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File:220px-Christopher Columbus 3548.png

A famous historical figure, known as the sailor who wanted to find an easier trade route from Europe to Asia (NOT to prove the Earth was round, contrary to popular belief) only to discover the Americas during his travels. For his legacy, he was not the first European to discover the Americas [1], but he did leave a legacy that was worse for the American indigenous natives.

On his most famous voyage, the 1492 trans-atlantic trip in the ships Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, he was searching for a route to "India," which at the time meant Asia -- specifically, he was hoping to find Japan. When he finally reached land, all he could tell was that the natives were neither Japanese nor Chinese, and so he was at a loss to figure out where he really was. Figuring he'd landed on some previously-unknown part of Asia, he referred to the natives generically as "Indians," and the island chain as the "East Indies." (Today, we've corrected this second mistake, and refer to these islands as the West Indies.) Even at the end of his life, he never learned that he'd discovered an entirely new continent.

Nobody today is sure what he looked like; the picture here, painted after his death by someone who never met him, shouldn't be taken as fact. For one, he had auburn hair in his youth which would have turned white by the time he was the age depicted.


Columbus was (most likely) Genoese. He and his brother Bartholomew together conceived of an "enterprise of the Indies," a way to sail directly to the Orient without having to go through the Turkish-controlled land route or the very long route beyond Africa. Columbus, a relatively inexperienced sailor, argued that the world was smaller than what common scholarship held, and that Japan was very, very far east of China, which was in turn very, very far east of where it actually was. He was right on one count, though, that the "Easterly" winds off the coast of Africa could propel a sailing ship a great distance in relatively little time.

He went to Portugal in 1485 and presented his plan, along with a demand that he be made "Great Admiral of the Ocean," appointed governor of any lands he discovered, and received 10% of revenue derived from anything he found. The Portuguese flatly rejected his proposal, and the English simultaneously rejected a similar proposal made by his brother. Then Christopher went to the Spanish, who held a similar opinion but decided to keep him around by paying him not to go anywhere else. This was in 1489.

In 1492, hurting for cash after defeating Muslim Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella decided to give him what he wanted (although Isabella initially turned him down). Most likely, Ferdinand didn't think he'd come back.

Many historians have attributed Columbus for the European colonization of the Americas, which involves many Europeans battling each other for colonies and land in the New World, looting and destroying many tribes for gold and valuable resources, massacres of populations to take their land, and forced destruction of native cultures. Although obviously, how many Europeans approached the New World and the Native American tribes varied [2].

Columbus's descendants hold the Spanish noble title Duke of Veragua, and the hereditary title of "Admiral of the Ocean Sea." Both the current Duke and his father were named Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and the father was actually a naval officer, which means he was an Admiral even when he was a Lieutenant.

Notes

  1. The credit goes to Leif Erikson and the Vikings 500 years before Columbus, which, while they didn't have any written evidence like Columbus did in their journeys, the Vikings did leave archaeological evidence around the area that is now Newfoundland
  2. The Spanish and the Portuguese pretty much are the worst with the in the indigenous population relations while the French never really sought to take control of the natives lands but instead establishing peaceful trade with them
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