Columbus And The Discovery Of America
Early life of Columbus.—Meanwhile America had been discovered by Christopher Columbus, in the service of Spain. Much that was formerly believed to be true concerning the early life of Columbus recent research has proved to be false or to rest upon doubtful evidence. He was born at or near Genoa, probably in 1452, and was the son of a woolen weaver. Little is known of his education, but in some manner he acquired a knowledge of Latin, read the principal geographical works then accessible, and acquired a wide knowledge of navigation. Three books which he studied with care were the General History and Geography by Æneas Sylvius, the Imago Mundi of Pierre d'Ailly, and the Travels of Marco Polo.
He entered the marine service of Portugal, probably lived for a time on the island of Porto Santo, one of the Madeiras, visited the coast of Guinea, and sailed as far north as England. He married Felipa Moniz, a niece of Isabel Moniz, whose husband was Bartholomew Perestrello, who served under Prince Henry. It is probable that a correspondence occurred between Columbus and the Florentine geographer, Toscanelli, who is said to have suggested to the navigator the possibility of reaching the Indies by sailing west and to have sent him a copy of a chart which he had prepared. The Toscanelli map has not come down to us, the so-called reproduction of it being an adaptation of Behaim's globe of 1492. Through these various influences Columbus conceived the plan of seeking new lands in the Atlantic and became convinced of the feasibility of opening a western route to the Indies.
His sojourn in Spain.—After unsuccessfully urging his views in Portugal, in 1484 Columbus went to Spain, where he presented himself at the court and made the acquaintance of many influential persons. He also sent his brother Bartholomew to obtain assistance in western exploration from Henry VII of England. Columbus met with slight encouragement in Spain, and decided to seek French aid, but just as he was making his departure he was recalled, Queen Isabella having been brought to a favorable decision by Fray Juan Pérez, a former confessor, by Luis de Santangel, the treasurer of Aragon, by the Count of Medina-Celi, and by the Marquesa de Moya.
His commission.—Columbus was given a commission authorizing him to explore and trade. It said nothing of a route to the Indies. The enterprise of discovery was essentially a new one, and it was natural that the first patent should contain only general provisions. Indeed, the document was so brief and incomplete that many supplementary orders had to be issued before the expedition was ready. In return for services and to provide a representative of Spanish authority in anticipated discoveries, Columbus was ennobled and made admiral, viceroy, and governor-general in such lands as he might add to the Castilian realm. These offices were patterned after well-known institutions then in use in Spain. The titles were to be hereditary in Columbus's family. The admiral was to have a tenth of the net profits of trade and precious metals within his discoveries. By contributing an eighth of the expense of commercial ventures, he was entitled to an additional eighth of the profits from trade. To encourage the expedition all duties on exports were remitted.
Outfitting the expedition.—The story that Isabella pawned her jewels to equip the expedition is now disproved, the royal share of the money apparently being loaned to the Castilian treasury by Luis de Santangel. The total cost of outfitting was probably somewhat less than $100,000, of which Columbus or his friends furnished an eighth. Three vessels, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña, were provided. The number who sailed is variously estimated at from ninety to one hundred and twenty men.
The discovery.—In August, 1492, the three vessels sailed from Palos to the Canaries, those islands then being a possession of Spain which she had acquired from Portugal in 1479. During the entire colonial period they were an important factor in navigation, being a place for refitting before the long trans-Atlantic voyage. The vessels left the Canaries on September 6 and sailed almost due west. They met with fair weather, but the length of the voyage caused much complaint, which resulted in a plot to get rid of Columbus. The Admiral succeeded in quelling the mutiny, however, and shortly afterward land was sighted.
The Four Voyages of Columbus.
On the evening of October 11 a light in the distance was twice seen by the commander, and before morning the moonlight disclosed to the lookout of the Pinta a sandy beach. The landfall was a small coral island of the Bahamas, which Columbus named San Salvador and which was probably the one now called Watling's Island. Believing that he had reached the Indies, he called the inhabitants Indians, a name which has clung ever since to American aborigines.
Sojourn in the West Indies.—Through all of his sojourn in the West Indies, Columbus was filled with the idea that he had found the Indies. Hearing of Cuba and believing that it was Cipango, he planned to visit the mainland and go to the city of Guisay, the Quinsai of Marco Polo. From the Bahamas he proceeded to Cuba and explored the eastern third of its northern coast. He despatched an interpreter to the Grand Khan, but instead of a mighty city, an Indian village was discovered. There Europeans first saw the smoking of tobacco. From Cuba the expedition went to Haiti, which Columbus named Española (Little Spain), corrupted in English to Hispaniola, and there the Santa Maria was wrecked.
The return voyage.—Having built a fort on the northern shore of Española not far from its westernmost point, which he named La Navidad (the Nativity) because the neighboring harbor was entered on Christmas day, Columbus left forty-four of the crew with ample provisions, implements, and arms, and began the return voyage on January 4, 1493. Two violent storms were encountered, but both were weathered, and on March 4 the vessels came to anchor in the mouth of the Tagus.
His reception.—In Lisbon the news of the discovery created great excitement. The King of Portugal invited Columbus to court and entertained him royally. On March 13 he sailed for Spain, arriving at Palos two days later. The citizens adjourned business for the day; bells were rung, and at night the streets were illumined with torches. From there he proceeded to Seville and then to the court at Barcelona, where the greatest honors were bestowed upon him. He was allowed to be seated in the presence of the sovereigns, who showed the keenest interest in his specimens of flora and fauna, pearls and golden trinkets, but especially in the Indians whom he had brought from Española. The theory that he had reached the outlying parts of the Indies was readily accepted, and the sovereigns at once prepared to take possession of the newly discovered lands.
The line of Demarcation.—The king of Portugal, jealous of Spain's triumph, is said to have planned to send a fleet across the Atlantic to dispute the Spanish claims. Ferdinand and Isabella hurried a messenger to Rome asking the pope to confirm their rights to the new discoveries. Accordingly, on May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI assigned to Spain all lands west of a meridian one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. King John was not satisfied, and a year later, by the treaty of Tordesillas, a division line was fixed at 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands. This change gave Portugal title to her later discoveries on the Brazilian coast, though it lessened her possessions in the Orient.
Next: Spain During The Conquest
Previous: Portuguese Discoveries