Some forty years after Muslim Turks conquered Constantinople on May 29, 1453, and cut off the land routes to India and China, Columbus proposed a sea route.
Columbus took four voyages:
- First, he discovered land, 1492-93
- Second, he encountered a hurricane, malaria and cannibals, 1493-1496
- Third, he faced rebellion and arrest, 1498-1500
- Fourth, he was shipwrecked on Jamaica for a year, after surviving another hurricane and exploring Panama, 1502-1504
On his first voyage (1492-1493), Columbus used knowledge of the trade winds to make the longest voyage ever out of the sight of land. He encountered the New World and met peaceful Arawak natives with gold trinkets. He thought that Cuba was the tip of China and that Hispaniola (Dominican Republican/Haiti) was Japan.
Returning to Europe, Columbus’ ship, Santa Maria, hit a reef and wrecked. He left 39 sailors in a make-shift fort named La Navidad.
On his second voyage (1493-1496), Columbus was frustratingly saddled with 17 ships and 1,500 mostly get-rich-quick Spaniards. Columbus explored Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Arriving at La Navidad, they were shocked to find that all the sailors Columbus had left were killed.
The Spanish settlers felt Columbus misrepresented the new world “paradise,” especially after they encountered a hurricane, malaria and Carib natives, who reportedly emasculated, sodomized and cannibalized peaceful Arawak natives. Spanish settlers grew impatient at having to obey Columbus, who was, after all, not Spanish but an Italian from the city of Genoa.
Columbus’ main focus was on finding the route to India and China. He yielded to the Spanish settlers’ demands by letting them set up feudal plantations, called “mayorazgos,” which unfortunately led to generations of mistreatment of the native populations.
Columbus left his brothers Diego and Bartholomew in charge of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola, and sailed back to Spain.
On his third voyage (1498-1500), Columbus barely made it across the southern Atlantic, encountering the windless “doldrums.” When the winds picked up, Columbus named the first land he saw after the Trinity – “Trinidad.”
Columbus became the first European to set foot on South America, planting the Spanish flag at the Paria Peninsula of present-day Venezuela, Aug. 1, 1498. He explored the beautiful Orinoco River, thinking it was the outer regions of the garden of Eden. When Columbus finally arrived at his settlement of Santo Domingo, he found that the Spanish settlers had rebelled against his brothers.
In despair, Columbus sent a plea for help to the king. Instead of help, the king sent a replacement governor in the year 1500 named Bobadillo, who arrested Columbus and his brothers, and sent them back to Spain in chains.
Columbus had been continually undermined at the royal court by the jealous Spanish bishop Fonseca, who thought the monarchs should never have given so much authority to an Italian from Genoa. After a delay of two years, Columbus was permitted to sail on his fourth voyage, May 12, 1502, from Cadiz, Spain.
He was forbidden to visit his settlement of Santo Domingo, but upon reaching the Caribbean, Columbus became alarmed by a hurricane brewing. Weighing the risk, he entered the harbor of Santo Domingo to warn them of the approaching danger and to seek shelter for his ships.
The replacement governor, Bobadillo, was preparing to set sail for Spain with 24 ships of gold, heading directly into the hurricane. The warning of Columbus was spurned, as he had become a persona non grata.
Ordered to leave the harbor, Columbus sailed as fast as he could to seek shelter on the other side of the island. The hurricane destroyed Santo Domingo.
All but one of the ships headed for Spain sank, including the one carrying Bobadillo. The ship that survived had been the slowest and had not cleared the island mangroves when the hurricane hit.
When it reached Spain, to everyone’s amazement, it was found to be the one carrying Columbus’ portion of the gold, per his agreement with the monarchs.
The providential nature of this incident vindicated Columbus’ reputation, though he did not find out about it for over a year, as he was blown around the Caribbean.
Columbus recorded: “The tempest arose and wearied me so that I knew not where to turn, my old wound opened up, and for 9 days I was lost without hope of life; eyes never beheld the sea so angry and covered with foam.”
Columbus continued: “The wind not only prevented our progress, but offered no opportunity to run behind any headland for shelter; hence we were forced to keep out in this bloody ocean, seething like a pot on a hot fire. The people were so worn out that they longed for death.”
After a day and a half of continuous lightning, Columbus’ 15-year-old son, Ferdinand, recorded that on Dec. 13, 1502, a waterspout passed between the ships: “… the which had they not dissolved by reciting the Gospel according to St. John, it would have swamped whatever it struck … for it draws water up to the clouds in a column thicker than a waterbutt, twisting it about like a whirlwind.”
Columbus’ biographer, Samuel Eliot Morrison, described: “It was the Admiral who exorcised the waterspout. From his Bible he read of that famous tempest off Capernaum, concluding, ‘Fear not, it is I!’ Then clasping the Bible in his left hand, with drawn sword he traced a cross in the sky and a circle around his whole fleet.”
Columbus briefly landed in Panama, but was too ill and too suspicious of the natives to cross to the Pacific side. With his ships worm-eaten and taking on water, Columbus barely made it to the island of Jamaica where he was shipwrecked for a year.
With natives beginning to threaten him, Columbus correctly predicted a lunar eclipse which saved them. Columbus’ two captains canoed with several natives 450 miles across the open sea from Jamaica to Hispaniola to seek help.
Finally being rescued, Columbus returned to Spain on Nov. 7, 1504. Columbus was back in Spain only three weeks when Queen Isabella, his chief patron, died. Columbus died a year and a half later.
Though unsuccessful as a governor, Columbus was one of the world’s most renowned explorers who changed the course of history.
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