Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer born in Genoa, Italy between August 26 and October 31, 1451, and was determined to find a direct water route from Europe to Asia, but instead, stumbled across America.
When Columbus was young, he assisted his father, Domenico Colombo, at his cheese stand. Columbus’s mother was Susanna Fontanarossa. Columbus had three brothers. Bartolomeo, Giovanni, Giacomo, and a sister, Bianchinetta. In 1470, Columbus’s family moved to Savona, and in the same year, Columbus was hired to support Rene of Anjou’s conquer the Kingdom of Naples. Columbus married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo in 1479 and a year after that, his son Diego Columbus was born. From 1482-1485, Columbus traded near the coasts of West Africa.
In 1484, Columbus wanted to see if he could sail west to India, but he needed money for the trip. First, he asked King John II of Portugal to sponsor the trip, but he said no. Columbus then went to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand but had to wait 9 months because, at that time, the Spanish court moved from place to place and Columbus did not have the money to follow the court, so he settled in Cordoba and waited for the Spanish court. During that time, he found out that his wife died. He went back to Portugal to settle her belongings and took his son Diego with him, and he left Portugal and headed for Castile in 1485, where he met a 20-year-old orphan named Beatriz Enríquez de Arana. On May 1, 1486, Columbus finally got to meet Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, but the Spanish were in the middle of a costly war and did not have any money for that long of a trip, and Columbus waited five years, and in five years, Beatriz gave birth to Columbus’s natural son, Fernando Columbus in July 1488. After that, he met up with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand again, but he was angry about all the waiting so he made some demands, and those demands were that if he was successful, he wanted the title of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and keep one-tenth of all the treasure he found. At first, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand rejected the demands, but just as Columbus was getting out of the Spanish court, they changed their minds.
Columbus used the Santa Maria, Nina, and the Pinta. Martin and Vicente signed up to be captains. Martin commanded the Pinta, and Vicente commanded the Nina. Columbus, of course, commanded the largest one which was the Santa Maria. He was also in charge of the entire fleet. It was tough to find crew for the ships, but eventually, after lots of begging and pleading, there were 24 men on the Nina, 26 men on the Pinta, and 40 men on the Santa Maria.
On August 2, 1492, the day before they set sail, Columbus gathered everyone to pray for a safe journey and that they would find new land and treasure. On August 3, 1492, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria set sail from Palos de la Frontera. Columbus didn’t want to scare the crew thinking that the voyage was taking too long, so he wrote in two logbooks. In the first one, he recorded the real distance sailed, and in the other (the one that the crew could see), he recorded fewer miles than the real amount, but the crew got scared anyway, so Columbus talked to them about the treasure that they would get so the crew wouldn’t get too scared. The crew on all the ships were on the lookout for any sign of land or anything except for water and fish, even a little bit of seaweed in the ocean or a seagull would give them faith.
Just after midnight on October 12, a person from the Pinta yelled, “Tierra! Tierra!” Which means Land! Land! Everybody was thrilled that they reached India, or as they thought. In the morning of October 12, Columbus and his officers went into a small boat and headed ashore with their best clothes. They brought trading items and also took weapons just in case the natives weren’t too friendly. When Columbus went ashore, he kissed the ground and planted a flag to claim the land for Spain and named it San Salvador. Columbus believed he had landed on an island off the coast of Asia, and Europeans called that the Indies so Columbus called the people there, Indians, and for the rest of his life, he mistakenly believed that he found a westward passage to Asia. There were some people, who were called the Taino who were watching Columbus from behind some bushes. They slowly crept forward, toward Columbus. Columbus stared at the strange people, who hardly wore anything at all. The Taino were also surprised because they never saw people who were white or wore clothes, and the ships, to the Taino, were very strange to them. Columbus’s crew and he spent some unsuccessful days exploring and searching for gold. When he couldn’t find any gold, he sailed to China, which he thought was near, but instead of China, he went to Cuba, where he also unsuccessfully searched for gold.
When the fall was turning to winter, Columbus made plans to go back to Spain, so he gathered plant and animal samples for the king and queen. Columbus also kidnapped several natives as slaves. In the November of 1492, Columbus ordered the ships to go west to find gold where the natives said could be found, but the captain of Pinta, Martin, headed off on his own with the speedy ship, leaving the slow Santa Maria and the Nina behind. Columbus proceeded with his voyage until he came across an island that reminded Columbus of Spain so much, he named it La Isla Espanola (it was really Hispaniola). There were also natives on the island, and almost immediately, Columbus and the natives started trading. Columbus also had to be careful for the ship to not hit any of the rocky reefs but on the morning of December 25, the Santa Maria hit a rock. Columbus did everything he knew to try and save it, but it was too late. The Santa Maria was sinking. Columbus first ordered the crew and himself to get off the ship and over to land as quickly as possible. After that, Columbus knew that his three ships had gone down to one, but Nina couldn’t carry his whole crew back to Spain. Columbus decided that the only solution was to make a settlement with the natives on the island and convince 40 of his crew to stay behind. The sunken Santa Maria still had many of the valuables on it but the local chief of the natives and his people came to help and were quickly able to recover the load. The natives also gave gifts and showed Columbus the stores of gold on their island. Columbus then began to think that the crash of the Santa Maria was on purpose and was a message from God. Columbus ordered his crew to build a fort from the wood of the Santa Maria and when it was done, he called it fort La Navidad, Spanish for Christmas. Columbus told the 40 crew members that were staying behind to get gold and trade with the natives for anything they needed.
On January 4, 1493, Columbus set course to Spain, and two days later, Columbus found the Pinta, and then on January 13, Columbus made the last stop of the voyage, the New World. He anchored down in what is now the Bay of Rincón. There, he got in contact with warlike Ciguayos, the only natives who acted violently in his first voyage. Due to that, Columbus called the land the Bay of Arrows.
Columbus left for Spain on the Nina with the Pinta close by, but a bad storm caused the Nina and the Pinta to get separated, and forced the Nina to stop on an island in the Azores. During the storm, Columbus was worried that he would drown and nobody would know his success, so Columbus wrote his discoveries on a piece of paper and wrapped it in cloth, covered it in wax, put it into a barrel, and threw it out into the ocean, hoping someday, someone would read it, but Columbus’s crew survived and when they landed in the Azores, half of Columbus’s crew went onto land to pray and give thanks that they survived the storm. While they were praying though, the governor of the island imprisoned them because he thought they were pirates. After two days, they were released and Columbus continued the journey back to Spain.
On March 15, 1493, Columbus anchored in the waters of Palos and headed to Barcelona to see Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. When he eventually reached the Spanish court, the Queen and King stood up, which is a very rare greeting that would only be used for a great lord. Columbus sat down next to them and described his journey, and showed off the parrots (which the Spanish had never seen before), corn, yams, yucca, and not lots of gold, but some. The King and Queen also kept their promises and gave Columbus the title Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and was also the governor and general of all the land he discovered. He also kept one-tenth of the treasure he found. Christopher Columbus was a hero, and he rode all through Barcelona on a horse right next to the king’s horse.
On his second voyage, Columbus was ordered to return to Hispaniola, bring back the people who he left there, and leave more people to settle in Hispaniola. Columbus was pleased. It was another chance to bring back more gold and treasures. Best of all, between 1200 and 1500 people willingly volunteered to help. This time, there were very skilled people. Columbus’s brother, Diego, also signed up. Columbus was given seventeen ships, one of which was the Nina, and another (the one that Columbus commanded), was named Santa Maria in honor of the one that had sunk. Horses were also brought along for the men to ride when they arrived, as well as pigs and sheep to live in farms and wheat seeds to plant. Columbus left Cadiz’s water’s on September 24, 1493, just 6 months after he returned from his first voyage.
Columbus explored some new islands and found many colorful parrots and fruit and the landscape was spectacular, but Columbus also saw some bad things, such as women being forced to work as slaves, humans eating other humans (called cannibals), so Columbus did not stay on those islands for long. On the night of November 27, the 17 ships reached Hispaniola and one of the ships fired a cannon, but there was no response from fort La Navidad. Then, they heard oars hitting the water, but it was not the crew left there, it was the Taino. It was unclear what happened, but whatever it was, fort La Navidad was in ruins. Columbus then sailed eastwards along the northern coast of Hispaniola to make a new settlement and called it La Isabela. The bad thing was, there were lots of mosquitoes and Columbus’s crew was not happy because that was not why they came along on the voyage, and by the end of 1494, more than two-thirds of all the settlers died of illness (probably from the mosquitoes), or starvation. More and more people fell sick, and on February 2, 1494, Columbus had no choice but to send twelve of the seventeen ships back to Spain for food and medicine, but Columbus’s dream of finding lots of gold made him stay behind. He sent many groups to find gold, but they always came back empty-handed.
In 1494, Columbus sent Alonso de Ojeda to a place where gold was dug called Cibao, which afterward led Ojeda to capture several natives who he blamed for theft and Ojeda then took one of the natives and chopped the native’s ears off, and sent the rest of them to Columbus in chains and Columbus ordered for them to get decapitated (to separate the head from the body).
In 1495, Columbus got sick and when he got better, he set up a team of several hundred well-armed men and more than 20 attack dogs to track and kill thousands of people who were trying to flee, sick, and unarmed people in Hispaniola and in the February of 1495, Columbus’s men captured more than 1500 Arawaks, which were some of the people who lived on Hispaniola, and 500 of the most powerful ones were shipped to Spain to be sold as slaves though around 40% of them died on the trip. Columbus also demanded that the adult Tainos get gold for him, and if he or she does not bring back a certain amount of gold, that person would suffer from harsh punishment. On March 10, 1496, Columbus raised the anchors of two small ships and headed back to Spain. When Columbus and his crew reached Cadiz in July 1496, he and his crew were hungry and tired. Columbus told King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that he brought back some treasure and explored seven hundred islands (seven hundred islands was really just an exaggeration from Columbus). Columbus had failed, and the king and Queen were not happy. People called him “Admiral of the Mosquitoes”. But two years later, an explorer from Portugal named Vasco da Gama, reached the real Indies and brought back many riches. Spain didn’t want Portugal getting all the treasure, so they decided to give Columbus another chance.
Forty-six was pretty old for a man in 1498, but Columbus still went on his third voyage. This time, he had six ships and left Spain on May 30, 1498. Columbus’s ships sailed to the Canary Islands and then split into two groups. Three ships went to Hispaniola and the other three went exploring under Columbus’s command. For eight days, there was no wind so the ships just stayed in one place under the blazing sun, and water barrels began to explode under the heat. But when the wind picked up, the land was found. He named the land Trinidad, and across the island was the coastline of South America. Columbus so reasoned that that was the Garden of Eden. But he didn’t have time to explore paradise. He wanted to go back to Hispaniola. When he arrived at Santo Domingo, which was a new colony that his brothers made, he was met with a nasty surprise. His brothers, Bartolomeo and Diego, were no longer in control of the colony. Columbus tried to sustain order, but he had no luck in doing so. In August, the king and queen of Spain assigned someone to go to Hispaniola and see what was going on. He reported back that things were a mess. Many people were dead or sick, and the people who rebelled were either executed or in jail. Christopher Columbus and his brothers were arrested and sent back to Spain in chains. Columbus was sent to jail in Spain for six weeks, and when the chains were taken off, Columbus told one of his sons that he wanted to be buried with them.
Most people wouldn’t dare ask the king and queen for another voyage’s money, but Columbus was not like most people and refused to give up. When Columbus asked the king and queen for a fourth voyage, they knew that Vasco da Gama was on another voyage and was most likely going to come back with lots of riches, so the king and queen agreed. But this time there were restrictions. No getting slaves nor going to Hispaniola. Columbus was also given four old ships with a crew of 135 men, but Columbus didn’t mind any of that. He just wanted to get back to the sea.
On May 9, 1502, Columbus and his four old ships set out for their fourth voyage. At first, everything was fine, but then dark clouds started to come. A hurricane was coming on its way. The only island nearby with shelter was Hispaniola, but Columbus was forbidden to go there. He and his crew were forced to stay on their ship and just wait for the storm to pass. Columbus then sailed to Jamaica but was only hit by more storms, one of which lasted for eighty-eight days. Columbus’s ships settled down in what is now Nicaragua and stopped for repairs. North of Panama Columbus finally found gold and started a new settlement, and the natives there were nice and traded at first, but in the spring, four hundred natives began a war carrying bows and arrows and the war lasted three hours. At that time, Columbus had a high fever and was left alone on a ship but when he heard the sounds of war, he climbed up to the mast to the crow’s nest and shouted, but with no response. After that, Columbus went out and collected all of his crew and left the land. The ships he left with were in terrible condition. They stayed at a place just off the coast of Jamaica for the rest of the year. The natives there were friendly and brought Columbus and his men food and water, but Columbus feared that the natives would stop bringing food, or maybe even attack. There were no ships to leave from at that time, so Columbus convinced Diego Mendez and Bartolomeo Fieschi to get a canoe and paddle to Hispaniola and buy a ship to come back and rescue them. A couple of days after they left, the natives stopped bringing any more food or water. Columbus knew that a lunar eclipse was going to happen, so Columbus told the natives that God was very mad at them and he was so mad that he would take the moon away, and when the lunar eclipse happened that night, the moon “got taken away,” and the natives very frightened so they promised to give them food and water. On June 29, 1504, Mendez and Bartolomeo came back with a very old ship to bring them back. Christopher Columbus was a very old man now. He was almost fifty-two years old and his eyesight was failing him. He was eager to go home and see the queen, but Queen Isabella died on November 26, 1504, before Columbus had a chance to talk to her again. Columbus was very old and sick and died about two years after Queen Isabella, on May 20, 1506.
Columbus was a very important part of our history today. He found new islands that no other Europeans had ever been to, and because of Columbus, now there is a passageway that other explorers could use from Europe to the Americans. Christopher Columbus did not find much treasure. Instead, he found a whole new world.