Today in History: Christopher Columbus lands in the Bahamas

by Alex Caldwell

On Oct. 12, 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506) landed in the Bahamas after more than two months of sailing westward across the Atlantic Ocean. His journey to the Americas paved the way for future colonization across North and South America.

Columbus proposed his idea to sail west across the Atlantic Ocean to Spanish Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II. The monarchs agreed to finance his journey, allowing him to keep 10 percent of any riches he found, and hold governorship of any lands he found.

Christopher Columbus was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia during the Age of Exploration. Columbus formulated a route to sail west across the Atlantic to Asia. He believed that the route would be quicker and safer than trying to travel east past various armies and civilizations.

Columbus needed money, resources, and a crew in order to travel across the Atlantic. Columbus proposed his idea to the Spanish monarchs, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II, promising them fortune, glory, and the opportunity to spread Christianity if they financed his voyage. The monarchs agreed to fund the explorer’s expedition.

Columbus and his crew of 90 men across three ships, the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, set sail from Spain in late August. On October 12, 1492, Columbus and his crew landed—not in Asia, but in San Salvador, an island in the Bahamas.

Columbus and his crew encountered a group of natives who were open to trade with the sailors, offering cotton, parrots, and beads.

Columbus sailed throughout the Caribbean, visiting Cuba (which he thought was China), Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, searching for pearls and gold that he promised the monarchs. His Santa Maria ship was wrecked off the coast of Haiti, and with the help of his crew and natives, they salvaged parts of the ship to build the settlement, Villa de la Navidad.

Columbus set sail for Spain in January 1493, leaving 39 crewmen behind to occupy the Hispaniola settlement. Upon returning to Spain, Columbus gave an enthusiastic, but exaggerated, report to the royal monarchs informing them of his findings.

In September 1493, Columbus returned to his settlement in Hispaniola, but found the settlement destroyed with all of his crew massacred. Columbus left his brothers, Bartolomeo and Diego, in charge of rebuilding the settlement with enslaved natives while he returned to Spain.

Columbus made a third voyage to the Americas in May 1498 and reached mainland Venezuela. However, conditions in his Hispaniola deteriorated to the point of a near-mutiny with settlers claiming they had been misled about Columbus’s claims of riches and rebelling against his brothers’ brutal and bloody mismanagement of the Hispaniola settlement. Columbus was arrested by the Spanish monarchs and stripped of his governorship.

Columbus sailed a fourth time to the Americas in 1502 after convincing King Ferdinand II that he would bring him abundant riches. After a storm wrecked his ship, Columbus and his crew were stranded in Jamaica. In a desperate effort to get natives to feed him and his hungry crew, Columbus convinced them that he would punish them by taking away the moon. A lunar eclipse alarmed the natives enough to feed and trade with Columbus. In June 1504, Columbus and his crew were rescued after spending two years in Jamaica. Columbus arrived home in Spain in November 1504, completing his last voyage.

Christopher Columbus died on May 20, 1506 of age due to heart failure.

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