There is much about Christopher Columbus’ voyage in history that is often retold inaccurately or is left out, leaving us with an incomplete picture. Columbus is often credited with bravely sailing towards the edge the believed-to-be flat Earth and finding America, neither of which are quite true.
The truth is that Columbus didn’t bravely sail toward a flat Earth cliff, he knew the planet was a sphere. He also didn’t spot America first, he just took credit for it. He did, however, manipulate people, was violent, and facilitated human trafficking and rape on a large scale.
Leif Eriksson is credited as first non-native to America
Norse Viking Leif Eriksson is credited with finding America in 1,000 AD, about five centuries before Columbus set sail.
Some historians believe other Europeans made it to America even earlier than Eriksson. Leif Eriksson Day is October 9, but Columbus gets all the fame and holiday despite never even having set foot on the North American mainland.
Rodrigo de Triana was first to see America among Columbus crews
Rodrigo de Triana was the first European since the vikings to discover America. He served as a lookout on the Pinta ship and spotted land about 2:00am on 12 October 1492. Rodrigo notified the ship of his finding and signaled Columbus’ ship.
Columbus later took credit for first seeing land by saying he had seen it the night prior, therefore claiming the credit and a lifetime pension offered by the king and queen. Triana received nothing.
Flat or spherical Earth
Columbus, and all educated people in his day, knew the Earth was not flat before his voyage began.
The contrary is often believed because Washington Irving published a biography of Columbus which wrongly stated his belief of a flat Earth. The idea of a spherical Earth was actually accepted nearly 1,000 years prior.
In fact, the navigation methods used by Columbus to plan his route relied on astronomical calculations assuming the Earth was a sphere. He did however believe the Earth was much smaller than it really is due to basing calculations on Roman miles rather than the longer Arabic miles the calculations were designed to use.
Manipulation in Jamaica for extra food
On his 4th voyage to America Columbus and his crew ended up stranded in Jamaica for a year with damaged ships.
He and his crews eventually wore out their welcome and the locals were no longer in awe of the foreigners and stopped feeding the ship crews. Columbus was pretty familiar with astronomy since it was a primary navigation method for him, and he happened to know a lunar eclipse was expected.
There were some inaccuracies in the information during the last predicted eclipse and the data predicting this eclipse was several decades old.
Despite the risk, he was desperate and told the locals if they did not provide food for his ships the moon would disappear on the following night. His threat proved true and the Jamaicans promised to do whatever they could to satisfy Columbus and his sailors.
Slavery, human trafficking, rape, torture
Columbus was violent and cruel, although those weren’t uncommon characteristics during the time frame. He had a man caught stealing corn punished by cutting off his ears, nose, and selling him into slavery.
Columbus wrote about his economic interest in enslaving people, even at one point taking 1,600 people to be sex and labor slaves for the Europeans. Columbus required some slaves older than 14 years to mine gold.
If they did not deliver enough each week their hands would be cut off and they were left to bleed to death.
After death travel still crossing the Atlantic
Before death Columbus made four voyages to the new world, and after death he would cross it two more times.
After dying his remains were taken to Hispaniola which is in current day Dominican Republic, an area Columbus had spent much of his time in the new world. However, the Spanish dug up his remains and moved them to Cuba and then back to Spain when the island was captured by the French in 1795.
DNA testing in 2006 confirmed the remains still in Spain belong to Columbus, but another box with human remains and the name Columbus on it were found still in the Dominican Republic. The government there has refused to allow DNA testing. It may be conceivable that parts of Columbus’ remains are now in both the old world and new world.
Legal battle by heirs
After his death, relatives of Columbus were involved in legal battles with Spanish monarchy for nearly 300 years claiming they shorted the money due to him during his life (yes, that lifetime pension which he wrongfully claimed).
- 10 Things You May Not Know About Christopher Columbus. Christopher Klein, History.com. 5 October 2012.Overview: Information concerning what happened after the death of Columbus concerning his body and money as well as vikings discovering America first.
- Christopher Columbus. Wikipedia. Overview: Much of the information on Columbus is based in physical texts, several of which are cited on Wikipedia and other sites. This information included Columbus’ knowledge of a spherical Earth and Earth size miscalculation as well as information on his economical interests in slavery and human trafficking.
- The Eclipse That Saved Columbus (link is external). Ivars Peterson, Science News. 4 October 2006. Accessed 12 October 2013. Overview: Very in-depth information about Columbus manipulating the Jamaicans using know knowledge of the coming eclipse.
- The Rediscovery of North America (link is external). Barry Lopez. 1990. Pg 15. Overview: Page 15 contains information about Columbus wrongfully taking credit for first sighting land.