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Christopher Columbus’ Voyage to North America

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American History I


Christopher Columbus’ Voyage to North America

Spanish exploration first began with a series of revolutions. First, the Commercial Revolution generated economic stability. Second, the Intellectual Revolution generated interest in the Earth’s composition and the pursuit of exploration. Europe then called for a political revolution to end the disorganized and disorderly rule of its government. This revolution returned order and stability to the government and renewed interest in exploration to search for national wealth. The last of these revolutions was the religious revolution (note Columbus’ voyage occurred before this revolution). As more people broke away from the national religion they searched for a place where they could worship freely, thus generating interest in the exploration of new lands.

Other than merchants, Spain was the first of the European nations to explore for new lands to settle. While other nations were trying to reform their government, Spain had an advantage because its government was centralized and united. Spain’s economy was also on its way to becoming stable because of its mercantilist thinking.

Christopher Columbus was one of the first of the major Spanish explorers. Although he made many discoveries for Spain, one should not be misguided, Columbus was of Italian decent. He was raised in the city-state of Genoa where his family ran a small weaving business which proved unsuccessful. Although Columbus’ father experienced difficulty, “he was faithful in his religious duties, and helped his father in the "weaver’s trade” (29) 1. Like many young men of the seaport of Genoa, Columbus dreamed of great deeds at sea.

He made his first sea trip in the year of 1472 on a Genoese sailing ship in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1474 or 1475, Columbus made his first long voyage to trade with and defend the Genoese colony of Chios. It was on this voyage that “he learned how to sail, manage a boat, estimate distances, and other elements of seamanship” (29) 1. In 1476, Columbus found his way to Portugal after his ship was burned during the wars between the Mediterranean states. Columbus arrived shortly after the death of Prince Henry the Navigator who had set up his headquarters in Cape St. Vincent in addition to a school for maritime discovery. In 1477, Columbus set out as a sailor on a trade ship towards Ireland and Iceland. The next year, a Lisbon merchant sent Columbus out on a sugar trade between Madeira and Genoa. This was an indication that Columbus “was rising in the world” (30) 1. Columbus then ventured into the chart-making business with his brother, Bartholomew. “He developed into a skilled mapmaker…became acquainted with the latest news about the world and its geography…” (30) 1.

After the death of his wife, Columbus became very interested in the Portuguese trading post in a gold-mining area on the Gulf of Guinea (Ghana) on the west coast of Africa. Columbus further developed his skills as a seaman by observing his Portuguese shipmates that taught him “how to handle a ship in heavy winds, what kinds of stores to take on a long voyage, and how to trade with primitive people” (31) 1. Upon his return to Lisbon, Columbus was ready to explore the unknown Atlantic to obtain the wealth of the Indies. Certainly the idea of sailing west to reach the Indies became an every increasing possibility. All educated people and sailors presumed that the Earth was round, so by sailing west one could reach the Indies. Little did they know they would have to compete with a continent to reach it. With the help of Paolo del Pozzo Toscanelli, a scholar, and the maps of Claudius Ptolemy, Columbus devised his own calculations of the distance between Europe and the Indies. Although little to his [Columbus] knowledge, Ptolemy had grossly under calculated the distance between Europe and Asia. In 1484, Columbus presented his calculations and plan for voyage to the Indies to John II of Portugal. Unfortunately Portugal was already committed to getting to the Indies by sailing around Africa and Columbus’ proposal was rejected. Afterwards, Columbus then went to Lisbon, Spain a year later where he would propose the voyage to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile.

When Columbus made a friend in Father Perez, it was a turning point for him. He was able to gain support from converts who believed in his cause. Ferdinand and Isabella were harder to convince, however. They found little interest in Columbus’ curiosity as they were preoccupied with defending themselves against the Moors.

Later in 1491, Columbus again appears before Ferdinand and Isabella “who apparently liked and respected the determined seaman” (38) 1. Although they had

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