You Won't Find Any of These Facts About Christopher Columbus in Textbooks
Christopher Columbus is viewed by some as a brilliant man and brave explorer. The accomplishments credited to him even ranked him highly enough in public opinion — for a time — to get his own holiday. The trouble is that many people don’t know what Columbus was really like or what he really did.
There's no doubt that it took courage to cross the ocean into uncharted territory, but perhaps that courage is not enough to erase other things Columbus did. Learn more about the man behind the holiday.
The Story of Christopher Columbus
In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail on a voyage that would put his name in history books. He and his crew traveled this journey in the famously named Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria backed by the Spanish monarch. His voyage ended in the Caribbean islands.
He Did Not Discover America
First of all, Columbus didn't discover America. Native Americans were living here long before Christopher Columbus thought about his journey. They didn’t just live here, either, but also lived in distinct tribes that had their own governing systems — they were established in the land.
He Was Not Trying to Prove the Earth Was Round
It was already proven by the Greeks that the world was not flat, so there was no reason for Columbus to do it again. His objective was actually to find a more direct trade route to China and India that did not involve sailing around Africa to get to Europe.
Columbus Did Not Discover Any “New” Land at All
In truth, Columbus did not discover any land. Everywhere he went, the lands were already inhabited. Not only were the islands full of people, but these people had their own groups, tribes and governments formed, and they had systems set up to support their ways of life.
He Made Four Separate Voyages
Christopher Columbus' voyage in 1492 is widely talked about, but it is not the only voyage to the Americas that he made. In fact, he made three more, each time landing on a different island. He spread his ways and beliefs for his first three voyages.
Columbus and His Crew Brought Disease to the New World
Unfortunately, when Columbus and his men landed ashore, they brought more than they even knew about. They, at the very least, brought along influenza, smallpox and measles. Much later, syphilis was found in Columbus' and some of his crew members' skeletal remains.
He Viewed Natives as Heathens Yet Refused to Let Many Convert to Christianity
One goal of his voyage was supposed to be converting others to Christianity. Somewhere along the way, his goal changed. Instead, Columbus chose to enslave many islanders and convert the rest. He even refused to let some islanders convert by making it a rule that only those he gave permission to were allowed to be baptized.
He Enslaved Over 1,500 People on One Island
Almost immediately upon his arrival at Hispaniola, Columbus had about 1,500 natives, both men and women, captured. Some of these slaves were sent to Spain, while others were enslaved for the Spanish men under his rule. Unfortunately, many of those sent to Spain died on the way.
He Viewed the Natives as Nothing More Than Tools to Use
When first landing on the island, the Taino people were friendly and welcoming to Columbus and his men, but instead of making peace, Columbus was sizing them up to determine how he could benefit from them. The following is an excerpt from his own journal, where he recorded his first impressions of meeting the Tainos.
He May Have Been Responsible for the Transatlantic Slave Trade
Some historians believe that Christopher Columbus actually started the slave trade that became so widespread during and after his time. His blatant disregard for humanity and human life made it easy for him to view the populations he encountered as nothing more than commodities.
That Slave Trade Seems to Have Included Very Young Sex Slaves
It would seem that Columbus didn’t just sell slaves to do harsh, physically demanding jobs. Many men were looking to purchase women for sex — 9- and 10-year-old girls were the most popular — and he was more than happy to oblige.
His Punishments Were Barbaric
By many accounts, Columbus was not a merciful person. If someone went against him, they were punished — and his punishments were cruel, to say the very least. Two of his common punishments were whippings and ordering body parts to be cut off.
Those Punishments Often Took Place in Public
To prevent any further issues, Christopher Columbus killed many natives, dismembered them and then had their dismembered parts paraded down the streets. Whippings were carried out for everyone to see. This punishment happened often and in response to actions that seem quite harmless.
He Was Even Monstrous to His Own People
It was not just the natives he treated this way, though. He was an equal opportunity punisher and seemed perfectly happy being cruel to his own people. Age and sex were no deterrent; he punished men, women and children.
He Had No Trouble Lying to Get What He Wanted...
Only a couple of years before his death, Columbus found himself in Jamaica abandoned by his crew. The Jamaican islanders would not feed him — perhaps because of his cruel habits. A determined Columbus decided that he would save himself with knowledge and a lie.
...Or to Prevent Any Trouble From Coming His Way
Christopher Columbus kept two separate logbooks of his first voyage. In one, he recorded the actual distance they’d traveled, but he kept this one to himself. In the other book, he recorded much shorter distances, this being the book that was shared with others.
He Used Violence to Keep People Acting the Way He Wanted
Violence was not saved for acts of crime. Columbus decided that it was the best way to control the islanders, and it often worked. His brutal acts were so monstrous that most native peoples were scared to defy him.
He Gave a Captive Woman to a Crew Member for His Pleasure
After capturing a Carib woman, Columbus handed her over to Michele de Cuneo, a crew member, to do with whatever he wanted. When he tried to sleep with her, she refused, tearing her nails into his flesh. Her actions led to a painful punishment.
Families Were Ripped Apart
A young priest named Bartolome de las Casas began to record the cruelty of the Spaniards toward the native groups. He wrote that the men were sent to work the mines for six to eight months to dig up their quotas of gold. Meanwhile, the women were kept at home to work the soil and farm.
His People Treated the Native Populations Like Animals
When they weren’t punishing the native Amerindian groups, the Spaniards used them for everything else. Las Casas recorded that the Spaniards got lazy and decided to stop walking to their destinations. Instead, they rode on the Amerindians’ backs, as if the people were horses.
Columbus Is the Cause of Almost an Entire People Disappearing...
Before Columbus' arrival, there were approximately 300,000 people in Hispaniola, but the population decreased tremendously. Within two years, about 100,000 had died. By the mid-1500s, there were around 500 left. In the 1600s, there were barely any Tainos to be found.
...Along With an Entire Island of Plants
As if killing off almost an entire population wasn’t enough, Columbus also killed off an entire island's native plants. Instead of living from the land's lush offerings, Columbus and his men opted to plant their own food, most of which spread very easily.
He Believed He Was on a Mission From God
Throughout his life, Columbus claimed to be a Christian. Even as a young boy, he wanted to minister to others in foreign places. Though his actions may not have shown it, he supposedly held onto his desire of converting "heathens" to Christianity.
He Even Wrote a Book About It
In his later years, Columbus wrote a book in which he stated that all of his voyages and actions were missions from God, that the world was about to end and that he was supposed to bring this end about. He named this work Book of Prophecies.
He Was Finally Arrested and Sent Home
Many people noted and reported Columbus' horrifying acts, especially those he committed against his own people over such small issues. Over time, many of these reports got back to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Columbus had directly defied their order to treat the natives well, and he was also preventing people from converting.
Columbus Claimed the Crown Did Not Keep Their Promises
Columbus spent much of the end of his life arguing with the crown that he did not receive what Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand promised to him. He wrote another title, Book of Privileges, in which he kept a log of all that he was supposedly promised.
Columbus Died a Miserable Death
In 1504, Columbus returned from his final voyage. For two years, he suffered from a number of painful conditions and illnesses. He dealt with influenza for a good stretch, along with many fevers. He also suffered from joint problems due to what was likely arthritis.
Even Death Didn’t Stop Him From Wreaking Havoc
Death, violence and destruction seemed to be regular parts of Columbus' life. His actions went on to affect multiple generations. In fact, hundreds of years after his death, the world still deals with the consequences of his actions. And many people have differing opinions about whether Columbus should be celebrated or not.
Did Christopher Columbus Accomplish Anything Worth Celebrating?
Many people feel that Columbus’ accomplishments are far outweighed by the negative impact his actions had both then and now. Considering all of his horrible actions, many people question why the man is memorialized as a hero.
The Joining of Two Worlds
Laurence Bergreen states in his book that, before Columbus' journeys, "the Old World and the New remained separate and distinct continents, ecosystems, and societies; ever since, their fates have been bound together, for better or worse." Columbus’ voyages opened a door for international trade.