Maybe you have heard the old mnemonic to help you remember when Christopher Columbus made his epic voyage. It goes, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”. Besides that first line of a much longer poem, and the fact that Columbus is somehow credited with discovering the Americas, most people don’t know much about the man’s life. Hopefully this brief bio will help you learn a few facts about Christopher Columbus.
Christopher Columbus was born, probably in Genoa Italy, in 1451. The name Christopher Columbus is an Americanized version of his name. To his Italian parents, his name was Christoforo Colombo.
Not a lot is known about Columbus’ early life. We know that he had three brothers and that at least one of them worked with him as a map maker. We know that he was intrigued with the sea from the time he was a young man. One of his own writings suggests that he “went to sea” for the first time at the age of ten. He also worked on several maritime vessels when he was in his twenties.
At the age of thirty-four, Columbus started a campaign to fund an exploratory adventure to find a new route to the East Indies. The funding campaign met with initial resistance. He first proposed the plan to the king of Portugal and was denied. He also tried in Genoa, Venice, and England but no country was willing to grant him the money or the ships. Finally, he succeeded in receiving his funding from Spain.
The 1492 voyage is the one that has been immortalized in poems; however, Columbus actually made four trips to the “New World”. The first trip ended on the island of San Salvador in what is now the Bahamas. He started a small settlement there and left nearly forty men to run it.
Columbus left Spain for his second voyage in 1493. This time he traveled with seventeen ships instead of the three he was given for the first trip. Columbus island-hopped through the Caribbean on his second trips, going to such places as Saint Croix, Antigua, and the Virgin Islands. He ended that journey in Puerto Rico. He also made voyages into the New World in 1498 and in 1502. The 1502 trip ended in tragedy with twenty-nine of thirty ships lost at sea. Columbus’ ship was the only ship in the fleet that was saved.
During the years of his New World voyages, Columbus encountered political problems. Through a deal that he had made with the king and queen of Spain he was made a governor and a viceroy of the land that he discovered, but his authority was overturned amid conflict. There were many accusations of abuse of power as well as atrocities visited on natives in the New World. In 1500, he was arrested and held in jail for about six weeks. He was released by King Ferdinand, and Spain agreed to fund one more voyage but refused to allow him another governorship.
Columbus died in 1506, four years after returning, for the last time, from the New World. It is thought that he died of a heart attack related to his arthritis, and apparently he was in bad physical shape in the four years after his final voyage.
It is interesting to note that although Christopher Columbus is celebrated as the discoverer of America, he never set foot in America. His trips took him through the Caribbean Islands and to Central America. He spent time on the Central American mainland in what are now the countries of Nicaragua and Costa Rica but he was never in America proper at all.