Voyages of Christopher Columbus

Voyages of Christopher Columbus
Voyages of Christopher Columbus

The Four Voyages of Columbus
Participants Christopher Columbus and crew
Location Americas
Date Between 1492 and 1504
Result European exploration of the Americas

In the early modern period, the voyages of Columbus initiated European exploration and colonization of the American continents, and are thus of great significance in world history. Christopher Columbus was a navigator and an admiral for Castile, a country that later founded modern Spain. He made four voyages to the Americas, with his first in 1492, which resulted in what is widely referred to as the Discovery of America[1] or Discovery of the Americas.[2][3] He did not actually reach the mainland until his third voyage, in 1498, when he reached South America, and the fourth voyage, when he reached Central America.

Columbus' discovery subsequently led to the major European sea powers sending expeditions to the New World to build trade networks and colonies and to convert the native people to Christianity. Pope Alexander VI divided "newly discovered" lands outside Europe between Spain and Portugal along a north-south meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands (off the west coast of Africa). This division was never accepted by the rulers of England or France. (See also the Treaty of Tordesillas that followed the papal decree.)



The Virgin of the Navigators by Alejo Fernández, the earliest known painting[4] about the discovery of the Americas, 1531–36.

Portugal's rival Castile (predecessor of Spain) had been somewhat slower than its neighbor to begin exploring the Atlantic. It was not until the late 15th century, following the unification of Castile and Aragon and the completion of the reconquista that Spain emerged and became fully committed to looking for new trade routes and colonies overseas. In 1492 the joint rulers of the nation conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada, which had been providing Castile with African goods through tribute, and they decided to fund Christopher Columbus' expedition that they hoped would bypass Portugal's lock on Africa and the Indian Ocean reaching Asia by travelling west.[5]

Funding campaign

In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to John II of Portugal, the King of Portugal. He proposed the king equip three sturdy ships and grant Columbus one year's time to sail out west into the Atlantic, search for a western route to the Orient, and return. Columbus also requested he be made "Great Admiral of the Ocean Sea" (for they called the Atlantic the Ocean Sea), appointed governor of any and all lands he 'discovered', and be given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands. The king submitted the proposal to his experts, who rejected it after several years. It was their considered opinion that Columbus' estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,900 km) was, in fact, far too short.[6]

In 1488 Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal once again, and once again John invited him to an audience. It also proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal following a successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa. With an eastern sea route now under its control, Portugal was no longer interested in trailblazing a western trade route to Asia. Columbus traveled from Portugal to both Genoa and Venice, but he received no encouragement from either. Previously he had his brother sound out Henry VII of England, to see if the English monarch might not be more amenable to Columbus' proposal. After much carefully considered hesitation, Henry's invitation came too late. Columbus had already committed himself to the Kingdom of Castile in present day Spain.

Castilian (Spanish) procurement

He had sought an audience from the monarchs King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, who had informally united the largest kingdoms of Spain through marriage, and while ruling their kingdoms independently, their internal and foreign policies were coordinated as one. On May 1, 1489, permission having been granted, Columbus presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who, in turn, referred it to a committee. After the passing of much time, these savants of Castile, like their counterparts in Portugal, reported back that Columbus had judged the distance to Asia much too short. They pronounced the idea impractical, and advised their Royal Highnesses to pass on the proposed venture.[citation needed]

However, to keep Columbus from taking his ideas elsewhere, and perhaps to keep their options open, the Queen gave him an annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and in 1489 furnished him with a letter ordering all Castilian cities and towns to provide him food and lodging at no cost.[7]

Columbus and Queen Isabella. Detail of the Columbus monument in Madrid (1885).

After continually lobbying at the los Reyes Catolicos court and two years of negotiations, he finally had success in 1492. Queen Isabella's forces had just conquered the Moorish Emirate of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold of Al-Andalus on the Iberian peninsula, for Castile. Isabella and Ferdinand, received Columbus in the Alcázar (castle) in Córdoba. Legend says Isabella turned Columbus down on the advice of her confessor, and he was leaving town by mule in despair, when Ferdinand intervened.[citation needed] Isabella then sent a royal guard to return him, and Ferdinand later claimed credit for being "the principal cause why those islands and their indigenous residents were first seen by Spaniards".[citation needed]

About half of the financing was to come from private Italian investors, whom Columbus had already lined up. Financially broke after the Granada campaign, the monarchs left it to the royal treasurer to shift funds among various royal accounts on behalf of the enterprise. Columbus was to be made "Admiral of the Seas" and would receive a portion of all profits. The terms were unusually generous, but as his son later wrote, the monarchs did not really expect him to return.

According to Columbus' contract made for the expedition commission by Queen Isabella for Castile, if Columbus claimed any new islands or mainland for the Crown, he would receive many high rewards. In terms of power, he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the newly colonised lands. He had the right to nominate three people, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to ten per cent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity; this part was denied to him in the contract, although it was one of his demands.

Navigation plans

Europe had long enjoyed a safe land passage to China and India—sources of valued goods such as silk, spices, and opiates—under the hegemony of the Mongol Empire (the Pax Mongolica, or Mongol peace). With the Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453, the land route to Asia became more difficult. In response to this the Columbus brothers had, by the 1480s, developed a plan to travel to the Indies, then construed roughly as all of southern and eastern Asia, by sailing directly west across the "Ocean Sea," the Atlantic Ocean.

Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus popularized the idea that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because Europeans thought the Earth was flat.[8] In fact, the primitive maritime navigation of the time relied on the stars and the curvature of the spherical Earth. The knowledge that the Earth was spherical was widespread, and the means of calculating its diameter using an astrolabe was known to both scholars and navigators.[9]

Spherical Earth

A spherical Earth had been the general opinion of Ancient Greek science, and this view continued through the Middle Ages (for example, Bede mentions it in The Reckoning of Time). In fact Eratosthenes had measured the diameter of the Earth with good precision in the 2nd century BC.[10] Where Columbus did differ from the generally accepted view of his time is his (very incorrect) arguments that assumed a significantly smaller diameter for the Earth, claiming that Asia could be easily reached by sailing west across the Atlantic. Most scholars accepted Ptolemy's correct assessment that the terrestrial landmass (for Europeans of the time, comprising Eurasia and Africa) occupied 180 degrees of the terrestrial sphere, and dismissed Columbus' claim that the Earth was much smaller, and that Asia was only a few thousand nautical miles to the west of Europe. Columbus' error was attributed to his insufficient experience in navigation at sea.[6]

Columbus's geographical conceptions
The "Colombus map" was drawn circa 1490 in the workshop of Bartolomeo and Christopher Columbus in Lisbon.[11]
Handwritten notes by Christopher Columbus on the Latin edition of Marco Polo's Le livre des merveilles.

Columbus believed the (incorrect) calculations of Marinus of Tyre, putting the landmass at 225 degrees, leaving only 135 degrees of water. Moreover, Columbus believed that one degree represented a shorter distance on the Earth's surface than was actually the case. Finally, he read maps as if the distances were calculated in Italian miles (1,238 meters). Accepting the length of a degree to be 56⅔ miles, from the writings of Alfraganus, he therefore calculated the circumference of the Earth as 25,255 kilometers at most, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan as 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km, or 2,300 statute miles). Columbus did not realize Alfraganus used the much longer Arabic mile (about 1,830 m).[citation needed]

The true circumference of the Earth is about 40,000 km (25,000 sm), a figure established by Eratosthenes in the 2nd century BC,[10] and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan 19,600 km (12,200 sm). No ship that was readily available in the 15th century could carry enough food and fresh water for such a journey. Most European sailors and navigators concluded, probably correctly, that sailors undertaking a westward voyage from Europe to Asia non-stop would die of thirst or starvation long before reaching their destination. Spain, however, having just completed the expensive Reconquista, was desperate for a competitive edge over other European countries in trade with the East Indies. Columbus promised such an advantage.

Europeans generally assumed that the aquatic expanse between Europe and Asia was uninterrupted. While hints of the American continent about Vinland were already surfacing in Europe, historians agree that Columbus calculated a too short distance from the Canary Islands to Japan by the standards of his peers.[citation needed]

Trade winds

There was a further element of key importance in the plans of Columbus, a closely held fact discovered by or otherwise learned by Columbus: the Trade Winds. A brisk westward wind from the east, commonly called an "easterly", propelled Santa María, La Niña, and La Pinta for five weeks from the Canary Islands off Africa. To return to Spain eastward against this prevailing wind would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique upwind, called beating, during which food and drinkable water would have been utterly exhausted. Columbus returned home by following prevailing winds northeastward from the southern zone of the North Atlantic to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where prevailing winds are eastward (westerly) to the coastlines of Western Europe, where the winds curve southward towards the Iberian Peninsula. He used the North Atlantic's great circular wind pattern, clockwise in direction, to get home.[12] In fact, Columbus was wrong about degrees of longitude to be traversed and wrong about distance per degree, but he was right about a more vital fact: how to use the North Atlantic's great circular wind pattern, clockwise in direction, to get home.[13][14]

The voyages and events

First voyage

Departure of the first voyage from the port of Palos, by Evaristo Dominguez, in the municipality of Palos de la Frontera.

On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Castilian Palos de la Frontera with three ships. The ships were property of Juan de la Cosa and the Pinzón brothers, (Martín Alonso Pinzón and Vicente Yáñez Pinzón), but the monarchs forced the Palos de la Frontera inhabitants to contribute to the expedition. Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, which were ruled by the Crown of Castile, where he restocked provisions and made repairs. While securing provisions from the island of La Gomera, Columbus received word that three Portuguese caravels had been seen hovering near the island of El Hierro with the supposed intention of capturing him.[15] However, on September 6, 1492 the westward voyage began without incident.[16]

On September 6, he departed San Sebastián de la Gomera for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean.

The Niña, Pinta, and Santa María

One large carrack, Santa María, nicknamed Gallega (the Galician), and two smaller caravels, Pinta (the Painted) and Santa Clara, nicknamed Niña after her owner Juan Niño of Moguer.[17]

Three days into the journey, on August 6, 1492, the rudder of the Pinta became broken and unhung, rendering the ship disabled.[18] The owners of the ship, Gomez Rascon and Christoval Quintero, were suspected of sabotage, as they and their ship had been pressed into service against their will.[19] The captain of the Pinta, Martín Alonso Pinzón, was able to secure the rudder temporarily with cords until the Canary Islands could be reached on August 9, 1492.[20] Here the fleet repaired the Pinta and re-rigged the Niña's lateen sails to standard square sails.

As described in the abstract of his log made by Bartolome de Las Casas, on the outward bound voyage Columbus recorded 2 sets of distance figures. He reported the shorter distances to his crew so that they would not worry about sailing too far from Spain. However, according Oliver Dunn and James Kelley,[21][22] this was a misunderstanding by Las Casas. Columbus did report two distances each day but one was in measurements he normally used, the other in the Portuguese maritime leagues used by his crew.

Magnetic deviation

On September 8, 1492, Columbus observed that the needle of his compass no longer pointed to the North star, a phenomenon which had never before been recorded in Europe.[23] The needle instead had varied a half point to the Northwest, and continued to vary further as the journey progressed. Columbus at first made no mention of this, knowing his crew to be prone to panic with their destination unknown, but after several days his pilots took notice with much anxiety. Allegedly the crew grew so homesick and fearful that they threatened to sail back to Spain.[citation needed] Columbus reasoned that the needle didn't point to the North star, but to some invisible point on the Earth. His reputation as an astronomer held weight with the crew, and his theory alleviated their alarm.[citation needed]

Discovery and exploration

The route of first voyage of Columbus in the Atlantic.

After 29 days out of sight of land, on October 7, 1492, the crew spotted "[i]mmense flocks of birds", some of which his sailors trapped and determined to be "field" birds (probably Eskimo curlews and American golden plovers). Columbus changed course to follow their flight.[24]

Land was sighted at 2 a.m. on October 12, by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodriguez Bermejo) aboard La Pinta.[25] Columbus would later assert that he had first seen the land and, thus, earned the reward of 10,000 maravedís.[26][27] Columbus called the island San Salvador, in present day the Bahamas or the Turks and Caicos, although the indigenous residents had already named it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos this corresponds to is an unresolved topic; prime candidates are Samana Cay, Plana Cays, Grand Turk, or San Salvador Island (named San Salvador in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus' San Salvador).

A depiction of Columbus claiming possession of the New World in caravels, the Niña and the Pinta.

The indigenous people he encountered in their homelands were peaceful and friendly. At the time of the European discovery of most of the islands of the Caribbean, three major Native-American indigenous peoples lived on the islands: the Taíno in the Greater Antilles, The Bahamas, and the Leeward Islands; the Island Caribs (Kalina) and Galibi in the Windward Islands and Guadeloupe; and the Ciboney (a Taíno people) and Guanahatabey of central and western Cuba, respectively. The Taínos are subdivided into Classic Taínos, who occupied Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, Western Taínos, who occupied Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamian archipelago, and the Eastern Taínos, who occupied the Leeward Islands.[28] Trinidad was inhabited by both Carib speaking and Arawak-speaking groups. Most of modern Central America was part of the Mesoamerican civilization. The Native American societies of Mesoamerica occupied the land ranging from central Mexico in the north to Costa Rica in the south. The cultures of Panama traded with both Mesoamerica and South America, and can be considered transitional between those two cultural areas.

Columbus proceeded to observe the people and their cultural lifestyle. Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba, landing on October 28, 1492, and the northern coast of Hispaniola, present day Haiti and Dominican Republic, by December 5. Here, the Santa Maria ran aground on Christmas morning, December 25, 1492 and had to be abandoned. He was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus founded the settlement La Navidad and left 39 men.

On January 15, 1493, he set sail for home by way of the Azores. To achieve that goal, "He wrestled his ship against the wind and ran into a fierce storm."[citation needed] In his first journey, Columbus visited San Salvador in the Bahamas (which he was convinced was Japan), Cuba (which he thought was China) and Hispaniola (where he found gold).

First return

Leaving the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, Columbus headed for Castilian Spain, but another storm forced him into Portugal's Lisbon. He anchored next to the King's harbor patrol ship on March 4, 1493, where he was told a fleet of 100 caravels had been lost in the storm. Astoundingly, both the Niña and the Pinta were spared. Not finding King John II in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a letter to him and waited for the king's reply. The king requested that Columbus go to Vale do Paraíso north of Lisbon to meet him. Some have speculated that his landing in Portugal was intentional.

Relations between Portugal and Castile were poor at the time. Columbus went to meet with the king at Vale do Paraíso. After spending more than one week in Portugal, he set sail for Spain. Word of his finding new lands rapidly spread throughout Europe. He reached Barcelona on March 15, and the Monument a Colom commemorates his arrival.

He was received as a hero in Spain. He displayed several indigenous persons and what gold he had found to the court, as well as the previously unknown tobacco plant, the pineapple fruit, the turkey and the sailor's first love, the hammock. He did not bring any of the coveted East Indies spices, such as the exceedingly expensive black pepper, ginger or cloves. In his log, he wrote "there is also plenty of ají, which is their pepper, which is more valuable than black pepper, and all the people eat nothing else, it being very wholesome" (Turner, 2004, P11). The word ají is still used in South American Spanish for chili peppers.

Columbus's Letter on the First Voyage to the royal court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction: "Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful...the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold...There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals...".

Second voyage

Second voyage

Before he left Spain on his second voyage, Columbus had been directed by Ferdinand and Isabella to maintain friendly, even loving, relations with the indigenous people, the natives. He set sail in 1493.

Caribbean exploration

On November 3, 1493, Christopher Columbus sighted a rugged island that he named Dominica. On the same day, he landed at Marie-Galante, which he named Santa Maria la Galante. After sailing past Les Saintes (Todos los Santos), he arrived at Guadaloupe (Santa Maria de Guadalupe), which he explored between November 4 and November 10, 1493. The exact course of his voyage through the Lesser Antilles is debated, but it seems likely that he turned north, sighting and naming many islands including Santa Maria de Monstserrate (Montserrat), Santa Maria la Antigua (Antigua), Santa Maria la Redonda (Redonda), Nevis (Santa María de las Nieves), San Jorge (Saint Kitts), Santa Anastasia (Sint Eustatius), San Cristobal (Saba), San Martin (Saint Martin), and Santa Cruz (Saint Croix). He also sighted and named the island chain of the Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgines (the Virgin Islands), and named the islands of Virgin Gorda, Tortola, and San Pedro (Peter Island).

He continued to the Greater Antilles, and landed on the island of San Juan Bautista, present day Puerto Rico, on November 19, 1493. The first skirmish between people in the Americas and Europeans since the Vikings took place when his men rescued two boys who had just been castrated by their captors.[29]

Hispaniola and Haiti

On November 22, he returned to Hispaniola, where he found his men at La Navidad had fallen into dispute with natives in the interior and had been killed, but he did not accuse Chief Guacanagari, his ally, of any wrongdoing. Another Chief, named Caonabo in Jaragua, was charged. Columbus established a new settlement at Isabella, on the north coast of Hispaniola, where gold had first been found, but it was a poor location and the settlement was short-lived. He spent some time exploring the interior of the island for gold. Finding some, he established a small fort in the interior.

He left Hispaniola on April 24, 1494, and arrived at the island of Juana (Cuba) (which he had discovered and named during his first voyage) on April 30 and Jamaica on May 5. He explored the south coast of Juana, which he believed to be a peninsula of China rather than an island, and several nearby islands including La Evangelista (the Isle of Youth), before returning to Hispaniola on August 20. After staying for a time on the western end, present day Haiti, he finally returned to Spain.

Slavery, settlers, and tribute

During the second voyage, Columbus sent a letter to the monarchs proposing to enslave some of the Americas people, specifically from the Carib tribe, on the grounds of their independence-minded aggressiveness and their status as enemies of the Taíno tribe. Although his petition was refused by the Crown, in February 1495 Columbus disobeyed the Queen and took 1,600 people from the Arawak tribe, who were taken by the Carib as captives and slaves. There was no room for about 400 of the kidnapped and they were released, leaving 1,200 people forcibly taken from their homeland. This began Europeans practicing Slavery in the Spanish New World.[citation needed]

The many voyages of discovery did not pay for themselves, and there was no funding for pure science in the Renaissance. Columbus had planned, for Queen Isabella, to set up trading posts with the cities of the Far East made famous by Marco Polo, but whose Silk Road and eastern maritime routes had been blockaded to her crown's trade. Of course, Columbus would never find Cathay (China) or Zipangu (Japan), and there was no longer any Great Khan for trade treaties.

Slavery was practiced widely at that time, amongst many peoples of the world, including some Indians. For the Portuguese—from whom Columbus received most of his maritime training—the profits from enslaving people had resulted in the first 'financial return' on a 75-year investment in Africa.[citation needed]

Columbus enslaved five hundred and sixty people. The slaves were shipped to Spain; 200 died during the route back to Spain, and half of the remainder were ill when they arrived. After legal proceedings in the Cortes, some survivors were ordered released and to be returned to their las Americas homeland, whereas others were used by Queen Isabella as galley slaves. Columbus, desperate to repay his investors, failed to realize that Isabella and Ferdinand did not plan to follow or allow Portuguese slavery policy in this respect. Rounding up the slaves led to the first major battle between the Spanish and the free indigenous people in their old homeland, called by those invading it 'the New World.'[citation needed]

Columbus was eager to pay back dividends to those who had invested in his promise to fill his ships with gold. And since so many of the slaves died in captivity, he developed a plan while in the Province of Cicao on Hispaniola. Columbus imposed a tribute system, similar to that of the still-unknown Aztec Empire tribute on the mainland. All Cicaoan indigenous residents above 14 years of age were required to find and deliver a specific quota of gold every three months. Upon their doing so, they would receive copper tokens that they wore around their necks. Any Indian found without a copper token had their hands cut off and subsequently bled to death.[citation needed]

Despite or because of such extreme enforcement, Columbus did not obtain much gold, and many new foreign "settlers" were unhappy with the climate and disillusioned about their chances of getting rich quickly. A classic gold rush had been set off that would have tragic consequences for the Caribbean's indigenous people and cultures. Anthropologists have shown there was more intermarriage and assimilation than previously believed (see the Black Legend).[citation needed] Columbus allowed settlers to return to their homeland with any Indian women with whom they had started families, or to Queen Isabella's fury, had kidnapped and owned as slaves.

Third voyage

Third voyage


Location of city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the starting point for Columbus' third journey.

According to the abstract of Columbus’ journal made by Bartolomé de Las Casas, the object of the third voyage was to verify the existence of a continent that King John II of Portugal claimed was located to the southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. King John reportedly knew of the existence of such a mainland because “canoes had been found which set out from the coast of Guinea and sailed to the west with merchandise.”[30] [31]

On May 30, 1498, Columbus led the fleet to the Portuguese Porto Santo Island, his wife's native homeland. He then sailed to the island of Madeira and spent some time there with the Portuguese captain João Gonçalves da Câmara before sailing to the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. Columbus landed on the south coast of the island of Trinidad on July 31, 1498.

From August 4 through August 12, 1498, he explored the Gulf of Paria which separates Trinidad from mainland Venezuela. He then explored the mainland of South America, including the Orinoco River. He also sailed to the islands of Chacachacare and Margarita Island and sighted and named islands Bella Forma (Tobago) and Concepcion (Grenada). He described the new lands as belonging to a previously unknown new continent, but he pictured it hanging from China, bulging out to make the earth pear-shaped.

Governorship issues

Governor Columbus

Columbus returned from South America to Hispaniola on August 19, 1498 to find that many of the Spanish settlers of the new colony were discontent, having been misled by Columbus about the supposedly bountiful riches of the new world. Columbus repeatedly had to deal with understandably rebellious settlers and natives. He had some of his crew lynched for disobeying him.

Governor Bobadilla

During Columbus' term as Viceroy and Governor of the Indies, he had been accused of governing tyrannically, called 'the tyrant of the Caribbean.'[citation needed] Columbus was physically and mentally exhausted; his body was wracked by arthritis and his eyes by ophthalmia. In October 1499, he sent two ships to Spain, asking the Cortes Generales of Castile to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern.

The Cortes appointed Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava; however, his authority stretched far beyond what Columbus had requested. Bobadilla was given total control as governor from 1500 until his death in 1502. Arriving in Santo Domingo while Columbus was away, Bobadilla immediately received many serious complaints about all three Columbus brothers: Christopher, Bartolomé, and Diego. 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' 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." [32][33]

As a result of these testimonies and without being allowed a word in his own defense, Columbus upon his return, had manacles placed on his arms and chains on his feet and was cast into prison to await return to Spain. He was 53 years old.

Arrest of Governor Columbus

Columbus was arrested in 1500 and supplanted from his posts. A number of returned settlers and friars lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish court, accusing him of mismanagement. Francisco de Bobadilla arrived on August 23, 1500 and detained Columbus and his brothers and had them shipped home. On October 1, 1500, Columbus and his two brothers, likewise in chains, were sent back to Spanish Aragon. Once in Cádiz, a grieving Columbus wrote to a friend at court:

It is now seventeen years since I came to serve these princes with the Enterprise of the Indies. They made me pass eight of them in discussion, and at the end rejected it as a thing of jest. Nevertheless I persisted therein... Over there I have placed under their sovereignty more land than there is in Africa and Europe, and more than 1,700 islands... In seven years I, by the divine will, made that conquest. At a time when I was entitled to expect rewards and retirement, I was incontinently arrested and sent home loaded with chains... The accusation was brought out of malice on the basis of charges made by civilians who had revolted and wished to take possession on the land.... I beg your graces, with the zeal of faithful Christians in whom their Highnesses have confidence, to read all my papers, and to consider how I, who came from so far to serve these princes... now at the end of my days have been despoiled of my honor and my property without cause, wherein is neither justice nor mercy.[34]

According to testimony of twenty-three witnesses during his trial, Columbus regularly used acts of violence to govern Hispaniola.

Columbus Before the Queen, dramatically imagined[35] by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1843 (Brooklyn Museum of Art)

Columbus and his brothers lingered in jail for six weeks before the busy King Ferdinand ordered their release. Not long thereafter, the king and queen summoned the Columbus brothers to their presence at the Alhambra palace in Granada. There the royal couple heard the brothers' pleas; restored their freedom and their wealth; and, after much persuasion, agreed to fund Columbus' fourth voyage. But the door was firmly shut on Christopher Columbus' role as governor. From that point forward, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres was to be the new Governor of the Indies.

Although he regained his freedom, he did not regain his prestige and lost all his titles including the governorship. As an added insult, the Portuguese had won the race to the East Indies: Vasco da Gama returned in September 1499 from a trip to India, having sailed east around Africa.

Fourth voyage

Fourth voyage

Fourth exploration

Columbus made a fourth voyage, nominally in search of a westward passage to the Indian Ocean. Accompanied by his stepbrother Bartolomeo and his 13-year-old son Fernando, he left Cádiz, Spain on May 12, 1502, with the ships Capitana, Gallega, Vizcaína, and Santiago de Palos. He sailed to Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue the Portuguese soldiers who he heard were under siege by the Moors. On June 15, they landed at Carbet on the island of Martinique (Martinica). A hurricane was brewing, so he continued on, hoping to find shelter on Hispaniola. He arrived at Santo Domingo on June 29, but was denied port, and the new governor refused to listen to his storm prediction. Instead, while Columbus' ships sheltered at the mouth of the Jaina River, the first Spanish treasure fleet sailed into the hurricane. The only ship to reach Spain had Columbus' money and belongings on it, and all of his former enemies (and a few friends) had drowned.

After a brief stop at Jamaica, he sailed to Central America, arriving at Guanaja (Isla de Pinos) in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras on July 30. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants and a large canoe, which was described as "long as a galley" and was filled with cargo. On August 14, he landed on the American mainland at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before arriving in Almirante Bay, Panama on October 16.

In Panama, he learned from the natives of gold and a strait to another ocean. After much exploration, he established a garrison at the mouth of Rio Belen in January 1503. On April 6, one of the ships became stranded in the river.

Stranded and rescue

During the later part of the fourth voyage, the garrison he established was attacked and the other ships were damaged. He left for Hispaniola on April 16, but sustained more damage in a storm off the coast of Cuba. Unable to travel any farther, the ships were beached in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on June 25, 1503.

Columbus fills the natives with fear and awe by predicting the lunar eclipse

For a year Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica. A Spaniard, Diego Mendez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help from Hispaniola. That island's 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, successfully intimidated the natives by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse for February 29, 1504, using the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus.[36]

Help finally arrived, from the governor, on June 29, 1504, and Columbus and his men arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Castile, on November 7, 1504.


After his death, Columbus' sons, Diego and Fernando, took legal action to enforce their father's contract. Many of the allegations against Columbus and his tyrannical governorship were initiated by the Crown during these lengthy court cases, known as the Pleitos Colombinos. The 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.[37]


Columbus in modern history is often called the European discoverer of America and the person who brought the Americas into the forefront of Europe's attention. Columbus had discovered the Americas for the Europeans, but the indigenous people were native. After his activities the major sea powers in Europe sent expeditions to the New World: to export its riches; build trade networks and colonies; and through the Indian Reductions practice to relocate, use the labor of, and attempt Christian conversions of the native people.

With the Age of Discovery starting in the 15th Century, Europeans explored the world by ocean searching particular trade goods, slaves, and trading locations and ports. The most desired trading goods were gold, silver and spices. Columbus did not reach Asia but rather found what was to the Europeans a New World, the Americas. For the Catholic monarchies of Spain and Portugal, a division of influence became necessary to avoid conflict. This was resolved by Papal intervention in 1494 when the Treaty of Tordesillas purported to divide the world between the two powers. The Portuguese were to receive everything outside of Europe east of a line that ran 270 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, thought to include the continents of Africa and Asia, but none of the New World. The Spanish received everything west of this line, territory that was still almost completely unknown, and proved to be primarily the vast majority of the American continents and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean. This arrangement was somewhat subverted in 1500, when the Portuguese navigator, Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived at a point on the eastern coast of South America, and realized that it was on the Portuguese side of the dividing line between the two empires. This would lead to the Portuguese colonization of what is now Brazil.

Columbus and other Iberian explorers were initially disappointed with their discoveries—unlike Africa or Asia, the Caribbean islanders had little to trade with the Castilian ships. The islands thus became the focus of colonization efforts. It was not until the continent itself was explored that Spain found the wealth it had sought in the form of abundant gold. In the Americas the Spanish found a number of empires that were as large and populous as those in Europe. However, small bodies of Spanish conquistadors, with large armies of indigenous Americans groups, managed to conquer these states. The most notable amongst the conquered states were the Aztec empire in Mexico (conquered in 1521) and the Inca empire in modern Peru (conquered in 1532). During this time, pandemics of European disease such as smallpox devastated the indigenous populations. Once Spanish sovereignty was established, the Spanish focused on the extraction and export of gold and silver.

See also


General information
  1. ^ "Columbus "Discovery of America" - Google Search". 
  2. ^ "Dates of Epoch-Making Events", The Nuttall Encyclopaedia. (Gutenberg version)
  3. ^ The discovery of the Americas has variously been attributed to others, depending on context and definition. For example, the Vikings (c. 1000) had previously established a settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland However, the information regarding other events did not advance the exploration of the Americas by Europe as a whole. See Discovery of the Americas (disambiguation) for other "Americas discovery".
  4. ^ John Noble, Susan Forsyth, Vesna Maric, Paula Hardy. Andalucía. Lonely Planet, 2007, p. 100
  5. ^ Jensen, De Lamar (1992), Renaissance Europe 2nd ed. pg. 341
  6. ^ a b Morison, Samuel Eliot, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: The Life of Christopher Columbus Boston, 1942
  7. ^ Durant, Will "The Story of Civilization" vol. vi, "The Reformation". Chapter XIII, page 260.
  8. ^ Boller, Paul F (1995). Not So!:Popular Myths about America from Columbus to Clinton. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195091861. 
  9. ^ Russell, Jeffrey Burton 1991. Inventing the Flat Earth. Columbus and modern historians, Praeger, New York, Westport, London 1991;
    Zinn, Howard 1980. A People's History of the United States, HarperCollins 2001. p.2
  10. ^ a b Sagan, Carl. Cosmos; the mean circumference of the Earth is 40,041.47 km.
  11. ^ "Marco Polo et le Livre des Merveilles", ISBN 978-2-35404-007-9 p.37
  12. ^ "The First Voyage Log". Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  13. ^ "Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Empire". Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  14. ^ "Trade Winds and the Hadley Cell". Retrieved 2008-04-18. 
  15. ^ Markham, pp. 21-22
  16. ^ Markham, p. 22
  17. ^ The Columbus Foundation: Santa Clara
  18. ^ Markham, p. 19
  19. ^ Irving, p. 121
  20. ^ Markham, p. 20
  21. ^ Review by Carla Rahn Phillips, Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 3. (Autumn, 1991), pp. 572-574.The Diario of Christopher Columbus' First Voyage to America 1492-93, Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas. by Oliver Dunn; James E. Kelley, Jr.
  22. ^ The Navigational Mysteries and Fraudulent Longitudes of Christopher Columbus A Lecture given to the Society for the History of Discoveries and the Haklyut Society, August 1997 by Keith A. Pickering
  23. ^ Shen Kuo discovered 400 years earlier, in Asia, the concept of true north in terms of magnetic declination towards the north pole, with experimentation of suspended magnetic needles and "the improved meridian determined by Shen’s [astronomical] measurement of the distance between the polestar and true north". For more see Sivin, Nathan. (1984). "Why the Scientific Revolution Did Not Take Place in China—Or Didn't It?" in Transformation and Tradition in the Sciences: Essays in Honor of I. Bernard Cohen, 531–555, ed. Everett Mendelsohn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-52485-7. Vol. III, pg. 22.
  24. ^ Nicholls, Steve (2009). Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0226583406. 
  25. ^ Markham, pp 35
  26. ^ Markham, pp 36
  27. ^ Clements R. Markham, ed.,A People's History Of The United States 1492-Present, HarperCollins, 2001, p. 2.
  28. ^ Rouse, Irving (1992). The Taínos : Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05696-6. 
  29. ^ Philips and Philips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus
  30. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1963). Journals & Other Documents on the Life & Voyages of Christopher Columbus. New York: The Heritage Press. pp. 262. 
  31. ^ Thacher, John Boyd (1903). Christopher Columbus: his life, his work, his remains, as revealed by original printed and manuscript records, together with an essay on Peter Martyr of Anghera and Bartolomé De Las Casas, the first Historians of America.. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. pp. 379. 
  32. ^ Giles Tremlett (2006-08-07). "Lost document reveals Columbus as tyrant of the Caribbean". The Guardian.,,1838823,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=12. Retrieved 2006-10-10. 
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, p. 576.
  35. ^ The Brooklyn Museum catalogue notes that the most likely source for Leutze's trio of Columbus paintings is Washington Irving’s best-selling Life and Voyages of Columbus (1828).
  36. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, 1942, pp. 653–54. Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner, 1955, pp. 184-92.
  37. ^ Mark McDonald, "Ferdinand Columbus, Renaissance Collector (1488-1539)", 2005, British Museum Press, ISBN 978-0-7141-2644-9

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