by Debbie Holloway, Assistant Editor, Crosswalk.com
“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue!”
To be honest, that’s probably the extent of knowledge about Christopher Columbus that many of us have. If pressed for more information, we can say that Columbus discovered America (sort of) and was seeking gold and a new water passage to India. Since Americans celebrate Columbus Day once every year, shouldn’t we know a bit more about this towering historical figure?
1. Columbus introduced slave trade to the Americas.
Though the buying and selling of slaves was common in other parts of the world, to our knowledge it was not practiced in the Americas until Columbus brought it to the Caribbean. Writing of slaves just as he might other goods, Columbus penned in his diary,
“We can send from here, in the name of the Holy Trinity, all the slaves and Brazil wood which could be sold.”
He wrote many other entries referring to the native peoples as simple, naïve, and easy to take advantage of. Because Spanish law forbade slavery for Spanish citizens and Christians, Columbus decided to enslave rather than baptize the natives. Even practices like sex slavery, mutilation, and frequent use of the gallows were practiced at these settlements, which leads to #2…
2. Columbus was arrested, stripped of his titles, replaced as Governor, and failed every task he set out to accomplish.
We already know that Columbus never sought to discover a new continent – so that was a surprise bonus. But that also meant he had failed to reach India and a new passage for ships, and he never found great riches in the Americas as he’d hoped. But you already know this from elementary school. Remember those issues with native slavery and mistreatment that we mentioned in the first section? According to Biography.com,
“[C]onditions at the Hispaniola settlement had deteriorated to the point of near-mutiny with settlers claiming they had been misled by Columbus’ claims of riches and complaining about the poor management of his brothers. The Spanish Crown sent a royal official who arrested Columbus and stripped him of his authority. He returned to Spain in chains to face the royal court. The charges were later dropped but Columbus lost his titles as governor of the Indies and for a time, much of the riches made during his voyages.”
Although he eventually was released from jail and even returned again to the new world, he fell out of favor with both Spain and the colonists. After Queen Isabella died in 1504, Columbus’ most loyal supporter was no longer able to vouch for him, and he was never able to regain his titles or former prestige.
3. The “Columbian Exchange” brought new culture (and new disease) to both continents.
Columbus set in motion a huge intercontinental exchange of foods, goods, culture, and deadly diseases, through his voyages to and from the Caribbean.
“The horse from Europe allowed Native American tribes in the Great Plains of North America to shift from a nomadic to a hunting lifestyle. Foods from the Americas such as potatoes, tomatoes and corn became staples of Europeans and helped increase their populations. Wheat from Europe and the Old World fast became a main food source for people in the Americas. Coffee from Africa and sugar cane from Asia became major cash crops for Latin American countries.”
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