The Truth About Christopher Columbus

Christopher-Columbus-Statue-In-Spain“In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue….

Today, Christopher Columbus is celebrated as a mythical hero by some – complete with songs, poems, and fictional tales about his great adventure across the Atlantic to explore the majestic land that would eventually be known as the Americas. There are fifty four communities named after the explorer in the United States, including the District of Columbia. “Hail, Columbia” was the United States’ unofficial national anthem until 1931. A federal holiday, “Columbus Day,” is celebrated every second Monday in October.

Despite all of this, historians have begun to tear down the Columbus myth: That he discovered America. That he proved the world wasn’t flat. (That had been well-known for more than a millennium in Columbus’ time. In fact, scholars had a pretty good idea of what the circumference of the Earth was, which was part of the dissent against Columbus making his trip- Columbus thought Asia was bigger than it is and the world much smaller, leading one of the scholars commissioned by the monarchy to investigate the plausibility of Columbus’ journey succeeding to say, it was “impossible to any educated person”). That he came to America in the name of exploration. And, finally, that he came in peace.

Quite simply, most of these “facts” are unequivocally false or half-truths. Columbus sailed the ocean blue to look for wealth and, officially, in the name of Christianity. What he mostly did, though, was enslave and rape the natives he met, sold girls (as young as nine by his own account) into prostitution, and committed numerous acts so heinous that he was forcibly removed from power and sent back to Spain in chains. Christopher Columbus was brutal, even by the standards of his age, leading Bartolome de las Casa, who accompanied Columbus on one of his voyages, to write in his The History of the Indies, “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel… My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

In August 1492, Columbus departed Spain with three ships – the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Santa Clara (nicknamed “the Nina”). After two months on the high seas, land was spotted. Now, before they had left, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had promised to whoever spotted land first a reward of a silken jacket and an annuity of ten thousand maravedis. The lookout on the Pinta was Rodrigo de Triana and he was the first to spot land. He shouted to the rest of the crew down below, and the Pinta’s captain announced the discovery with cannon fire. When it came time to receive the reward though, Columbus claimed he actually saw a light in the distance several hours prior to Triana’s shout, “but it was so indistinct that I did not dare to affirm it was land.” The reward reportedly went to Columbus.

Upon landing on the island, which he would call San Salvador (present-day Bahamas), Columbus immediately went to work finding gold and enslaving the native populations. Specifically, Columbus, upon seeing the Arawaks (the peoples of the region) come out of the forests frightened of the men with swords, but bearing gifts, wrote in his journal,

They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They would make fine servants . . . with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

As other European visitors would observe, the Arawaks were legendary for their hospitality and their desire to share. Again saying Columbus about the Arawaks, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”

Columbus quickly took advantage of this. Seeing that they wore gold studs in their ears, he rounded up of a number of Arawaks and had them lead him to where gold was. The journey took them to present day Cuba and Haiti (but Columbus thought it was Asia), where they found specks of gold in the river, but not the enormous “fields” Columbus was expecting. Nonetheless, he wrote back to Spain saying that, “There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals.” This report earned him financing for a second voyage, this time with 13 ships and twelve hundred men. While he never ended up filling up these ships with gold, he filled them with another “currency” and one that would have a horrendous effect on the world going forward – slaves.

In 1495, Columbus arrived back in the New World and immediately took 1500 Arawaks as prisoners. Of those 1500, he picked 500 to be shipped back to Spain as slaves (about two hundred died on the journey back), starting the transatlantic slave trade. The rest were forced to find what little gold existed in the region. According to noted historian Howard Zinn, anyone over 14 had to meet a gold quota. If they didn’t find enough gold, they would have their hands cut off.

Eventually, when it was realized there wasn’t much gold in the region, Columbus and his men just took the rest as slaves and put them to work on their newly established estates in the region. Many natives died and their numbers dwindled. In the 15th century, modern historians believe there were about 300,000 Arawaks. By 1515, there were only 50,000 left. By 1531, 600 and by 1650, there were no longer any full-blooded Arawaks left on the islands.

The way Columbus and his men treated the women and children of these populations was even worse. Columbus routinely used the raping of women as a “reward” for his lieutenants. For example, here’s an account from one of Columbus’ friends and compatriots, Michele de Cuneo, who accompanied Columbus on his second journey to the New World, on what Michele did to a native “Carb woman.” Michele wrote that,

While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral [Columbus] gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of whores…

Going further, Columbus wrote in a letter from 1500,

A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.

As illustrated in a recently discovered 48 page report found in the Spanish archives written by Francisco De Bobadilla (charged with investigating Columbus’ rule at the behest of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who were troubled by allegations of some of Columbus’ acts), a woman who verbally insulted Columbus’ family was stripped naked and made to ride around the colony on a mule. After the trip was done, her tongue was cut out by the order of Columbus’ brother, Bartolomé, who Columbus then congratulated for successfully defending the family’s honor. Needless to say, these and numerous other such acts ultimately resulted in De Bobadilla having Columbus removed from power and sent back to Spain in chains.

After Columbus came, and was forced out, the Spaniards continued his policy of enslavement and violence. In 1552, the Spanish historian and friar Bartolome de las Casas published multiple volumes under the title The History of Indies. In it, he described the collapse of the non-European population. Casas writes that when the men were captured and forced to work in mines looking for gold, rarely if ever returning home, it significantly impacted the birth rate. If a woman did give birth, she would be so overworked herself and malnourished, that she often could not produce enough milk for the baby. He even reported that some of the women “drowned their babies from sheer desperation.”

There are lot more examples, writings, and research that points to one fact – Christopher Columbus was a lamentable individual. Nobody’s perfect- if we restricted celebrated individuals to those who didn’t have any major flaws, we’d have few humans to celebrate- and it’s extremely important to view things in the context of the time individuals lived in.  But even in his age, many of his acts were considered deplorable by his peers, which is in no small part why Columbus was arrested for his conduct in the New World.  Combined with his truly historic and widespread impact being incidental to what he was actually trying to do (so a little hard to celebrate him for even that side of his life), maybe it is time that we let go of the myths we learned about Christopher Columbus in elementary school and stop celebrating Columbus, the man.

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Bonus Fact:

  • Not surprisingly, due to these many sexual encounters with the natives, STDs ran rampant in the region in Columbus’ time. Further, while it is still somewhat up for debate if Columbus and his crew brought syphilis to the New World or if they brought it from the New World to Europe (the latter generally being the favored theory), what isn’t argued is that Columbus inadvertently quickened and widen the spread of these dangerous diseases on both sides of the Atlantic. Syphilis became a huge problem, historians nicknaming it the “scourge of the Renaissance,” throughout the Americas and Europe. For more on this, see: Why Native Americans Didn’t Wipe Out Europeans With Diseases
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  • RCCJr

    “Noted historian Howard Zinn”? Yup, that statement makes the entire article suspect. Sources for every single claim please or it’s just more of the false garbage generated by Zinn and his acolytes.

    Very disappointing this would appear on this site.

    • J. F. Gecik

      Yes, RCCJr … “Very disappointing” (because of the fact that impressionable young people will believe this nonsense) … but not surprising, since this site has manifold errors of every imaginable kind.

      • Daven Hiskey

        @JF: Which parts are inaccurate?

        • J. F. Gecik

          Dear Mr. Hiskey, Mr. Blitz’s references are laughable. They cannot be trusted for accuracy. They (especially Mr. Zinn) come from the hate-filled core of anti-American and anti-religious extremists that control so much of academia and politics in the 2010s — people of such low character and untrustworthiness that they are capable of outright lies to attain their goals. If one runs an Internet search on ~~Columbus “revisionist history”~~, one can find any number of refutations of the malarkey that has been presented in schools and on some Internet sites [ahem] for the last two decades. Here is just one essay, to help you and the even younger generation to begin to realize that you/they have been, and are being, “sold a bill of goods:” http://www.eagleforum.org/educate/2009/apr09/revisionist-history.html .
          I can only hope that most Americans have enough common sense to realize that the “Columbus Day” holiday would have been deleted from the calendar if Cristoforo Colombo had really been the monster that some now falsely claim he was. Mr. Hiskey, there is much good and/or entertaining information at your site (which is why I have now read thousands of articles here — and have continued to visit daily for more than a year). Unfortunately, your site also contains, on a multitude of subjects, factual errors and/or illogicalities and/or speculations that should not have been mentioned, due to an absence of proof that would stand up in court. Students are being misled here every day, and this is very painful to me, since I have been passionate about education for almost all of my 63 years. I have often tried to point out this site’s errors, to help students, but you have repeatedly suppressed my comments. I am pleasantly shocked that you posted my last one, above, and I hope that it means you are turning over a new leaf. [PS: Please note, above, that I have complained only about the most serious faults of this site, not bothering to mention the tens of thousands of examples of misspelling, errors of grammar, inappropriate terminology (bathroom language that is tolerable when used by elementary school kids, but not by mature adults), and sloppy stylistic devices (especially endless streams of colloquialisms). It breaks my heart to see all of the above, when I read here, but I just shake my head and mourn the collapse of the educational systems in English-speaking nations, which have failed to teach the people of two generations how to write properly. I have been astounded that the majority of articles seem not to have been submitted to professionals for copy-editing (proofreading) and other forms of “polishing.” Nevertheless, I have been suffering through those shabby articles in silence, trying to speak up only when I feel a need to protect the impressionable, and easily misled, young people who visit here. The aforementioned educational systems have not only failed to teach the last two generations to write well, but also (and more importantly), they have failed to teach them to THINK well.]

          • Mona scoty

            Funny that u dispute this. This is not the first time I heard of this. Actually my third grade teacher back in 1980 told our class who Christopher Columbus really was. Her account was just as accurate as this. Back then we did not have the resources we have now. So I am inclined to believe this is all true. He was a murderer, thief, liar and rapist. He was not celebrated when he returned back to Spain. He was thrown in prison where he died. I am thankful for the teacher I had and thankful that she was brave enough to speak the truth. U can’t discover something that was already here where people were living. That’s that sense of entitlement that some races think they have. It’s sad that this man is honored. This day should be banned or renamed.

          • Tim

            Your link takes us to a letter written by, “the mother of four children, ages 19 to 28. Her children attended both public and private schools in St. Louis County, Missouri.” On a Right Wing Republican endorsing website. So basically what we are left with is your personal opinion that this information is false. Thanks for your opinion. Smh.

          • Flying Gabriel

            Astounding. You roundly condemn the article for it’s innaccurate and “laughable” source references and then refer to an essay like that to support your accusation. Did you even check the references? Thank heaven you didn’t get anywhere near my children. As an educator you should hang your head in shame sir.

          • You say it is laughable when it is a serious matter that is true. I’ve heard of this more than once.

      • SadeRenee

        I think our children need to know the truth, not fabrications of history. I grew up thinking Christopher Columbus was a pleasant guy who discovered a new land and brought support, and generosity to the Native Americans. A few years later the truth came from a professor in college , who ruined part of the joy of Thanksgiving. This was years before viewing this article and I’ve heard it multiple times since then. Christopher Columbus was a devious and twisted character and THIS INFO IS SHOCKING BUT TRUE.

        • Mathias Bjorkman

          Then maybe we should stop celebrate thanksgiving for columbus and celebrate it for what we are thankful for, maybe even give thanks the the Lord.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @RCCJr: References at the bottom, as always.

    • gamer2X

      It’s hard to argue with his own diary entries, first hand accounts, and he wasn’t arrested for no reason.

  • Eric

    Not me. Even if all the facts aren’t up to par there is no denying that he enslaved the locals. Once I learned that, long ago. I stopped viewing him as anything else but a worthless POS.

  • Bill

    J.F. Gesik: You lose all credibility by referencing the Eagle Forum (aka Phyllis Schlafly). I’m surprised that you didn’t quote Rush Limbaugh too…lol.

    Considering your reference source, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to Daven.

  • pavlov

    My comment was deleted, just curious as to why. I did not think it was offensive…

    • Daven Hiskey

      We have an extremely aggressive spam filter owing to quite literally getting a few thousand spam comments an hour submitted (and very limited time to manually moderate even real comments, let alone all that spam), so I imagine it caught it and removed it for some reason.

  • Pingback: The Truth About Christopher Columbus()

  • Mark

    I discovered this site recently — interestingly enough, I’ve read another article on here that briefly mentioned Columbus, and in that article he is described as a genius explorer who was involved in a debate over the radius of the Earth (rather than whether the Earth was flat or not, which had already been debunked many centuries earlier). Many articles on here are very interesting, and they pull you in quickly. It’s like pistachios — after having one, you feel like reading some more factoids. The one that initially pulled me in was your article debunking myths the modern public have about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. It was well researched!

    But this article — wow. Just wow. I already knew that this recent and sudden hatred for Christopher Columbus stemmed from a wave of anti-American far-right that are trying to use white guilt as a way to crush protests and, more importantly, to separate the American people into labels (“natives”, “blacks”, “whites”, “asians” – when in fact all of us Americans are American, regardless of skin color, religion or descent).
    But to actually find this article on your site! This is a massive disappointment. I’ve actually read Columbus’ diaries and ship logs myself, and there is nothing there about slavery. Columbus was a respectable SCIENTIST and GEOGRAPHER who spent his entire life with exploration and calculation — he didn’t have time to “enslave and rape”. You have zero proof of his crimes except for “try to prove that he DIDN’T” kind of idiot-logic that a five-year-old would use to protect a fib. No person is guilty unless proven innocent — and the baloney that you serve (which consists mostly of opinion, speculation and documents that are highly suspected of forgery and are only used by insolent, pretentious, patronizing “historians”) is not sufficient proof.
    SUDDENLY Columbus is considered a criminal, but never before? Wouldn’t his villainy have been more noticeable BEFORE rather than today, now that we’re literally flooded with falsified historical documents that appear in auctions and in the collections of eccentric aristocrats?
    Stefan Zweig mentioned Christopher Columbus in his biography of Amerigo. Feel free to read a free version of the text on Gutenberg (in Germany, of course, but perhaps there is a translated version as well).
    Chapter six (“The Argument”): Columbus and Amerigo were buried quietly and without pomp, because the aristocracy hated them — if Columbus had been a slave-driver, then why did the aristocrats (officially slave-masters, and innately sadistic in their treatment of non-European “savages”) hate him so? Why was he put into chains? The reason is quite obvious, and Stefan Zweig gives it: in order to gain more time, money and crewmen to explore the islands he had discovered, he continuously cheated Spanish aristocrats at home by promising them loads of gold, silver and pearls after he conquers China and India. It was a bald-faced lie — no man as educated as Columbus would ever say such a thing AND actually believe in it. He knew that he was neither in China, nor India nor Japan — for god’s sake, the man knew how an atlas looked like, and how Japanese/Chinese/Indians looked like!
    Once the noblemen discovered his deceit, he was sentenced to prison. Later on, the Queen eventually got it in her thick, conniving skull that it’s possible to enslave the people living in the New World and take their things (she still wasn’t smart enough to realize that the promised gold was a bunch of phooey — it took a long time until Europeans realized that El Dorado was a myth). Amerigo Vespucci went along on an explorative expedition — Vespucci wasn’t really anybody in particular, neither Sturmann nor explorer, but a cartographer decided to use his name to name the newly discovered land nonetheless. Originally, the land was going to be called Colombia, after Colombus, with Colombia also drawn as a muse to represent the Americas (hence “District of Columbia” and the south american nation Colombia). However, aristocrats quickly took hold of “America” and started to promote Vespucci’s non-existent genius after his death in order to over-shadow their enemy, Colombus (I’m not saying, however, that Vespucci was a bad man — he was just rather insignificant in the course of American history).

    How about writing an article on that blockhead of a Queen? Or is writing the truth about aristocrats not your cup of tea, and you prefer to slag off on geniuses instead? In that case, you ought to delete your article about Charles Darwin, because it’s too good for this site!

    • Catie

      Ooh. Mark is sooo smart. Look at how smart he is, everyone.

      Gosh, and I bet you’re voting for Trump.

  • Mona scoty

    This is why America was not named for Christopher Columbus. America was named after amerigo vespucci, an explorer from Spain. Christopher Columbus was thrown in prison when he was returned to Spain where he died. He was considered a failure, liar, murderer, theif, and rapist. He did not become famous until after his death. He was a crook. It’s funny all this is coming out now. In 1980 my 3rd grade teacher went into great detail about Christopher Columbus and who he really was. This article is quite accurate from the account she gave our class. Back then we did not have the resources of the internet like we do know. But she was well educated and knew what she was talking about. People need to come to terms that this man was not the saint that people have made him out to b. This day should be banned. It’s disrespectful to native americans. But it’s that sense of entitlement of a race who thinks they r superior. I have educated my children and they know the truth. Why would anyone want to give their children false information.

  • jm

    There are indeed a number of inaccuracies in the article, both major and minor (e.g. the story of the “Carb woman” who “treated me with her nails…” was in a letter written by Michele de Cuneo, an Italian noble on CC’s 2nd voyage, NOT written by CC – the woman was given to him by CC), and written with an obvious slant to highlight CC’s evilness. Regardless, I enjoy the articles on this site but am very disappointed when finding inaccurate, or at best, misleading information which seems to happen a fair amount. Please do more fact checks with less biased story telling.

    That said, the rantings by the poster “Mark” are wholly ignorant – he obviously read none of the ship logs or diaries – as there is absolutely no disputing CC’s role in the slave trade or his human atrocities that are well documented by him and his shipmates. And for the other posters – CC was only imprisoned for 6 weeks then released along with his wealth being restored, and also funded for a 4th voyage by the king/queen. He did not die in jail – rather he died 4-5 yrs later after his return from his 4th voyage.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @jm: Good catch! I’ve removed the source that claimed it was from Columbus and included a correct one and fixed the text. Thanks! On your general comment on accuracy, we take that EXTREMELY seriously here, including the subjects being researched by two separate individuals independently to double check each point- the original author and myself. (I’d do more, but can’t afford it; these sorts of articles are expensive enough to produce as it is. And ad-revenue isn’t the best source of monetary support, but all we have at the moment. :-)) In the end, unfortunately there’s no such thing as a perfectly accurate source, which compounds the problem. Over the years of doing this, I have personally encountered numerous errors in some of the best, and most accurate sources for information, such as the OED, Encyclopedia Britannica, Snopes, the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, the Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, etc. etc. Again, nobody bats a thousand, but like these aforementioned institutions, we try exceptionally hard to make sure everything posted here is perfectly accurate given the current state of human knowledge when the article was published. It’s kind of the goal here to be the most accurate “edutainment” site on the internet. Unfortunately being 100% accurate in every little point is an impossible goal even with the largest of budgets, but something to strive towards anyway and something we’ve gotten better and better at over time. As such, I really am appreciative when people point out errors in articles, and am even more grateful when it’s done politely as you did. So thanks again. 🙂

  • Samikshan

    @Daven Hiskey, It is not unlikely that people will criticize your website will all might. But, for sure, this has been a hell of a good website- both interesting & informative…And we hope that it will continue that way…:) keep it up bro…

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Samikshan: Thanks!

  • debbie

    Wow just wow this is a great article exposing who Christopher Columbus really was and it explains so much and this is some horrible history to look back on and the fact that there’s a holiday for it is just ridiculous to me and disgusting.

    • Rich Lenotti

      Just believe everything you read. It’s BS. Do some research and you’ll know that

  • Janise

    This is so sad. We’re celebrating a man so trashy and irrelevant, someone who was hung for sick disgusting crimes. No. We should be learning more about black history and and how they were slaves instead we learn about the same people like John smith and this fool cristopher Columbus and they only tell children the good things about them no this is sickening

    • Luke

      Unfortunately in this case you can’t even come up with anything good that Columbus did. And just an fyi, clothes are hung out to dry. People are always “hanged”, no matter the tense. Today, he is going to be hanged. Tomorrow, he will be hanged. Yesterday, he was hanged.

  • mark

    Only in AmeriKKKa where we have holidays for CRIMINALS. This is why they WON’T ever make a real MOVIE about him. Makes ameriKKKa look even crazier.

    • Mathias Bjorkman

      Columbus wasn’t american. We almost elected a criminal for president, imagine that.

  • Pires

    Christopher Columbus was a Portuguese captain according to Waldseemuller the German Cartographer who first published a worl map with America, 1507 AD.
    The first official name for America was “Terra Nova”, coined in a 1472 Portuguese-Danish joint venture to Cape Breton (located at todays Nova Scotia, Canada).
    It cames from a commerce treaty with the English crown where was sold the righ to fish cod in the North Sea to the Portuguese fishermen. The Scotish under English rule didn’t appreciate it, and told them that the Norwegians knew a place where was possible to capture tons of cod. Fortunately it was nearby Azores Islands. The solution was welcomed.
    The chronicles of the king specificaly refers to a “Terra Nova dos bacalhaus”. The cod still is the national dish, the Danish rather prefer to mantain Greenland more in the north, with the time “Terra Nova” was renamed as Newfoundland (Labrador – the farmer – still holds it Portuguese name), and this first Portuguese settlement in America become a fair tribute to the Scotish who were an important informer by those times, and took the opportunity of tranferring a meaningfull quantity of population to there (Nova Scotia). Then again, CC Colombo his Portuguese name, becomes also the name of the Portuguese main city of Ceylon (today Sri Lanka), and in the history course Colombia (Colombo-Land) also pick the original brand as something of their own.
    CC had the difficult mission of tell to the Spanish monarchs the way to reach India by a maritime pathway. Indeed other royal head knows that it wasn’t possible.

  • \What he mostly did, though, was enslave and rape the natives he met, sold girls (as young as nine by his own account) into prostitution, and committed numerous acts so heinous that he was forcibly removed from power and sent back to Spain in chains.//

    Oh boy. Yeah, this is crap. It was actually Francisco de Bobadilla that manufactured the lies. He was sent to investigate Columbus’ unfair treatment of EUROPEAN SETTLERS! LOL. Columbus was protecting the natives.

    Francisco de Bobadilla wanted Columbus’s job as governor of Hispaniola. Columbus had not part of the slave trade. Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky added that one. One of his boats grounded in Haiti and could not be repaired. He had no room for 39 men, so he started a colony.

    When Columbus came back a year later, he found that the Taino Indians had killed all of them and left the bodies to rot. He went to war with the Tainos and took about 500 of them as prisoners of war, not slaves and released them after the war.

    • Luke

      As I stated above regarding Rich’s comments, an opinion is only as good as the evidence that backs it up. Do you have proof of what you’re saying? Sources? Or are we simply to believe you because you said so, whoever “Big.E” is?

  • Rich Lenotti

    If you want truth don’t listen to clowns who don’t do the proper homework to be factual. This is BS which is typical on the the internet.

    • So we should just listen to random commenters who don’t back up their assertions in the slightest? 😉

      • Luke

        It appears that this article has hit a nerve for Rich Lenotti. He claims that we “shouldn’t listen to clowns”, yet this article seems to be fairly well cited. Where’s his evidence? An opinion is only as good as the evidence that backs it up and this user has none.

  • Renowned historian Howard Zinn? All the accusations make sense now.

    • Oxford English Dictionary: Renowned- “The condition of being known or talked about by many people; fame.” What part of our usage do you have a problem with?