Columbus, Christopher

Columbus, Christopher AKA Cristóbal Colón (Spanish) and Cristoforo Colombo (Italian)

Columbus, the discoverer of the New World, was born in Genoa, Italy in 1451 as the eldest of five children. His father, Domenico Colombo, and grandfather on mother’s side were wool-weavers. He and his brother just younger than himself, Bartholomew helped his father by carding raw wool but when he was twenty he decided to become a sailor as he always wanted to sail the seas. Bartholomew planned the great voyage with him and became his right-hand man in all his enterprises.

Columbus didn’t have the opportunity to go to school very much, but he learned to read and write Spanish during his travels. He also taught himself Latin as all the books on geography were written in Latin. As a youngster he probably went out with the sardine fishing fleets, as other Genoese boys did. He may even have sailed along the coast or over to Corsica. Initially he made at least one trip to the North African coast. On these longer voyages he learned the elements of seamanship.

As a common seaman Columbus sailed aboard a Genoese merchantman bound for Lisbon, Portugal; England; and Flanders in 1476. Off the south coast of Portugal the convoy in which they traveled was attacked, and his ship sunk. He swam ashore, and traveled to Lisbon. Following one more trip he settled in Lisbon.

In his new country he started a career as a chart-maker. He also made at least one voyage as an agent for a Genoese merchant in Lisbon. In 1479 he married Dona Felipa Perestrello, whose father had been one of Prince Henry’s captains. The couple had one son, Diego. His wife’s high social rank permitted him to meet important officials. In 1481 he entered the service of King John II of Portugal and voyaged to the Gold Coast of Africa.  Columbus believed that if he sailed far enough in a westerly direction, he would eventually reach the East Indies. He did not know about the land mass (the Americas) that would be in his way. He was determined to prove that by sailing 3,000 miles (4 800 km.) west he would reach Asia.

His wife died, and in Cordoba, Spain, he took Beatriz Enriquez de Harana as his common-law wife. They later had one son, Ferdinand (Fernando). In 1481 he entered the service of King John II of Portugal and sailed to the Gold Coast of Africa. He could, however, not afford his planned adventures and many rich people refused to help him, but finally, after the fall of Granada in January 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain gave him three ships and money to pay the sailors. On 3 August 1492 he sailed from Spain with the ships, the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria.

On 8 and 9 October his men were ready to rebel, and. Columbus had to agree to turn back if land was not sighted within three days. The indeed saw land in time (12 October), and he made a landfall somewhere in the Bahamas. He planted the Spanish flag to claim the Island for the King and Queen of Spain. He named the native population Indians because he thought that he had arrived in India. He was wrong. He had discovered a new world. He had sailed to a group of Islands near America – he named Santa Maria de la Concepcion (now Rum Cay), Fernandina (Long Island), and Isabela (CrookedIsland). He then continued south to the north coast of Cuba, and named it Juana.

Columbus built a fort, and left 40 men sailors on the Island to search for gold and told them that he would return the following year and take them back home. He did not need them as sailors as the Santa Maria was blown against the rocks near Haiti on Christmas Eve. He returned to Spain with the Nina and the Pinta. With him he had some six natives, which he had captured, and planned to use as proof to the people that he had reached a New World. On the return journey the two ships sailed into storms, and during one of the storms the two ships got separated. From then on each ship sailed alone. On 15 March 1493 he entered his homeport on board the Nina, followed by the Pinta a few hours later

Columbus was treated like royalty all over Spain. The Monarchy of Spain was proud of him. Three more voyages to the New World followed and he always believed that he in fact had reached Asia. His success opened the door for Spain to conquer the Americas. All honors and titles promised to him were confirmed. The event was the peak of Columbus’ glory.

As an admiral he made three more trips to the New World: 1493 to 1496, 1498 to 1500, and 1502 to 1504. For the first voyage he used seventeen ships and about 1,200 men. At Hispaniola he found that the fort had been burned and the forty seamen slain. He started a new colony, and then explored the coasts of Jamaica, Cuba, and Hispaniola. On the second voyage he first sighted Trinidad, and also explored some of the northeastern shores of South America and the Leeward Islands. For the third and last voyage he explored the east coast of Central America but lost 2 of his ships. His 13-year-old son, Ferdinand accompanied him on this voyage. The remaining 2 ships were in a poor condition, and were stranded on the shore of Jamaica in June 1503. Columbus returned to Spain in ill health and spirit.

Columbus was not as rich as he had hoped. He spent the last few months of his life in bed due to his suffering from arthritis. He is remembered as the discoverer of the New World, and for the fact that he led the way for other explorers. He died in Valladolid, Spain, on 20 May 1506. Up to the day that he died he still believed that he had reached Asia.