In 1492, a Spanish-based transatlantic maritime expedition led by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus encountered the Americas, continents which were largely unknown in Europe and were outside the Old World political and economic system. The four voyages of Columbus began the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
For a long time it was generally believed that Columbus and his crew had been the first Europeans to make landfall in the Americas. In fact they were not the first explorers from Europe to reach the Americas, having been preceded by the Vikings expedition led by Leif Erikson in the 11th century; however, Columbus's voyages were the ones that led to ongoing European contact with the Americas, inaugurating a period of exploration, conquest, and colonization whose effects and consequences persist to the present.
Columbus was an Italy-born navigator sailing for the Crown of Castile (Spain) in search of a westward route to Asia, to access the sources of Spice trade and other oriental goods. This failed when he encountered the New World between Europe and Asia. Columbus made a total of four voyages to the Americas between 1492 and 1502, setting the stage for the European exploration and colonization of the Americas, ultimately leading to the Columbian Exchange.
At the time of the Columbus voyages, the Americas were inhabited by the Indigenous Americans, the descendants of Paleo-Indians who crossed Beringia from Asia to North America beginning around 20,000 years ago. Columbus's voyages led to the widespread knowledge that a continent existed west of Europe and east of Asia. This breakthrough in geographical science led to the exploration and colonization of the New World by Spanish Empire and other European sea powers, and is sometimes cited as the start of the modern era.Mills, Keneth and Taylor, William B., , p. 36, SR Books, 1998,
Spanish Empire, Portugal, and other European kingdoms sent expeditions and established colonies throughout the New World, converted the native inhabitants to Christianity, and built large trade networks across the Atlantic Ocean, which introduced new plants, animals, and food crops to both continents. The search for a westward route to Asia continued in 1513 when Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossed the narrow Isthmus of Panama to become the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean. The search was completed in 1521, when the Castilian ( Spanish) Magellan expedition sailed across the Pacific and reached Southeast Asia.
In 1488 Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal, receiving a new invitation for an audience with King John II. This 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 crossing unknown seas. Columbus traveled from Portugal to Castile to convince the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon to finance the expedition.
Columbus was granted an audience with them; on May 1, 1489, he presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who referred them to a committee. They pronounced the idea impractical, and advised the monarchs not to support the proposed venture.
However, to expand the Spanish empire and Catholicism in the name of Spanish Kings, and to assure a better market position in trading, the Queen gave Columbus an annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and part of the newly conquered lands.Durant, Will "The Story of Civilization" Vol. VI, "The Reformation". New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957. . p. 260.
After continually lobbying at the royal court and enduring two years of negotiations, Columbus finally succeeded in January 1492. Queen Isabella's forces had just conquered the Moors 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 to support his plans.
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 were not confident of his return.
According to Columbus's 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 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.Stuart, Isabella of Castile: the first Renaissance queen, 2004, p. 295.
Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus popularized the idea that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because Europeans thought flat earth.
Zinn, Howard 1980. A People's History of the United States, HarperCollins 2001. p.2
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 – he read maps as if the distances were calculated in (about 1,480 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 at most, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan as 3,000 Italian miles (). Columbus did not realize Alfraganus used the much longer Arabic mile (about 1,830 m).
The true circumference of the Earth is about , a figure first established approximately by Eratosthenes in the 2nd century BC,Sagan, Carl. Cosmos; the mean circumference of the Earth is 40,041.47 km. and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan . 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, scurvy 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 North America, Vinland, were already surfacing in Europe, historians agree that Columbus calculated too short a distance from the Canary Islands to Japan by the standards of his peers.
One large carrack, the Santa María, was always referred to by Columbus as La Capitana ("The Captain"). The two smaller caravels, La Pinta ("The Painted") and La Niña (lit. "The Girl", but actually named after her owners, the Niño brothers of Moguer.) are today better known by their nicknames: the real name of the Pinta has been lost; the Niña was actually named Santa Clara, after the patron saint of Moguer.
of the Niña]]
of the Pinta in Palos de la Frontera]]
of the Santa María at West Edmonton Mall]]
As described in the abstract of his log made by Bartolome de Las Casas, on the outward bound voyage Columbus recorded two sets of distances. Las Casas originally interpreted that he reported the shorter distances to his crew so they would not worry about sailing too far from Spain. However, according to Oliver Dunn and James Kelley,Review by Carla Rahn Phillips, Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 3. (Autumn, 1991), pp. 572–574.The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America 1492–93, Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas. by Oliver Dunn; James E. Kelley, Jr. 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 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.
Land was first sighted at 2 a.m. on October 12, 1492, by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodriguez Bermejo) aboard La Pinta.Markham, p. 35 Columbus would later assert that he had first seen the land and, thus, earned the reward of 10,000 maravedís.Markham, p. 36Clements R. Markham, ed., A People's History Of The United States 1492-Present, HarperCollins, 2001, p. 2. Columbus called the island San Salvador, in the present-day The Bahamas or Turks and Caicos; the indigenous residents had 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, Cat Island or San Salvador Island ( Watlings Island named San Salvador in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus's San Salvador).
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 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.
Columbus proceeded to observe the people and their cultural lifestyle. He also explored the northeast coast of Cuba, landing on 28 October 1492, and the north-western coast of Hispaniola, present day Haiti, by 5 December 1492. Here, the Santa Maria ran aground on Christmas Day, December 25, 1492, and had to be abandoned. Columbus was received by the native cacique Guacanagari, who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus founded the settlement, La Navidad, leaving behind 39 men.
On 15 January 1493, he set sail for home aboard the Niña.
Leaving the island of Santa Maria in the Azores on 23 February, Columbus headed for Castilian Spain, but another storm forced him into 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 had been spared. Not finding King John II of Portugal in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a letter to him and waited for the king's reply. After receiving the letter, the king agreed to meet with Columbus in Vale do Paraíso despite poor relations between Portugal and Castile at the time. Upon learning of Columbus's discoveries, the Portuguese king informed him that he believed the voyage to be in violation of the 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas. After spending more than a week in Portugal, Columbus set sail for Spain. Word of his finding new lands rapidly spread throughout Europe. After the voyage, Columbus met with Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in Barcelona on 15 March 1493 to report his findings. The Monument a Colom in that city commemorates the event.
Columbus and his remaining crew came home to a hero's welcome when they returned to Spain. He showed off what he had brought back from his voyage to the monarchs, including a few small samples of gold, pearls, gold jewelry stolen from natives, a few natives he had kidnapped, flowers, and a hammock. He gave the monarchs a few of the gold nuggets, gold jewelry, and pearls, as well as the previously unknown tobacco plant, the pineapple fruit, the turkey, and the hammock. The monarchs invited Columbus to dine with them. A taster even tasted the food from each of his dishes before he ate to "make sure it was not poisoned." He was given his own footmen to open doors for him and to serve him at the table. Columbus was even rewarded with his own coat of arms. 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, p. 11 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..."
The fleet for the second voyage was much larger: two Carrack and 15 . The two naos were the flagship Marigalantelit. "Gallant Mary", officially known as the Santa María after the ship lost on the first voyage and also known as Capitana ("Flagship") for its role in the expedition. It was owned by Antonio Torres, brother of the nurse to Don Juan. and the Gallega; the caravels were the Fraila,lit. "The Nun". San Juan, Colina,lit. "The Hill", but named for its owner Bartolomé Colin and also called la carabela de Bartolomé Colin. Gallarda,lit. "The Gallant", but named for its owner Juan Gallardo and also called la carabela de Juan Gallardo. Gutierre,Named for its owner Alfonso Gutiérrez and also called la carabela de Alfonso Gutiérrez. Bonial,Or the Bonuela. Named for its owner Antón Boniel and also called la carabela de Antón Boniel. Rodriga,Named for its owner Rodrigo Muñoz or Rodrigo Martínez. Triana,Named for its owner Juan de Triana and also called la carabela de Juan de Triana. Vieja,lit. "The Old" Prieta,lit."The Brown", but named for its owner Juan Fernández Prieto and also called la carabela de Juan Fernández Prieto. Gorda,lit. "The Fat". Cardera,Sometimes given as Caldera ("The Cauldron"), but named for its captain Juan Rodriguez Cardero. and Quintera.M.ª Montserrat León Guerrero. " Pasajeros del Segundo Viaje de Cristóbal Colón " "Passengers. The Niña returned for this expedition, which also included a ship named Pinta probably identical to that from the first expedition. In addition, the expedition saw the construction of the first ship in the Americas, the Santa Cruz or India.Pickering, Keith A. " Columbus's Ships". 1997. Accessed 21 May 2012.
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 Discovery Bay, 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 of present-day Haiti he finally returned to Spain.
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 Native Americans. 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.
/ref> 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 native peoples in their homeland, called by Europeans "the New World".
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. Since there were no gold mines on the island, the Indians had no chance of meeting Columbus' quota and thousands are reported to have committed suicide.Koning, Hans. Columbus, His Enterprise: Exploding the Myth. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976: 83-83.
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). 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.
On May 30, 1498, Columbus left the port of Sanlúcar, Spain with a fleet of six ships, sending three directly to the West Indies while leading the other three: the Santa María de Guía, the Vaqueños, and the Correo 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. The ships found King John's hypothesized continent, which is South America, when they sighted the land of Trinidad on 31 July approaching from the southeast.Joseph 1838, p. 124 The fleet sailed along the southern coast and entered Columbus Channel, anchoring near Soldado Rock where they made contact with a group of native Amerindians in canoes.Joseph 1838, p. 125 Columbus then landed on Trinidad at Icacos Point (which he named Punta de Arenal) on 2 August.Joseph 1838, p. 126
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.
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 complete control as governor from 1500 until he was killed in a hurricane 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's 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."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.
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 wrists and chains placed on his ankles and was cast into prison to await return to Spain. He was 49 years old.
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.Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, p. 576.
Columbus and his brothers were jailed for six weeks before the busy King Ferdinand ordered them released. 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's fourth voyage. But the door was firmly shut on Christopher Columbus's 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.
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, 1502. 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, 1502, he landed on the mainland of the Americas 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, 1502.
In Panamá, he learned from the Ngobe of gold and a strait to another ocean. After some exploration, he established a garrison at the mouth of Belén River in January 1503.
By April 6, the garrison he had established captured the local leader El Quibían, who had demanded they not go down the Belén River. El Quibían escaped, and returned with an army to attack and repel the Spanish, damaging some of the ships so that one vessel had to be abandoned. Columbus 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.
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. The island's governor, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, detested Columbus and obstructed all efforts to rescue him and his men. In the meantime, Columbus mesmerized the natives by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse for February 29, 1504, using the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus.Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, 1942, pp. 653–654. Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner, 1955, pp. 184–192.
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. Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain, on May 20, 1506, at around the age of 54, probably of the effects of chronic reactive arthritis perhaps acquired secondarily to food poisoning.
With the Age of Discovery starting in the 15th century, Europeans explored the world by ocean, searching for particular trade goods, humans to enslave, 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, 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 continents of the Americas and the Pacific Islands. 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 Castillo 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 groups, managed to conquer these states. The most notable amongst the conquered states were the Aztec Empire in modern 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.