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In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He sailed farther than anyone else had ever done, on three tiny ill-equipped ships. After days of sailing he finally reached his intended destination and discovered the Westward sea route to the East Indies.
Unfortunately he didn't actually reach his goal. Fortunately for me, he discovered the new world.
Were there other explorers heading out into the unknown and uncharted waters Westward from Spain, England, or Portugal that failed? In other words, everyone remembers the winner, and second place is another word for loser. Who were some also-rans?
The city of Bristol was the hub of English expeditions into the Atlantic. Several voyages were launched from her harbours, the second largest in England, around the time of Columbus. Bristol's mariners were inspired by the legendary phantom island of Brasil, which is said to lie off the western coast of Ireland(1).
There is some evidence that at least some attempts did reach Newfoundland, but many voyages were indeed failures. The Itineraria Symonis Simeonis et Willelmi de Worcestre recorded an early (supposedly) failed attempt by the author William Botoner's brother-in-law, John Jay:
1480, on July 15, the ship of John Jay the younger, of the burden of 80 tons began a voyage from the port of the Kingrode of Bristol to the island of Brasylle in the western part of Ireland, to traverse the seas… and news came to Bristol on Monday the 18th of September that in the said ship they sailed the seas for about nine months, and did not find the island, but were driven back by storms to a port in Ireland for the refreshment of the ship and the men.
- Williamson, James Alexander. "The Voyages Of The Cabots And The English Discovery Of North America under Henry VII And Henry VIII. London: The Argonaut Press, 1923.
Undeterred, the next year John Jay and another local merchant, Thomas Croft, launched a second expedition with two ships. Croft was later charged in connection of this voyage for shipping salt illegally, but exonerated on the grounds that he was exploring, not trading. The Court of the Exchequer noted in its proceedings that:
It is found amonges othir thynges that Thomas Croft of Bristow Squier on' of our Customers in oure said port of Bristowe… shipped and putt xl bushhels of salt to the value of xxs. for… not by cause of merchaundise but the entent to serch and fynd a certain Isle callid the Isle of Brasile as in the said inquisicion annexed to the forsaid commission more plainly it dothe appier.
- Carus-Wilson, Eleanora Mary, ed., The overseas trade of Bristol in the later middle ages, Bristol RS, 7, (1937)
Officially this expedition also failed. However, given the cargo of salt, it has been theorised that that their goal was in fact fishing. Some historians have posited that the expeditions were in fact successful in finding Newfoundland, but kept the discovery secret in order to monopolise the new fishing grounds.
Alternatively, Alwyn Ruddock (famous for a book she never published) suggested that Bristol's mariners had accidentally reached Newfoundland in the past. Her theory is that these two voyages were unsuccessful attempts to rediscover those fisheries.
More instances of failed expeditions can be inferred from the letters of Pedro de Ayala, the Spanish envoy to England. He reported in 1498 that Bristol had sent several caravels into the Atlantic before discovering land "last year":
For the last seven years the people of Bristol have equipped two, three, four caravels to go in search of the island of Brazil and the Seven Cities according to the fancy of this Genoese. The king made up his mind to send thither, because last year sure proof was brought to him they had found land.
- H.B. Biggar ed., The Precursors of Jacques Cartier, 1497-1534 Ottawa, 1911, p. 28-9.
However, having only just transferred to the Tudor court from Scotland, it could also be the case that his intelligence on Bristol weren't the most accurate.
Finally, John Cabot, the discoverer of North America in the conventional account, also experienced a failed first voyage in 1496. John Day, a Spanish spy in England, reported to a certain Lord Grand Admiral (possibly Columbus) in 1497 that:
Since your Lordship wants information relating to the first voyage, here is what happened: he went with one ship, his crew confused him, he was short of supplies and ran into bad weather, and he decided to turn back.
- Williamson, Williamson, James Alexander. The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery Under Henry VII. Cambridge University Press, 1962, 212-214.
As is well known, Portugal's attention was preoccupied by Africa during this time. Still, there were sporadic westward interest. The most notable involved João Vaz Corte-Real. He was part of a joint expedition into the Atlantic by the Kingdoms of Portugal and Denmark, who were allies by marriage ties. They may have discovered North America following the routes of the Vikings of old:
In 1470, Afonso V of Portugal proposed to Christian I of Denmark that there be a joint Dano-Norwegian/Portuguese voyage of exploration… The Danish captains with the expedition were Diderik Pining and Hans Pothorst, two privateers who had fought the English in the 1467 war over Icelandic fishing rights. The Portuguese sent several participants, including Corte-Real.
- Allen, John Logan, ed. North American Exploration. University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
It is claimed that they reached Labrador and Newfoundland, which they called Terra do Bacalhau, Land of the Codfish. However, Pining, Pothorst and Corte-Real's purported discoveries are rather controversial. Therefore, it may or may not count it as "failed attempt" depending on which version of the events you are inclined accept.
(1) Or Portugal, or both Ireland and Portugal.
 In his 1497 letter, John Day, reporting on the John Cabot's discovery of Newfoundland, wrote of the discovered land that:
It is considered certain that the cape of the said land was found and discovered in the past by the men from Bristol who found 'Brasil' as your Lordship well knows. It was called the Island of Brasil, and it is assumed and believed to be the mainland that the men from Bristol found.
- Williamson, Williamson, James Alexander. The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery Under Henry VII. Cambridge University Press, 1962, 212-214.
 i.e., "the island of Brazil beyond the western part of Ireland."
 The coasts of Newfoundland and Northeastern America in general were excellent fisheries with significant commercial value well into the early modern era. Fish caught would be salted and dried on the islands before being shipped back (the reason why France retained Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon in the Treaty of Paris, as late as 1763).
Christopher Columbus And The Conquest Of Paradise
Several people around the world believe that Christopher Columbus discovered America, and a day should be dedicated to him for all that he has done. However, there are people who acknowledge Columbus Day to be unnecessary due to the fact he truly did not discover America. Even though Columbus is given recognition for intertwining the New World with the Old World, there should not be a day just for him. Columbus should not have a national holiday dedicated to him because he did not discover America, his actions were horrendous such as mistreating the Taino, and he also played a part in spreading diseases and bringing slavery to the New World. First off, Christopher Columbus was not the first person to discover America as believed by numerous people, and neither did Columbus ever step foot on American soil.&hellip
Christopher Columbus was a Villain Instead of a Hero
On a Monday the 14th day in October every year, many people celebrate what is called Christopher Columbus day. Christopher Columbus, and his accomplishments have been rewritten and retold many times, in many different ways. In the school, it is presented to the students that Christopher Columbus is an awesome Italian Hero who discovered America and wanted to prove that the world was not flat, but in other cases it can also be presented that he was a sneaky, evil man. This is leads to the argument “Hero vs. Villain,” is Christopher Columbus a Hero or a Villain? He is most definitely a Villain.
Christopher Columbus, is taught to students as the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and discovered America. As stated before, we celebrate a federal holiday on the second Monday of every October, but many people do not know the backstory to him and what he did while on his voyages. As researchers have learned more and more each day, controversy has come about honoring this “hero” we call Christopher Columbus. In one of his journals it states that he had set sail across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain four times in: 1492, 1493, 148, and 1502. Those four times he was attempting to find a direct water route west from Europe and Asia, but never found it. He goes the last time(1502) and he stumbles across a huge amount of Americans. That shows that he was not the actual founder of America. Millions of people had lived in America prior to Christopher Columbus arriving. The actual founder of American was an explorer Amerigo Vespucci. He had come to the conclusion that what Christopher Columbus said was completely false. In this view, he is proclaimed as a Villain.
A secondary source that could be used to prove that Christopher Columbus was a Villain is a report in The American in 1992 about the “500th anniversary” and about him landing on an island in San Salvador. In the report the author, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., had noted a great quote “great hero of the nineteenth century seems well on the way to becoming the great Villain of the twenty-first.” This shows that the truths of Christopher Columbus were beginning to be revealed to the new age. In the article it mentioned that he was in fact the “pioneer of oppression, racism, slavery, rape, theft, vandalism, extermination, and ecological desolation.” All of the components that have been listed are how the new age people think he could be possibly named a Villain.
In conclusion of the argument, it is commonly known now that Christopher Columbus was a Villain instead of a Hero. He has done rather good things in life, but mainly his unacceptable things outweigh his great accomplishments. As a matter fact the primary source and the secondary source has shown his advantages as well as his disadvantages. In most opinions this holiday shouldn’t be celebrated due to the backstory of it.
Christopher Columbus dies
On May 20, 1506, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus dies in Valladolid, Spain. Columbus was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century. He explored the West Indies, South America and Central America, but died a disappointed man, feeling he had been mistreated by his patron, King Ferdinand of Spain.
Columbus was likely born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of his early life, but he worked as a seaman and then a sailing entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time, Europeans knew no direct sea route to southern Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. Contrary to popular legend, educated Europeans of Columbus’ day did believe that the world was round, as argued by St. Isidore in the seventh century. However, Columbus, and most others, underestimated the world’s size, calculating that East Asia must lie approximately where North America sits on the globe (they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed).
With only the Atlantic Ocean, he thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his 𠇎nterprise of the Indies,” as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where he was also rejected at least twice by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina. On October 12, the expedition sighted land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas, and went ashore the same day, claiming it for Spain. Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493, and was received with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was given the title miral of the ocean sea,” and a second expedition was promptly organized.
Fitted out with a large fleet of 17 ships, with 1,500 colonists aboard, Columbus set out from Cadiz in September 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Landfall was made in the Lesser Antilles in November. Returning to Hispaniola, he found the men he left there slaughtered by the natives, and he founded a second colony. Sailing on, he explored Puerto Rico, Jamaica and numerous smaller islands in the Caribbean. Columbus returned to Spain in June 1496 and was greeted less warmly, as the yield from the second voyage had fallen well short of its costs.
Isabella and Ferdinand, still greedy for the riches of the East, agreed to a smaller third voyage and instructed Columbus to find a strait to India. In May 1498, Columbus left Spain with six ships, three filled with colonists and three with provisions for the colony on Hispaniola. This time, he made landfall on Trinidad. He entered the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela and planted the Spanish flag on South America. By the scope of the Orinoco River in Venezuela, he realized he had stumbled upon another continent, which Columbus, a deeply religious man, decided after careful thought was the outer regions of the Garden of Eden.
Returning to Hispaniola, he found that conditions on the island had deteriorated under the rule of his brothers, Diego and Bartholomew. Columbus’ efforts to restore order were marked by brutality, and his rule came to be deeply resented by both the colonists and the native Taino chiefs. In 1500, Spanish chief justice Francisco de Bobadilla arrived at Hispaniola, sent by Isabella and Ferdinand to investigate complaints, and Columbus and his brother were sent back to Spain in chains.
He was immediately released upon his return, and Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to finance a fourth voyage in which he was to search for the earthly paradise and the realms of gold said to lie nearby. He was also to continue looking for a passage to India. In May 1502, Columbus left Cadiz on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. After returning to Hispaniola against his patron’s wishes, he explored the coast of Central America looking for a strait and for gold. Attempting to return to Hispaniola, his ships, in poor condition, had to be beached on Jamaica. Columbus and his men were marooned, but two of his captains succeed in canoeing the 450 miles to Hispaniola. Columbus was a castaway on Jamaica for a year before a rescue ship arrived.
In November 1504, Columbus returned to Spain. Queen Isabella, his chief patron, died less than three weeks later. Although Columbus enjoyed a substantial revenue from Hispaniola gold during the last years of his life, he repeatedly attempted (unsuccessfully) to gain an audience with King Ferdinand, whom he felt owed him further redress. Columbus died on May 20, 1506.
Christopher Columbus is No Hero
What do the following cities and towns—Burbank and Los Angeles, California Colorado Springs, Colorado Oak Park, Illinois Davenport, Iowa Portland, Maine Tulsa, Oklahoma Farmington, New Mexico Ithaca, New York Charlottesville, Virginia and Edmonds, Washington—have in common?
They have all, within the last month, replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In so doing, these municipalities have joined the cities of Denver, Phoenix, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Seattle the states of Alaska, South Dakota, and Vermont and various countries in South America that have taken a dramatic first step toward foregrounding the history of Indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Perhaps it is time for other cities, towns, states, counties, businesses, colleges, universities, and school districts throughout the United States to do the same.
Christopher Columbus is not a hero worthy of a national holiday, nor any parades. He is not a hero by fifteenth-century standards, nor twenty-first century standards. Columbus was incompetent and immoral. A self-promoting opportunist, he set out to find people to conquer and convert to his own religious dogma. In fact, he misinterpreted and created his own version of Christianity. He was truly a supporter of colonialism and all that goes along with it—rape, murder, enslavement, warfare, violence, control, conquest, and, yes, genocide.
Born in Genoa, Italy, Columbus had at least two goals: converting Indigenous peoples in the Americas and raising enough money to help reconquer Jerusalem for religious zealots.
Columbus ran an effective public relations campaign. No one knows exactly how or when Columbus came up with the idea of sailing west to find a trade route to Asia. At the time, he was a petty trader and mapmaker in Portugal.
He married an aristocratic wife in Portugal, helping him gain status and respect in the eyes of other nobles. He was persistent, having spent years lobbying in the royal courts in Portugal and Spain. The Portuguese had already found a trade route to Asia, around the southern tip of Africa, and were not interested in Columbus’s plans. Spain on the other hand was busy trying to expel all Muslims out of the country.
After eight years of lobbying, and after the Muslims were defeated, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed finally to fund Columbus’s expedition in 1492. Columbus presented maps, based upon calculations of the ancient Greek philosopher Ptolemy, Marco Polo, the European who had visited Asia hundreds of years earlier, and his interpretation of the Christian Bible.
Columbus secured numerous concessions from the Spanish rulers including the right to govern and rule over whatever territories he discovered and a percentage (10%) of all profits received as a result of the voyage. He convinced Spain to support him, although most of his geographic theories were unusual. Most educated Europeans knew that the world was round, although no one expected there to be large continents blocking a western passage to Asia. Educated Europeans believed the world was about 24,000 miles in circumference, meaning 10,000 miles separated Europe’s west coast from Asia’s east coast (too far to sail in the small ships of the time). Columbus, using his understanding of the Bible and other ancient sources, argued instead that the world was much smaller, and that Asia was only 3000 miles away. In fact, his misunderstanding of geography motivated his voyage.
Although he was a foreigner with limited experience in sailing or navigation, he convinced the Spanish to support him. He won support even though the Spanish advisors to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand recommended otherwise.
During his voyages, he promised a large sum of money (about the equivalent of $1500 today) to the crewmember who spotted the Asian landmass first. While he initially credited this sighting to Juan Rodrigo Bermejo, Columbus later rescinded this offer, claiming instead that he had seen land a few hours earlier. Indeed, Columbus knew how important this would be in terms of fame and fortune.
Columbus also recognized the power of names. He immediately called the Indigenous people of the area Indians, in an attempt to reinforce his assumption that he had landed in Asia. He renamed islands after Spanish monarchs or Christian holy days, to win favor and support. He also renamed himself, Christopher, meaning “Christ-bearer.”
After his first voyage, Columbus emphasized the most potentially profitable aspects of the islands. He pointed out that the Indigenous peoples were easily conquered and enslaved, to work for and bring wealth to the Spanish government. He also argued that they deserved this treatment, because they lacked civilization (no clothes, wheels, weapons) and because they were pagans (enslavement might lead to Christianization).
He exaggerated the amount of gold and silver he found while in the Americas (a few pieces of jewelry). He claimed to have found useful plants and products in the New World, misidentifying some and exaggerating the abundance of others. He prepared and published a written report of his voyages soon after his return (he had received a hero’s welcome in Spain) and capitalized on this fame and goodwill. Europeans read his accounts, and other explorers sailed west. Columbus displayed captured Indians peoples before the king and queen, and brought back samples of plants and spices he found there to enhance his fame.
On return trips, he brought larger numbers of Spanish colonizers with him. Columbus could not control them, they mistreated Indians, and conflicts erupted. Some Spanish returned to Spain and criticized Columbus they reported to the king and queen negatively. As a result, Columbus failed to win the allegiance or support of Indian populations. In fact, he periodically kidnapped Indians to display before Spanish authorities and to work as slaves under the encomienda system he implemented. He was responsible for bringing the first enslaved peoples across the Atlantic. When Indians fought back, he responded ferociously with attack dogs and swords, killing unarmed Indigenous people with impunity. He bragged about his behavior.
The Taíno and Arawak peoples were decimated by his actions—warfare and enslavement, not just the diseases that Columbus and his men brought to the Americas. Prisoners were often hanged and burned to death. As noted war historian Samuel Eliot Morison pointed out in 1955, “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”
Columbus enslaved hundreds of Indians, which upset Spanish authorities, who had hoped to peacefully Christianize the Indians. Spanish authorities also viewed the Indians as subjects over whom Columbus had no rights. Columbus failed to maintain regular contact with the king and queen he spent much time in the Americas attempting to stabilize his colonies and he even refused to return to Spain when summoned. Contemporary observers, especially some priests, criticized Columbus for his mistreatment of Indians. The king and queen, based on unchallenged negative reports about him, stripped Columbus of his governing authority, and he was brought back to Spain in chains.
Columbus died on May 20, 1506, at the age of 55, never realizing that he found a new continent rather than a shorter route to Asia. In fact, when other Europeans critiqued his view, Columbus clung to his thinking. He still had money, but had lost his royal titles and much of his prestige.
If there are traits and abilities for which we should remember Columbus, they are his skills in public relations and his support of a militant church. His life informs us a great deal about the troubling history of contact, conquest, and slavery. He had introduced Europe to a source of riches that ultimately made it possible for Europe to surpass the Middle East in terms of wealth and political power: gold, slaves, minerals, agricultural products, and other goods from the Americas that helped finance European industrialization and further colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
To the people who still support Columbus Day, they should keep in mind that Columbus spent most of his life outside of Italy and never touched land that would become U.S. soil (he travelled to Hispaniola [Haiti and Dominican Republic] and other Caribbean islands, especially Cuba, and present day Venezuela). Furthermore, Columbus’s faults were many: he was a poor geographer, a cruel and incompetent administrator, and held misguided goals and religious views. If we choose to overlook behavior, there are likely better candidates to honor—men such as Ferdinand Magellan, for example.
Columbus’s life and actions are representative of the tremendous and horrific violence and enslavement brought about by the nation-state. If we are to interrogate that history, much of which is still getting played out in the present in the United States, perhaps it is time to foreground the history of Indigenous peoples in the Americas over Christopher Columbus as a key first step. Indeed, adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day for every city, school district, county, and state is a no-brainer and truly low-hanging fruit. Making such as statement would not only give hope to Native Americans but also set a higher bar for our national heroes and holidays.
Joel Helfrich teaches history at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.
Columbus lands in South America
Explorer Christopher Columbus sets foot on the American mainland for the first time, at the Paria Peninsula in present-day Venezuela. Thinking it an island, he christened it Isla Santa and claimed it for Spain.
Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of his early life, but he worked as a seaman and then a sailing entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time, Europeans knew no direct sea route to southern Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. Contrary to popular legend, educated Europeans of Columbus’ day did believe that the world was round, as argued by St. Isidore in the seventh century. However, Columbus, and most others, underestimated the world’s size, calculating that East Asia must lie approximately where North America sits on the globe (they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed).
With only the Atlantic Ocean, he thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his 𠇎nterprise of the Indies,” as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella also rejected him at least twice. However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa Mar, the Pintaਊnd the Ni༚. On October 12, the expedition sighted land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas, and went ashore the same day, claiming it for Spain. Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493 and was received with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was given the title miral of the ocean sea,” and a second expedition was promptly organized. He was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century.
Fitted out with a large fleet of 17 ships with 1,500 colonists aboard, Columbus set out from Cฝiz in September 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. Landfall was made in the Lesser Antilles in November. Returning to Hispaniola, he found the men he left there slaughtered by the natives, and he founded a second colony. Sailing on, he explored Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and numerous smaller islands in the Caribbean. Columbus returned to Spain in June 1496 and was greeted less warmly, as the yield from the second voyage had fallen well short of its costs.
Isabella and Ferdinand, still greedy for the riches of the East, agreed to a smaller third voyage and instructed Columbus to find a strait to India. In May 1498, Columbus left Spain with six ships, three filled with colonists and three with provisions for the colony on Hispaniola. This time, he made landfall on Trinidad. He entered the Gulf of Paria in Venezuela and planted the Spanish flag in South America on August 1, 1498. He explored the Orinoco River of Venezuela and, given its scope, soon realized he had stumbled upon another continent. Columbus, a deeply religious man, decided after careful thought that Venezuela was the outer regions of the Garden of Eden.
Returning to Hispaniola, he found that conditions on the island had deteriorated under the rule of his brothers, Diego and Bartholomew. Columbus’ efforts to restore order were marked by brutality, and his rule came to be deeply resented by both the colonists and the native Taino chiefs. In 1500, Spanish chief justice Francisco de Bobadilla arrived at Hispaniola, sent by Isabella and Ferdinand to investigate complaints, and Columbus and his brothers were sent back to Spain in chains.
He was immediately released upon his return, and Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to finance a fourth voyage, in which he was to search for the earthly paradise and the realms of gold said to lie nearby. He was also to continue looking for a passage to India. In May 1502, Columbus left Cฝiz on his fourth and final voyage to the New World. After returning to Hispaniola, against his patrons’ wishes, he explored the coast of Central America looking for a strait and for gold. Attempting to return to Hispaniola, his ships, in poor condition, had to be beached on Jamaica. Columbus and his men were marooned, but two of his captains succeed in canoeing the 450 miles to Hispaniola. Columbus was a castaway on Jamaica for a year before a rescue ship arrived.
In November 1504, Columbus returned to Spain. Queen Isabella, his chief patron, died less than three weeks later. Although Columbus enjoyed substantial revenue from Hispaniola gold during the last years of his life, he repeatedly attempted (unsuccessfully) to gain an audience with King Ferdinand, whom he felt owed him further redress. Columbus died in Valladolid on May 20, 1506, without realizing the great scope of his achievement: He had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.
E. Tomatoes – Columbus’ Gift from the New World
Although historians cannot be sure of whether Columbus was born in Italy, if it was not for Columbus daring to go west, Italy may not have become famous for its tomato sauces. Tomatoes were not introduced to Italy or Europe until the early 16 th century. They are indigenous to South America (around the area of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador), and probably were first cultivated during the early 8 th century by the Aztecs and the Incas.
Even here, there is debate. Although some credit Columbus for bringing tomatoes back to Europe, there are also theories that it may have been other Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortés, in 1591, who brought back the seeds of the yellow variety back to Spain as an ornament. [ Fast Fact : Cortes is the person known for bringing the fall of the Aztec Empire.] A thirdlegend credits two Jesuit priests for bringing tomatoes directly from Mexico to Italy, who brought back the red variety in the 18 th century.
Tomatoes were not a big hit when they first arrived on the shores of Europe. At first, they were planted as a decorative plant in gardens, and not as a culinary delicacy. Eventually, Spain began using their “fruits” as food, which subsequently made its way into the kitchens of Italy. The tomato was originally thought by many to be poisonous. When the tomato first made its way to Europe, it was first served in the houses of the aristocracy. Their wealth allowed them to dine on plates made of pewter. The acidity of the tomatoes would remove the lead from the plates.The lead was was consumed leading to sickness and death. So the poor tomato (and not the pewter) took the blame and was avoided, especially in Northern Europe for almost two centuries.
There is a second reason for the poison tomato myth which had already taken root even before they made their arrival. Upon reaching European shores, they were classified as part of the atropa belladonna family of plants, more commonly known as “deadly nightshade.” This group of plants also included eggplants and mandrake. Although all of these plants are related, they are part of the much large solanum genus, which contains a very diverse number of plants, both toxic and edible. [Fast Facts: The roots of the belladonna plant (which is part of the solanum family) is extremely poisonous, and has been used as such for centuries (it was used to kill Emperor Claudius by his wife) and the mandrake is mentioned in Genesis 30:16 as being used in a love potion.]
This poisonous distinction was cited by John Gerard in his 1597 book on horticulture, Herball. Much of what was in this book was inaccurate, and supposedly the information on the tomato was added incorrectly due to a printing deadline, which doomed the tomato in both Northern Europe and the colonies of North America for almost two centuries. [Fast Fact: The tomato had another setback in the mid 1800s, when tomato worms over four inches in length began infesting gardens. A rumor began to spread that these worms were dangerous, and would spray poison out of their mouths.]
I cannot write about tomatoes in an article such as this without mentioning the influence of Jews on this food. The first female captain of industry was a Jewish woman by the name of Tillie Lewis. It was Lewis who popularized tomatoes throughout the United States beginning in the mid-1950s through the sale of canned tomatoes, which allowed this vegetable to be available around the country all year long. [Note that I will be delving into the life Tillie Lewis in an upcoming article in which I will be writing on everyone’s favorite food . . . . pizza.]
Tomatoes not only taste good, but are also good for you. They include large amounts of lycopene, an antioxidant that is good for the body and may be effective to treat certain cancers [there no actual proof – but it is nice to hope]. Tomatoes also include vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium.
Today, tomatoes are consumed all over the globe, and there are over 7500 different varieties. The United States alone grows over 3 million tons of tomatoes each year. [Fast Fact: In the town of Bunol, Spain, they celebrate the festival of La Tomatina (on the last Wednesday of August), in which over 40,000 people have a tomato fight. It is estimated that about 150,000 tomatoes are hurled at each other.] They are eaten raw, cooked in various ways (healthier when heated), used as/in beverages, and used in a huge variety of sauces from salsa in Mexico to Sunday gravy in Italy to the sauce poured over the pasta at my last Men’s Club Pasta Extravaganza in my town. Tomatoes are added to all types of dishes, including some delicious soups, like a basic tomato soup or a tomato-based gazpacho. This is a perfect segue to the next section . . . . .
Prior to Columbus, were there any known attempts to cross the Atlantic Ocean?
The question is pretty self-explanatory. I'm just curious whether we know of any attempts to cross the Atlantic Ocean prior to the Columbus expedition. Or was he literally the first person we know of historically who sincerely proposed sailing across the Atlantic Ocean?
The only two instances I could find that might fit the bill are:
Obviously Lief Erikson's attempts to sail across the North Atlantic, ultimately succeeding in reaching "Vinland" circa 1000 AD
Vague rumors that Mansa Abu Bakr II of the Mali Empire had abdicated the throne in order to explore the Atlantic Ocean with a massive fleet in the 14th Century
I apologize if this has been asked before, I've searched around and haven't found any other threads on this topic.
EDIT: And to be clear, it seems completely obvious that any previous expeditions were not successful. I don't mean for this to come off as some sort of conspiracy theory about other groups landing in America before Columbus. Because it seems obvious that even if there were any previous attempts to cross the Atlantic, they weren't successful.
Columbus's early life is obscure, but scholars believe he was born in or near Genoa between 25 August and 31 October 1451.  His father was Domenico Colombo,  a wool weaver who worked both in Genoa and Savona and who also owned a cheese stand at which young Christopher worked as a helper. His mother was Susanna Fontanarossa.  [b] He had three brothers—Bartolomeo, Giovanni Pellegrino, and Giacomo (also called Diego),  as well as a sister named Bianchinetta.  His brother Bartolomeo worked in a cartography workshop in Lisbon for at least part of his adulthood. 
His native language is presumed to have been a Genoese dialect although Columbus never wrote in that language. His name in the 16th-century Genoese language would have been Cristoffa  Corombo  (Ligurian pronunciation: [kriˈʃtɔffa kuˈɹuŋbu] ).   His name in Italian is Cristoforo Colombo, and in Spanish Cristóbal Colón. 
In one of his writings, he says he went to sea at the age of 10. In 1470, the Columbus family moved to Savona, where Domenico took over a tavern. In the same year, Christopher was on a Genoese ship hired in the service of René of Anjou to support his attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Naples. Some modern authors have argued that he was not from Genoa but, instead, from the Aragon region of Spain  or from Portugal.  These competing hypotheses have generally been discounted by mainstream scholars.  
In 1473, Columbus began his apprenticeship as business agent for the wealthy Spinola, Centurione, and Di Negro families of Genoa. Later, he made a trip to Chios, an Aegean island then ruled by Genoa.  In May 1476, he took part in an armed convoy sent by Genoa to carry valuable cargo to northern Europe. He probably docked in Bristol, England,  and Galway, Ireland. He may have also gone to Iceland in 1477.    It is known that in the autumn of 1477, he sailed on a Portuguese ship from Galway to Lisbon, where he found his brother Bartolomeo, and they continued trading for the Centurione family. Columbus based himself in Lisbon from 1477 to 1485. He married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, daughter of the Porto Santo governor and Portuguese nobleman of Lombard origin Bartolomeu Perestrello. 
In 1479 or 1480, Columbus's son Diego was born. Between 1482 and 1485, Columbus traded along the coasts of West Africa, reaching the Portuguese trading post of Elmina at the Guinea coast (in present-day Ghana).  Before 1484, Columbus returned to Porto Santo to find that his wife had died.  He returned to Portugal to settle her estate and take his son Diego with him.  He left Portugal for Castile in 1485, where he found a mistress in 1487, a 20-year-old orphan named Beatriz Enríquez de Arana.  It is likely that Beatriz met Columbus when he was in Córdoba, a gathering site of many Genoese merchants and where the court of the Catholic Monarchs was located at intervals. Beatriz, unmarried at the time, gave birth to Columbus's natural son, Fernando Columbus in July 1488, named for the monarch of Aragon. Columbus recognized the boy as his offspring. Columbus entrusted his older, legitimate son Diego to take care of Beatriz and pay the pension set aside for her following his death, but Diego was negligent in his duties. 
Ambitious, Columbus eventually learned Latin, Portuguese, and Castilian. He read widely about astronomy, geography, and history, including the works of Claudius Ptolemy, Pierre Cardinal d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, the travels of Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville, Pliny's Natural History, and Pope Pius II's Historia Rerum Ubique Gestarum. According to historian Edmund Morgan,
Columbus was not a scholarly man. Yet he studied these books, made hundreds of marginal notations in them and came out with ideas about the world that were characteristically simple and strong and sometimes wrong . 
Under the Mongol Empire's hegemony over Asia and the Pax Mongolica, Europeans had long enjoyed a safe land passage, the Silk Road, to Maritime Southeast Asia, parts of East Asia, and China, which were sources of valuable goods. With the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the Silk Road was closed to Christian traders. 
In 1470, the Florentine astronomer Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli suggested to King Afonso V of Portugal that sailing west across the Atlantic would be a quicker way to reach the Maluku (Spice) Islands, China, and Japan than the route around Africa, but Afonso rejected his proposal.  In the 1480s, the Columbus brothers proposed a plan to reach the East Indies by sailing west. By 1481, Toscanelli had sent Columbus a map implying that a westward route to Asia was possible.   Columbus's plans were complicated by the opening of the Cape Route to Asia around Africa in 1488. 
Carol Delaney and others have argued that Columbus was a Christian millennialist and apocalypticist and that these beliefs motivated his quest for Asia in a variety of ways.  Columbus often wrote about seeking gold in the diaries of his voyages and writes about acquiring the precious metal "in such quantity that the sovereigns. will undertake and prepare to go conquer the Holy Sepulcher" in a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.  [c] Columbus also often wrote about converting all races to Christianity.  Abbas Hamandi argues that Columbus was motivated by the hope of "[delivering] Jerusalem from Muslim hands" by "using the resources of newly discovered lands". 
Nearly all educated Westerners had understood, at least since the time of Aristotle, that the Earth is spherical.    The sphericity of the Earth is also accounted for in the work of Ptolemy, on which medieval astronomy was largely based. In Columbus's time, the techniques of celestial navigation, which use the position of the sun and the stars in the sky, together with the understanding that the Earth is a sphere, had long been in use by astronomers and were beginning to be implemented by mariners. 
As far back as the 3rd century BC, Eratosthenes had correctly computed the circumference of the Earth by using simple geometry and studying the shadows cast by objects at two remote locations.   In the 1st century BC, Posidonius confirmed Eratosthenes's results by comparing stellar observations at two separate locations. These measurements were widely known among scholars, but Ptolemy's use of the smaller, old-fashioned units of distance led Columbus to underestimate the size of the Earth by about a third. 
From Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi (1410), Columbus learned of Alfraganus's estimate that a degree of latitude (or a degree of longitude along the equator) spanned 56 2 ⁄ 3 Arabic miles (equivalent to 66.2 nautical miles or 122.6 kilometres), but he did not realize that this was expressed in the Arabic mile (about 1,830 meters) rather than the shorter Roman mile (about 1,480 meters) with which he was familiar.  Columbus therefore estimated the size of the Earth to be about 75% of Eratosthenes's calculation, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan as 2,400 nautical miles (about 23% of the real figure). 
Furthermore, most scholars accepted Ptolemy's estimate that Eurasia spanned 180° longitude, rather than the actual 130° (to the Chinese mainland) or 150° (to Japan at the latitude of Spain). Columbus, for his part, believed an even higher estimate, leaving a smaller percentage for water. In d'Ailly's Imago Mundi, Columbus read Marinus of Tyre's estimate that the longitudinal span of Eurasia was 225°.  Some have suggested he followed the statement in 2 Esdras (6:42) that "six parts [of the globe] are habitable and the seventh is covered with water."  He was also aware of Marco Polo's claim that Japan (which he called "Cipangu") was some 2,414 kilometres (1,500 mi) to the east of China ("Cathay"),  and closer to the equator than it is. He was influenced by Toscanelli's idea that there were inhabited islands even farther to the east than Japan, including the mythical Antillia, which he thought might lie not much farther to the west than the Azores. 
Columbus therefore would have estimated the distance from the Canary Islands west to Japan to be about 9,800 kilometres (5,300 nmi) or 3,700 kilometres (2,000 nmi), depending on which estimate he used for Eurasia's longitudinal span. The true figure is now known to be vastly larger: about 20,000 kilometres (11,000 nmi).  No ship in the 15th century could have carried enough food and fresh water for such a long voyage, and the dangers involved in navigating through the uncharted ocean would have been formidable. Most European navigators reasonably concluded that a westward voyage from Europe to Asia was unfeasible. The Catholic Monarchs, however, having completed the Reconquista, an expensive war in the Iberian Peninsula, were eager to obtain a competitive edge over other European countries in the quest for trade with the Indies. Columbus's project, though far-fetched, held the promise of such an advantage. 
Though Columbus was wrong about the number of degrees of longitude that separated Europe from the Far East and about the distance that each degree represented, he did possess valuable knowledge about the trade winds, which would prove to be the key to his successful navigation of the Atlantic Ocean. To return to Spain against this prevailing wind would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique, called beating, during which food and drinkable water would probably have been exhausted. Instead, Columbus returned home by following the curving trade winds northeastward to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where he was able to catch the "westerlies" that blow eastward to the coast of Western Europe. There, in turn, the winds curve southward towards the Iberian Peninsula. [ citation needed ]
It is unclear whether Columbus learned about the winds from his own sailing experience or if he had heard about them from others. The corresponding technique for efficient travel in the Atlantic appears to have been exploited first by the Portuguese, who referred to it as the Volta do mar ("turn of the sea"). Columbus's knowledge of the Atlantic wind patterns was, however, imperfect at the time of his first voyage. By sailing directly due west from the Canary Islands during hurricane season, skirting the so-called horse latitudes of the mid-Atlantic, Columbus risked either being becalmed or running into a tropical cyclone, both of which, by chance, he avoided. 
Quest for financial support for a voyage
By about 1484, Columbus proposed his planned voyage to King John II of Portugal.  The king submitted Columbus's proposal to his experts, who rejected it on the correct belief that Columbus's estimate for a voyage of 2,400 nautical miles was only a quarter of what it should have been.  Columbus traveled from Portugal to both Genoa and Venice, but he received encouragement from neither. [ citation needed ] In 1488, Columbus again appealed to the court of Portugal, resulting in John II again inviting him for an audience. That meeting also proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal with news of his successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa (near the Cape of Good Hope). 
Columbus sought an audience from the monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who had united several kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula by marrying and were ruling together. On 1 May 1486, permission having been granted, Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who, in turn, referred it to a committee. The savants of Spain, like their counterparts in Portugal, replied that Columbus had grossly underestimated the distance to Asia. They pronounced the idea impractical and advised their Royal Highnesses to pass on the proposed venture. To keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps to keep their options open, the Catholic Monarchs gave him an allowance, totaling about 14,000 maravedis for the year, or about the annual salary of a sailor.  In May 1489, the queen sent him another 10,000 maravedis, and the same year the monarchs furnished him with a letter ordering all cities and towns under their domain to provide him food and lodging at no cost. 
Columbus also dispatched his brother Bartholomew to the court of Henry VII of England to inquire whether the English crown might sponsor his expedition, but he was captured by pirates in the process, and only arrived in early 1491.  By that time, Columbus had retreated to La Rábida Friary, where the Spanish crown sent him 20,000 maravedis to buy new clothes and instructions to return to the Spanish court for renewed discussions. 
Agreement with the Spanish crown
Columbus waited at King Ferdinand's camp until Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, in January 1492. A council led by Isabella's confessor, Hernando de Talavera, found Columbus's proposal to reach the Indies implausible. Columbus had left for France when Ferdinand intervened, [d] first sending Talavera and Bishop Diego Deza to appeal to the queen.  Isabella was finally convinced by the king's clerk Luis de Santángel, who argued that Columbus would bring his ideas elsewhere, and offered to help arrange the funding. Isabella then sent a royal guard to fetch Columbus, who had travelled several kilometers toward Córdoba. 
In the April 1492 "Capitulations of Santa Fe", King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella promised Columbus that if he succeeded he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain. He had the right to nominate three persons, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to 10 percent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity. Additionally, he would also have the option of buying one-eighth interest in any commercial venture with the new lands and receive one-eighth of the profits. 
In 1500, during his third voyage to the Americas, Columbus was arrested and dismissed from his posts. He and his sons, Diego and Fernando, then conducted a lengthy series of court cases against the Castilian crown, known as the pleitos colombinos, alleging that the Crown had illegally reneged on its contractual obligations to Columbus and his heirs. The Columbus family had some success in their first litigation, as a judgment of 1511 confirmed Diego's position as viceroy, but reduced his powers. Diego resumed litigation in 1512, which lasted until 1536, and further disputes continued until 1790. 
Between 1492 and 1504, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages between Spain and the Americas, each voyage being sponsored by the Crown of Castile. On his first voyage, he independently discovered the Americas. These voyages marked the beginning of the European exploration and colonization of the Americas, and are thus important to both the Age of Discovery and Western history writ large. 
Columbus always insisted, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the lands that he visited during those voyages were part of the Asian continent, as previously described by Marco Polo and other European travelers.  Columbus's refusal to acknowledge that the lands he had visited and claimed for Spain were not part of Asia might explain, in part, why the American continent was named after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci—who received credit for recognizing it as a "New World"—and not after Columbus.  [e]
First voyage (1492–1493)
On the evening of 3 August 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera with three ships. The largest was a carrack, the Santa María, owned and captained by Juan de la Cosa, and under Columbus's direct command.  The other two were smaller caravels, the Pinta and the Niña,  piloted by the Pinzón brothers.  Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands. There he restocked provisions and made repairs then departed from San Sebastián de La Gomera on 6 September,  for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean.
On 7 October, the crew spotted "[i]mmense flocks of birds".  On 11 October, Columbus changed the fleet's course to due west, and sailed through the night, believing land was soon to be found. At around 02:00 the following morning, a lookout on the Pinta, Rodrigo de Triana, spotted land. The captain of the Pinta, Martín Alonso Pinzón, verified the sight of land and alerted Columbus.   Columbus later maintained that he had already seen a light on the land a few hours earlier, thereby claiming for himself the lifetime pension promised by Ferdinand and Isabella to the first person to sight land.   Columbus called this island (in what is now the Bahamas) San Salvador (meaning "Holy Savior") the natives called it Guanahani.  [g] Christopher Columbus' journal entry of 12 October 1492 states:
Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language. 
Columbus called the inhabitants of the lands that he visited Los Indios (Spanish for "Indians").  He initially encountered the Lucayan, Taíno, and Arawak peoples. Noting their gold ear ornaments, Columbus took some of the Arawaks prisoner and insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold.  Columbus noted that their primitive weapons and military tactics made the natives susceptible to easy conquest, writing, "these people are very simple in war-like matters . I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased." 
Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba, where he landed on 28 October. On 22 November, Martín Alonso Pinzón took the Pinta on an unauthorized expedition in search of an island called "Babeque" or "Baneque", which the natives had told him was rich in gold. Columbus, for his part, continued to the northern coast of Hispaniola, where he landed on 5 December.  There, the Santa María ran aground on Christmas Day 1492 and had to be abandoned. The wreck was used as a target for cannon fire to impress the native peoples.  Columbus was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus left 39 men, including the interpreter Luis de Torres,  [h] and founded the settlement of La Navidad, in present-day Haiti.  Columbus took more natives prisoner and continued his exploration.  He kept sailing along the northern coast of Hispaniola with a single ship, until he encountered Pinzón and the Pinta on 6 January.
On 13 January 1493, Columbus made his last stop of this voyage in the Americas, in the Bay of Rincón in northeast Hispaniola.  There he encountered the warlike Ciguayos, the only natives who offered violent resistance during this voyage.  The Ciguayos refused to trade the amount of bows and arrows that Columbus desired in the ensuing clash one Ciguayo was stabbed in the buttocks and another wounded with an arrow in his chest.  Because of these events, Columbus called the inlet the Bay of Arrows. 
Columbus headed for Spain on the Niña, but a storm separated him from the Pinta, and forced the Niña to stop at the island of Santa Maria in the Azores. Half of his crew went ashore to say prayers in a chapel to give thanks for having survived the storm. But while praying, they were imprisoned by the governor of the island, ostensibly on suspicion of being pirates. After a two-day standoff, the prisoners were released, and Columbus again set sail for Spain. 
Another storm forced Columbus into the port at Lisbon.  From there he went to Vale do Paraíso north of Lisbon to meet King John II of Portugal, who told Columbus that he believed the voyage to be in violation of the 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas. After spending more than a week in Portugal, Columbus set sail for Spain. Returning on 15 March 1493, he was given a warm welcome by the monarchs.
Columbus's letter on the first voyage, was instrumental in spreading the news throughout Europe about his voyage. Almost immediately after his arrival in Spain, printed versions began to appear. Word of his voyage rapidly spread throughout Europe. Most people initially believed that he had reached Asia.  The Bulls of Donation, three papal bulls of Pope Alexander VI delivered in 1493 purported to grant overseas territories to Portugal and the Catholic Monarchs of Spain. They were replaced by the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494. 
Second voyage (1493–1496)
On 24 September 1493, Columbus sailed from Cádiz with 17 ships, and supplies to establish permanent colonies in the Americas. He sailed with 1,200 men, including priests, farmers, and soldiers. The fleet stopped at the Canary Islands, continuing three weeks later on a more southerly course than on the first voyage.
On 3 November, they arrived in the Windward Islands and landed at Marie-Galante, now part of Guadeloupe. These islands were named by Columbus on this voyage, as well as Montserrat, Antigua, Saint Martin, the Virgin Islands, and many others.
On 22 November, Columbus returned to Hispaniola to visit La Navidad, where 39 Spaniards had been left during the first voyage. Columbus found the fort in ruins, destroyed by the Taínos after some of the Spaniards had formed a murderous gang in pursuit of gold and women.   Columbus then established a poorly located and short-lived settlement, La Isabela, in the present-day Dominican Republic. 
From April to August 1494, Columbus explored Cuba and Jamaica, then returned to Hispaniola. By the end of 1494, disease and famine had killed two-thirds of the Spanish settlers.   Columbus implemented encomienda,   a Spanish labor system that rewarded conquerors with the labor of conquered non-Christian people. Columbus's colonists bought and sold slaves. Columbus executed Spanish colonists for minor crimes, and used dismemberment as punishment.  Columbus and the colonists enslaved the indigenous people,  including children.  Natives were beaten, raped, and tortured for the location of imagined gold.  Thousands committed suicide rather than face the oppression.  [j]
In February 1495, Columbus took over 1,500 Arawaks, some of whom had rebelled.   About 500 of them were shipped to Spain as slaves, with about 40% dying en route.   
In June 1495, the Spanish crown sent ships and supplies to Hispaniola. In October, Florentine merchant Gianotto Berardi received almost 40,000 maravedís worth of slaves. 
On 10 March 1496, having been away about 30 months,  the fleet departed La Isabela, landing in Portugal on 8 June.
Third voyage (1498–1500)
On 30 May 1498, Columbus left with six ships from Sanlúcar, Spain. Three of the ships headed directly for Hispaniola with much-needed supplies. Columbus took the other three to continue the search for a passage to continental Asia. 
On 31 July they sighted Trinidad.  On 1 August, they arrived near the mouth of South America's Orinoco river. Columbus recognized that it must be the continent's mainland.  On 5 August, they landed on the mainland of South America at the Paria Peninsula.  They then sailed to the islands of Chacachacare and Margarita (reaching the latter on 14 August),  and sighted Tobago and Grenada. 
On 19 August, Columbus returned to Hispaniola. There he found settlers in rebellion against his rule, and his promises of riches. Columbus had some of his crew hanged for disobedience.
In October 1499, Columbus sent two ships to Spain, asking the Court of Spain to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern.  By this time, accusations of tyranny and incompetence on the part of Columbus had also reached the Court. The sovereigns replaced Columbus with Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava, who was tasked with investigating the accusations of brutality made against Columbus. Arriving in Santo Domingo while Columbus was away, Bobadilla was immediately met with complaints about all three Columbus brothers.  Bobadilla reported to Spain that Columbus regularly used torture and mutilation to govern Hispaniola. [k]
According to the report, Columbus once punished a man found guilty of stealing corn by having his ears and nose cut off and then selling him into slavery. Testimony recorded in the report stated that Columbus congratulated his brother Bartolomeo on "defending the family" when the latter ordered a woman paraded naked through the streets and then had her tongue cut out for suggesting that Columbus was of lowly birth.  The document also describes how Columbus put down native unrest and revolt: he first ordered a brutal crackdown in which many natives were killed, and then paraded their dismembered bodies through the streets in an attempt to discourage further rebellion. 
In early October 1500, Columbus and Diego presented themselves to Bobadilla, and were put in chains aboard La Gorda, Columbus's own ship.  They were returned to Spain, and lingered in jail for six weeks before King Ferdinand ordered their release. Not long after, the king and queen summoned the Columbus brothers to the Alhambra palace in Granada. There, the royal couple heard the brothers' pleas restored their freedom and wealth and, after much persuasion, agreed to fund Columbus's fourth voyage. However, Nicolás de Ovando was to be the new governor of the West Indies. 
Fourth voyage (1502–1504)
On 11 May 1502 Columbus, with his brother and son, left Cadiz with his flagship Santa María and three other vessels. He sailed to Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue Portuguese soldiers said to be besieged by the Moors.
On 15 June, they arrived at Martinique. A hurricane was brewing, so he continued on, hoping to find shelter on Hispaniola. He arrived at Santo Domingo on 29 June, 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 Rio Jaina, the first Spanish treasure fleet sailed into the hurricane. Columbus's ships survived with only minor damage, while 29 of the 30 ships in the governor's fleet were lost along with 500 lives (including that of Francisco de Bobadilla) and over US$10 million of Columbus's gold. A fragile ship carrying Columbus's personal belongings was the sole vessel to reach Spain.  
After a brief stop at Jamaica, Columbus sailed to Central America, arriving at the coast of Honduras on 30 July. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants and a large canoe. On 14 August, he landed on the continental mainland at Puerto Castilla, Honduras. He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before arriving in Almirante, Bocas del Toro in Panama on 16 October.
In Panama, Columbus learned from the Ngobe of gold and a strait to another ocean. In January 1503, he established a garrison at the mouth of the Belén River. Columbus left for Hispaniola on 16 April. On 10 May he sighted the Cayman Islands, naming them "Las Tortugas" after the numerous sea turtles there.  His ships sustained damage in a storm off the coast of Cuba.  Unable to travel farther, on 25 June 1503 they were beached in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. 
For one year Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica. A Spaniard, Diego Méndez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help from Hispaniola. The governor, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, detested Columbus and obstructed all efforts to rescue him and his men. In the meantime Columbus, in a desperate effort to induce the natives to continue provisioning him and his hungry men, won their favor by predicting a lunar eclipse for 29 February 1504, using Abraham Zacuto's astronomical charts.    Help finally arrived, no thanks to the governor, on 29 June 1504, and Columbus and his men arrived in Sanlúcar, Spain, on 7 November.
Columbus had always claimed the conversion of non-believers as one reason for his explorations, but he grew increasingly religious in his later years. Probably with the assistance of his son Diego and his friend the Carthusian monk Gaspar Gorricio, Columbus produced two books during his later years: a Book of Privileges (1502), detailing and documenting the rewards from the Spanish Crown to which he believed he and his heirs were entitled, and a Book of Prophecies (1505), in which he considered his achievements as an explorer as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy in the context of Christian eschatology and apocalypticism.  
In his later years, Columbus demanded that the Spanish Crown give him 10 percent of all profits made in the new lands, as stipulated in the Capitulations of Santa Fe. Because he had been relieved of his duties as governor, the crown did not feel bound by that contract and his demands were rejected. After his death, his heirs sued the Crown for a part of the profits from trade with America, as well as other rewards. This led to a protracted series of legal disputes known as the pleitos colombinos ("Columbian lawsuits"). 
During a violent storm on his first return voyage, Columbus, then 41, suffered an attack of what was believed at the time to be gout. In subsequent years, he was plagued with what was thought to be influenza and other fevers, bleeding from the eyes, temporary blindness and prolonged attacks of gout. The attacks increased in duration and severity, sometimes leaving Columbus bedridden for months at a time, and culminated in his death 14 years later.
Based on Columbus's lifestyle and the described symptoms, modern doctors suspect that he suffered from reactive arthritis, rather than gout.   Reactive arthritis is a joint inflammation caused by intestinal bacterial infections or after acquiring certain sexually transmitted diseases (primarily chlamydia or gonorrhea). "It seems likely that [Columbus] acquired reactive arthritis from food poisoning on one of his ocean voyages because of poor sanitation and improper food preparation," writes Dr. Frank C. Arnett, a rheumatologist and professor of internal medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. 
On 20 May 1506, aged 54, Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain. 
Columbus's remains were first buried at a convent in Valladolid,  then moved to the monastery of La Cartuja in Seville (southern Spain) by the will of his son Diego.  They may have been exhumed in 1513 and interred at the Cathedral of Seville.  In about 1536, the remains of both Columbus and his son Diego were moved to a cathedral in Colonial Santo Domingo, in the present-day Dominican Republic.  By some accounts, around 1796, when France took over the entire island of Hispaniola, Columbus's remains were moved to Havana, Cuba.  After Cuba became independent following the Spanish–American War in 1898, the remains were moved back to the Cathedral of Seville, Spain,  where they were placed on an elaborate catafalque. In June 2003, DNA samples were taken from these remains  [l] as well as those of Columbus's brother Diego and younger son Fernando. Initial observations suggested that the bones did not appear to match Columbus's physique or age at death.  DNA extraction proved difficult only short fragments of mitochondrial DNA could be isolated. These matched corresponding DNA from Columbus's brother, supporting that both individuals had shared the same mother.  Such evidence, together with anthropologic and historic analyses, led the researchers to conclude that the remains belonged to Christopher Columbus.  [b]
In 1877, a priest discovered a lead box at Santo Domingo inscribed: "Discoverer of America, First Admiral". Inscriptions found the next year read "Last of the remains of the first admiral, Sire Christopher Columbus, discoverer."  The box contained bones of an arm and a leg, as well as a bullet. [m] These remains were considered legitimate by physician and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Eugene Osborne, who suggested in 1913 that they travel through the Panama Canal as a part of its opening ceremony.  [n] These remains were kept at the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor before being moved to the Columbus Lighthouse (inaugurated in 1992). The authorities in Santo Domingo have never allowed these remains to be exhumed, so it is unconfirmed whether they are from Columbus's body as well.   [o]
Veneration of Columbus in the U.S. dates back to colonial times. The use of Columbus as a founding figure of New World nations spread rapidly after the American Revolution. This was out of a desire to develop a national history and founding myth with fewer ties to Britain.  In the U.S., his name was given to the federal capital (District of Columbia), the capitals of two U.S. states (Ohio and South Carolina), the Columbia River, and monuments like Columbus Circle.
Columbus' name was given to the Republic of Colombia. Towns, streets, and plazas throughout Latin America and Spain have been named after him.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing of Columbus,  the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago was named the World's Columbian Exposition. The U.S. Postal Service issued the first U.S. commemorative stamps, the Columbian Issue depicting Columbus, Queen Isabella and others in various stages of his several voyages.
For the Columbus Quincentenary in 1992, a second Columbian issue was released jointly with Italy, Portugal, and Spain.  Columbus was celebrated at Seville Expo '92, and Genoa Expo '92.
In 1909, descendants of Columbus dismantled and moved the Columbus family chapel in Spain to Boalsburg near State College, Pennsylvania, where it may be visited by the public. 
In many countries of the Americas, as well as Spain and Italy, Columbus Day celebrates the anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas on 12 October 1492.
The voyages of Columbus are considered a turning point in world history, marking the beginning of globalization and accompanying demographic, commercial, economic, social, and political changes.  His explorations resulted in permanent contact between the two hemispheres, and the term "pre-Columbian" is used to refer to the culture of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his European successors. The ensuing Columbian exchange saw the massive exchange of animals, plants, fungi, diseases, technologies, mineral wealth and ideas. 
Until the 1990s, Columbus was portrayed as a heroic explorer. More recently, however, the narrative has featured the negative effects of the conquest on native populations.  Exposed to Old World diseases, the indigenous populations of the New World collapsed and were largely replaced by Europeans and Africans who brought with them new methods of farming, business, governance, and religious worship. 
Originality of discovery of America
Though Christopher Columbus came to be considered the European discoverer of America in Western popular culture, his historical legacy is more nuanced. [p] The Norse had colonized North America around 500 years before Columbus, with some degree of contact with Europe being maintained until about 1410.  The 1960s discovery at L'Anse aux Meadows put Columbus's role in Western popular culture into question, as it partially corroborates accounts within the Icelandic sagas of Erik the Red's colonization of Greenland and his son Leif Erikson's exploration of Vinland around the turn of the 11th century.  
America as a distinct land
Historians have traditionally argued that Columbus remained convinced until his death that his journeys had been along the east coast of Asia as he originally intended.   On his third voyage he briefly referred to South America as a "hitherto unknown" continent, [e] while also rationalizing that it was the "Earthly Paradise" located "at the end of the Orient".  Columbus continued to claim in his later writings that he had reached Asia in a 1502 letter to Pope Alexander VI, he asserts that Cuba is the east coast of Asia.  On the other hand, in a document in the Book of Privileges (1502), Columbus refers to the New World as the Indias Occidentales ('West Indies'), which he says "were unknown to all the world". 
Flat Earth mythology
Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus popularized the idea that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because many Catholic theologians insisted that the Earth was flat,  but this is a popular misconception which can be traced back to 17th-century Protestants campaigning against Catholicism.  In fact, the spherical shape of the Earth had been known to scholars since antiquity, and was common knowledge among sailors, including Columbus.  [q] Coincidentally, the oldest surviving globe of the Earth, the Erdapfel, was made in 1492, just before Columbus's return to Europe. As such it contains no sign of the Americas and yet demonstrates the common belief in a spherical Earth. 
Criticism and defense
Columbus is both criticized for his alleged brutality and initiating the depopulation of the indigenous Americans, whether by disease or intentional genocide. Some defend his alleged actions or say the worst of them are not based in fact.
Historians have criticized Columbus for initiating colonization and for abuse of natives.     On St. Croix, Columbus's friend Michele da Cuneo—according to his own account—kept an indigenous woman he captured, whom Columbus "gave to [him]", then brutally raped her.  [r] [s] The punishment for an indigenous person failing to fill their hawk's bell of gold dust every three months was cutting off the hands of those without tokens, letting them bleed to death.   Thousands of natives are thought to have committed suicide by poison to escape their persecution.  [ better source needed ] Columbus had an economic interest in the enslavement of the Hispaniola natives and for that reason was not eager to baptize them, which attracted criticism from some churchmen.  Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian who has seen the report, states that "Columbus's government was characterised by a form of tyranny. Even those who loved him had to admit the atrocities that had taken place." 
Some historians dispute this, saying that some of the accounts of the brutality of Columbus and his brothers have been exaggerated as part of the Black Legend, a historical tendency towards anti-Spanish sentiment in historical sources dating as far back as the 16th century, which they speculate may continue to taint scholarship into the present day.    There is also debate over whether it is appropriate to use the term "genocide" in this context.   Other historians have argued that, while brutal, Columbus was simply a product of his time, and being a figure of the 15th century, should not be judged by the morality of the 20th century.  Still others openly defend colonization. Spanish ambassador María Jesús Figa López-Palop claims, "Normally we melded with the cultures in America, we stayed there, we spread our language and culture and religion."  Horwitz asserts that paternalistic attitudes were often characteristic of the colonists themselves. 
Upon return from his second voyage, Columbus shipped 550 slaves to Europe for sale in the Mediterranean market. [ citation needed ] British historian Basil Davidson has dubbed Columbus the "father of the slave trade". 
Around the turn of the 21st century, estimates for the pre-Columbian population of Hispaniola ranged between 250,000 and two million,    [t] but genetic analysis published in late 2020 suggests that smaller figures are more likely, perhaps as low as 10,000–50,000 for Hispaniola and Puerto Rico combined.   Based on the previous figures of a few hundred thousand, some have estimated that a third or more of the natives in Haiti were dead within the first two years of Columbus's governorship.   Contributors to depopulation included disease, warfare, and harsh enslavement.     Indirect evidence suggests that some serious illness may have arrived with the 1,500 colonists who accompanied Columbus's second expedition in 1493.  Charles C. Mann writes that "It was as if the suffering these diseases had caused in Eurasia over the past millennia were concentrated into the span of decades."  A third of the natives forced to work in gold and silver mines died every six months.   Within three to six decades, the surviving Arawak population numbered only in the hundreds.    The indigenous population of the Americas overall is thought to have been reduced by about 90% in the century after Columbus's arrival.  Within indigenous circles, Columbus is often viewed as a key agent of genocide.  Samuel Eliot Morison, a Harvard historian and author of a multivolume biography on Columbus, writes, "The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide." 
According to Noble David Cook, "There were too few Spaniards to have killed the millions who were reported to have died in the first century after Old and New World contact." He instead estimates that the death toll was caused by smallpox,  which may have only caused a pandemic after the arrival of Hernán Cortés in 1519.    According to some estimates, smallpox had an 80–90% fatality rate in Native American populations.  The natives had no acquired immunity to these new diseases and suffered high fatalities. There is also evidence that they had poor diets and were overworked.    Historian Andrés Reséndez of University of California, Davis, says the available evidence suggests "slavery has emerged as major killer" of the indigenous populations of the Caribbean between 1492 and 1550 more so than diseases such as smallpox, influenza and malaria.  He says that indigenous populations did not experience a rebound like European populations did following the Black Death because unlike the latter, a large portion of the former were subjected to deadly forced labour in the mines.  The diseases that devastated the Native Americans came in multiple waves at different times, sometimes as much as centuries apart, which would mean that survivors of one disease may have been killed by others, preventing the population from recovering. 
Biographers and historians have a wide range of opinions over Columbus's expertise and experience navigating and captaining ships. One scholar lists some European works ranging from the 1890s to 1980s that support Columbus's experience and skill as among the best in Genoa, while listing some American works over a similar timeframe that portray the explorer as an untrained entrepreneur, having only minor crew or passenger experience prior to his noted journeys. 
Contemporary descriptions of Columbus, including those by his son Fernando and Bartolomé de las Casas, describe him as taller than average, with light skin (which was often sunburnt), blue or hazel eyes, high cheekbones and freckled face, an aquiline nose, and blond to reddish hair and beard (until about the age of 30, when it began to whiten).   Although an abundance of artwork depicts Christopher Columbus, no authentic contemporary portrait is known. 
The most iconic image of Columbus is a portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, which has been reproduced in many textbooks. It agrees with descriptions of Columbus in that it shows a large man with auburn hair, but the painting dates from 1519 and cannot, therefore, have been painted from life. Furthermore, the inscription identifying the subject as Columbus was probably added later, and the face shown differs from other images. 
Sometime between 1531 and 1536, Alejo Fernández painted an altarpiece, The Virgin of the Navigators, that includes a depiction of Columbus. The painting was commissioned for a chapel in Seville's Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) and remains there, as the earliest known painting about the voyages of Columbus.  
At the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, 71 alleged portraits of Columbus were displayed most did not match contemporary descriptions. 
- ^ In other relevant languages:
- : Cristoforo Colombo[kriˈstɔːforo koˈlombo] : Cristoffa C(or)ombo[kɾiˈʃtɔffa kuˈɾuŋbu ˈkuŋbu] : Cristóbal Colón : Cristóvão Colombo : Cristòfor (or Cristòfol) Colom : Christophorus Columbus
- ^ ab DNA from Columbus's presumed remains in Seville will be used to conduct further ancestral studies, with results expected in 2021. 
- ^ In an account of his fourth voyage, Columbus wrote that "Jerusalem and Mount Sion must be rebuilt by Christian hands". 
- ^ Ferdinand later claimed credit for being "the principal cause why those islands were discovered." 
- ^ abFelipe Fernández-Armesto points out that Columbus briefly described South America as an unknown continent after seeing the mainland for the first time. Vespucci seems to have modeled his naming of the "new world" after Columbus's description of this discovery. Further, mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller eventually retracted his naming of the continent after Vespucci, seemingly after it came to light that a claim that Vespucci visited the mainland before Columbus had been falsified. In his new map, Waldseemüller labelled the continent as Terra Incognita ('unknown land'), noting that it had been discovered by Columbus. 
- ^ This map is based on the premise that Columbus first landed at Plana Cays. The island considered by Samuel Eliot Morison to be the most likely location of first contact  is the easternmost land touching the top edge of this image.
- ^ According to Samuel Eliot Morison, San Salvador Island, renamed from Watling's Island in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus's San Salvador,  is the only island fitting the position indicated by Columbus's journal. Other candidates are the Grand Turk, Cat Island, Rum Cay, Samana Cay, or Mayaguana. 
- ^ Torres spoke Hebrew and some Arabic the latter was then believed to be the mother tongue of all languages. 
- ^ Omitted from this image, Columbus returned to Guadeloupe at the end of his second voyage before sailing back to Spain. 
- ^ The tribute system had all but collapsed by 1497. 
- ^ Bobadilla's 48-page report, derived from the testimonies of 23 people who had seen or heard about the treatment meted out by Columbus and his brothers—had originally been lost for centuries, but was rediscovered in 2005 in the Spanish archives in Valladolid. It contained an account of Columbus's seven-year reign as the first governor of the Indies. Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian, states: "Even those who loved him [Columbus] had to admit the atrocities that had taken place." 
- ^ According to Professor Miguel Patella of the University of Granada, who was present the last time Columbus's crypt was opened, these include part of a jaw and an arm, as well as a couple of leg bones and vertebrae. 
- ^ This same year, dust collected from these remains was placed in a locket, which was placed inside the stern of a silver model caravel. Two tiny portions of dust from the same source were placed in separate vials. 
- ^ Osborne cited the bullet as evidence the remains belonged to Columbus,  but its significance is unclear. 
- ^ These remains are displayed in their crypt (behind a sheet of glass) once a year on Columbus Day. 
- ^ "Columbus's claim to fame isn't that he got there first, it's that he stayed." (Dugard 2005, p. 185)
- ^ On his third voyage, Columbus formulated a new model of the Earth shortly after observing that the North Star is not fixed. Making observations with a quadrant, he "regularly saw the plumb line fall to the same point," instead of moving along as his ship moved. He thought that he had discovered the entrance to Heaven, from which Earth's waters extend, the planet forming a pear shape with the insurmountable "stalk" portion of the pear pointing towards Heaven.  In fact, the Earth ever so slightly is pear-shaped, with the "stalk" pointing north. 
- ^ Cuneo wrote,
While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores. 
‘Only Christopher They Acknowledge is Columbus’: The ‘Biblical’ Reason why Replacing Columbus Day is an Uphill BattleStatue of Christopher Columbus in New York City. Image: Brecht Bug/flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Note: For readers directed here by the newsletter, we apologize for the incorrect link. Read How U.S. Conservatives Conjured the Jesus of Their Dreams here. — eds
With less than a month before the election, Donald Trump has once again turned to a faithful weapon in his arsenal, white nationalism. In this year’s Columbus Day Proclamation , the White House added some pointed commentary regarding both Christopher Columbus and Trump’s place in U.S History and as symbols of western civilization.
The Trump administration Columbus Day Proclamation served to tout its assault on recent attempts to rectify and remove the history of white supremacy commemorated through public monuments as well as his recent deceptively titled executive orders banning anti-racism and diversity training by federal agencies and contractors. The proclamation labeled individuals who combat racism and white nationalist extremism as “radical activists” and reiterated his call for “patriotic” education through the establishment of the 1776 Commission . The Proclamation includes the following condemnation:
“Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy. These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions. Rather than learn from our history, this radical ideology and its adherents seek to revise it, deprive it of any splendor, and mark it as inherently sinister. They seek to squash any dissent from their orthodoxy. We must not give in to these tactics or consent to such a bleak view of our history. We must teach future generations about our storied heritage, starting with the protection of monuments to our intrepid heroes like Columbus.”
To fully grasp how much of a departure this proclamation was from previous years one should compare this most recent proclamation with the previous one . The 2019 Columbus Day Proclamation followed the general pattern laid out by his predecessors except for the glaring omission of the effects that the Columbian voyages had on indigenous people of this hemisphere. Consider the 2016 Columbus Day Proclamation in Barack Obama’s final year in office that includes the following comments:
“As we mark this rich history, we must also acknowledge the pain and suffering reflected in the stories of Native Americans who had long resided on this land prior to the arrival of European newcomers. The past we share is marked by too many broken promises, as well as violence, deprivation, and disease. It is a history that we must recognize as we seek to build a brighter future — side by side and with cooperation and mutual respect. We have made great progress together in recent years, and we will keep striving to maintain strong nation-to-nation relationships, strengthen tribal sovereignty, and help all our communities thrive.”
This year’s proclamation omitted any reference to the violence inflicted upon Native Americans, instead calling such focus “revisionist history” meant to “ erase Christopher Columbus from our national heritage.” In a year filled with much angst over America’s public memory primarily through the removal of Confederate statues throughout the country, it wasn’t long before the symbolism of Columbus was again front and center in the battle over the meaning of America’s origin myths.
Taking this as an opportunity Trump has once again positioned himself in the “defender” role. Whether he portrays himself as the “defender of western civilization,” “defender of the Christian,” or even his continued defense of white supremacist groups, Trump’s penchant for casting himself as the messianic savior of whiteness allows him to remain beloved by his most ardent supporters and play upon their anxieties over a changing demographic landscape.
In other words, Trump has turned the Jay-Z line, “I’m anti-Santa Maria. Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace” — a posthumous toast to his one-time friend The Notorious B.I.G. — on its head through his Columbus Day proclamation in which he declared on behalf of his supporters that the ‘only Christopher they acknowledge is Columbus.’
Columbus’ elevation into the heroic pantheon within American society is worth considering. Through the advocacy of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charity that aided newly arriving immigrants, Columbus Day has its roots in San Francisco’s Italian-American community in which Columbus Day coincided with the celebration of Italian-American heritage. But why Columbus? Were there not innumerable Italian Americans who would be more fitting (and less problematic) to symbolize Italian-American contributions to American society than an individual who never actually set foot in what is now the United States?
Whether it’s the school-age yarn about proving the world wasn’t flat, or the daring and brave explorer setting out to find an alternate route to Asia for spices, to the more complex and unsympathetic readings, Columbus as origin myth is a Rorschach test in which Americans see either the America they want to “make great again” or the America they want to see live up to its promises.
Italian Americans’ embrace of Columbus during the early 20 th century can be tied to their quest to assimilate into the largely hostile white Protestant society that marginalized European Catholics. By asserting Columbian primacy over America’s origin myth, it allowed for the consolidation of Catholic and Protestant whiteness in the form of a dual myth of national origins.
America’s struggle with its national myths is perhaps most conflicted around the two origin myths. The arrival of Columbus in 1492 in the Bahamas and the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620 at Plymouth (and the subsequent First Thanksgiving) serve as dual origin myths of the American settler colonial project.
If we compare the Columbus Day-Thanksgiving couplet to the two biblical creation narratives contained in Genesis chapters 1-2 we get a similar macro-versus-micro-level perspective. Columbus emerges as the macro level event that sets the stage for the emergence of the New World, which in the Eurocentric perspective is creatio ex nihilo (created out of nothing ) in which the native populations and their respective cultures are the treated like the tohu va’bohu (without form and void) in Genesis 1:2 that’s in need of ordering and fashioning by the invading European Christian conquistadors.
Whereas Thanksgiving’s leapfrogging of the Jamestown colony in terms of mythic importance lies in its ability to, on a micro level, draw upon notions of divine election, chosenness, and American exceptionalism. These settler colony origin myths explain how the chosen peoples of America are destined for greatness its Manifest Destiny.
This also explains why the suggested replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day faces an uphill battle. In 1977 indigenous leaders from around the world organized a United Nations conference to promote indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. Their first recommendation was “to observe October 12, the day of so-called ‘discovery’ of America, as an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.”
Within the United States, the Colorado branch of the American Indian Movement (AIM) would, in the 1980s, propose Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and Berkley, California would celebrate its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, (the 500 th anniversary of the Columbian voyage). Versions of Native American or Indigenous Peoples’ Day have been proposed as a replacement for Columbus Day for three decades, more recently by states and municipalities throughout the country. It would take 30 years before the United Nations formally recognized the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted in September 2007.
However, in terms of its American civil religion potential, re-designating Columbus Day nationally as Indigenous Peoples’ Day — shifting focus from the narrative of discovery to the narrative of invasion and dispossession — calls into question the legitimacy of the American experience.
As a comparison, imagine halfway through the conquest of Canaan narrative the Biblical writer’s perspective shifts from that of the Israelites and their conquest of the Promised Land to that of the Canaanites viewing the oncoming Israelite marauders as signaling the end of their way of life. While this would work well for a social justice version of the Bible, it disrupts the notion of a chosen people that’s central not only to the biblical narrative but also to the idea of American exceptionalism. Therefore, for Indigenous Peoples’ Day and other alternatives to successfully work, white Americans must come to terms with the idea that their national origin myths are coupled to a white supremacist project that white identity relies on for its existence.
Origin myths are often employed as justifications for the world as it is. The continued call for the replacement or removal of Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day by Native American activists and their allies doesn’t change the world that these myths signify.
While serving as valid critiques of historical atrocities, counter-observances, such as Indigenous Peoples’ Day or the National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving, do not dismantle the world of white supremacy. Simply banishing the mythos (symbolism) of white supremacy while leaving the logos (the factual and lived world) of white supremacy ensures the survival of the system and the creation of new myths in its place.