Christopher Columbus Voyages

Voyages of Christopher Columbus had a significant impact on Renaissance Europe, essentially ending middle age isolation of the European continent and fueling centuries-long age of expansion, conquest, colonization, and exploration. In the short term, his exploits caused the conquest and colonization of the Americas, but in the long term, this caused the shift of power that eventually gave birth to the modern Western World and the modern times as we know it.

The original goal of the voyages of Christopher Columbus was not to prove that Earth was round (which was already claimed by several ancient Greek mathematicians and astronomers, who even managed to devise rough estimates about the size of the word), but instead aimed to find the safe trade route to Asia. During the years he prepared for his journeys, Columbus gathered data and theories, eventually concluding that the diameter of Earth is much smaller than some mathematicians and astronomers believed. According to his calculations, the circumference of the earth was not around forty thousand kilometers, but just a bit more than 25 thousand kilometers. Most of the errors in his calculation came from wrongly adapting the data collected by Persian astronomer Alfraganus. They used non-standard "Alfraganus miles" to depict the size of the Earth.

Believing that the coast of Japan is located just 3,700 km away from Spain (when in fact it was 19,600 km away , with unexpected continents of Americas located in between), Columbus managed after a prolonged effort to secure funding from the Spanish crown for his expedition across the Atlantic Ocean.

First Voyage of Christopher Columbus

The journey that would change the history of the European continent and the world started at 8 AM on the morning of August 3, 1492. Columbus, equipped with three medium-sized ships , a small crew, and limited supplies for forming a permanent base on newly-discovered lands, set his sails to discover a new and quicker route to the Orient and India. The three ships were his flagship Santa Maria, Pinta and Niña (real name Santa Clara), owned by Juan de la Cosa, and the Pinzón brothers who were forced by the Spanish crown to help Columbus on his exploits.

Mere days into the journey, the rudder of the Pinta broke, pushing Columbus to suspect sabotage by the ship owners who did not want their property to be commandeered by the crown. In any case, all three ships managed in six days to reach the Canary Islands, where month-long repairs were initiated. On September 6, 1492, the journey westward was continued.

Long weeks on the open seas started impacting the morale of the crew , who quickly became homesick and started lobbying for returning ships home. Their wishes intensified when ship pilots noticed the irregularity that Columbus noticed a few days earlier – all the ship compasses stopped pointing directly to the North Star. Columbus managed to settle the crew by leveraging his considerable astronomy knowledge, claiming that the compass is pointing not toward the star but toward some invisible point on the Earth.

Some five weeks into the journey, the crews of the ship spotted several flocks of birds, and Columbus determined to follow their flight path. Just a few days later, La Pinta sailor Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodriguez Bermejo) became the first European who spotted land of the Americas. The small island in the modern-day Bahamas was named by ColumbuColumbus named the small island in the modern-day Bahamas as San Salvador (modern historians do not know which exact island this was, i. It could be one of Samana Cay, Plana Cays, Grand Turk, Cat Island, or San Salvador Island).

Even though La Pinta sailor first spotted land of the Americas, Columbus later claimed he was the first, thus winning a hefty reward from the Spanish crown.

After discovering peaceful local natives on the several Bahamas islands and noting that they owned unrefined gold , Columbus sailed southward to the coasts of Cuba and Hispaniola (modern Haiti). There, on December 26, 1492, the flagship of the expedition, Santa Maria, ran aground and had to be abandoned. After making a deal with the local people of Guacanagari, Columbus decided to leave 39 of his people behind on the northern coast of Hispaniola both to establish a first European colony in the New World (La Navidad) and to reduce the strain on the remaining supplies during the return trip home.

After a strong mid-trip storm caused two ships to lose track of one another, Niña and Pinta had to find their way home individually.Return home started on 15 January 1493 and would last almost two months. The fleet took one month to travel to the Azores, where they finally set their anchor on February 17. While on the Azores, half of the Columbus crew went to the land to pray to god for their successful journey. The local island's captain João de Castanheira captured them all, claiming that they were pirates. After a brief verbal confrontation with Columbus, Castanheira eventually released the crew, and the Columbus left the Azores on 23 February, encountering another storm that sank numerous ships off the coast of Spain and Portugal.

After spending few days in Portugal (where the Portuguese king started pressuring him for the potential violation of the 1479 Treaty of Alcáçovas), Columbus and his entire crew returned to Spain, where they were welcomed as heroes. They brought to the Spanish crown not only knowledge of the newly discovered lands and sea routes, but also concrete gifts in the form of gold nuggets, gold jewelry of natives, pearls, a previously unknown tobacco plant, pineapple fruit, an alive turkey, a hammock, few kidnaped natives and a tales of the spicy food (chili peppers) that was alternative to the very expensive black pepper from the Orient.

Also of receiving various gifts and official rewards (such as a family coat of arms), Pope Alexander VI released a new decree that divided the newly discovered lands between Spain and Portugal along a north-south meridian 958 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. This placed the lands discovered by Columbus under the rule of Spain. Other large European countries (most notably France and England) never accepted this decree.

Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus

After the great success of the first journey to the New World, the Spanish crown wanted to react quickly and send across the Atlantic enough manpower workforce and supplies to establish the first permanent European colony on what Columbus was still adamantly referring to as the " unknown regions of Asia ."

Over the period of around six months, Columbus got permission to assemble and take control over the large fleet that consisted of 17 ships (15 smaller two-mast Caravels, and two larger three-mast Naos ships), 1200 men , enough supplies for the building of the first New World colony, and even enough tools for building new ships. In addition to the large naval crews, this expedition carried with it workers, farmers, soldiers, and even priests that aimed to provide not only service to European colonists but also convert the native population into Christianity. Before taking off across the Atlantic, Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella directed Columbus to maintain " friendly, even loving, relations with the natives," a command that Columbus often disagreed with.

The goal of the second voyage of Christopher Columbus was the colonization of the newly discovered land and searched for China.

The second voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World started on September 24, 1493, and it lasted for about one full year. The large fleet of Columbus reached the Caribbean island of Dominica and Marie-Galante on November 3, after which he continued sailing on the northwestern course (charting coasts of Guadeloupe and other Lesser and Greater Antiless islands) until he reached Puerto Rico where his crew saved two native boys just before their castration by the hostile tribe.

Upon the arrival on Hispaniola, Columbus immediately visited his previously established colony at La Navidad, only to find it destroyed and deserted. His men got attacked by a tribe of natives that lived deeper in Hispaniola. Columbus remained at Hispaniola for a short time, looking for a new location for a settlement, preferably one close to the rumored places that were rich with gold. He established two bases (none of which managed to survive for long) and started managing the expansion of the European presence in Hispaniola.

Exploitation The exploitation of the New World by Columbus

By that time, Columbus started feeling strong financial pressure to make his voyages profitable. Exploratory missions were not well-funded by European Renaissance powers, and he promised many people gold and riches to assemble his fleet.

To gather funds he formed several plans , with two of the biggest ones being the straight kidnapping of natives and turning them to slaves that was sent to Europe (on this voyage he captured around 560 people, with 200 of them not surviving the trip back to Europe), a tribute system that required natives to exchange gold for common objects or services , and to provide a set amount of gold every three months. Adult natives who failed to produce the set quota of gold were punished by death by severing their hands. European settlers who have arrived in Hispaniola started their own gold rush phase by scouring the island for riches, which inevitably caused many issues for indigenous people. Columbus allowed settlers to capture slaves, kidnap women, and make families with indigenous women, with a promise that they could return to Spain with all of their possessions (which did not sit well with the Spanish crown which actively wanted to curb the practice of slavery).

Newly discovered documents about the life and exploits of Christopher Columbus paint a picture of a ruthless and tyrannical man.

All of these cruel tactics never really paid off for Columbus. Harassed natives produced a relatively small amount of gold, European rulers were opposed to the open slavery , and hostilities with natives quickly grew and started causing significant issues to European settlers on Hispaniola. Columbus also did not maintain a good relationship with settlers, who started describing him as tyrannical and unable to rule. However, such dissent was initially not openly shown because of the tendency of Columbus and his family to retaliate and humiliate all opponents. Priests were especially unhappy with various decrees of Columbus, who actively prevented them to perform mass conversion of natives to Christianity in fear that this move would take from him all the potential profit from the slave trade.

After a few months in Hispaniola, he took part in the ship fleet and sailed toward the southern coast of Cuba in late April of 1494. He charted the coast, still believing that he has reached Asia, returned briefly to Hispaniola, and finally set his sails back toward Europe.

Third Voyage of Christopher Columbus

After the initial discovery of the Americas and the establishment of the permanent Spanish colony on the island of Hispaniola (modern modern-day Haiti), the third voyage of Christopher Columbus was refocused back from colonization to the exploration of new lands.

In his third voyage, Columbus aimed to explore southern regions of the Atlantic and to reinforce his rule in Hispaniola.

According to the records discovered later, the primary goal of this journey was to investigate rumors that convinced King John II of Portugal of the existence of a vast continent located directly to the west of central and southern Africa. This continent was hinted at by the presence of several trading ships (lightweight canoes) that arrived from the unexplored Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Guinea. The king requested that Columbus fleet (this time much smaller and made from two parts – three ships that were to provide much-needed resources to the Hispaniola settlement, and another three that would be directly commanded by Columbus for exploration) journey southwest of the Cape Verde Islands and explore unknown lands in that region.

Exploration of South America

Before fully committing the entire fleet to the trip across the Atlantic, Columbus left Sanlúcar, Spain, on 30 May 1498, and sailed to the Portuguese island of Porto Santo, the birthplace of his wife. From there, he visited Madeira and reached the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. By that point, he turned his fleet toward the southwest and started a long and perilous journey across the Atlantic. The crossing was extended for many days because of the sudden lack of wind right in the middle of the Atlantic. Faced with the low supplies of drinking water , the exploratory fleet abandoned the southerly course and beelined straight west. Just before his water supplies ran out, the crew finally on July 31 spotted the coast of Trinidad and King John's hypothesized South American continent (which Columbus still believed as unexplored regions of Asia).

Columbus sailed through Dragon Mouth strait, met a group of natives with canoes, and finally landed on Trinidad at Icacos Point, where his crew resupplied with food and water. Over the next few days, Columbus explored the Gulf of Paria , noted the immense size of the delta of Orinoco River (which led him to speculate that he has indeed landed on a large continent), and landed on South America on Paria Peninsula, claiming this newly discovered area for the Spanish crown.

Governorship issues and arrest of Christopher Columbus

By this time, Columbus was experiencing serious health issues , so he decided it was time to finally sail toward Hispaniola finally. He pointed his fleet northwest, reaching Chacachacare and Margarita, sighting Tobago and Grenada, and then sailing across the Caribbean to Hispaniola.

When he arrived at Santo Domingo on 19 August, he was in very poor health and was surprised to find out that settlers are very dissatisfied with living conditions and current laws. Physically and mentally exhausted, Columbus failed to calm down the population of Santo Domingo. He reportedly ruled with an iron fist, accepted no failures to his orders, and even requested from the Spanish crown to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern while he recuperated from his health issues. Spain sent Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava, who received orders to take over the colony if he found Columbus to be unfit for the role of the Governor.

Francisco de Bobadilla quickly exposed the tyrannical rule of Christopher Columbus.

After arriving in Santo Domingo when Columbus was away, Francisco de Bobadilla immediately started investigating the state of the colony and issues regarding Columbus' rule. He commissioned an investigation that collected testimonies from 23 people that covered the entire 7-year period of the Governorship of Columbus and gathered enough information about the rule of both Christopher Columbus and his three brothers. The results of this investigation were gathered into an exhaustive report that was only recently discovered , causing an uproar in the modern historical community and seriously impacting the modern view on the life and exploits of Columbus.

Upon returning to the Colony, Christopher Columbus and all of his three brothers were arrested , supplanted from his post of the Governor of newly discovered lands, chained, and sent to Spain via first available ship. In Spain, he spent six weeks in jail , after which was able to manage to strike a deal with authorities who returned his (and his brothers) wealth and positions but withholding from him the position of Governorship of the New World.

At that point, the Spanish Crown elected Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres to the position of the new Governor of the Indies. With his prestige already in ruins, Columbus received a final blow to his reputation when Vasco de Gama returned to Portugal with the news of newly discovered sea route to India via the circumnavigation of Africa.

Fourth Voyage of Christopher Columbus

Even though he lost much of his reputation, the Spanish Crown still viewed Christopher Columbus as a highly capable explorer who could still prove useful.

With much of the New World remaining new, and with no concrete proof that the rich lands of China and India are just over the horizon from the new European colonies, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela ordered a formation of the new exploratory fleet that would push beyond Hispaniola and try to find a passage to Asia. As a precaution, Columbus received strict instructions to avoid landing on Hispaniola and the colony at Santo Domingo.

The pull of the riches from Asia was too strong to the Spanish crown, who elected to fund the fourth exploratory voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World.

With the help of his son Fernando, stepbrother Bartolomeo and Diego Mendez, Christopher Columbus formed his small fleet that consisted of just four ships – a flagship Capitana, and three smaller vessels Gallega, Vizcaína, and Santiago de Palos.

Arrival in the Caribbean

Columbus left the port of Cádiz, Spain, on May 12, 1502, but instead traveling directly to the New World, he sailed south to Arzila, Morocco, where the Moors offensive placed Portuguese soldiers in at risk. Just over two months after departing Spain, Columbus finally reached the Caribbean island of Martinique and rushed his ships to Hispaniola and Santo Domingo as a means to protect himself from the oncoming hurricane. He was denied port by the city officials (who completely ignored his warnings about incoming storms), so he found shelter at the mouth of the nearby Jaina River.

From there, he witnessed the departing of the very first Spanish treasure fleet commanded by the Francisco de Bobadilla himself. The vast majority of the ships were destroyed mere hours later by the hurricane winds. Bobadilla and many of Columbus' enemies that arrested him few years prior drowned, and just one surviving treasure ship eventually reached the coast of Spain. Ironically, that ship carried a previously collected wealth of Christopher Columbus.

Exploration of Central America

With Hispaniola left back behind him, Columbus briefly stopped at Jamaica and Cuba and finally reached the coast of Central America (in modern-day Honduras) on July 30, 1502. There the fleet encountered native traders in cargo-carrying canoes that were described as long as Spanish galleys. Columbus spent over two months exploring the land around his new landing spot at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He visited and charged much of the coast of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and on October 16 he entered the waters of modern-day Panama. Panama proved to be important to his core mission because he heard of the rumors of gold and the water route to the "new ocean" on the west.

Loss of ships and beaching on Jamaica

While in Panama, Columbus established a garrison at the mouth of Belén River in January 1503. Over the period of six months, garrison soldiers captured and antagonized local leader El Quibían, who, after an escape, returned with an army that destroyed the garrison and repelled the Spanish to the sea.

With one ship damaged beyond repair and with other ships in various states of damage, Columbus decided to head back to Spanish-controlled Hispaniola on June 16. Sadly, his ships received additional damage from the unexpected storm during this short trip, forcing Columbus to beach his ships on St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica.

Left alone for one year, Christopher Columbus had to use every trick in the book to keep himself and his crew alive in the wild New World.

Starting from June 26, 1503, Columbus and his crew managed to survive for a year alone, stranded in the New World, close but exceptionally far from the Spanish colony at Hispaniola.

With the help of natives, he managed to send a letter to Nicolás de Ovando y Cácere, the current governor of Hispaniola. However, the governor not only ignored the request for help, but he actively stopped all plans for his rescue. With worsening relations between the natives and the crew of Columbus, the help finally arrived on June 29, 1504, with the reluctant help of the governor. The records show that Columbus managed to de-escalate hostilities with the natives by correctly predicting the lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504. He used calculations of German astronomer Regiomontanus to achieve a feat that mesmerized natives and reduced tensions until help arrived.

Columbus and his crew arrived back in Spain on May 20, 1506, but heavy physical and mental toll ensured the short and very painful remainder of the life of this now aged explorer. After suffering from repeated episodes of seizures, Christopher Columbus died at the age of 54 in Valladolid, Spain, on May 20, 1506.