1493: Christopher Columbus writes an open letter discussing his discovery. The Genoese sailor had left Spain under the Crown of Castile in August 1492 to discover a faster way to China. His inaccurate mathematics led him to believe the circumference of the world was much smaller and there was a good chance he could sail westward to reach the Far East. Luckily for him, there is a large landmass in the way. He did not, as he had intended and thoroughly believed he did, land in the East Indies. Instead, he landed on several Caribbean islands in what would eventually come to be known as the Americas. After a few months of travelling in the Gulf of Mexico, he boarded the Nina on January 15, 1493, and sailed back to Spain to tell of his adventures. On February 14, they ran into a storm which damaged this ship.
Surviving the storm but unsure of reaching port, Columbus wrote an account of what they had found, calling them the “islands of the Indies”. He wrote two versions of the missive. The first in Spanish to be delivered to Luis de Santangel (a major financier of the trip) and a second in Latin was sent to Barcelona and the King and Queen. Many copies were made and translations were also made for those not able to work with the Latin or Spanish versions. The printing press had only recently been brought online and so it was possible to print out thousands of copies, making this a veritable best seller of its day.
Columbus called the region he discovered “India beyond the Ganges” which was what we might call Indonesia. They were the islands outside of the subcontinent proper, called “India within the Ganges”. The letter does not describe the voyage itself but skips right to the wonders found at the end of the journey. He stated how he renamed six of the islands he landed on and gave rather florid and not-quite-accurate descriptions of the land and people already there. He talked much about Cuba and Hispaniola making them sound perfect for future colonization. He claimed there was much gold to be found, as well.
He claimed the natives were docile and without government or religions of any kind, although they were said to have believed the Europeans were delivered from the heavens. He didn’t want to discount them completely and vouched for their ability to work, both men and women. He noted that he was told of cannibals in the region but disregarded it as a myth and assured his readers he did not see any. He finished his letter and added a postscript in Lisbon on March 4 when they put to port there to repair the ship before sailing back to Barcelona. He sent his letters ahead of him.
Riches don’t make a man rich, they only make him busier.
I saw a boy of the crew purchasing javelins of them with bits of platters and broken glass.
The Indians on board said that thence to Cuba was a voyage in their canoes of a day and a half; these being small dug-outs without a sail. Such are their canoes. I departed thence for Cuba, for by the signs the Indians made of its greatness, and of its gold and pearls, I thought that it must be Cipango.
For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. – all from Christopher Columbus
October 12, 1492: Columbus lands in the New World although he doesn’t know it. Cristoforo Colombo, the Italian sailor who went west to find the Far East for Spain, was born prior to October 31, 1451 in Genoa. The Spanish version of his name is Cristóbal Colón and his English name is Christopher Columbus. He began seeking backing and funding for his westward journey in 1485 with King John II of Portugal. Although there was early hope for the trip, those hopes were dashed. Columbus then went to Ferdinand II and Isabella and received funding and backing for the trip after two years of negotiation.
On August 3, 1492 Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera with three ships. A larger carrack, Santa Maria, and two smaller caravels, Pinta and Niña. Three days after setting sail, the rudder on the Pinta broke. Sabotage was suspected since the ship had been pressed into service against the owner’s wishes. However, the rudder was temporarily fixed and the ships were able to land at the Canary Islands on August 9. The rudder was fixed and the Niña‘s sails were switched out from regular triangular sails for square ones. On September 6, they departed San Sebastián de la Gomera and headed west. Columbus kept two sets of records. The real mileage was kept secret from the crew so they wouldn’t worry about sailing so far from Spain.
On September 8, Columbus noticed that his compass’s needle no longer pointed to the North star. He kept this information from the crew as well. Superstitious and fearful, this added information would probably have led them to mutiny. However, after several days travel, the pilots noticed the error and the crew did become frightened. Columbus assured the men that the compass was simply pointing to a mysterious place on Earth. His reputation as an astronomer carried the day. The men did not like being away from land for so long. Most voyages of the time hung to coastal routes and sailing across the Ocean was unnerving.
On October 7 a large flock of birds was seen. Several were captured and Columbus changed his route to follow the birds, hopefully back to land. Land was sighted at 2 AM on this day by a Rodrigo de Triana aboard the Pinta. The reward for first spying land was overtaken by Columbus who claimed to have seen the land first. The first land spotted was named by Columbus as San Salvador and is in the present day Bahamas. The people living there had already named it Guanahani. The Spanish fleet sailed around the Caribbean and explored parts of Cuba and Hispaniola. The return trip began on January 15, 1493 by way of the Azores. Storms on the way home lengthened the journey and Columbus finally returned to Barcelona on March 15.
Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.
After having dispatched a meal, I went ashore, and found no habitation save a single house, and that without an occupant; we had no doubt that the people had fled in terror at our approach, as the house was completely furnished.
Riches don’t make a man rich, they only make him busier.
These people are very unskilled in arms… with 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished. – all from Christopher Columbus
Also on this day:
Not Enough Sense to Get Out of the Rain – In 1923, Mackintosh raincoats went on sale.
Festive October – In 1810, Ludwig I married Therese – and began the tradition of Oktoberfest.
6,000,000,000 – In 1999, there were six billion people on the planet.
August 3, 1492: Christopher Columbus sets sail from Palos de la Frontera, Spain on his search for a passage to the Far East. Cristoforo Colombo, an Italian navigator and admiral from Genoa, Italy, based his voyage on “facts” that were incorrect. Neither he nor most sailors of the time thought the world was flat; what he did believe was that the world was small.
According to his calculations, the world was 15,693 miles in circumference. He based this calculation on Marinus of Tyre’s supposition that landmass occupied 225 degrees of the planet, leaving 135 degrees of water. To add to his confusion, Columbus thought a degree represented a shorter distance than even Marinus’s calculations. All this confusion was exacerbated by the non-standardization of measurements. The Earth is actually 24,880.6 miles in circumference and nearly 71% of the planet is covered in water.
Experts of the era did not accept, and rightly so, Columbus’ estimations of the global structure. He therefore met resistance while trying to fund an exploratory trip westward. Ships were not large enough to carry the crew and the food and water to sustain them for long voyages. Experts were correct when proposing the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan. What was not known at the time, was that a large land mass lay between the two points.
Portugal refused funding to Columbus in 1485. It took him seven years of lobbying to get funding from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Actually, Queen Isabella turned him down and sent him away. King Ferdinand called him back and granted the funding. Half the financial support came from private Italian investors. Columbus set sail on this date, made it to the Canary Islands on September 6, and then sailed for five weeks before spotting land again on October 12. He found land, but not China.
“For a man must strive, and striving he must err.” – Goethe
“All men are liable to error; and most men are in many points, by passion or interest, under temptation to it.” – John Locke
“Success covers a multitude of blunders.” – George Bernard Shaw
“Human blunders usually do more to shape history than human wickedness.” – A. J. P. Taylor