Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 in Genova Italy to a modest family. Genova was a great maritime state which had a large trade network, this is where Columbus learnt his trade sailing around Europe from a young age. When he was 25 he was shipwrecked off the coast of Portugal after a pirate attack, he managed to swim to mainland Portugal, where he lived and began sailing with the Portuguese who were ahead of everyone else in Europe in terms of sea exploration. Soon Columbus found the works of Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, he believed that travelling via the Atlantic ocean could be a faster route to China which would have been great as the Ottoman Empire had blocked the land route to China. Columbus wanted to use Toscanelli’s works to travel west into the Atlantic and reach China. For centuries it had been known the world was round, but nobody knew that there was another continent there, nobody even knew the Pacific Ocean was there, The Atlantic Ocean was known as the sea of darkness – unknown and dangerous. It’s worth mentioning here that is it known that Leif Erikson and Chinese sailors had explored the Americas, but that is a post for another day.
Columbus went to King John of Portugal and asked him to fund the voyage, he was dismissed, although King John sent his own ships but they never made it and returned after heavy storms. So in 1485 Columbus went to Spain and within one year he was granted an audience with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, he told them about his idea, but Spain was too busy fighting off the Moors who had occupied Spain for seven centuries. Seven years later the Spanish defeated the Moors and regained the country and were envious of their neighbours Portugal who were exploring new lands bringing back gold and had built a global empire doing so, the King and Queen were ready to talk to Columbus who demanded that he was made admiral of the ocean seas, Viceroy of all new lands and be given 10% of all treasure, the royals were shocked at the demands but agreed. Finally after seven years Columbus had the backing of his first voyage into the unknown, he left on the 3rd August 1492 with 90 men and 3 ships – Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta. (These names are probably nicknames) On 12th October 1492 Columbus set foot on an unknown island (present day Bahamas), did he think he was in Asia? Columbus needed to prove to the King and Queen his voyage was worth the funding, his first mission was to take back items of value, he showed gold to the indigenous inhabitants and asked where he could find more! They directed him to Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and The Dominican Republic) but one of his ships sank, fortunately the indigenous inhabitants rescued him and whatever belongings they could. Columbus left 39 men on Hispaniola and told them to find more gold, then he returned to Spain with the remaining two ships onboard were slaves and gold, he received a hero’s welcome. The King and Queen of Spain granted Columbus a second voyage, a voyage of colonisation, which consisted of 17 ships with over 1000 people, horses and other animals such as pigs, Columbus was to establish a colony, he left in September 1493. When he arrived at Hispaniola he found that his men had been killed, thus setting the tone of the attitude against the indigenous inhabitants, most were used as slaves in the gold mines. But the gold he had hoped for wasn’t there, many settlers returned to Spain disappointed. As did Columbus in 1496 this time he didn’t receive a hero’s welcome – he never found the route to China neither did he bring back the gold he thought he would and he treated the indigenous inhabitants poorly. After two years he was granted a third voyage but it was difficult finding crew members, 10 convicted prisoners were granted amnesty if they agreed to go, together with the rest of the crew they left in 1498. When they arrived in Hispaniola it was anarchy Columbus tried to restore order but the colonists were taking the gold and slaves for themselves. The King and Queen sent Fransisco de Bobadilla to restore order, he arrested Columbus and sent him back to Spain in chains, Bobadilla was made the new governor, Columbus was freed by Queen Isabela when he returned to Spain.
Columbus was granted a fourth voyage to the Americas, he was given 3 old ships. When they arrived in Hispaniola Columbus predicted a hurricane and requested to dock at the port, the governor refused so Columbus could do nothing else but anchor his ships and hope for the best, to his amazement a fleet of Spanish ships left Hispaniola heading for Spain, Columbus warned of the approaching hurricane but he was ignored – most of the fleet was sunk and Bobadilla was killed. Columbus and his crew became marooned on Jamaica, the indigenous inhabitants supplied Columbus and his crew with food but suddenly stopped after several months, Columbus predicted a lunar eclipse and warned the inhabitants if they don’t assist him and his crew he’ll take away the moon! It worked and the inhabitants thought the gods liked Columbus, so they began to help him and his crew again. Columbus requested help from Hispaniola which was initially refused, but after 12 months a rescue ship was sent. In September 1504 he sailed back to Spain a disappointed man, King Ferdinand gave Columbus some gold but withdrew all his titles. On May 20th 1506 Christopher Columbus died.
Source and portrait – Biography Channel
Map – Encyclopædia Britannica
The discoveries of Christopher Columbus in the Americas made way for other navigators to follow him in exploring the continents and colonising the lands, which created the world we live in today. Columbus also brought with him the Columbian Exchange which transferred food, plants, animals, people, culture and diseases, which significantly affected both sides of the Atlantic.
Christopher Columbus always believed he had found Asia via the Atlantic however it was another Italian who recognised the Americas as a separate landmass – his name was Amerigo Vespucci, this is where the name America originated from.