Christopher Columbus Trivia for the 21st Century

Updated on May 29, 2018
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New World history is a rich field that is constantly being analyzed for new material. The complexity of these tales never fails to amaze me.

Christopher Columbus

A painted likeness of Christopher Columbus created by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio
A painted likeness of Christopher Columbus created by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio

The Legacy of Columbus

No doubt about it, Christopher Columbus is an important historical figure. The Great Mariner has also become a controversial figure, especially in recent years, as many groups and historians have been prone to pointing out some of his negative accomplishments, such as slave trading, quests for gold and his treatment of New World Natives. By bringing to light some aspects of Columbus's life that have been overlooked by mainstream media, perhaps it is possible to achieve a better understanding of the experienced navigator, who rode the Trade Winds to a strange and new land, and then returned to Europe to spread the news. Following are a dozen bits of trivia that might help define Christopher Columbus.

Colon House on the island of La Gomera

This building in San Sebastian on the Canary Islands, houses a museum dedicated to Columbus.
This building in San Sebastian on the Canary Islands, houses a museum dedicated to Columbus. | Source

San Sebastian, La Gomera Was an Important Port of Call

La Gomera is one of the smallest of the Canary Islands, yet its capital, San Sebastian, had for many years been an important harbor for sea traders. Reportedly, Columbus knew the port well and even stopped here on his first voyage to the Caribbean to take on supplies and make a few ship repairs.

Columbus Made Four Voyages To the New World

We all know about his first journey that occurred in the fall of 1492. Commandeering a fleet of three ships, Columbus made a relatively easy journey across the Atlantic, finally landing somewhere in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. Several months later Columbus returned to Spain with two ships (one caught fire) and a handful of captives to prove that he reached India. (He hadn't)

Over the next twelve years, Columbus made three more journeys to the New World with varying number of ships. On these travels, his aim was to further explore the place that he had discovered. During his time in the New World, Columbus always believed he was in some part of Asia. As he ventured further into the Caribbean, his adventures escalated into a series of life-threatening events. Yet, as fate would have it, Columbus always managed to survive whatever misfortune came his way.

1500: Columbus Was Jailed and Chained

In 1500, Columbus was thrown in jail in Hispaniola, taken back to Europe and dragged across Spain in chains. At the time, Columbus had been appointed Governor of Hispaniola. As turned out, Columbus was such a bad administrator that his own men threw him in prison. Then, they sailed across the Atlantic with him in chains and escorted him across Spain, still in custody.

Columbus Gets a Pardon

Even though Columbus was dragged across Spain in chains, he soon received a pardon from King Ferdinand in 1500 and was set free. Not only that, his financial house was restored, and he was even given financing for a fourth and smaller expedition to the Caribbean.

The Death of Christopher Columbus

The Death of Christopher Columbus, lithograph by L. Prang & Co., 1893.
The Death of Christopher Columbus, lithograph by L. Prang & Co., 1893.

Columbus Died Not Realizing He Had Discovered a New Continent (South America)

OK, the Indians had lived there for tens of thousands of years, and it is quite plausible that Polynesians had introduced the sweet potato, long before Columbus showed up. And to further complicate matters, Columbus firmly believed he had reached Asia, not the Americas, but nonetheless, he was probably the first European to set foot in South America at the mouth of the Orinoco River in present-day Venezuela. So that in itself makes him the discoverer of South America.

Columbus Visited Iceland in 1477

Fifteen years before he reached the New World, Columbus sailed to Iceland and visited a small Christian church on the Eastern end of the island. This piece of trivia may be the most surprising or controversial, but Iceland had been a Christian nation, since the eleventh century, when Leif Eriksson, (a Christian convert) had established the first church there. Going to Iceland was no big deal, as Catholic priests made the voyage from time to time on ships bound for Norway. Further evidence can be found in Columbus's journals, where he speaks about going to Tiles (the name used for Iceland at that time).

At the Seville Cathedral

The statue of Ferdinand 3, King of Castile (1217-1252) and Leon  can be found in the Seville Cathedral in Spain
The statue of Ferdinand 3, King of Castile (1217-1252) and Leon can be found in the Seville Cathedral in Spain

Columbus's Corpse Crosses the Atlantic.

When Columbus died in 1506, he was living in Spain. He was first interred at Valladolid then moved to Seville. In 1542, the body of Columbus made its first trip across the Atlantic, where it was interred at a Church in Santo Domingo. That situation lasted a good 250 years until in 1795 the French invaded the island, and Columbus was again moved; this time to Havana, Cuba. However, this peaceful rest was destined not to last very long, for when Cuba gained its independence from Spain in 1898, it was time for Columbus to move again. Hopefully, the move from Cuba back to Seville, Spain will be the last one for Columbus, as he is still there now.

Return To Spain with Human Cargo

Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage with eight Natives from the island of Hispaniola. His motives may have been high-minded (Columbus wanted to prove he had arrived in India), but the results were not. The Spanish exploration of the New World led to a whole world of troubles for the Natives, which included slavery, warfare, and disease.

Columbus the Castaway

On his fourth voyage, Columbus was shipwrecked (1502-1503) on the north shore of Jamaica for one year. It was during this time that the infamous lunar eclipse occurred, and Columbus was perhaps able to save his life and that of some of his crew.

Christopher Columbus, A Contemporary Look

Columbus Was a Very Good Navigator

For his day, Columbus's skill as a navigator was unsurpassed. Wherever he went, he encountered all kinds of problems, ranging from mutiny to hurricanes. Despite these obstacles, he always arrived, maybe not at the right place, but he arrived.

He was especially proficient at a difficult type of navigation called "Dead Reckoning." Dead Reckoning can be best described as traveling long distances across water on a compass bearing and then calculating the distance traveling via time and speed.

Salvador Dali Paints a Modernist Tribute

The Discovery of America by Salvador Dali, a 20th century Spanish painter of the Surrealistic style.
The Discovery of America by Salvador Dali, a 20th century Spanish painter of the Surrealistic style.

Seaman's Slang

The official names of the three ships that first crossed the Atlantic were la Santa Clara, la Pinta, and la Santa Gallega. The names we use today are simply sailor's slang for various “ladies of the evening.” As was the custom of the day, each ship, received a nickname to accompany the formal Christian title for each boat.

The Santa Maria Catches Fire

Columbus's own ship the Santa Maria got wrecked on Christmas Day (1492) and caught fire. The boat was ruined, so Columbus and his staff returned to Spain on the Nina. However, over 40 of the crew members remained behind on Hispaniola to await the return of their ship's captain. Columbus returned in less than a year, but when he arrived, he found that all of his crew had died.

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    © 2017 Harry Nielsen

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