February 13, 2017
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Christopher Columbus is one of the first people we learn about in elementary school, and the discovery of the “New World” is accredited to him. One might think that he knew that he had accomplished a great feat, but in reality he did not accomplish what he had originally set out to do.
Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy, to Domenico Colombo and Susanna Fontanarossa. His fascination with sailing began with the Portuguese merchant marine. Shortly after surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Portugal on his first voyage in 1476, he based himself in Lisbon.1 He sailed again in 1477 and 1478, and married in 1479. From 1477 to 1485, Columbus traded along the Guinea and Gold coasts of West Africa, where he started gaining knowledge of Portuguese navigation and the Atlantic wind systems. It was during this time that Columbus came to the conclusion that sailing west would eventually lead him to the east coast of Asia.2 After bringing his idea to the Portuguese King in 1485 and again in 1488, and being rejected, he took his idea to Genoa. Rejected yet again, he then headed to Venice in search of funding. Hit by rejection once more, he took his plans to Spain in 1486, to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, where he was rejected for the fourth time.3
In January of 1492, in hopes of being able to gain more strength than Portugal, and hopes of spreading the Christian mission, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I decided to fund Columbus. In August of 1492 Columbus sailed out from the Spanish port of Palos on the now-famous ships Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.
Besides trying to reach east Asia, Columbus was intent on sailing west until he reached the Indies, where he believed riches of gold, pearls, and spice awaited.4 At the time, it was extremely difficult to access the sea route south from the Red Sea because of the Islamic powers in the Indian Ocean, and the increasing power of the Ottoman Empire was threatening the power of the Christian monarchies in Europe.5 In a letter before his journey Columbus wrote that he believed he would be able to conquer the infidel, gain victory for Christianity, and gain the westward route to discovery and Christian alliance. Being a religious man, Columbus was set on supplying funds to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslims, which matched up with the Christian crusade ideas.6
Columbus then continued to make three more trips. He made a second trip in 1493, a third voyage in 1498, and his fourth and final voyage was in 1502. All of these trips were sponsored by Spain.7
Given the title Admiral of the Ocean Seas by Spain’s monarchs, and still thinking he had sailed to Asia, Columbus died never knowing what he had discovered and created. Now, however, everyone knows that his discovery was one of the most significant in history.
Given what I know about Columbus, and backed up by this article to some extent, it seems a shame that he gets the credit that he does for discovery the New World. He wasn’t the first here, nor was he even the one who truly knew what he discovered. He deserves credit for his determination and for using that to push Spain to fund his trip, but beyond that it seemed he was driven to conquer for money or people in the name of his religion and that is exactly what he did. He just did it in the wrong place, or at least not the place he intended.