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A Timeline of the Life and Explorations of Christopher Columbus

My writing interests are general, with expertise in science, history, biographies, and “how-to” topics. I have written over seventy books.

1893 Columbus $5 U.S. postage stamp

1893 Columbus $5 U.S. postage stamp

Columbus Prepares for His Voyage of Discovery

As a young man, Christopher Columbus dreamt of sailing to the west on the Ocean Sea to reach the rich lands of China and Japan. Columbus had spent most of his adult life as a sailor and had become a skilled navigator. He sought financing from various European sovereigns to sponsor his voyage of discovery to the west. After years of waiting and negotiations, Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed to finance his explorations.

  • 1451 – Born in the port city of Genoa (Italy) the son of a prosperous wool merchant and tavern keeper. As a teenager, he learns the craft of a mariner and navigator.
  • 1476 – Swims ashore to Portugal after his ship is sunk in a battle with pirates. His brother Bartholomew joins him in Lisbon.
  • 1477 to 1484 – Travels as a merchant mariner on voyages from Iceland to Guinea.
  • 1479 – Marries Felipa Moniz Perestrello the daughter of a wealthy Portuguese nobleman and they settle on the island of Porto Santo, near Madeira.
  • 1479 or 1480 – First son Diego is born.
  • 1484 – Conceives of “The Enterprise of the Indies” idea but fails to convince the king of Portugal, King John II, to fund the plan. Wife Felipa dies.
  • 1485 – Moves to Palos, Spain.
  • 1488 – Second son Fernando is born to Beatriz Enriquez de Harana at Cordova, Spain.
Queen Isabella and Columbus $4 U.S. postage stamp

Queen Isabella and Columbus $4 U.S. postage stamp

Sailing for the New World

The king and queen provided two small ships, the Niña and Pinta, while Columbus provided the larger Santa Maria. The three ships were manned by 90 able Spanish sailors and they stocked the ship with salted cod, bacon, biscuits, wine, cooking oil, and enough fresh water for a year. After a brief stop at the Canary Island, off the west coast of Africa, the three ships sailed westerly. After a near mutiny by the crew, they spotted land (on what is now one of the islands of the Bahamas). There they encounter friendly natives and begin to explore the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba. Columbus and his men returned to Spain as heroes.

  • September 3, 1492 – Departs from Palos, sails to Canary Island to repair and refit fleet of three ships.
  • October 12, 1492 – Land is sighted in New World at 2:00 a.m. by Rodrigo de Triana. Names island San Salvador.
  • October 29, 1492 – Arrives in Cuba.
  • November 22, 1492 – Captain of the Pinta, Martín Alonso Pinzón, deserts the expedition to search for gold on an island called “Babeque” by the natives.
  • December 5, 1492 – Arrives at the island he names Hispaniola.
  • December 25, 1492Santa Maria runs aground on Hispaniola, founds a settlement he calls La Navidad.
  • January 6, 1493 – Pinzón rejoins Columbus.
  • January 16, 1493 – Departs Hispaniola for Spain aboard the Niña.
  • February 14, 1493 – Niña and Pinta are separated during a storm.
  • February 15, 1493 – Lands on Santa Maria Island in the Azores.
  • March 4, 1493 – Blown off course by a storm, the Niña goes into port at Lisbon, Portugal.
  • March 15, 1493Niña and Pinta arrive separately in Palos, Spain.
1893 Columbus in Sight of Land 1 Cent U.S. postage stamp

1893 Columbus in Sight of Land 1 Cent U.S. postage stamp

Second and Third Voyages

The first voyage of Columbus was successful prompting King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to sponsor a much larger second expedition, and then a third. The fleets dispatched under Columbus were destined to subdue and colonize the New World. The Spanish were very harsh to the native Indians and many of them perished. Columbus turned out to be a much better explorer than an administrator of a new continent. At the end of the third voyage, he was sent back to Spain in chains to answer the charge of his harsh treatment of the Spanish colonists.

  • September 1493 – Fleet of 17 ships depart from Cádiz, Spain, for Columbus’s second voyage.
  • November 3, 1493 – Island of Dominica sighted at dawn.
  • November 22, 1493 – Lands at Hispaniola.
  • November 28, 1493 – Returns to La Navidad to find the fort destroyed and the men killed or missing.
  • December 1493 – Founds colony of La Isabella on the island of Hispaniola in the present-day Dominican Republic.
  • April 24, 1494 – Sails from La Isabella in search of mainland Japan.
  • April 30, 1494 – Lands in Cuba.
  • June 13, 1494 – Returns to Hispaniola.
  • August 20, 1494 – Returns to La Isabella and becomes the governor.
  • 1494 – 1495 – Spaniards and Taíno Indians at war.
  • March 10, 1496 – Sails for Spain.
  • June 8, 1496 – Reaches the coast of Portugal.
  • May 30, 1498 – Departs from Sanlucar, Spain, with six ships for a third voyage to the Indies.
  • June 19, 1498 – Arrives in the Canary Islands; splits fleet into two squadrons, one bound for Hispaniola, while Columbus takes three ships on a more southernly route.
  • July 31, 1498 – Arrives at Trinidad.
  • August 13, 1498 – Leaves the Gulf of Paria, which is located off the east coast of present-day Venezuela.
  • August 19, 1498 – Arrives at Santo Domingo on Hispaniola and resumes his role as governor.
  • October 1500 – Arrested along with his two brothers and sent back to Spain in chains.
1893 Columbian Exposition commemorative 50 cent U.S. silver coin

1893 Columbian Exposition commemorative 50 cent U.S. silver coin

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Fourth and Final Voyage

By the fourth and final journey to the New World, Columbus had been stripped of his colonial administrative powers. The king and queen sponsored this voyage to the Indies to find gold and an Ocean passage to the Indian Ocean, which would ultimately lead to the elusive ocean trade route to China and Japan. The fleet of four ships ran into problems with seaworms that caused disastrous leaks in the hulls of the ships. The rotting ships forced Columbus and his men to be marooned on the island of Jamaica for a year. He was finally able to return to Spain, however, the years of harsh life at sea had taken its toll on his health – arriving in Spain a broken man.

  • May 11, 1502 – Departs from Cádiz, Spain, with four ships for the last voyage to the Indies.
  • June 29, 1502 – Arrives at Santo Domingo, Hispaniola.
  • June 25, 1503 – Marooned along with the crew in Jamaica.
  • June 29, 1504 – Rescued from Jamaica after more than a year on the island.
  • November 7, 1504 – Returns to Spain.
  • November 12, 1504 – Queen Isabella I of Castile dies.
  • May 20, 1506 – Dies at Valladolid, Spain.
1992-D Christopher Columbus Quincentenary U.S. silver dollar coin in uncirculated condition

1992-D Christopher Columbus Quincentenary U.S. silver dollar coin in uncirculated condition


  • Bergreen, Laurence. Columbus: The Four Voyages. Viking. 2011.
  • Morison, Samuel E. Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Little, Brown and Company. 1970.
  • Snee, Charles (Editor) 2013 Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps & Covers. Ninety-First Edition. Scott Publishing Co. 2012.
  • West, Doug. Christopher Columbus and the Discover of the Americas. C&D Publications. 2020.
  • Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garret (Senior Editor). 2021 A Guide Book of United States Coins. 74th Edition. Whitman Publishing, LLC. 2020.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Doug West


Doug West (author) from Missouri on September 28, 2020:


Thanks for the read. Columbus is a mixed character in history - good and bad. His level of "goodness" or "badness" depends on ones perspective.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on September 28, 2020:

Superb, as always, Doug. I truly enjoy your articles. Columbus was indeed brave and clever regardless of how people may think of him today. He helped build the New World. His life was interesting. Thanks.

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