From Agepedia

Jump to: navigation , search

COLUMBUS, Christopher (in Spanish, Colon; in Italian, Cristoforo Colombo, which is his real name), one of the greatest men mentioned in history, was born in Genoa, about 1435, and not, as some assert, at Cuccaro, in Montferrat. His father, Domenico Colombo, a poor woolcomber, gave him a careful education. He soon evinced a strong passion for geographical knowledge, and an irresistible inclination for the sea, and, at 14 years of age, he began to navigate in the Mediterranean. We afterwards find him in command of a vessel, in a squadron which a relation of his had fitted out against the Mohammedans and Venetians. In one of his engagements with the Venetians, the vessel which he commanded took fire, and Columbus saved his life by swim ming ashore. Portugal, at that time, at tracted the attention of Europe by her maritime expeditions, and Columbus repaired to Lisbon, where he found relations and countrymen. Here he married the daughter of Bartolomeo de Palestrello, a distinguished navigator, who had participated in the discovery of Porto Santo, and had left many charts and nautical instruments. Columbus made use of these materials, and his opinion that the other side of the globe contained land, belonging to Eastern Asia, and connected with India, which was, as yet, little known, became more and more fixed. Whilst the Portuguese were seeking for it by a southeast course round Africa, he was convinced that there must be a shorter way by the west. He applied in vain to his native city, Genoa, for assistance, and equally fruitless were his endeavors to interest John II of Portugal in the enterprise. He then determined to apply to the Spanish court. His brother Bartholomew sailed for England, but was captured by pirates. Columbus explained his plan to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and, after an 8 years' struggle with the obstacles thrown in his wray by ignorance and malice, he received 3 small vessels, with 120 men. Two of the vessels were light barques, called caravals, like the coasting craft of modern days, with forecastles and cabins for the crew, but without a deck in the centre. These caravals, called the Pinta and the Niiia, were commanded by two brothers, named Pinzon. The third vessel, on board of which was Columbus, was completely decked. The dignity of highadmiral and viceroy of all the countries he might discover was conferred on him, the former to be hereditary in his family. A certain share of the profits was secured to him by a written contract with the sovereigns.It was early in the morning of Friday, on the third of August, 1492, that Columbus set sail from the port of Palos. Eighteen years had elapsed since he had first conceived the idea of this enterprise. Most of that time had been passed in almost hopeless solicitation, amidst poverty, neglect and ridicule ; the prime of his life had been wasted in the struggle, and, when his perseverance was finally crowned with success, he was about 56 years of age. Nor should it be forgotten that it was to Isabella (q. v.) alone that he was finally indebted for the means of executing his project, which had been coldly rejected by the prudent Ferdinand. Having provided himself, at the Canary islands, with fresh water, he sailed southwest into an ocean never before navigated. But when 21 days had elapsed without the sight of any land, the courage of his men began to sink. It was certain, they said, that they should perish, and their visionaiy commander ought to be forced to return. Some of them even proposed to throw him overboard; and Columbus had to exert all the powers of his daring and com manding spirit, to prevent an open rebellion. A phenomenon, which surprised even him, filled his pilots with consternation : the needle deviated a whole degree. But the sea appeared suddenly covered with grass, and again showed symptoms of shoals and rocks. Numbers of birds were also seen. Columbus sailed in the direction from which they flew. For some days, the voyage was continued with revived courage, until, at last, the dissatisfaction of the crews began to break out into open violence; but Columbus, after endeavoring in vain to pacify his men by promises, finally assumed a different tone, and told them it was useless to murmur; that he was determined to persevere. Fully convinced that he must be near the land, he promised a reward to whosoever should first discover it. All hands remained on deck during the night, and, after Columbus had himself discovered land, Oct. 11, and pointed it out to some of his friends, the cry of Land was raised at midnight from the Pinta, which, from her superior sailing, kept ahead of the other vessels. It was the island of Guanahani. On landing, Columbus threw himself upon his knees, and kissed the earth, returning thanks to God. The natives collected round him in silent astonishment, and his men, ashamed of their disobedience and distrust, threw themselves at his feet, begging his forgiveness. Columbus, drawing his sword, planted the royal standard, and, in the name of his sovereigns, took possession of the country, which, in memory of his preservation, he called St. Salvador. He then received the homage of his followers, as admiral and viceroy and representative of the sovereigns. Being informed by the natives that there was a rich gold country towards the south, Columbus directed his course towards that region, and discovered Cuba on the 28th October, and Espafiola (Hispaniola, Hayti) on the 6th December ; but, as one of his vessels was wrecked, and the other separated from him, he resolved to carry the news of his success to Spain. Having built a wooden fort from the wreck of his vessel, he left in it 39 volunteers, and set out on his return January 4,1493. The day after he left the island, he met the Pinta,. which had been missing. Both vessels were afterward nearly wrecked in a tremendous storm. Columbus, more interested for his discovery than for himself, wrote an account of his voyage on a piece of parchment, which he secured in a cask, and threw the whole overboard, in the hope that it might be carried ashore. He had hardly finished this work, when the gale subsided. March 15, he reentered the port of Palos, amid the acclamations of the people, the thunder of cannon and the ringing of bells. He hastened immediately to Barcelona, where the court then was, and entered the city in a triumphal procession, with the productions of the newlydisc*overed countries earned before him. A chair was placed for him next to the throne, and, seating himself, he gave an account of his discoveries. He was created a grandee, and all the marks of royal favor were lavished upon him. Sept. 25, 1493, he set sail from Cadiz with 3 large ships of heavy burden, and 14 caravals, carrying 1500 men. Nov. 2, he arrived at Hispaniola. Finding the colony he had left destroyed, he built a fortified town, which he called, in honor of the queen, Isabella, and of which he appointed his brother Diego governor. He immediately left the island, in order to make new discoveries, visited Jamaica, and, returning, after a voyage of 5 months, worn down with fatigue, found, to his great joy, that his brother Bartholomew, who had escaped from his captivity, had arrived at Isabella, with provisions and other supplies for the colony. Meanwhile, a general dissatisfaction had broken out among his companions, who, instead of the expected treasures, had found hardships and labor. They set on foot many calumnies, and gave the most unfavorable description of the country and the viceroy. Columbus thought he could not better oppose these reports than by sending considerable treasures to his sovereigns, and, for this purpose, collected gold from the natives, which was not done without violence and some cruelty. Aguado, a personal enemy of Columbus, was sent as commissioner to investigate the complaints against the great discoverer, who, thinking it time to vindicate himself in the presence of his sovereigns, prepared to return to Spain. Having appointed his brother Bartholomew adelantado or lieutenantgovernor, he embarked for Spain, March 10, 1496, with 225 Spaniards and 30 natives. In Spain, calumny was silenced by his presence, and probably still more by his treasures. Yet his enemies were powerful enough to detain the supplies intended for the colony a whole year, and to prevent the fitting out of a new expedition for Columbus another year. It was not till May 30,1498, that he sailed, with 6 vessels, on his third voyage. To man VOL. in. 30 these vessels, criminals had unwisely been takena measure which Columbus himself had advised, and which had been taken up, with great satisfaction, by his enemies. Three of his vessels he sent direct to Hispaniola; with the three others, he took a more southerly direction, for the purpose of discovering the main land, which information derived from the natives induced him to suppose lay to the south of his former discoveries. He visited Trinidad and the continent of America, the coasts of Paria and Cumana, and returned to Hispaniola, convinced that he had reached a continent. His colony had been removed from Isabella, according t his orders, to the other side of the island, and a new fortress erected, which was called St. Domingo. Columbus found the colony in a state of confusion. After having restored tranquillity by his prudent measures, in order to supply the deficiency of laborers, he distributed the land and the inhabitants, subjecting the latter to the arbitrary will of their masters, and thus laying the foundation of that system of slavery which has lasted down to our time. His enemies, in the mean time, endeavored to convince his sovereigns that he had abused his power, and that his plan was to make himself independent, till, at last, even Isabella yielded to the wishes of Ferdinand, who had previously become convinced of the truth of the slanders. Francisco de Bobadilla was sent to Hispaniola, with extensive powers, to call the viceroy to account. As soon as he reached the island, he summoned Columbus to appear before him, and put him in irons. His brothers were treated in the same manner. All three were sent to Spain, accompanied by a number of written charges, drawn up from the statements of the bitterest enemies of Columbus. Columbus endured this outrage with noble equanimity, and wrote, as soon as he had arrived in Cadiz, Nov. 23,1500, to a lady of the court, vindicating his conduct, and describing, in eloquent and touching language, the treatment he had received. Orders were immediately sent, directing him to be set at liberty, and inviting him to court, where his sovereigns received him with the same distinction as formerly. Isabella was moved to tears, and Columbus, overcome by his longsuppressed feelings, threw himself upon his knees, and, for some time, could not utter a word for the violence of his tears and sobbings. He then defended himself by a simple account of his conduct, and was reinstated in his dignities. Ferdi nand even consented to dismiss Bobadilla, which was intended for the first step towards the promised restoration of the great discoverer to his dignities. But these dispositions in the monarchs were soon changed. There was much talk of great expeditions, and, in the mean time, Nicolo de Ovando y Lares was sent as governor to Hispaniola. Columbus still urged the fulfilment of the promises solemnly made to him; but, after two years of delay, he became convinced that there was no intention to do him justice. But his noble mind had now learned how to suffer, and he was principally desirous of completing his work. Supposing the continent which he had seen to be Asia, he did not doubt that he should find, through the isthmus of Darien, a way to the East Indies, from which the first fleet of the Portuguese had just returned, richly laden.. In four slender vessels, supplied by the court for this purpose, Columbus sailed from Cadiz, on his fourth and last voyage, March 9, 1502, with his brother Bartholomew and his son Fernando ; arrived, contraiy to his wishes, off St. Domingo, June 29, and was denied permission to enter the port, for the purpose of refitting his vessels, and escaping an approaching storm. He succeeded, however, in anchoring his small squadron in a place of safety, and rode out the storm, whilst 18 vessels, which had put to sea in spite of his warning, wei*e almost entirely destroyed. He then continued his voyage to Darien, but without finding the expected passage. Two of his vessels were destroyed by a gale ; the two others were wrecked off Jamaica, where he was scarcely able to save himself and his companions. Here the severest trials awaited the constancy of Columbus. Separated from the other part of the world, his destruction seemed to be certain. But he succeeded in procuring a few canoes from the natives, and prevailed on some of his boldest and best men to attempt a voyage to Hispaniola, in two canoes, in order to inform the governor of his situation. Several months elapsed without a glimpse of hope. Part of his companions, reduced to despair, rebelled, repea5,jdly threatened his hfe, separated from him, and settled on another part of the island. Here they alienated the minds of the natives, by their cruel treatment, so much that they ceased to bring them supplies. The death of all seemed inevitable ; but Columbus, whose courage rose with the danger, preserved his men in his crisis. He had ascertained that a to tal eclipse of the moon was about to take place, and threatened the natives with the vengeance of his God if they should persist in their enmity. As a proof of his assertion, the moon, he said, would lose its light, in token of the chastisement which awaited them. When they beheld his threat verified, they hastened to bring him provisions, and implore his intercession with the Deity. But hostilities now broke out between him and the rebels, in which several of the latter were killed, and their leader was taken prisoner. After remaining a year on the island, relief at last appeared. The two canoes had reached Hispaniola in safety, but the messengers could not prevail on the governox to undertake the deliverance of the admiral. They finally bought a vessel themselves, and it was on board of this ship that Columbus left Jamaica, June 28, 1504. He went to St. Domingo, but only to repair his vessel, and then hastened back to Spain. He arrived in Spain sick and exhausted. The death of the queen soon followed, and he urged in vain on Ferdinand the fulfilment of his contract. After two years of illness, humiliations and despondency, Columbus died at Valladolid, May 20,1506, in the 70th year of his age. His remains were transported according to his will, to the city of St Domingo, but, in 1795, on the cession of Hispaniola to the French, they were re moved, with great pomp, to the cathedral of Havannah, in Cuba. The chains which he had worn, he kept hanging in his cabinet, and requested that, when he died, they might be buried in his grave. A splendid monument was erected in honor of him, in a Carthusian convent at Seville, where his body was first deposited. In the vigor of manhood, Columbus was of an engaging presence, tall, well formed and muscular, and of an elevated and dignified demeanor. His visage was long, his nose aquiline, his eyes lightgray, and apt to enkindle. His whole countenance had an air of authority. Care and trouble had turned his hair white at 30 years of age. He was moderate and simple in diet and apparel, eloquent in discourse, engaging and affable with strangers, and of great amiableness and suavity in domestic life. His temper was naturally irritable, but he subdued it by the benevolence and generosity of his heart. Throughout his life, he was noted for a strict attention to the offices of religion ; nor did his piety consist in mere forms, but partook of that lofty and solemn enthusiasm, with which his whole charactei was strongly tinctured. Of a great and inventive genius, a lofty and noble ambition, his conduct was characterized by the grandeur of his views and the magnanimity of his spirit The treatment which he experienced from his court showed that ingratitude is not confined to republics. The two men who have probably done most, in modern times, to change the face of the world have been ItaliansColumbus and Napoleon.For further information respecting the life of Columbus, we refer the reader to the Life of Columbus (in Italian), by Bossi (French translat. Paris, 1824); Columbus and his Discoveries, by Spotorno; Memorials of Columbus (original writings of Columbus, translated from the Spanish and Italian, London, 1824); and Codice Diplomatico Colombo Americano, Genoa, 1823, 4to. Navarete's Collection of the Voyages of Discovery made by the Spaniards (collected from the archives), Madrid, 4vols. 4to., and French, Paris, 1828, contains the journals of Columbus, and many letters, then first printed. The latest account of the great discoverer is Washington Irving's Life and Voyages of Columbus, 3 vols. 8vo., New York, 1828, abridged by the same, 1 vol. 12mo., New York, 1829.