Columbus and America
Rulers of several European countries, in the 15th and 16th centuries, wanted to explore the world to find wealth. The Portuguese were the first to do this. This era was called the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese had small ships called caravels which brought back spices, gold and slaves from Asia and Africa. By the end of the 15th century Spain also began to investigate possibilities for exploration.
Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy in about 1451. He sailed on merchant ships as a teenager. One of the ships was attacked by a French ship. The boat sank, but Christopher floated to the shore of Portugal. Then he traveled to Lisbon, Spain, where he studied navigation, map making, math, and astronomy.
Those looking to obtain goods from Asia at that time found it very difficult to travel by land all that distance. Instead, the ships sailed south from Portugal around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa and then north and east to Asia.
Christopher Columbus had a new idea. He thought that if a Portuguese ship sailed straight west across the Atlantic Ocean, it would reach Asia that way. His idea of the size and layout of the world was incorrect. He went to the rulers of Portugal and England but neither one wanted to sponsor such an exploration. However, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain were interested in this idea.
Columbus wanted to become famous and wealthy, as did the rulers of Spain. They also wanted to bring the Catholic faith to new lands. Ferdinand and Isabella said he could keep 10% of any wealth he recovered and become governor of any new land. So, in August of 1492 he set sail in three ships called the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. However, he landed in the Bahama Islands instead of Asia.
He returned to Spain in March, 1493, leaving 40 men behind on the island of Hispaniola, now known as the Dominican Republic/Haiti. He came back again in September of that year and found the settlement destroyed. He left his 2 brothers, some of the crew and some native slaves to begin again. He sent 500 slaves back to Queen Isabella because he had found no gold. She was angry because she felt those people should not be taken as slave and sent them back.
In 1498, Columbus made a third trip west across the Atlantic. Conditions in the settlement on Hispaniola were bad due to his brothers' cruelty to the natives that Columbus was brought back to Spain in chains.
In 1502, he persuaded the king of Spain to allow him to go on his fourth trip across the Atlantic. He reached Panama but was attacked by natives and lost 2 of his four ships. He returned to Spain and died there in 1506.
Christopher Columbus was not the earliest man to reach the New World. The Vikings had sailed to Newfoundland in the 11th century. On the positive side, his trips began centuries of exploration which eventually led to the American continent being settled. On the negative side, the native peoples of the lands he and others conquered were almost wiped out due to disease and changes in the environment. The Europeans also took natural resources from these lands.
Christopher Columbus is remembered today as a daring explorer to the New World. However, he and those men who followed created fundamental changes for the native populations they met.
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