
Fernando Méndes (Méndez, Mendel)
Francisco Méndes (Méndez, Mendel)
Alonso de Palos
Alvaro Pérez
Gil Pérez
Juan Pérez Viscaino
Martín Alonso Pinzón, Captain
Francisco Martín Pinzón, Master
Diego Martín Pinzón
Juan Quadrado
Christóbal Quintero, Owner
Juan Quintero
Gómez Rascón
Juan Reynal
Juan Rodríquez Bermejo
Pedro Tegero (Tejero, Terreros?)
Rodrigo de Triana
Juan Veçano (Vezano)
Juan Verde de Triana

García Alonso
Maestre Alonso, physician
Juan Arias, cabin boy
Juan Arraes
Pero (Pedro) Arraes
Bartolomé García, boatswain
Alonso Gutiérrez Querido
Andrés de Huelva
Diego Lorenzo
Rodrigo Monge (Monte)
Alonso de Morales, carpenter
Francisco Niño
Juan Niño, Owner and Master
Pero (Pedro) Alonso (Peralonso) Niño, pilot
Juan Ortíz
Gutiérrez Pérez
Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, Captain
Bartolomé Roldán, apprentice pilot
Juan Romero
Sanco Ruíz (de Gama?)
Pero (Pedro) Sánches (Sánchez)
Miguel de Soria, servant
Pedro de Soria
Fernando de Triana


Pedro de Acevedo
Master Alonso, physician
Diego Bermúdez
Pedro del Bilbao
Bartolomé Biues (Vives?)
Cristóbal Caro, goldsmith
Chachú, boatswain
Alonso Chocero
Alonso Clavijo (criminal granted amnesty)
Cristóbal Colón, Captain-General
Juan de la Cosa, Owner and Master
Antonio de Cuellar, carpenter
Master Diego, boatswain
Rodrigo de Escobar
Ruíz (Ruy) Fernández
Gonzalo Franco
Rodrigo Gallego, servant
Ruíz (Ruy) García
Francisco de Huelva
Juan, servant
Maestre Juan
Juan de Jérez
Rodrigo de Jérez (Xérez)
Diego Leál
Pedro de Lepe
Domingo de Lequeitio
Lope (López), joiner
Juan Martínes (Martínez) de Açoque
Juan Medina, tailor
Juan de Moguer (criminal granted amnesty)
Diego Pérez, painter
Juan de la Plaça (Plaza)
Jacomél Rico
Juan Ruíz de la Peña
Sanco Ruíz (de Gama?), pilot
Diego de Salcedo, servant of Columbus
Juan Sánchez, physician
Rodrigo (Pedro?) Sánchez, Comptroller of fleet
Pedro de Terreros (Tejero), steward
Pedro de Terreros, cabin boy
Bartolomé de Torres (criminal granted amnesty)
Luis de Torres, interpreter
Martín Urtubía
Pedro de Villa
Domingo Vizcaino
Pedro Yzquierdo (criminal granted amnesty)

Men left at La Navidad

Cristóbal del Alamo
Diego de Arana, Master-at-arms of fleet, Captain at La Navidad
Francisco de Aranda
Gabriél Baraona
Juan del Barco
Domingo de Bermeo, cooper
Pedro Cabacho
Diego de Capilla
Castillo, silversmith
Juan de Cueva
Rodrigo de Escobedo, Secretary of fleet, Lieutenant at La Navidad
Francisco Fernández
Gonzalo Fernández (from Segovia)
Gonzalo Fernández de Segovia (from Leon)
Pedro de Foronda
Diego García
Francisco de Godoy
Jorge González
Pedro Gutiérrez, representative of royal household, Lieutenant
Francisco de Henao
Guillermo Ires (William Harris or William Penrise, from Ireland)
Antonio de Jaén
Francisco Jiménez
Martín de Lograsan
Alvar Pérez Osorio
Juan Patiño
Diego de Mambles
Sebastián de Mayorga
Alonso Vélez de Mendoza
Diego de Mendoza
Juan de Mendoza
Diego de Montalban
Juan Morcillo
Hernando de Porcuna
Tristán se San Jorge
Pedro de Talavera
Bernandino de Tapia
Diego de Tordoya
Diego de Torpa
Juan de Urniga
Francisco de Vergara
Juan de Villar

Résumé of Christopher Columbus (Christobal Colón)

Between August 25th and October 31st, 1435 to 1460. 1451 is the most frequently given date.

Columbus said Genoa, Italy. Other candidates — Chios, which is now Greek but was a Genoese colony where Columbus is a common surname. Also, Majorca (Spanish Balearic Islands), Galicia, and other places in Spain.

Married Doña Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, 1479

Diego, born to Doña Felipa, 1480, Madeira Islands. Fernando, born to Beatriz, 1488.

Doña Felipa died between 1481 and 1485.

Beatriz Enríquez de Arana, after 1485.

May 20, 1506, Valladolid, Spain, age-related.

Leading candidates: Sevilla, Spain Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic or Havana, Cuba.

Bartolemé Colón (older or younger, brother or uncle).

Blonde hair (white after age 30), blue eyes, exceptionally keen sense of smell, excellent eyesight, perfect hearing. Perfect physical condition in 1492. Moderate in drink, food, and dress never swore.

Catholic. Jewish background on one side of his family. Left son Diego at Franciscan friary, la Rabida, in 1481, retrieved him in 1491.

Went to sea at age 14. May have been involved in naval engagement between Franco-Portuguese and Genoese Fleets in 1476. Made at least one voyage to England, possibly one to Iceland. Made four voyages to the New World: 1) September 8, 1492 to March 3, 1493 2) October 7-10, 1493 to June 11, 1496 3) May 30, 1498 to August 31, 1498 (Santo Domingo, see below for return to Spain) and 4) May 9, 1502 to November 7, 1504 [marooned in Jamaica — June 25, 1503 to March 7, 1504].

Arrested in Santo Domingo August 23, 1500. Sent to Spain in chains in October 1500. Released December 12, 1500 and summoned to court.

Top 10 Reasons Why Christopher Columbus Shouldn’t Be Called a ‘Cultural Hero’

Ah, Christopher Columbus. The man every person would want to meet (but unfortunately he’s dead). Everyone in this world knows how significant Columbus was and how he helped shape the world as we know it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have his own holiday.

But no matter what people say about him – be it good or bad – he wasn’t the typical careless colonialist. In fact, he had to do the most twisted of things just to achieve success. And believe it or not, people during his time thought he was a monster.

To give you an idea about who Columbus really was, below are 10 straightforward facts about him. You’ll be surprised with how brutal this guy actually was.

#10. Cutting the Hands Off of Natives Who Refused to Bring Gold

Upon reaching the so-called New World, Columbus promised motherland Spain that he would bring as much gold and slaves they need. And yes, he stayed true to his words even if it meant conducting a massacre. He began to round up natives and confine them in pens (though most were sent to Spain to work as slaves). Most of them, however, were forced to work gathering gold. Columbus thought that the Arawak people had huge gold fields and that they were hiding them. Anyone who came back with a satisfactory gold quantity was given a copper token to hang around the neck. This symbolized life, meaning that they managed to live another day. As for the unfortunate ones, their hands were chopped off – on the spot.

#9. Columbus Had His Men Test Their Blades By Slashing People

He himself knew the weight of actions of his men. Besides, he condoned it. A priest by the name of Bartolome de las Casas joined Columbus’ men in New World. He also witnessed the gruesome acts and was quoted saying,

My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”

Casas further mentioned about the Spaniards slicing off parts of the slaves just to test the sharpness of their blades. They would even make bets on whoever could “slit a man in two.” And just to kill the time, these men would occasionally cut off heads and body parts – all for the sake of entertainment. Columbus, on the other hand, didn’t care at all. He was more concerned about making Spain proud.

#8. Mutilating His Own Squads

Columbus torturing tactics didn’t stop with the natives. He was also fond of torturing his own men. He would tend to starve his men out, veering them away from any food resources. And although his ships were packed with all the good stuff, he wouldn’t share them. Some soldiers would even beg, but Columbus played deaf. When his boys started to steal food, it was when he became so furious. He established a rule that anyone who got caught stealing would be hanged. There was a time when a cabin boy stole a fish and got caught, Columbus himself nailed the boy to the exact spot where the fish was stolen. He would often resort to mutilation, cutting off ears, fingers, and even testicles.

#7. He Had Women Paraded In the Streets Naked

If a woman upsets Columbus, she better asks help from her gods. His treatment towards offensive women was far more brutal, though it didn’t involve mutilation of sorts. He would have them parade naked through the streets. He would also have them whipped or hanged. Columbus didn’t even care about evidence. If he thought that a woman was worth punishing, he would do it right away. There was a woman who was rumored to be impregnated by Columbus. The news reached the latter and decided to take actions. And although it wasn’t the woman’s fault, Columbus didn’t have any second thoughts – she humiliated and killed her.

#6. Starting a Child Sex Slave Ring

Columbus was among the first individuals who realized that prostitution meant money. This was when he started the so-called ring of sex slaves. For him, this was a good and abundant business.

A hundred Castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm.”

Apparently, most of these sex slaves were children. He even wrote a letter describing their ages to be from “nine to ten.” Columbus also gifted himself a young girl, whom he used as a sex slave. And if this quote doesn’t disturb you, I don’t know what else will.

Since I wanted to have my way with her and she was not willing, she worked me over so badly with her nails that I wished I had never begun.”

#5. His Greatest Lie Ever

Don’t you know that Columbus actually lied about being the first person to spot a land? This goes to show how petty he was. Way before he set his food in the New World, he was already infamous for ruining other people’s lives. Before sailing west, the royalties of Spain promised a lifetime pension to the first person to spot a land. And there Columbus went, changing the course of history. The first individual who actually spotted a land was Rodrigo de Triaga. When he tried to report his discovery to Spain, Columbus intervened. He clamored about seeing a light that appeared almost like a candle. He argued that it was him who spotted the land, not Rodrigo. In order to win, he persuaded both the king and queen and used his influence. Interestingly, Columbus did it not for the sake of money – but simply for the recognition.

#4. Parading Dismembered Bodies Through Town

Apart from parading naked women, Columbus was also known for displaying dismembered bodies. When the Arawak people decided to revolt against Spain, Columbus and his men immediately seized them. Unfortunately for the tribe, they got overwhelmed. Just to make a point, Columbus decided to dismember the revolts and had their bodies marched through the native town. For him, it was a warning sign to anyone who would decide to rebel against the throne.

#3. Pretending to be God

Columbus knew that the natives had their own way of life. However, he also knew that they were naïve. So what did he do to gain control over them? He acted as a divine being – a god, that is. But how exactly did Columbus do this? He simply tricked the natives that he had magical powers, though it was more about astronomy (as I said, the natives were naïve). He claimed about knowing when the next lunar eclipse would hit and that when it happened, his “god” would devour those who went up against him. When the lunar eclipse really happened, the natives “came running from every direction to the ships.” They really thought that Columbus’ god was about to unleash his wrath.

#2. The Arawaks Committed Suicide Because of Columbus

The Arawaks tried everything they can to fight the Spaniards. But no matter how strong they got, Columbus and his men were just extremely powerful. After all, they had the armor and weaponry. Knowing that there was no way they could escape Columbus’ brutality, they decided to commit suicide en masse. The entire communities gathered together and killed themselves. They would usually do this in groups of 100. Mothers would feed their children with cassava poison just to let them die peacefully.

One of the Spaniards witnessed the mass suicide and said,

Since I wanted to have my way with her and she was not willing, she worked me over so badly with her nails that I wished I had never begun.”

#1. He Was Responsible for Bringing Syphilis to Europe

Sure, Columbus killed millions of natives in his journey however, these killings were an understatement compared to numbers he did back home. When he and his men came back from the New World, they didn’t just bring slaves and gold – they also brought syphilis or commonly referred to as STD. The first outbreak happened in Europe sometime in 1945. Before Columbus’ return, there were barely cases of syphilis. Some researchers of today claimed to have found one, but none of them could really prove it. Apparently, though, all signs lead to Columbus – and this originated from their ring of child sex slaves.

When some of Columbus’ men waged war against Italy, they whore their way across Europe. Unbeknownst to their knowledge, they’ve already started spreading syphilis. The first outbreak didn’t just kill a million – it was over five million Europeans. The death toll might even include Columbus himself, who died in 1506 shortly after years of waging war. The illness was said to have been contracted on his last voyage to the New World.

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