About Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer and navigator born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Columbus often gets the credit for discovering America. Of course we know that when Columbus came to America, there were already native people living here. We also know that Viking Leif Ericson landed in America about 500 years before Columbus did. Christopher Columbus did not discover America, but his voyage did open up the continent to European settlement.
Columbus first went to sea as a teenager on trading ships. This is how he learned to navigate ships and create maps.
Life as a sailor during this time was very dangerous. On his first voyage into the Atlantic Ocean in 1476, his ship was attacked by French pirates and burned. Columbus had to swim to the Portuguese shore. Columbus ended up staying in Portugal. This is where he met his wife and had two sons.
Looking for a Shortcut to Riches
Columbus knew that there were riches in China, India, and Asia. The voyage there was very rough, however. He and his brother Bartholomew came up with a plan to find a shortcut. Columbus wanted to sail west across the Atlantic.
People at this time in history didn’t know how big the earth was. There were also no maps to follow. This is why many people disagreed with Columbus’s idea to sail in a different direction. Columbus tried for a long time to convince the king and queen of Spain to give him money for his voyage. Finally Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain agreed.
In 1492, Columbus left Spain in the Santa Maria, with the Pinta and the Niña alongside. It turned out Columbus was wrong. The Earth was much larger than he had planned. The voyage was long and difficult. His crew wanted to turn around and sail home. In the middle of what was supposed to be a shortcut between Europe and Asia, they accidentally ran into another land. This unexpected land was a small island in the Bahamas that Columbus would name San Salvador.
They met natives there that Columbus called Indians. He called them Indians because he was confused and thought they were on an island in the Indies. These island natives were willing to trade with the sailors. They exchanged beads, cotton, parrots, and spears. The sailors also noticed that the natives were wearing gold. Columbus visited other islands in the Caribbean such as Cuba and Hispaniola.
Columbus Goes Home
After making his discovery, Columbus wanted to get back to Spain and claim his riches. Columbus could only return with two of his ships. The Santa Maria was wrecked and 39 men were left behind. They used the wood from the ship to build a settlement on Hispaniola, which is now called Haiti.
When Columbus got home he was treated like a hero. He gave the king and queen the things he had brought back, like parrots, turkeys, pineapples, and some natives he had captured. The king of Spain was pleased and promised to give Columbus money for more exploration.
Columbus almost immediately went back to sea. When Columbus got back to Hispaniola he found his settlement had been destroyed and all the sailors had been killed. Columbus made slaves out of the natives and forced them to rebuild the settlement and look for gold. The natives quickly came to hate the European explorers. This third voyage was the only one where Columbus actually made it to the mainland. He explored the Orinoco River in the land that is now Venezuela in South America.
The European settlers began to complain that Columbus lied and that there were no riches for them. Royal officials came and arrested Columbus. They brought him back to Spain in chains.
Columbus convinced the king that one more voyage would bring the treasures he had been promising. Columbus went on his final voyage in 1502 to the new world. On this voyage, one of his ships was lost in a storm.
Columbus and all his sailors were stranded in Cuba. While they were there, the natives refused to give them food. A rescue party finally arrived. Columbus and his men were taken back to Spain in November of 1504.
Columbus lived only two more years. He died on May 20, 1506. Columbus never knew the truth about his discoveries. He died thinking that he actually had discovered a shortcut to Asia.
Remembering Christopher Columbus
Columbus is remembered for bringing European settlement to America. He is also blamed for destroying the lives of the native people of the islands that he explored.
His expeditions started a worldwide movement of people, animals, plants, food, and diseases that would change the world forever.