Christopher Columbus, who went to sea at age 14, was a native of Genoa, Italy, and took part in voyages along the African coast. His ship was attacked by pirates in 1476, and it wrecked near the Portugal coast. He swam to shore and made his way to the great port city of Lisbon where his younger brother Bartholomew was a chart maker. At this time, Europeans did not know of the Pacific Ocean or North and South America.
Since the world was round, Columbus thought he could sail west to arrive in the east! Aristotle had proved that the earth was a round ball three centuries before the Christian era, and most educated people accepted that view. Ptolemy had taught in the 2nd century before Christ that the circumference of the earth at the equator was about 21,600 miles, a little short of the 24,902 miles.
Marco Polo and other explorers had traveled the land routes to India, Japan, and China and returned with spices, jewels, silk, fine textiles, and other items unavailable to Europeans. The merchants had major difficulties with the overland journey because of bandits, desert heat, and sand storms that made overland routes too dangerous and expensive. With the fall of Constantinople to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453, the land routes to Asia became impossible, so European merchants began to look for a sea route to solve their problems.
The concept of sailing west to get to the east was very startling, but it was another thing for one to get in a ship and prove it! If the earth is really a globe, then it should be possible to sail westward across the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern shores of Asia. Shortly after 1471, this idea occurred to several persons, one of whom was Columbus, and he made up his mind to prove the theory.
Just a minor problem: he did not have the funds for such an enterprise. It was common in those days to seek help from some government to finance such costly ventures. (Things never change, do they?) After approaching various nations for funding, he succeeded in making an arrangement with the Spanish sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella. Three small ships were fitted out for him with a crew of 87 men (the count varies).
The Muslims had recently been forced from Spain after a 10-year war, so the Spanish sovereigns thought it would be good to finance Columbus since he promised to spread Christianity (Roman Catholicism) wherever he went. Many histories tell the romantic, although the untrue tale of Isabella selling her jewelry to finance Columbus, it is true that she put a special tax on butchers to pay for the voyage! However, the cost was not that great, and the agreement is considered “History’s greatest bargain!”
Furnished with the sovereigns’ money and armed with their authority, Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain on August 3, 1492, with his three ships–the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria— with 52 men on the Santa Maria, his flagship, and 18 on each of the other two. Their first stop was the Canary Islands. Then after some delay, he set sail on September 6 with his ships turned westward into the Unknown Ocean!
It was the most daring thing that had ever been done!
During their journey, the sailors consumed water, vinegar, wine, olive oil, molasses, cheese, honey, raisins, rice, garlic, almonds, hardtack, beans, sardines, salt cod, salted pork, and beef. Of course, fresh fish were also eaten when the fishing was good. (I’ve never been that fortunate.)
Other brave mariners had sailed many a league along strange coasts and had won deserved fame, but Columbus was the first person to bid goodbye to the land and steer straight into the trackless ocean in reliance upon a scientific theory. This fact, of itself, is enough to make him one of the most sublime figures of history. After a voyage of 35 days, land was sighted at 2:00 on the morning of October 12, 1492. Upon his arrival, Columbus and his men went ashore and thanked God for leading them safely across the treacherous ocean. He had landed at San Salvador, one of the Bahamian islands. He placed a wooden cross in the sand and claimed it for Spain.
Columbus was seeking the back door of Asia and found himself knocking on the front door of America, but he didn’t know that. Before returning to Spain, he sailed along the shores of Cuba and Haiti, landing here and there, and sending landing parties inland to explore the country. Columbus was surprised and disappointed in not finding the splendid cities that he expected to find in Asia, but he had no doubt that he had found India, Japan, or some part of Asia.
Finally, gold was discovered on what is now Haiti but not in great amounts. It had to be panned from the rivers. It was slow work and caused much trouble between his men and the Indians. He left behind 39 men to supervise the gold accumulation. All would soon be dead from natural causes, fighting among themselves, and Indian attacks.
Columbus returned home with his news, and it aroused great excitement among intelligent mariners in Spain, Portugal, England, and elsewhere. He was greeted with huge crowds and a private audience with the king and queen.
On his second voyage in September of 1493, it was difficult to restrain people from embarking with him. He sailed with 17 ships and 1200 colonists and founded Isabella in Haiti, the first city of Europeans in North America. He also discovered Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and some of the Lesser Antilles.
Everyone expected to get rich quickly, but no silks or spices, or precious stones were found or a huge amount of gold as yet. On the other hand, hard labor had to be endured, as well as hunger and sickness, and the disappointed colonists placed all the blame on Columbus as if he had forced them to accompany him!
Since his enterprise did not bring vast amounts of money into the Spanish treasury but entailed great expenses, he soon lost favor at court, and his troubles multiplied. He cruised among the islands of the Caribbean, and on his third voyage in 1498, saw land that we now know to have been the coast of South America. He never doubted that all of this was Asia, but he wondered why he never found the riches of Asia.
Columbus’ men did find something in the New World that they passed on to Europe—syphilis! The Europeans exchanged whooping cough, smallpox, and other diseases for syphilis. Personally, if I had my choice, I would choose whooping cough. This is a good example of men reaping what they sowed. Some historians teach that syphilis could be an explanation for his progressive mental derangement. After his return from his final voyage in 1504, he was clearly mentally ill, and his legs were paralyzed.
Columbus was now more than ever discredited, and he tried to redeem his reputation by finding a western passage from the Caribbean to the Orient on his fourth and last voyage. Of course, he found none, and after terrible hardships, he returned to Spain in May 1504.
In spite of his failure to find the riches of Asia, he died in the belief that he had found the shortest route to the east. If he could have been told that he only found a continent hitherto unknown, it might have meant less bitterness at his death.
Columbus and his men made their way back to Spain, but this time he was not invited into the presence of royalty. The crowds did not cheer him, and the senoritas did not throw rose petals at him. The queen was dying, like the reputation of the Admiral. In 1506, his health started to fail, and Columbus began reliving the memories of his greatness as the “Admiral of the Ocean Seas.” He was now ridiculed as “Admiral of the Mosquitoes.”
How the mighty had fallen.
Columbus died after he partook of communion; his last words were, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” And the great Admiral took his final voyage.
Columbus’ souvenir (syphilis) from the New World was bad news for the Old World and impacted the whole world, but there was a tradeoff. When Columbus returned to the New World on his second voyage, his men brought the virus of smallpox, which, along with Spanish swords, killed millions of Indians.
Obviously, Columbus was not a saint, but then he never claimed to be, and he should be left alone by the lazy, leftist losers.
(Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives who ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis and wrote columns for USA Today for 8 years. Boys authored 18 books, the most recent being Muslim Invasion: The Fuse is Burning! The eBook is available here with the printed edition (and other titles) at www.cstnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at Don Boys, Ph.D.; and visit his blog. Send a request to DBoysphd@aol.com for a free subscription to his articles, and click here to support his work with a donation.)
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