Columbus, Christopher 1451–1506 4

Few men have been as acclaimed or as maligned as Christopher Columbus, both in his own time and in recent years. Feted by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand upon returning in 1493 from his famous first voyage as discoverer of a new, fast trade route to the Indies, reports began to filter back to Castile during his second voyage and the conquest of Hispaniola about how badly he was mismanaging royal authority. By August of 1500, the reports were so consistently negative and the rebellions against him so fierce that the queen’s investigator, Francisco de Bobadilla, sent Columbus and his brothers home to Spain to be tried by the royal court. The queen forgave him, and Columbus’s biographers turned all the denigration around, so his name and deeds became, as Zvi Dor-Ner put it, the world’s most powerful metaphor of discovery. In the young United States, Columbus came to signify the essence of qualities we revere risk taking, entrepreneurship, perseverance. Nearly every state boasts a city named Columbus, and the nation’s capital is located in the District of Columbia. The 1992 quincentennial of Columbus’s first voyage, however, coming hard on the heels of the civil rights movement and the general acknowledgment that Native Americans were given a raw deal in the trade that Columbus began, became less a celebration of his deeds than an occasion to criticize them. Regardless of whether you believe that he was a hero or a villain, it is impossible to deny that what Columbus did changed history. More than 500 years after his first landfall in North America, Christopher Columbus is both venerated and vilified. His portraits, like his reputation, vary significantly; this etching dates to the 1530s. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) Columbus was born in 1451, just two years before the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and cut off Europe’s trade route to the exotic goods of the East. The young Columbus was attracted to the sea, which dominated the port town of Genoa, Italy, where he grew up. At age 14, he began making short trading voyages, and in his early 20s, he took a position with the Spinola family aboard a ship bound for the eastern Mediterranean island of Chios. Next, he sailed to Northern Europe, but on the return trip the ship was attacked by pirates. Shipwrecked off Portugal, Columbus swam ashore at Lagos, where Prince Henry the Navigator had founded a school for mariners; however, he never attended the school. Columbus soon moved to Lisbon, where he and his brother Bartholomew worked as mapmakers, but Columbus could not stay away from the sea. He sailed to England, Ireland, and Iceland, among other ports. In Madeira, he married a poor young noblewoman, Felipa Moniz y Perestrello, who gave birth to their son, Diego. In the Atlantic islands, Columbus took note of the winds and ocean currents and listened to sailors’ tales of exotic lands and strange things that floated in from the west. In his 30s, Columbus sailed to the Gold Coast of Africa and entered into correspondence with the renowned Florentine scholar Paolo Toscanelli, whose calculations of the circumference of the earth confirmed that Columbus’s theory of sailing west to reach the East Indies was feasible. In 1484, he sought financial support for this great enterprise from King John II of Portugal but was turned down. His wife had died, so he took his young son and went to Spain, while Bartholomew went to England and France, seeking royal backing. Here’s where the story turns so familiar, so legendary, that any schoolchild can recite it: Columbus endured long, frustrating years of disappointment and rejection. But in 1492, the year that Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand completed the Christians’ 800-year-long reconquest of Spain from the Moors, Columbus received royal support from the queen. She liked his ideas, for both economic and religious reasons, Columbus having convinced her that proceeds from the enterprise could fund the conversion of millions of Asian pagans to Christianity. On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his men left the Spanish port of Palos in the Ni±a, Pinta, and Santa Mar­a. They stopped in the Canary Islands to stock up on fresh provisions and to take advantage of the westerly winds, and then they sailed on to keep their rendezvous with history three months later, on October 12. Columbus made not one but four voyages, claiming most of the Caribbean islands and the American mainland for Spain. Some say he never realized he had not discovered a fast route to the East Indies and had instead stumbled onto lands that the ancients did not know existed. It is more likely, however, that he did know but could not admit it, for admitting it would cancel his contract (known as the Capitulaciones) with the Spanish monarchy, a contract that guaranteed him and his descendents the title of admiral of the ocean sea, governor and viceroy of the Indies, and a share of all the profits from the new Spanish territories. Instead, another Italian adventurer, Amerigo Vespucci, got credit for recognizing the New World, which today bears his name. Columbus did not die poor, as the romanticist writer Washington Irving portrayed him, but his fame was short-lived in his lifetime. It was not until his illegitimate son Ferdinand wrote his father’s biography that the world at large learned of Columbus’s deeds. Lynne Guitar See also: Canary Islands; Caribbean (Chronology); Exploration; Ferdinand and Isabella; Hispaniola; Spanish Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); Document: Columbus’s Letter Announcing His Discoveries in the New World (1493). Bibliography Col³n, Ferdinand. The Life of the Admiral, by His Son Ferdinand. Translated by Benjamin Keen. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1959. Columbus, Christopher. The Diario of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage to America, 492 1493, Abstracted by Fray Bartolom de las Casas. Edited by Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989. Columbus, Christopher. Four Voyages to the New World in His Own Words. Translated by R. H. Major. New York: Carol, 1992. Dor-Ner, Zvi. Columbus and the Age of Discovery. New York: William Morrow, 1991. Fernndez-Armesto, Felipe. Columbus. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1992. Morrison, Samuel Eliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Boston: Little, Brown, 1942.

Christopher Columbus – Explorer – Presentation “Explorers of the New World Designed by Ms. Dean … Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) plants the Spanish flag into the …

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