Know Your History: Christopher Columbus

Did Christopher Columbus discover America? No, Columbus never stepped foot on any of the land we now know as the United States.

Was Columbus Spanish? No, he was Italian.

Did he command three Spanish ships in search of a new trade route to the Far East? Yes.

If he didn’t discover America, what did he do? Actually, a lot. Many downplay Columbus’ impact saying that he wasn’t actually the first European to come to the Americas (Vikings) and, because the Americas had long been settled by native populations, his impact must have been limited. But make no mistake about it, Columbus’ travels changed everything.

He first set foot on the island of Hispaniola (modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and found a group of natives which he described as being innocent and naive. He left behind a group of men from his ship to live on one of the islands while he went back to Spain to inform the Crown of his discovery. Upon return to the location of the European settlers, it was determined that they had been killed by the natives because, basically, the natives got sick of foreigners stealing things – including their women. Columbus set out for revenge and mercilessly slaughtered many of the natives.

Should Columbus be celebrated as a hero? Well, it all depends on your definition of hero and what you would want to celebrate him for. There is little question that the European invasion of the Americas was devastating on the native populations. Conflict, war, and disease overwhelmed the native peoples, and their culture and lifestyles were eventually completely irradiated by the invasion. I don’t see how this is anything to celebrate.

Yes, Columbus was a flawed character. He was driven by greed while trying to hide beneath the guise of spreading Christianity to the heathens.

But Columbus was also a visionary in a sense. He never accepted the fact that had found a new continent. He was convinced until his death that he was actually very close to the Far East. He crossed seas and discovered new civilizations which changed the course of history in both positive and negative ways. He ushered in the Columbian Exchange, introducing a myriad of new cultural items (including food and livestock) to both the Americas and Europe.

The North and South American cultures and lifestyles of today can trace its beginnings to Columbus’ harrowing and imaginative journeys to the New World. For that, I, personally, have no problem setting aside a day to commemorate the explorer.

 

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2 thoughts on “Know Your History: Christopher Columbus

  1. Nice little history lesson, and did you know that the Vikings and Chinese actually discovered the American Mainland before Columbus even set sail – and the Chinese actually circumnavigated the globe before anyone else? 🙂

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