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This & That: Christopher Columbus, The Great Explorer

October 10, 2018

By Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian

Columbus Day was observed Monday, October 8. Having recently studied anew the adventures of Christopher Columbus, I thought it would be appropriate to include in this column some facts about him. Columbus was a very prominent explorer rivaling many other great explorers such as Vasco De Gama, Hernando De Soto, Ferdinand Magellan, and others. He was born near the city of Genoa in Italy, which was a busy seaport. In his youth he dreamed of being a sailor.

His father earned his living by weaving woolen cloth and he tried to get his son to share in that interest. But, Columbus would have no part of that. Instead, he took to the sea when he was about fourteen years old. In that day, pirates plied the ocean and sailing was a dangerous occupation.

Living near a busy seaport, Columbus had heard tales of adventures on the high seas and was drawn to that life. He believed in a Western Route to India and after a period of time began asking for sponsorship and provisions for A Journey to prove it. He appealed for help from Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain. He was turned down at first but after several attempts and much disappointment, he finally received aid for a voyage from Isabella, Queen of Spain.

Unlike many folks in that age, who thought the earth was flat, Columbus believed the earth was round he had no qualms about sailing too far and falling off the edge. Queen Isabella consented to fit out a fleet for him, and to make him admiral and Viceroy of all the lands he should discover. On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos in Spain with three small ships: the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

Early in the voyage the men wanted to turn back, but Columbus was determined to sail on. After a long period of time, early in the morning of October 12, 1492, land was sighted. Columbus went ashore and kneeled and offered a prayer of thanks. He then claimed the country in the name of the queen who sent him. He in a later voyage reached the island of what is now Haiti. He became sick and sailed to Haiti to rest and recover. He found the colony had become rebellious and blamed him for the problems they were experiencing. He was arrested and sent back to Spain in chains. The queen was very angry and freed Columbus when he arrived back in Spain.

When he returned to Spain the second time, he was sent on a third expedition. On that voyage he discovered the northern coast of what is now known as South America. Columbus was very disappointed throughout his life that he didn’t reach India. He was sent on a fourth voyage but he returned to Spain disappointed that he hadn’t found the large cities he had expected. He died at Valladolid, Spain in 1506, never knowing he had discovered a new world. Many feel that the new world should have been named Columbia in his honor. It came to be called America for the Italian explorer, Americus Vespucius who for some time was thought to have discovered it.