CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS OVERVIEW
Christopher Columbus is one of the most significant figures in all of World History and is particularly important to major world events such as the Age of Exploration and Renaissance. His four famous journeys to the New World in the late 15th century and early 16th century altered the history of the world and led to a mass migration of people from the Old World to the New World. Today, he is best remembered as a famous European navigator, explorer and colonizer.
EARLY LIFE OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
Columbus was born on October 31st in 1451 in the Republic of Genoa. The city-state of Genoa was a major center during the Renaissance and developed along the coast of the northwestern section of the Italian peninsula next to the Ligurian Sea. Due to its location and excellent harbor, the city established a reputation as a naval power. This was due, in part, to its powerful navy and excellent navigators. As a result, the city-state had a well-established history for developing capable sailors.
The name ‘Christopher Columbus’ is the English version of his name. His name in Ligurian, which is the native language of northern Italy, is Cristòffa Cómbo. As well, in Spanish it is pronounced Cristóbal Colón. This is important because, while he was born in Genoa, he is most famous for the journeys he undertook on behalf of the Spanish monarchy. As such, he is closely linked with the Spanish Empire of the Age of Exploration.
Christopher Columbus’ father was Domenico Colombo, who worked as a wool weaver in Genoa. As well, his father operated a cheese stand, which Christopher would sometimes work at. Christopher Columbus’ mother was Susanna Fontanarossa and was born to a wealthy family on the island of Corsica. Domenico and Susanna had five children together, with Christopher being the oldest.
Little is known about Christopher Columbus’ childhood, but in several of his writings, he mentioned training at sea at the age of 10. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, a Portuguese noblewoman in 1479. They had a son together in 1480 named Diego Columbus. Historical accounts suggest that his wife, Filipa, died in 1485, while Columbus was away at sea. After her death, Columbus moved himself and his son Diego to Castile, which is a central region of modern-day Spain. While there he met Beatriz Enríquez de Arana. The two had a son together, named Fernando Columbus, in 1488.
While Columbus was not highly educated in an academic sense, he was extremely well read and could speak several different languages. For instance, he was able to speak and write Latin, Castilian and Portuguese. As well, he read about many different topics, such as: astronomy, geography, and history. For example, he was known to have read many significant books of the time, including ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’, who led earlier voyages into Asia. This is important because Columbus was driven by his own desire to reach Asia, by a sea route, which led to his famous voyages to the New World. Click here to read more about Columbus' early life.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS' QUEST TO REACH ASIA
The desire to reach Asia by a sea route was an important factor in Europe in the late Renaissance and led directly to the events of the Age of Exploration. In the previous centuries (during the timeframe of the Middle Ages) most long distance trade between Europe and Asia occurred along the network of trade routes referred to as the Silk Road. However, many in Europe were anxious to find a sea route that could be used to expand and quicken the long-distance trade of the time.
Famous Florentine mathematician and astronomer, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, suggested in the 1470s that it may be possible to sail to East Asia by heading west from Europe. He recorded this idea in a letter and map that he sent to a friend who lived in Portugal. Eventually, Toscanelli’s idea reached Portuguese King Alfonso V. Although Alfonso V rejected Toscanelli’s idea, it helped spark later journeys westward by European navigators and explorers such as Christopher Columbus. Supposedly, Toscanelli made a copy of the letter and map for Christopher Columbus, who then took it with him on his first voyage to the New World in 1492.
Christopher Columbus approached King John II of Portugal in 1485 in regards to his plans of carrying out a westward voyage to Asia. At the time, European monarchs were the best source of financial support for explorers who wished to carry out voyages as part of the Age of Exploration. As part of his plans, Columbus requested three ships and one year to cross the Atlantic Ocean and return to Europe.
Ultimately, John II rejected Columbus on the belief that a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was impossible. Columbus returned in 1488, to again ask for financial support of a voyage from John II. However, the Portuguese king again rejected Columbus’ plan. In part, the king’s decision was based on the recent voyage of Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, who was the first to make the trip around the southern tip of Africa in 1488.
At the same time that he had been proposing his westerly route idea to John II in Portugal, Columbus was also seeking financial support from other monarchs in both England and Spain. While Henry VII of England rejected him as well, he gained some support from the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Columbus first proposed his idea to them in 1486, but a deal wasn’t reached until January of 1492 when they granted him financial support for his journey.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS' FIRST VOYAGE TO THE NEW WORLD
The information below is a summary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World in 1492. Click here for a more detailed account.
Christopher Columbus’ first voyage westward from Europe began in 1492, following his financing deal from the Spanish king and queen – Ferdinand and Isabella. He left Spain on August 3rd, 1492 with three ships. The largest was a carrack named ‘Santa Maria’ and was a three-mast ship that stretched about 58 feet (17.7 meters) in length. It was the flagship of Columbus’ first voyage. Accompanying the Santa Maria were two others ships that were caravels, which was a small but more maneuverable type of sailing ship. The first of these is called ‘La Pinta’, which means ‘The Painted One’. The second caravel on Columbus’ first voyage was nicknamed ‘La Nina’ which means ‘The Little One’.
The crossing of the Atlantic took the three ships about five weeks. Columbus’ knowledge of the winds present in the Atlantic Ocean allowed the three sail ships to use the ‘easterlies’ to sail west from the Canary Islands until the ships reached the Caribbean. Regardless, on the morning of October 12th, 1492, a lookout (Rodrigo de Triana) aboard the Pinta notified the crew that he had spotted land. The captain of the Pinta fired a cannon shot to notify Columbus aboard the Santa Maria of the discovery. Although, Columbus later claimed he personally made the discovery of the land hour earlier.
Columbus named the land upon which the three ships arrived ‘San Salvador’, which translates to ‘Holy Savior’, however the local native people that Columbus and the crew first encountered referred to it as ‘Guanahani’. Modern historians debate which exact island it is that Columbus first arrived at but it was one of several possible islands in the northeastern Caribbean.
Upon arriving in the Caribbean, Columbus and the crew encountered several different groups of indigenous peoples, including: Lucayan, Taíno, and Arawak. Believing he had arrived at the Fareast of Asia, Columbus referred to the people he came across as ‘indios’, which translates to ‘Indian’ in English. In fact, in a report on his first voyage he wrote that he believed he was sailing in the Indian Ocean. With that said, the term is generally considered inappropriate today.
Columbus believed that he had arrived in Asia because he had miscalculated the circumference of the Earth. When Columbus set sail in 1492, it was widely understood that the Earth was a sphere and not flat. Also, several different people previous to Columbus had correctly calculated the circumference of the Earth, which is 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers). However, a confusion in different types of measurements led Columbus (and other Europeans of the time) to incorrectly estimate the circumference of the Earth to be much smaller than it actually is. As such, when Columbus arrived in the New World, he believed he had in fact arrived in Asia due to the distance he had travelled and his belief that the Earth was smaller than it really is.
He continued his journey on his first voyage by heading west and south to where he arrived on the eastern coast of Cuba on October 28th, 1492. From there he continued east to Hispaniola (modern Haiti and Dominican Republic), which he and his crew arrived at on December 5th. In fact, the island of Hispaniola was first permanent European settlement in the Americas. Columbus left nearly forty of his crew at La Navidad to construct the settlement. He would not return to the settlement until 1493 on his second voyage to the New World.
Columbus arrived back to Spain on March 15th, 1493 and became famous for his incredible journey and findings. In fact, the news of Columbus’ first voyage spread across Europe and inspired numerous other explorers to carry out their own voyages to the New World. As such, historians consider Columbus’ first voyage (and the three others that followed) as one of the causes of the Age of Exploration and European migration to the New World.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS' SECOND VOYAGE TO THE NEW WORLD
The information below is a summary of Columbus’ second voyage to the New World. Click here for a more detailed account.
While Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World in 1492 was significant, his second voyage in 1493 was also just as important and is one of the most important events in all of world history. The second voyage to the New World by Columbus began on September 24th, 1493 when Columbus and his crew left Spain. Due to the success of his first voyage, and promises of wealth in the New World, Columbus was provided with 17 ships for his second trip. On the first voyage he was only able to bring three ships in total. The 17 ships were used to carry approximately 1,200 people and all of the supplies needed for the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. These 1,200 people included priests, farmers, soldiers, and other settlers. They were coming on the voyage with the purpose of establishing new colonies and settlements throughout the New World. Also, Columbus brought with him many seeds, plants and livestock. This is important, because it relates to the Columbian Exchange (which is also known as the Grand Exchange).
The cargo and people that Columbus brought with him on the second voyage started a ‘grand exchange’ and revolution between the New World and the Old World that would alter the world forever because he had brought with him seeds, plants and livestock that were not originally occurring in the New World. The major exchange between the two worlds centered on the exchange of plants, animals, and diseases. Although the exchange began with Christopher Columbus it continued and developed throughout the remaining years of the Age of Exploration. Ultimately the Columbian Exchange impacted the social and cultural makeup of both sides of the Atlantic and dramatically impacted the people living in these regions. Click the link above to read more about the details and impacts of the Columbian Exchange.
Columbus’ travels across the Atlantic took a route that ventured more south than the first voyage. As such, the ships arrived in the southeast section of the Caribbean islands. In fact, On November 3rd, Columbus spotted an island which he named ‘Dominica’. The word ‘Dominica’ translates to ‘Sunday’ in Latin. Today the island is still called Dominica.
After his arrival to the New World on his second voyage, Columbus and his crew travelled west along a string of small islands. He made landfall on several of the islands and explored a few of them for a short period of time, but continued to head north and west through the Caribbean towards the larger islands that he had first explored on his first voyage.
Columbus arrived at Hispaniola on his second voyage on November 22nd, 1493. He set out straight away to visit the settlement of La Navidad but was shocked to find that it had been destroyed by the Taino indigenous peoples who lived on the island. He also discovered numerous corpses from the nearly 40 people that he left to establish the settlement. As a result, he abandoned La Navidad and sailed further north along the coast of Hispaniola where he established another settlement which he called La Isabela. This new settlement was located in the modern country of Dominican Republic.
Columbus did not remain at the Isabella settlement at the time. For instance, he left on April 24th, 1944 and did not return until September 29th, 1494. During this timeframe, he and some other settlers explored further west in the hopes of finding the mainland of China. This is because Columbus still believed that he had reached the shores of the Fareast of Asia. He arrived in modern day Cuba on April 30th, and explored the island of Jamaica days later.
Columbus departed for Spain on March 10th, 1496 with only 225 settlers and 30 captures slaves. He arrived in Spain on June 11th, 1496. While gone, he left his brothers, Bartholomew and Diego, in charge of the settlements in the New World.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS' THIRD VOYAGE TO THE NEW WORLD
The information below is a summary of Columbus’ third voyage to the New World. Click here for a more detailed account.
Columbus began his third voyage to the New World on May 30th, 1498 when he left Spain with six ships. Three of the six ships immediately sailed to Hispaniola with supplies for the settlers who remained on the island. However, Columbus took the other three ships with him in order to explore a more southerly route than he had ever previously taken. He did this in hopes of finding different islands and the location of mainland Asia which he believed was close in location. This was due to the fact that he believed that he had found the Indian Ocean and was in close proximity to China.
On July 31st, 1498, Columbus and his three ships arrived in the New World in a location that was further south than he had ever been before. In fact, Columbus arrived at the modern island of Trinidad, which Columbus named due to the presence of three hills he noticed on the island. Furthermore, Columbus made landfall on Trinidad on August 2nd and have his supplies and water replenished. In the days that followed, Columbus explored the southern coast of Trinidad and made his way east and north towards mainland South America, which he explored the coast of for a while.
Soon after, he left the area and sailed in a relatively direct route for Hispaniola, the island in the Caribbean that he had established settlements on in his two earlier voyages. While he was gone, several of the settlers had begun to organize a revolt against his leadership.
As a result of the conflict, the Spanish Crown sent Francisco de Bobadilla, who arrived on the island of Hispaniola in 1500. Bobadilla effectively replaced Columbus as Governor of the Spanish lands in the New World, and Columbus was disgraced amid accusations of his tyrannical and unjust rule. For instance, it was reported from both supporters and enemies to Columbus that he used many different brutal acts against the people. This is likely one of the reasons for the massive depopulation of the island at the time. For example, some historians have reported that the Taino indigenous population on the island of Hispaniola was depopulated by as much as two-thirds by 1496, just 4 years after the arrival of Columbus to the island on his first voyage.
All of these actions, led to the arrest of Columbus and his two brothers and they were returned to Spain in October of 1500. Upon arriving they were put in chains and imprisoned. With that said, he was soon released, however he lost his title as Governor. He would return one more time to the New World on his fourth voyage.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS' FOURTH VOYAGE TO THE NEW WORLD
The information below is a summary of Columbus’ fourth voyage to the New World. Click here for a more detailed account.
The fourth voyage that Christopher Columbus undertook to the New World was also his final. He left Spain on May 11th, 1502 with four ships, and went in search of the Strait of Malacca to the Indian Ocean. This was due to his false belief that in his three previous voyages to the New World he had actually arrived on the coast of Asia. He did not realize that he was actually in an area that had previously been unexplored by Europeans. On the fourth voyage he was accompanied by his brother Bartholomew and his 13-year-old son Fernando, along with approximately 140 other men.
After a short stop in Morocco, Columbus and crew arrived at the island of Hispaniola on June 29th, 1502. This was the island in the Caribbean that Columbus had first explored on his three earlier voyages and had established a settlement. In fact, when Columbus arrived at Hispaniola he immediately went to the settlement of Santo Domingo, which was first established by his brother Bartholomew Columbus in 1496. Today, Santo Domingo is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic. Upon arriving, Columbus sought to enter the port of the city, but was denied by Francisco de Bobadilla, who was the current Governor.
Regardless, Columbus warned the settlement about an incoming hurricane that he had witnessed on his crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and anchored his ships. The governor did not listen to Columbus’ warning and sailed out of the harbor. As a result, on July 1st, nearly 30 ships from the settlement were lost to the storm of the hurricane. As well, Francisco de Bobadilla, died in the hurricane and sank with the fleet. Columbus and his crew survived with relatively little damage to their ships.
Following the storm, Columbus went to the island a Jamaica and then headed south to the island of Guanaja, which is just north of the Central American country of Honduras. Following this, Columbus spent the next couple of months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. He and his crew arrived at a site in modern day Panama on October 16th.
Soon after, while on route to Cuba, Columbus was again hit by another storm and his three remaining ships took on water. As a result, he and the crew abandoned ship on the northern coast of Jamaica on June 25th, 1503. However, finally on June 29th, 1504, Columbus and the crew that were stranded in Jamaica were rescued. Columbus returned to Spain and arrived on November 7th. Columbus’ final voyage to the New World was over. He died only two years later.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS' FINAL YEARS
Having completed his four voyages to the New World, Christopher Columbus was famous throughout Europe. However, he spent the remaining few years of his life campaigning to receive more compensation for his earlier explorations from the Spanish Crown. As part of his original deal, Columbus was supposed to be paid ten percent of all of the earnings that Spain received from the New World. However, after being removed as Governor of the Spanish settlements on his third, the Spanish Crown stopped these payments. As a result, Columbus argued that he and his heirs were owed more. In fact, Columbus’ heirs would carry out a long drawn out series of lawsuits against Spain in order to receive more compensation. Known as the ‘Columbian Lawsuits’, they lasted from 1508 until 1536.
Regardless, by the time he returned to Spain from his fourth and final voyage in 1504 he was also suffering from several different medical issues. Some historians have suggested that he suffered from prolonged bouts of gout, which is a painful inflammation of the joints. He likely also suffered from years of a poor diet aboard sailing ships and had prolonged trouble with his eyes. Christopher Columbus died at the age of 54 on May 20th, 1506 in Valladolid, Spain.
Following his death, his remains were first kept in Valladolid, Spain. However, his remains were moved several times throughout history. For instance, shortly after his death they were moved to a monastery in Seville, which is in southern Spain. His remains were moved again in 1542, when they were taken to Santo Domingo, on the island of Hispaniola, which is located in modern day Dominican Republic. In 1795, Columbus's remains were moved to Havana, Cuba. Finally, his remains were moved back to Seville in 1898, where they remain to this day.
Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492 has been celebrated throughout history and across both the Americas and in Spain. For example, in the United States, Columbus Day occurs every year on the second Monday of October, to roughly correspond with Columbus’ arrival on his first voyage. Some argue against celebrating Columbus as a historical figure due to the violence and brutality that resulted from his arrival and actions in the New World.
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