I. Christopher Columbus
II. First Voyage
a. Land Sighted
b. Indigenous People
c. Santa Maria Abandoned
III. Second Voyage
a. New Territories
b. 17 Ships
c. New Land Sighted
IV. Third Voyage
a. 6 Ships
c. Crew Hanged
d. Columbus accused and arrested
V. Fourth Voyage
a. Strait of Malacca
b. Rescue Portuguese soldiers
c. Hurricane and Storms
The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus made four voyages from Spain to lands that he later referred to as the “New World” between 1492 and 1504.
He explored parts of Cuba and Hispaniola on his first voyage in 1492 and 1493. Columbus continued to explore those regions from 1493 to 1496, while venturing to Puerto Rico and Jamaica as well. He sailed along the northern coast of South America on his third voyage, which lasted from 1498 to 1500. Columbus explored the coast of Central America on his final journey in 1502 (MSN Encarta, n.
Columbus was born as Cristoforo Colombo in the Italian port city of Genoa between August 25 and October 31, 1451. His parents were Domenico Colombo (a wool weaver who also participated in local politics) and Suzanna Fontanarossa (the daughter of a wool weaver). Columbus began seagoing at the age of 14, holding various positions such as messenger, common sailor and privateer. In 1476, at 25 years old, he made his way to Lisbon after surviving an attack by French privateers off Cape Saint Vincent on the southwestern tip of Portugal. While in Lisbon, he started creating plans of reaching the east (the “Indies”) through a western route (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
He first attempted to seek patronage for his plan from the Portuguese monarchy. The council, however, denied Columbus’ request on the grounds that “it was too expensive, that (he) was wrong about distances and measurements, and that such a plan contradicted Portugal’s commitment to finding an eastward route to Asia by travelling around Africa” (MSN Encarta, n. pag.). Columbus then moved to Spain in 1485 to present his plan to King Ferdinand I and Queen Isabella I. After a long period of negotiation, Ferdinand and Isabella finally agreed to support his venture. Columbus left for Palos de la Frontera in April 1492 (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
He originally intended to discover a direct sea route from Europe to Asia. But in October 1492, Columbus accidentally reached the Americas. His four separate voyages from 1492 to 1504 made him convinced that he had found the lands that Marco Polo passed by while travelling to China in the late 13th century. Upon his return to Spain from his last expedition, however, Columbus experienced physical and mental illness, as well as the loss of his titles of governor and viceroy due to charges of ruling tyrannically. These crises hounded him until his death in Valladolid, Spain on May 20, 1506 (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus’ first expedition left Palos de la Frontera, Spain at daybreak on August 3, 1492. The voyage was composed of three ships – the Pinta (owned by Cristobal Quintero), the Santa Clara (owned by Juan Niño) and the flagship Santa Maria (owned by Juan de la Costa). After 36 days of sailing, Columbus and his men finally reached land on October 12, 1492. The actual location of the island they arrived at remains unknown to this day. Some historical accounts claimed that it was the atoll of Guanahani, which Columbus renamed as San Salvador. Most historians, however, believed that it was the Waiting Island or Samana Cay in the Bahamas (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus then claimed the island for Spain, with two of his captains carrying banners with green crosses and letters that symbolized Isabella and Ferdinand. The inhabitants of the island, whom the Spaniards later called “Tainos,” were friendly and willingly traded with the sailors (MSN Encarta, n. pag.). Columbus was said to have found the Tainos to be so docile that he considered them fit to be converted to Christianity. He even intended to take six members of the Tainos back to Spain to teach them the Spanish language (Hume, 38).
But what the explorers found more interesting about the Tainos was their physical appearance:
They go around naked…women as well as men…Their hair was as coarse as a horse’s tail…Their skins were (olive-colored), making them look like the Canary Islanders. Some paint themselves black, others white, and still others red. Some painted just their face, others painted the whole body; some painted around the eyes, others painted the nose. (38)
The exotic physical features of the Tainos made the Spaniards believe that they have finally arrived in the Indies. For one, the islanders told them about inhabitants of other islands that had almost the same appearance as theirs. In addition, earlier expeditions had similar descriptions of people living in the Indies. Thus, the Spaniards soon referred to all islanders as “Indians” (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus and his men stayed with the Tainos for several days, the latter helping them reach other islands in the Americas such as Cuba. In the process, he became even more convinced that Cuba was a peninsula of China. But one of Columbus’ captains, Martin Alonzo Pinzon, suddenly left the island, taking the Pinta with him. Many historians suspected that Pinzon was disgruntled with the island’s lack of riches. Consequently, he went off in search of gold (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus had no other choice but to continue the expedition using his two remaining ships. But tragedy struck again when the Santa Maria struck a reef off the coast and was grounded on December 25, 1492. Despite the joint efforts of the Spaniards and the natives, the ship could not be restored anymore. The two parties simply removed everything that could be salvaged. The lumber of the ship was used to construct a fort, named Villa de la Navidad, which stored supplies that was enough to last a year (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
The Pinta and the Santa Maria headed home shortly after the former rejoined the expedition on January 6, 1493. Columbus received a warm welcome upon his return to Spain on March 15, 1493 (Pinzon died several hours after Columbus’ arrival). Not only did the Spanish monarchy grant Columbus large sums of money and the title “Admiral of the Ocean Seas,” it also bankrolled his second expedition. Columbus left Cadiz, Spain on September 25, 1493 with 17 ships and an estimated 1,200 men (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus’ second expedition was originally intended “to return to Villa de la Navidad in Hispaniola to relieve the men left behind from the first voyage, settle more colonists on the islands, and explore and claim other islands” (MSN Encarta, n. pag.). This fleet proved to be more successful than the first – it caught sight of land just 21 days later on November 2, 1493. Columbus and his men reached a new group of smaller islands situated on the south and east of the large islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. This new group of minor atolls were known as the Lesser Antilles (Cuba and Hispaniola were part of the Greater Antilles) (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
But to the horror of Columbus and his crew, Villa de la Navidad was transformed into an “adobe of Caribs” (Irving, 268). Human skulls were used as vases and other household utensils. Human limbs were suspended to the beams of the houses, while some parts of a young man’s body were left roasting before an open fire. Several human organs were discovered boiling with the flesh of geese and parrots (Irving, 269).
It turned out that in after Columbus left Villa de la Navidad, neighboring tribes invaded the settlement. The male inhabitants were captured, killed and eaten, while the youngest and handsomest female inhabitants were carried off and retained as servants or companions. The Spaniards from the previous expedition who opted to be left behind in the settlement were likewise murdered and buried in a mass grave (Irving, 268). The most popular theory behind the destruction of Villa de la Navidad, therefore, was that local islanders obliterated it out of revulsion over the greed and avarice of the Europeans (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
The Spaniards later built Isabela, a new settlement that was located a short distance east of La Navidad. But many of the settlers in Isabela either became sick or died due to poor living conditions. They were also resentful of the fact that the governor of the settlement was Columbus’ brother, Diego – an ineffective ruler and an Italian. Angry settlers began returning home as a result. Those who stayed, meanwhile, wrote to relatives and officials in Spain complaining about the abject situation in Isabella (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
A royal commission was sent to Isabela in October 1495 in order to investigate the charges against Columbus. To avert any royal inquiries, he had no choice but to return to Spain on March 10, 1496. Upon his arrival, Columbus regaled Ferdinand and Isabella with stories about the new islands that he had discovered. The monarchs, in turn, appeared grateful and continued to show him favor (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus’ third expedition took place on May 30, 1498. Leaving Seville with a fleet of six ships, he sent one part to assist Isabela and used the other part to explore Trinidad, the Gulf of Paria and Margarita Island. Columbus then headed for Santo Domingo, a new settlement that was built by his brother, Bartholomew. But Santo Domingo was in the middle of a war when Columbus arrived there at the end of August 1498. Many of the settlers rebelled against the lack of opportunities in the settlement (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Consequently, two factions were formed in Santo Domingo – the supporters of the Columbus family and the rebels, led by Isabela mayor Francisco Roldan (MSN Encarta, n. pag.). To restore order, Ferdinand and Isabella sent Francisco de Bobadilla to conduct an investigation in the settlement. When De Bobadilla arrived at Santo Domingo, he found out that Columbus had already put 7 Spanish rebels to death and was planning to hang 5 more. Bobadilla had Columbus and his brothers Diego and Bartholomew arrested. The three were deported to Spain in 1500 (Honeychurch, 19).
Columbus appealed his case to the royal court on December 17, 1500. The king and queen ruled that all his rights and privileges would be restored, except for his titles. Bobadilla, however, was replaced with Nicolas de Ovando. This decision did not reverse the despair and humiliation that Columbus suffered for the next two years (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus carried out his fourth and final expedition on May 9, 1502. By this time, Portuguese explorers Vasco de Gama and Pedro Alvarez Cabral have already reached India and have also brought back with them precious commodities from the country. As a result, Portugal monopolized European trade in India during this period. Spain, on the other hand, had to make do with the little revenue that it generated from its market in the Americas (Irving, 146).
Columbus, therefore, used this situation as an opportunity to convince the Spanish monarchy to sponsor another of his sea voyages. Ferdinand and Isabella gave their approval on Columbus’ latest venture. They made it clear, however, that his expedition was for “(the) search for gold, silver, precious stones, spices, and other riches” (MSN Encarta, n. pag.). The king and queen also forbade Columbus to return to Hispaniola on his return to Spain unless absolutely necessary (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
From Cadiz, Columbus’ fleet of 4 ships and 150 men set sail for the Strait of Malacca. But damaged ships, intense storms and skirmishes with the natives made it impossible for Columbus to find a passage to the Asian mainland. Sea worms (small molluscs) destroyed one of his ships, while the other was lost on the coast of Panama. His two remaining ships were destroyed while he and his men were in Jamaica, marooning them in the country for over a year (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus encountered even more serious problems while his fleet was stranded in Jamaica. Half of his men mutinied as a result of his attempts to instil order and discipline. In addition, the islanders grew tired of dealing with them and stopped proving them food. Columbus was only able to stop this by accurately predicting a lunar eclipse on the night of February 29, 1504 – he previously threatened the islanders that he will take the light away from the moon as a punishment to them (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Although Santo Domingo governor Ovando was already informed regarding the situation of Columbus and his men, it took 7 months before the story of the latter was investigated. Although the rescue ship arrived at the end of July, it was not until August 13, 1504 that the shipwrecked sailors arrived in Santo Domingo. From Santo Domingo, Columbus was taken back to Spain on September 12, 1504. He, his son and his brother finally arrived in the country on November 7, 1504 (MSN Encarta, n. pag.).
Columbus’ ill-fated expeditions had negative and positive effects. These voyages introduced Native Americans to European crops such as wheat, rice, coffee, bananas and olives. The Europeans, in turn, received corn, potatoes, tomatoes, lima beans and squash. But the indigenous American population was nearly wiped out by European diseases such as diphtheria, measles, smallpox and malaria – ailments in which they had no immunity to. The Europeans, meanwhile, acquired a virulent form of syphilis from Native Americans.
Another detrimental effect of Columbus’ expeditions is that it promoted bigotry against cultures that are “barbaric” or “uncivilized.” The Europeans deliberately ignored the fact that indigenous cultures have their own complexities that should be respected. Consequently, millions of American indigenous people suffered immensely from disease, forced labor and European conquest.
“Christopher Columbus.” 2008. MSN Encarta. 29 October 2008
Honeychurch, Lennox. Caribbean People: Book 2. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes, 1995.
Hume, Robert. Christopher Columbus and the European Discovery of America.
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Irving, Washington. The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Vol. 1. New York:
Cosimo, Inc., 2007.
Irving, Washington. The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. Vol. 2. New York:
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