On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus left from Palos with three ships, the Santa Maria, Niña and Pinta. The ships were property of Juan de la Cosa and the Pinzón brothers (Martin and Vicente Yáñez), but the monarchs forced the Palos inhabitants to contribute to the expedition. He first sailed to the Canary Islands, fortunately owned by Castile, where he reprovisioned and made repairs, and on September 6 started what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean.
After 29 days out of sight of land, on 7 October 1492 as recorded in the ship's log the crew spotted shore birds flying west and changed direction to make their landfall. A later comparison of dates and migratory patterns leads to the conclusion that the birds were Eskimo curlews and American golden plovers.
Land was sighted at 2 AM on October 12 by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodriguez Bermejo) aboard Niña. Columbus called the island (in what is now The Bahamas) San Salvador, although the natives called it Guanahani. The indigenous people he encountered, the Lucayan, Taíno or Arawak, were peaceful and friendly. Columbus, knowing these people were peaceful and friendly, wished to bring them into the Christian fold, or, on the Portuguese model, make them slaves to pay for the voyage. Slavery existed everywhere in the world, including the Americas, and Columbus would defend the Taino against the slave-raids of the Caribs. In general, however, his administrative abilities would prove to be poor. He was a merchant seafarer, not a conquistador or a crusader on the Spanish model.
On this first voyage, Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba (landed on 28 October) and the northern coast of Hispaniola, by 5 December. Here, the Santa Maria ran aground on Christmas morning 1492 and had to be abandoned. He was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus founded the settlement La Navidad and left 39 men.
On 15 January 1493, he set sail for home by way of the Azores. He wrestled his ship against the wind and ran into a fierce storm. Leaving the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, Columbus headed for Spain, but another storm forced him into Lisbon. He anchored next to the King's harbour patrol ship on 4 March 1493, where he was told a fleet of 100 caravels had been lost in the storm. Astoundingly, both the Niña and the Pinta were spared. Not finding the King in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a letter to him and waited for the king's reply, which requested that he go to Vale do Paraíso to meet with His Majesty. Some have speculated that his landing in Portugal was intentional.
Relations between Portugal and Castile were poor at the time. Columbus went to meet with the king at Vale do Paraíso (north of Lisbon). After spending more than one week in Portugal, he set sail for Spain. Word of his finding new lands rapidly spread throughout Europe. He did not reach Spain until 15 March.
He was received as a hero in Spain: this was his moment in the sun. He displayed several kidnapped natives and what gold he had found to the court, as well as the previously unknown tobacco plant, the pineapple fruit, the turkey and the sailor's first love, the hammock. He did not bring any of the coveted East Indies spices, such as the exceedingly expensive black pepper, ginger or cloves. In his log, he wrote "there is also plenty of ají, which is their pepper, which is more valuable than black pepper, and all the people eat nothing else, it being very wholesome". The word ají is still used in South American Spanish for chili peppers.
To sum it up, in his first journey, Columbus visited San Salvador in the Bahamas (which he was convinced was Japan), Cuba (which he thought was China) and Haiti (where he found gold).
On November 3, 1493, Columbus sighted a rugged island that he named Dominica. On the same day, he landed at Marie-Galante, which he named Santa Maria la Galante. After sailing past Les Saintes (Todos los Santos), he arrived at Guadaloupe (Santa Maria de Guadalupe), which he explored between November 4 and November 10, 1493. The exact course of his voyage through the Lesser Antilles is debated, but it seems likely that he turned north, sighting and naming several islands including Montserrat (Santa Maria de Montserrate), Antigua (Santa Maria la Antigua), Redonda (Santa Maria la Redonda), Nevis (Santa María de las Nieves), Saint Kitts (San Jorge), Sint Eustatius (Santa Anastasia), Saba (San Cristobal), Saint Martin (San Martin), and Saint Croix (Santa Cruz). He also sighted the island chain of the Virgin Islands, which he named Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgines, and named the islands of Virgin Gorda, Tortola, and Peter Island (San Pedro).
He continued to the Greater Antilles, and landed at Puerto Rico (San Juan Bautista) on November 19, 1493. On November 22, he returned to Hispaniola, where he found his colonists had fallen into dispute with natives in the interior and had been killed. He established a new settlement at Isabella, on the north coast of Hispaniola where gold had first been found, but it was a poor location, and the settlement was also short-lived. He spent some time exploring the interior of the island for gold, and did find some, establishing a small fort in the interior. He left Hispaniola on April 24, 1494 and arrived at Cuba (which he named Juana) on April 30, and Jamaica on May 5. He explored the south coast of Cuba, which he believed to be a peninsula rather than an island, and several nearby islands, including the Isle of Youth (La Evangelista), before returning to Hispaniola on August 20. From Haiti, he returned to Spain.
Columbus led the fleet to the Portuguese island of Porto Santo, where his wife was from. He then sailed to Madeira and spent some time there with the Portuguese captain João Gonçalves da Camara before sailing to the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. Columbus landed on the south coast of the island of Trinidad on July 31. From August 4 through August 12, he explored the Gulf of Paria which separates Trinidad from Venezuela. He explored the mainland of South America, including the Orinoco River. He also sailed to the islands of Chacachacare and Margarita Island and sighted and named Tobago (Bella Forma) and Grenada (Concepcion). He described the new lands as belonging to a previously unknown new continent, but pictured it hanging from China, bulging out to make the earth pear-shaped (his inner map had run out of room). Columbus returned to Hispaniola on August 19 to find that many of the Spanish settlers of the new colony were discontent, having been misled by Columbus about the supposedly bountiful riches of the new world. Columbus repeatedly had to deal with rebellious settlers and natives. He had some of his crew hanged for disobeying him. A number of returned settlers and friars lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish court, accusing him of mismanagement. The king and queen sent the royal administrator Francisco de Bobadilla in 1500, who upon arrival (August 23) detained Columbus and his brothers and had them shipped home. Columbus refused to have his shackles removed on the trip to Spain, during which he wrote a long and pleading letter to the Spanish monarchs. They accepted his letter and let Columbus and his brothers go.
Although he regained his freedom, he did not regain his prestige and he lost his governorship. As an added insult, the Portuguese had won the race to the Indies: Vasco da Gama returned in September 1499 from a trip to India, having sailed east around Africa.
Accompanied by his brother Bartolomeo and his 13-year-old son Fernando, he left Cádiz, Spain on May 11, 1502. He sailed to Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue the Portuguese soldiers who he heard were under siege by the Moors. On June 15, they landed at Carbet on the island of Martinique (Martinica). A hurricane was brewing, so he continued on, hoping to find shelter on Hispaniola. He arrived at Santo Domingo on June 29, but was denied port, and the new governor refused to listen to his storm prediction. Instead, while Columbus's ships sheltered at the mouth of the Jaina River, the first Spanish treasure fleet sailed into the teeth of a hurricane.
The only ship to reach Spain had Columbus's money and belongings on it, and all of his former enemies (and a few friends) had drowned.
After a brief stop at Jamaica, He sailed to Central America, arriving at Guanaja (Isla de Pinos) in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras on July 30. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants and a large canoe, which was described as "long as a galley" and was filled with cargo. On August 14, he landed on the American mainland at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before arriving in Almirante Bay, Panama on October 16.
In Panama, he learned from the natives of gold and a strait to another ocean. After much exploration, he established a garrison at the mouth of Rio Belen in January 1503. On April 6, one of the ships became stranded in the river. At the same time, the garrison was attacked, and the other ships were damaged. He left for Hispaniola on April 16, but sustained more damage in a storm off the coast of Cuba. Unable to travel any farther, the ships were beached in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on June 25, 1503.
Columbus and his men were stranded on Jamaica for a year. Two Spaniards, with native paddlers, were sent by canoe to get help from Hispaniola. In the meantime, in a desperate effort to induce the natives to continue provisioning him and his hungry men, he successfully intimidated the natives by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse, using astronomic tables made by Rabbi Avraham Zacuto who was working for the King of Portugal. Grudging help finally arrived on June 29, 1504, and Columbus and his men arrived in Sanlúcar, Spain on November 7.
On May 20, 1506, Columbus died in Valladolid, fairly wealthy due to the gold his men had accumulated in Hispaniola. He was still convinced that his journeys had been along the east coast of Asia. Following his death, his body underwent excarnation--the flesh was removed so that only his bones remained. Even after his death, his travels continued: first interred in Valladolid and then at the monastery of La Cartuja in Seville, by the will of his son Diego, who had been governor of Hispaniola, his remains were transferred to Santo Domingo in 1542. In 1795, the French took over, and his remains were removed to Havana. After Cuba became independent following the Spanish-American War in 1898, his remains were moved back to the Cathedral of Seville, where they were placed on an elaborate catafalque. However, a lead box bearing an inscription identifying "Don Christopher Columbus" and containing fragments of bone and a bullet was discovered at Santo Domingo in 1877. To lay to rest claims that the wrong relics were moved to Havana and that Columbus is still buried in the cathedral of Santo Domingo, DNA samples were taken in June 2003 (History Today August 2003). Results announced in May 2006 show that at least some of Columbus' remains rest in Seville, but authorities in Santo Domingo have not allowed the remains in their custody to be tested .
Besides these documents from which we may glean facts about Christopher's early life, there are others which identify the Discoverer as the son of Domenico the wool weaver, beyond the possibility of doubt. For instance, Domenico had a brother Antonio, like him a respectable member of the lower middle class in Genoa. Antonio had three sons: Matteo, Amigeto and Giovanni, who was generally known as Giannetto (the Genoese equivalent of "Johnny"). Giannetto, like Christopher, gave up a humdrum occupation to follow the sea. In 1496 the three brothers met in a notary's office at Genoa and agreed that Johnny should go to Spain and seek out his first cousin "Don Cristoforo de Colombo, Admiral of the King of Spain," each contributing one third of the traveling expenses. This quest for a job was highly successful. The Admiral gave Johnny command of a caravel on the Third Voyage to America, and entrusted him with confidential matters as well.Other accounts, for example the biography written by Fernando Columbus, claimed that his father was of Italian aristocracy. He describes Columbus to be a descendant of a Count Columbo of the Castle Cuccaro, Montferrat. Columbo was in turn said to be a descended from a legendary Roman General Colonius, and two of his first cousins were allegedly direct descendants of the emperor of Constantinople. It is now widely believed that Christopher Columbus used this persona to ingratiate himself to the good graces of the aristocracy, an elaborate illusion to mask a humble merchant background.
"The life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand," translated by Benjamin Keen, Greenwood Press (1978), is a translation of the biography written by Columbus's son Fernando. In the first paragraph of page 3, Fernando dismissed the fanciful story that the Admiral descended from the Colonus mentioned by Tacitus. However, he refers to "those two illustrious Coloni, his relatives." According to Note 1, on page 287, these two "were corsairs not related to each other or to Christopher Columbus, one being Guillame de Casenove, nicknamed Colombo, Admiral of France in the reign of Louis XI." At the top of page 4, Fernando listed Nervi, Cugureo, Bugiasco, Savona, Genoa and Piacenza as possible places of origin. He also stated:
"Colombo ... was really the name of his ancestors. But he changed it in order to make it conform to the language of the country in which he came to reside and raise a new estate" (Colom in Portugal and Colón in Castile).Other historical evidence of Columbus's Genoese origin include his will of February 22, 1498, in which Columbus wrote "yo nací en Genoba" (I was born in Genoa). This will mentions a Genoese merchant who is also mentioned in a lawsuit that was tried in a Genoese court in 1479. We have a transcript of the testimony in that lawsuit, and Columbus himself was called to testify (presumably under oath). In that testimony, Columbus declared that he was a citizen of Genoa, living in Lisbon. Columbus' son Fernando wrote in his biography of Columbus that he was Genoese; and his Genoese origin was also asserted by longtime family friend Bartolomé de Las Casas.
In spite of this rather solid evidence, various writers have expressed alternative theories regarding Columbus' national origin. Very little is really known about Columbus before the mid-1470s. It has been suggested that this might have been because he was hiding something—an event in his origin or history that he deliberately kept a secret. One hypothesis is that Columbus served under the French corsair Guillaume Casenove Coulon and took his surname, but later tried to hide his piracy.
The question of Columbus's nationality became an issue after the rise of nationalism; the matter was scarcely raised until the time of the quadricentenary celebrations in 1892, when Columbus' Genoese origins became a point of pride for some Italian Americans. In New York City, rival statues of Columbus were underwritten by the Hispanic and Italian communities, and honourable positions had to be found for each, at Columbus Circle and in Central Park.
There is a small handwritten Genoese gloss in an Italian edition of Pliny's Natural History that he read on his second voyage to America. However, it displays both Spanish and Portuguese influences. Genoese Italian was not a written language in the 15th century. There is also a note in non-Genoese Italian in his own Book of Prophecies exhibiting, according to historian August Kling, "characteristics of northern Italian humanism in its calligraphy, syntax, and spelling." Columbus took great care and pride in writing this form of Italian.
Phillips and Phillips point out that 500 years ago, the Latinate languages had not distanced themselves to the degree they have today. Bartolomé de las Casas in his Historia de las Indias claimed that Columbus did not know Spanish well and that he was not born in Castile. In his letters he refers to himself frequently, if cryptically, as a "foreigner." Ramón Menéndez Pidal studied the language of Columbus in 1942, suggesting that while still in Genoa, Columbus learned notions of Portugalized Spanish from travelers, who used a sort of commercial Latin or lingua franca (latín ginobisco for Spaniards). He suggests that Columbus learned Spanish in Portugal through its use in Portugal as or "adopted language of culture" from 1450. This same Spanish is used by poets like Fernán Silveira and Joan Manuel. The first testimony of his use of Spanish is from the 1480s. Menendez Pidal and many others detect a lot of Portuguese in his Spanish, where he mixes, for example, falar and hablar. But Menendez Pidal does not accept the hypothesis of a Galician origin for Columbus by noting that where Portuguese and Galician diverged, Columbus always used the Portuguese form.
Latin, on the other hand, was the language of scholarship, and here Columbus excelled. He also kept his journal in Latin, and a "secret" journal in Greek.
According to historian Charles Merrill, analysis of his handwriting indicates that it is typical of someone who was a native Catalan, and Columbus' phonetic mistakes in Spanish are "most likely" those of a Catalan. Also, that he married a Portuguese noblewoman, Filipa Perestrello e Moniz, is presented as evidence that his origin was of nobility rather than the Italian merchant class, since it was unheard of during his time for nobility to marry outside their class. This same theory suggests he was the illegitimate son of a prominent Catalan sea-faring family, which had served as mercenaries in a sea battle against Castilian forces. Fighting against Ferdinand and being illegitimate were two excellent reasons for keeping his origins obscure. Furthermore, the disinterment of his brother's body shows him to be a different age, by nearly a decade, than the "Giacomo Colombo" of the Genoese family.
In a little accepted but not overly unknown theory expanding upon the "Chios theory" of Columbus' origin, he was the son of a Genoese noble family in Greece—which accounts for his penchant for the Greek language—who migrated at an early age to Castillo & Leon near a large Portuguese city, where he adopted Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish (Castellano) for their potential uses in his journey. As such, this theory explains how he was an accomplished linguist and how his theories and plans could have been conceived much ahead of time than what is normally accepted.
Christopher Columbus has had a cultural significance beyond his actual achievements and actions as an individual; he also became a symbol, a figure of legend. The mythology of Columbus has cast him as an archetype for both good and for evil.
The casting of Columbus as a figure of "good" or of "evil" often depends on people's perspectives as to whether the arrival of Europeans to the New World and the introduction of Christianity (particularly the Catholic faith) is seen as positive or negative.
In addition, the nascent countries of the New World, particularly the newly independent U.S., seemed to need a historical narrative to give them roots. This narrative was supplied in part by Washington Irving in 1828 with The life and voyages of Christopher Columbus, which may be the true source of much of the modern mythology about the explorer.
Columbus' struggles to "civilize" the Americas, and the subsequent effects on the native peoples, were dramatised in 1492: Conquest of Paradise to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his landing in the Americas.
Hero worship of Columbus perhaps reached a zenith around 1892, the 400th anniversary of his first arrival in the Americas. Monuments to Columbus (including the Columbian Exposition in Chicago) were erected throughout the United States and Latin America (see "Geographical Distribution of Monuments for Christopher Columbus"), extolling him as a hero. Numerous cities, towns, and streets were named for him (see list), including the capital cities of two U.S. states (Columbus, Ohio and Columbia, South Carolina). The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's fraternal benefit society, had been chartered ten years earlier by the State of Connecticut. The story that Columbus thought the world was round while his contemporaries believed in a Flat Earth was often repeated. This tale was used to show that Columbus was enlightened and forward looking. Columbus' apparent defiance of convention in sailing west to get to the far east was hailed as a model of "American"-style can-do inventiveness.
In the United States, the admiration of Columbus was particularly embraced by some members of the Italian American, Hispanic, and Catholic communities. These groups point to Columbus as one of their own to show that Mediterranean Catholics could and did make great contributions to the USA. The modern vilification of Columbus is seen by his supporters as being politically motivated.
There is distinct information, specifically in Christopher Columbus' own diary, outlining the inchoate stages of exploiting the natives that had originally migrated from Asia to the New World. The Spaniards were quick to take advantage of both Columbus' findings and of the native people that were found in America. Criticism focuses on the continuing propaganda cultivated in Columbus myths and celebrations (such as Columbus Day) and their effects on American thought towards present-day Native Americans (New World Mongoloids). Official celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage in 1492 were muted in some areas, and a few demonstrators protested marking the anniversary at all. It was in this spirit that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez signed, in October, 2002, a decree changing the name of Venezuela's "Columbus Day" to "The Day of Indigenous Resistance" in honor of the nation's indigenous groups. On October 12, 2004, supporters of Chávez destroyed a 100-year old statue of Columbus in Caracas. They did this because they found Columbus and Spain guilty of 'imperialist genocide'. (For more, see Columbus Day.) The genocide and atrocious acts committed by the Spanish against the natives (the Tainos in particular) are well documented in terrifying detail by Bartolomé de Las Casas in his letters and book A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. After Columbus' death in 1506, the genocide of many Indians made Bartolomé de Las Casas persuade the Spaniards to use African slaves instead. In the 1530's, the Spanish conquistadors brought many slaves to the New World from Africa. Bartolomé de Las Casas would later regret this as he saw the rough treatment of the African slaves by the Spaniards. This venture would eventually lead to the selling of the surplus of African slaves to the British settlers in the United States. See Native American Genocide for more details.