People all over the world, if they were asked who first found America could answer, “Christopher Columbus” and give the date of the great event: October 12, 1492. Columbus reached one of the Bahama islands, east of America, with his three small ships on that day, after sailing for two months across seas which were mostly unknown.
Erly Life of Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an Italian, the son of a poor weaver. He was born in 1451 in Genoa, an Italian seaport. At that time Genoa was one of the richest cities in the world. Genoese merchants travelled all over Europe to sell silks, coral, fruit and other things and Genoese seamen sailed the merhant ships not only in the Mediterranean but on other seas too. In the middle of the 15th century much of the world was still unexplored, and most European countries were eager to find and lay claim to new territory and thus become rich. Consequently there was much fighting on the seas.
The Mediterranean galleyswere constantly passing in and out of the port of Genoa to load or unload cargoes. Their hardly crews had often been engaged in dangerous adventures and their fine and graceful ships were in a battered condition, and the seamen had plenty of exciting stories to tell little Christopher Columbus.
The boy helped his father to weave wool, but he did not like this work. He was intersted in the big ships which came from or left for strange and distant lands, and he liked to sit out-of-doors and whath them for hours.
Although his parents were very poor they managed to send him to the University ofPavia for his nautical training. There Christopher studied geography, geometry, astronomy, mathematicks, navigation and learnt how to make maps used by sailors. He soon became very clever at this work.
He was interested in the accounts written by earlier seamen and explorers, particulary those written by Marco Polo. The more he studied them, the more he longed to go to sea himself.
At last he felt that he could not stay at houme any longer, and when he was fourteen, he went to sea.
After many adventures on the sea he came to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, which was then a great and very important port. His chief occupation, when not at sea, was charting maps.
A Western Route to Asia
In the 15th century Portugal was a growing empire. The greatest desire of her ruling class was to discover a new sea route to India by which it could trade freely with the rich merchants of Bombay and Calcutta. As the only known land routes across Asia were barred by the Turks, and as the Red sea was controlled by Italy, Portugal’s rival in trade, Portugal had to find a new route.
Few people in Europe in those days knew much about other parts of the world, but it was known that far away to the east there were other great rich countries. At that time traveling was diffcult; gold and other valuable things had to be brought to Europe from the East mainly by land. Sailing ships could be used part of the way to Suez; but no route completely by sea to west was then known. Fom Suez to the north of Egypt goods had to by transported by land.
Columbus made a careful stody of the reports and geographical theories of many navigators and compared their findings. He became convinced of one very important fact:that the world was not flat but round.”If the world is round”, he thought, “surley India can be approaced not only from the west but also from the east. Surely the most direct route must lie across the Eastern Indian Ocean.” He had no doubt, that there was land across the Atlantick (the Eastern Indian Ocean at the time), because pieces of carved wood, very thick canes, trees and the body of a man of an unknown race had been drifted to the Canary Islands by westerly winds. Columbus, lessafraid of the stormy Atlantic than other seamen, decided to try to find his way to eastern India by crossing the ocean, and thus to open a new trade route. He began to plan the voyage which was to lead to his great discovery.
For nearly fourteen years Columbus perfected his plans to rech India by sailing westward from Europe and now the time had come to go and find out if his theory was correct.
To make the journey Columbus needed men, money and ships. He tried to get help from Portugal, from Genoa, and from England, but he failed. For seven years he did his best, but no one wanted to help him. At last the Spanish government gave him what he wanted.
At 8 o’clock in the morning of August 3, 1492, Columbus and a hundred and twenty men left the port of Palos in Spain in three small ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina. The Santa Maria was the bigest:ninety feet long. It carred the royal banner of Spain. The other two ships were much smaller. The tiny fleet set sail for the unknown witth a promise from the king of Spain of a pension for the man who first sighted land. Few of the men who were with Columbus had been willing to set out across an unknown sea for an unknown number of monyhs in sailing ships of this size. Some of them were men of Palos who had been allowed to leave prison to join the expedition. Some were young men who had got into difficulties and wanted to go away to sea until their misdemeanours were forgoten; others went because they needed money.
Trouble began soon after the ships left Palos. The men feared the yourney and wanted to return to their homes. As time passed they grew ever more afraid of the endless sea: they thought that if they went too far they would perhaps never be able to return at all. The men became mutnous.
But whenever they wanted to turn back, Columbus was able to persuade them go on. Once they plotted to throw Columbus into the sea and turn the ships round so that they could return home. But Columbus found out what his men were planning to do. He was not only a great navigator but also a clever speaker. He called the crew together and told them not to lose hope. He described the rich lands which lay before them, and told them of the great honour which would come to Spain if they went on and were the first men to find India by sailing to the west. He described the wondeful island of Japan and other golden lands which they would find if they continued. He promised them all great riches. The men listened to him and belived him, the ships continued their way to the west.
Columbus made another very cuning move, he did not tell the men the truth about the distance the ships had covered on their journey westwards; he kept two records:a correct one for himself, and another one for the men. The second always showed a lesser distance than the first. Therfore the men thought that they were nearer home than in fact, they were.
The journey was a difficult and fearful one in every way. The ships were sometimes damaged (and later repaired) by men who were weary and frightened and wanted to go home. The travelers saw fearful sights, which they could not explain, one of which was a fountain of fire and smoke far over the sea. (Probably it was a meteor falling into the sea.) Clouds on the horizon resembling land deceived them often. The men disagreed and quarrelled with their captains and with each other.
They ran into terrble storms. But once, when for eleven days the wind blew behind them so steadly that they did not need to change the sails at all, they were not so pleased. If the wind blew always from the east, they said, how would they ever reach Spain again when the time came to turn back? They were angry and afraid.
But in spite of difficulties and dangers Columbus himself never lost hope. All the sailors watched every day for a sight of land, once or twice they thought that they could see land to the west, but each time they were mistaken. The hope which sometimes came to their hearts was soon lost again. And still land was not in sight.
Thus for two months they struggled through the storms of the unknown sea. The sailors had lost all hopes when early in October, after they had sailed about 2,250 miles, they saw many birds, which they knew culd live only on land. They also saw river weeds and a branch with fresh berries floating in the sea. They fished up a cane, a plank of wood that evidently had been wrought with metal.
On the night of October 11, 1492, at ted o’clock, Columbus (who did not sleep and was looking out, as usual, towards the west) saw a small light in the darkness over the sea. He called one of the men, and the two watched together. They saw the light again.
It was not a dream: the light was real. At about two o’clock in the morning on October 12 the moon came up and drove away the darkness. A short time later land was seen by one of the men in the Pinta. When day came and the sun appered, everyone could see a small island some five miles away. Land !!!
It was the New World. The men saw the naked figures running along as if trying to hide in terror.
(It is not known exactly which West Indian island Columbus first reached, but it was probably one of the group of Islands now known as Bahamas.)
The anchor was dropped, the boats lowered and the men wentashore. Columbus, drssed in his best red garments, landed with the Spanish flag in his hand and proclaimed the land the Spanish possession. The natives, who had at first been afraid and run away, soon came back. They touched the Spaniards beards and were very surprised to see their white faces. Columbus gave gifts to the natives and received gifts in return. He named the island San Salvador, and stayed there fore some time.
Columbus’s attention was attracted by the fact that the natives wore small nuggets of gold in their nosetrils. He asked them by means of signs, where they obtained theirgold, and he understood from their signs that it came from the a rich country to the south. So he set sail in search of that golden land, taking with him seven of the natives as guides.
Columbus and his men spent a week sailing round the Bahamas. They set up the Spanish flag on several more islands. On October 28 they reached a far larger island: the island of Cuba. (The group of islands they discovered are called now the West Indies.)
Cuba seemed so large to Columbus that he thought he had reached the mainland of Asia. He went ashore, declared the island a Spanish possesion, and spent several days prospecting for gold. When his efforts brought nothing, he sailed to the neighbouring island of Haiti. Near Haiti the Santa Maria was driven aground during the night and was wrecked.
Columbus decided to leave some of his men on the island of Haiti to start a Spanish settlement. Out of the wreckage of the Santa Maria he built a wooden fort, mounted with the ship’s cannon.