Voyages that Changed History - Columbus' Four Expeditions to the New World

The background of the some of history's most monumental voyages.

After his siblings were murdered, Mehmet II succeeded his father, Murad II, to rule the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

He later formalized this practice into law, stating:

"Whichever of my sons inherits the sultan's throne, it behooves him to kill his brothers in the interest of the world order."

On May 29, 1453, at the age of 21, Mehmet II conquered Constantinople, the Byzantine Christian capital on the Bosporus Strait.

He had stated:

"The ghaza (Holy War) is our basic duty, as it was in the case of our fathers ... The conquest of (Constantinople) is ... essential to the future and the safety of the Ottoman state."

The fall of Constantinople ended the Byzantine Empire and permanently altered trade routes from Europe to Asia, which had been traveled for centuries by merchants, including Marco Polo.

Detractors of Columbus should turn one chapter back in the history books and lay the blame for his sea voyages on the expansionist policies of Sultan Mehmet II, who blocked the land routes to India and China.

William Lawson Grant, Professor of Colonial History at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, wrote in the introduction to Voyages and Explorations (Toronto, The Courier Press, Limited, 1911, A.S. Barnes Company):

"The history of Western Civilization begins in a conflict with the Orient, a conflict of which it may be the end is not yet.

But the routes between East and West have been trodden by the caravans of trade more often even than by the feet of armies.

The treasures of the East were long brought overland to Alexandria, or Constantinople, or the cities of the Levant, and thence distributed to Europe by the galleys of Genoa or of Venice.

But when the Turk placed himself astride the Bosporus, and made Egypt his feudatory, new routes had to be found."

Grant continued in Voyages and Explorations:

"In the search for these were made the three greatest voyages in history, those

of Columbus,

of Vasco da Gama, and

greatest of all of Magellan ...

In his search for the riches of Cipangu (Japan), Columbus stumbled upon America.

The great Genoese lived and died under the illusion that he had reached the outmost verge of Asia."

In 1498, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama successfully sailed around South Africa to India.

But six years earlier, Columbus proposed another westward SEA route.

Beginning in 1492, Christopher Columbus took FOUR voyages to the New World:

  • 1st voyage, 1492-1493, he DISCOVERED land;

  • 2nd voyage, 1493-1496, he encountered a hurricane, malaria, and CANNIBALS;

  • 3rd voyage, 1498-1500, he faced doldrums, rebellion, and was ARRESTED;

  • 4th voyage, 1502-1504, he survived another hurricane, explored Panama, and was SHIPWRECKED on Jamaica for a year.

Columbus's FIRST voyage (1492-1493), was truly historic. He used his knowledge of the "trade winds" to make the longest voyage ever out of the sight of land.

Thinking he had made it to India, he referred to the inhabitants as "Indians," and the name stuck.

It is interesting to think that native Americans would have never been called "Indians" had it not been for Islamic jihad expansion cutting off the land trade routes to India.

These first inhabitants were peaceful Taino Arawak natives.

Columbus thought that Cuba was the tip of China and that Hispaniola (Dominican Republican/Haiti) was Japan.

Returning to Europe, Columbus' ship, Santa Maria, hit a reef off the coast of Hispaniola and wrecked on December 24, 1492. He left 39 sailors in a make-shift fort named La Navidad.

On his SECOND voyage (1493-1496), Columbus was frustratingly saddled with 17 ships and 1,500 mostly get-rich-quick Spanish opportunists.

This was the doings of the jealous Spanish Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, who continually undermined Columbus at the royal court, as he thought the Spanish Monarchs should never have given so much authority to a "non-Spaniard" -- Columbus being just a low-class Genoese, from the Italian city of Genoa.

In this sense, Columbus was the victim of racial discrimination. Bishop Fonseca is to be blamed for altering Columbus' goal from finding India and China to managing hundreds of ambitious settlers.

Columbus was a gifted explorer, but unfortunately failed as a governor.

Looking for a location for settlement, Columbus explored Puerto Rico and Jamaica.

Arriving at La Navidad, Hispaniola, they were shocked to find that all the sailors Columbus had left the previous year were all killed by natives.

Instead of paradise, Spaniards were shocked to discover that there were aggressive Carib natives, who emasculated, sodomized and cannibalized the peaceful Taino Arawak natives.

Spanish settlers felt Columbus misrepresented the new world "paradise," especially after they encountered malaria, cannibals, and a hurricane at their first Hispaniola settlement, La Isabella.

They grew impatient at having to obey Columbus, who, after all, was not even Spanish, but rather a low rank Italian from Genoa.

Columbus unfortunately yielded to the demands of greedy settlers and let them set up European-style feudal plantations, called "mayorazgos," which set a precedent for generations of mistreatment of native populations.

Columbus sailed back to Spain, leaving his two younger brothers Diego and Bartholomew, in charge of the new settlement on Hispaniola named Santo Domingo, presumably in honor of his father Domenico.

On his THIRD voyage (1498-1500), Columbus sailed across the southern Atlantic and encountered a stretch of sea where there was no wind - "the doldrums."

Roasting in the relentless, blazing sun, he prayed that if the winds returned, he would name the first land he sited after the Trinity.

When the winds picked up, Columbus named the first land he saw "Trinidad."

Columbus became the first European to set foot on South America, planting the Spanish flag at the Paria Peninsula of present-day Venezuela, August 1, 1498.

He explored the beautiful Orinoco River, speculating that it could be the outer regions of the Garden of Eden.

When Columbus arrived back at his settlement of Santo Domingo, he found that the greedy Spanish settlers had rebelled against his brothers.

In despair, Columbus sent a letter to the King, pleading for help.

The plea was intercepted by the ambitious Bishop Fonseca, who convinced the King that, instead of sending help, he should replace Columbus as governor.

The King sent a replacement governor named Bobadillo in 1500.

Bobadillo arrested Columbus and his brothers, Bartholomew and Diego, and sent them back to Spain in chains.

Columbus wrote to a friend and confidante of the Queen, Dona Juana de Torres:

"I undertook a new voyage to the New World which hitherto had been hidden ...

They judge me there as a governor who had gone to Sicily or to a city or town under a regular government ...

I should be judged as a captain who went from Spain to the Indies."

After a two year delay, Columbus was finally permitted to sail from Cadiz, Spain, on his FOURTH and last voyage, MAY 12, 1502.

He was forbidden to visit his settlement of Santo Domingo, but upon reaching the Caribbean, Columbus became alarmed by another hurricane brewing.

Weighing the risk, he entered the harbor of Santo Domingo to warn them of the approaching danger and to seek shelter for his ships.

He anchored and rowed ashore.

A new replacement governor had arrived named Orvando.

He ignored Columbus.

Orvando was preoccupied in preparing to send the previous governor, Bobadillo, back to Spain, along with a treasure fleet of 30 ships filled with gold and slaves.

Unwittingly, the ships would be heading directly into the path of the hurricane.

The warning of Columbus was spurned, as he was considered an unwelcome persona-non-grata. Orvando ordered Columbus to immediately leave the harbor.

As the hurricane was fast approaching, Columbus did not even take time to pull aboard his row boat.

He sailed as fast as he could to seek shelter from the wind on the far side of the island.

The hurricane hit around July 1, 1502, with such fury that it almost completely destroyed Santo Domingo.

Of the treasure fleet, 4 ships returned to Santo Domingo, and 25 sank, with the loss of approximately 500 lives, including Bobadillo.

The one ship that survived and made it to Spain was the Aguja. It was so old and slow that it had not yet cleared the island mangroves when the hurricane hit.

When the ship reached Spain, to everyone's amazement, it was found to be the one carrying Columbus' portion of the gold, per his agreement with the Monarchs.

The providential nature of this incident vindicated Columbus' reputation, though he did not find out about it for over a year, as he was blown around the Caribbean.

Describing the violent weather, Columbus recorded:

"The tempest arose and wearied me so that I knew not where to turn, my old wound opened up, and for 9 days I was lost without hope of life; eyes never beheld the sea so angry and covered with foam ..."

He continued:

"The wind not only prevented our progress, but offered no opportunity to run behind any headland for shelter; hence we were forced to keep out in this bloody ocean, seething like a pot on a hot fire. The people were so worn out that they longed for death."

After a day and a half of continuous lightning, Columbus' 15-year-old son, Ferdinand, recorded that on December 13, 1502, a waterspout passed between the ships:

"... the which had they not dissolved by reciting the Gospel according to St. John, it would have swamped whatever it struck...for it draws water up to the clouds in a column thicker than a waterbutt, twisting it about like a whirlwind."

Columbus' biographer, Samuel Eliot Morrison described Admiral Columbus:

"It was the Admiral who exorcised the waterspout. From his Bible he read of that famous tempest off Capernaum, concluding, 'Fear not, it is I!'

Then clasping the Bible in his left hand, with drawn sword he traced a cross in the sky and a circle around his whole fleet."

Columbus briefly landed in Panama, but was too ill and too suspicious of the natives to cross to the Pacific side.

After being attacked by Indians, with his ships worm-eaten and taking on water, Columbus barely made it to the Island of Jamaica where he was shipwrecked for a year.

Natives at first accommodated them, but the situation deteriorated due to unruly sailors, and the natives began to threaten them.

The natives' attitude immediately improved when Columbus correctly predicted a lunar eclipse, convincing the natives he had divine favor.

Columbus' captain, Diego Méndez de Segura, set off from Jamaica with a small boat and several natives to cross 450 miles of open sea to reach Hispaniola (Haiti).

There, Méndez found Ovando in the jungle, subduing the Taino Arawak natives. Ovando waited months to send help to Columbus.

Finally being rescued, Columbus returned to Spain on November 7, 1504.

Three weeks later, his chief patron, Queen Isabella, died.

Columbus died a year and a half later at the age of 55.

Though unsuccessful as a governor, Columbus was nevertheless one of the most renowned sailors and explorers in the world who changed the course of history.

While temporarily trapped on a river in Panama at low tide, being in physical pain, July 7, 1503, Columbus wrote his Lettera Rarissima, not knowing if anyone would read it:

"The Indians were many and united and attacked ... I was outside very much alone, on this rude coast, with a high fever and very fatigued.

There was no hope of escape. In this state, I climbed painfully to the highest part of the ship and cried out for help with a fearful voice ...

At length, groaning with exhaustion, I fell asleep, and heard a compassionate voice saying,

'O fool, and slow to believe and serve thy God, the God of every man! ... From thy birth He hath ever held thee in special charge ...

Of those barriers of the Ocean Sea, which were closed with such mighty chains, He hath given thee the keys ...

Turn thou to Him and acknowledge thy faults; His mercy is infinite; thine old age shall not hinder thee from performing mighty deeds ... Whatever He promises He fulfills with interest; that is His way."

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