HISTORY OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
The man who sailed from Spain to discover America was neither Spanish nor did he actually discover America. But it was true that:
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
He was actually Italian, born in 1451 to a wool merchant in Genoa and first went to sea in his youth. He sailed to Iceland and Guinea for business, and later spent some time as a privateer. It was in 1484, the year after Martin Luther was born in Germany, that Christopher Columbus presented to King John of Portugal the idea of an “Enterprise of the Indies” (no relation to Star Trek‘s star ship) where he would sail west to the East Indies, thinking it shorter than the eastern spice trade route. After unsuccessful appeals to the kings of Portugal, England and France he eventually moved to Spain where upon his fourth request, he secured the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. You know them as the parents of Queen Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII of England, and grandparents of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who presided over the trial of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms.
Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain with three ships on August 3 and arrived not in the East Indies, but in the Bahamas on October 12 of 1492, where he named the locals “Indians.” He sailed on to the islands of Cuba and Haiti thinking he’d reached the islands of the East Indies. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus was not alone among 15th century Europeans in thinking that the world was round, but he did vastly underestimate the circumference of the Earth.
He returned with captives and gold to a hero’s welcome in Spain, which subsequently enjoyed its Golden Age of exploration. Columbus made three more voyages to the New World including the Caribbean and South America, but never saw the North American continent.
So did he discover America? Perhaps, if you neglect the people already living there or the Vikings who had visited pre-Columbian America 500 years earlier. But his journeys did result in the first European colonies in the New World of a permanent nature. And in the United States of America, Columbus Day is one of only four federal holidays that honored individuals, including Jesus, President Washington (and Lincoln), and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Is Columbus Day a day off school or work for you?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian