Most of us had been taught at school that Christopher Columbus was the first European explorer who discovered the Americas — or the “New World” — when he landed there on October 12, 1492. But there are some things about him that you didn’t probably know, including some incredible myth-busters! So cruise through this gallery to find out more little-known facts about the famed explorer.
Contrary to popular notion, Christopher Columbus didn’t set out on a sail to prove to unbelievers that the earth was round and not flat. Actually, there was no need for him to do such thing at all because there were people before him who had already done so. During ancient Greece, it was Pythagoras who first thought that the earth was spherical and not flat. Two centuries later Aristotle supported Pythagoras’ claim through his own astronomical observations. By Columbus’ era, people already knew that the planet was round and not flat.
The credit generally goes to Leif Erikson, a Viking explorer who is considered by many historians as the first European to cross the Atlantic Ocean and to land in North America (including Newfoundland but excluding Greenland). This happened about five centuries before Columbus set sail. There were even some explorers, particularly Celtic (Irish) people such as Saint Brendan, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean even before Eriksson, according to the claims from some historians.
For almost a decade, Columbus petitioned to several European monarchies to finance his quest to take a voyage to Asia via a western sea route. Several countries — Spain, Portugal and England — refused. Experts told Columbus that his calculations were incorrect and that the crossing would take longer than expected. It turns out that the experts were right all along, because Columbus grossly underestimated the vast size of the oceans as well as the earth’s circumference. Fortunately for him he landed to an uncharted territory which would be the Americas.
In Spain during the 15th century, it was a tradition to name the vessels after the saints. However, sailors christened their ships with less-than-holy monikers. Mariners gave one of Columbus three ships in his 1492 voyage the Pinta (“the painted one” or “prostitute” in Spanish). The Santa Clara ship, on the other hand, was named Nina in honor of its owner Juan Nino; however, its nickname is otherwise La Gallega, the name of a Galician province where the ship was constructed.
Columbus’ rule as governor in the island of Hispaniola was marked by accusations of tyranny and brutality. Native islanders who weren’t able to collect enough gold were punished by having their hands cut off. According to one report, one man was found guilty of stealing corn and Columbus had him punished by having his ears and nose cut off. For the natives who instigated a revolt against him, Columbus ordered a brutal clampdown in which many of the natives were killed. Their dismembered bodies were then paraded through the streets to discourage other people to revolt against him.
Due to gross mismanagement under his governorship, Columbus was arrested in 1500 and brought him back to Spain in chains. He was eventually granted freedom by King Ferdinand who allowed him to return to the New World, but not as governor any longer. The king even financially supported Columbus’ fourth voyage.
On Christmas Day 1492, an accident had caused Columbus’ ship Sta. Maria aka Nina to almost sink into the sea, after it ran into a coral reef on the northern coast of Hispaniola. He and his crew spent the un-happy holidays trying to salvage the ship’s cargo. Columbus then returned to Spain aboard the Nina, but he had to leave his 40 men behind to begin the settlement in the Americas. When he returned to the island the following autumn, none of his men he left there survived.
After his famous 1492 expedition, Columbus returned to the New World (Americas) three times more in the following decade. He later sailed to the Caribbean islands, Central and South America.
Apart from Berkeley in California, the celebration also began in Denver, Colorado. The Indigenous People’s Day started in 1992, to counter the Columbus Day. The purpose of this holiday is to honor Native Americans and their culture. The holiday was also made as a gesture of protest against the historical conquest of North America by Europeans (like Columbus). The holiday also serves as a cautionary reminder of the demise of the North American people and their culture as a result of European or white colonization.
Also known as Native American Day, the Indigenous People’s Day is held every second Monday of October, which of course coincides with Columbus Day.
In 1504, Columbus was stuck in Jamaica, abandoned by half of his crew. He was stranded there and faced the angry islanders who would refuse to give him food. However, since he knew that the lunar eclipse was appearing on February 29th, Columbus told the islanders that his god would be upset because they didn’t want to give him any food. Following the eclipse, the terrified islanders at last gave him plenty of food and begged Columbus to ask his “god” for forgiveness.
Before the development of celestial navigation, sailors such as Columbus used the dead reckoning method. In this navigating technique, the navigator calculates his position by measuring the course and the distance the he has sailed from some known point. So for instance, a navigator starts from a known point such as a port. Then sailing from that known point, he measures the course of his voyage as well as the distance from that point on a chart. He then marks the chart with a pin to signify a new position.
When he witnessed the Orinoco River emptying enormous quantity of fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean off of northern part South America, Columbus thought that the new continent might be the place where the Garden of Eden had been.
When he died in 1506, his remains were first buried in Valladolid, Spain and then moved to Seville, Spain. In 1542 his remains were then moved across the Atlantic to Hispaniola and interred in Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic). When the French invaded Hispaniola in 1795, Columbus’ remains were shipped to Havana, Cuba. But after Cuba became independent following the Spanish-American war in 1898, his remains were returned to Seville, his present resting place.
But (a big “but”) a box containing human remains and bearing Columbus’ name was discovered in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) in 1877. After much dispute whether they had taken out the wrong body, a DNA test confirmed that at least some of the remains buried in Seville were those of Columbus. The Dominican Republic, however, refused to let the other remains be tested. And while we may have to wait before the Dominican Republic finally agrees, it’s safe to say that, for now, parts of Columbus are both in the Old World (Europe) and the New World (the Americas).
After Columbus’ death, his heirs engaged in a protracted legal battle with the Spanish monarchy. His heirs sued the Spanish Crown, claiming that it ripped them off of the money and profits due for Columbus. This started the series of litigations known as pleitos colombinos or Columbian lawsuits. By 1536 most of these lawsuits were settled but the proceedings dragged on for so many years until 1790 — exactly three centuries after Columbus conducted his famous voyage.