“In fourteen hundred and ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
He had three ships and left from Spain:
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain...”
Born between 1450 and 51 in the Republic of Genoa, a young boy named Christopher Columbus longed to sail the sea. In one of his writings he claimed he achieved that desire at the age of ten. In 1470, he served on a ship in the service of Rene of Anjou to support Rene’s attempt to conquer the Kingdom of Naples.
Columbus, a determined and ruthless man, learned Latin, Portuguese and Castilian, read the writings of Ptolemy, Pliny, and made marginal notes in books on geography, history, astronomy and The Travels of Marco Polo and had an intense interest in the Bible and in the predictions he gleaned from its pages.
The explorer, navigator and colonizer also wrote. He penned letters, journals and books about his travels. A Book of Privileges in 1502 which specified and documented the rewards from the Spanish Crown to which he declared he was entitled and a Book of Prophesies in 1505 where he wrote his feats as an explorer were a realization of Biblical prophesy.
Columbus tried to discover a westward route to India and until he departed this life believed he had succeeded in his mission and never accepted as fact he had reached a different continent. Columbus sailed across the uncharted sea and navigating by the stars and blown by the winds from the east he reached the New World landing on an island in the Bahamas he named “San Salvador.” After this first voyage, Columbus was named Viceroy and Governor of the Indies that made him largely responsible for the supervision of the colonies.
He made three additional voyages to the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America and claimed them for the Crown of Castile. A controversial man he is believed by many historians to be responsible for organizing the transatlantic buying and selling of slaves and the torture and genocide of Hispaniola natives.
The end of his third voyage found him fatigued in body and mind. Allegations of cruelty and ineptitude had reached the ear of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand and he was replaced Francisco de Bobadilla. Columbus gave the conversion of unbelievers as one of the reasons for his explorations and as he aged and became ill, he became progressively more devout.
Amerigo Vespucci born in 1454 in Florence, Italy was another young man who read widely, and collected books and maps. He began his working career with bankers and was sent to Spain where soon he found employment on ships. Vespucci went on his first voyage as a navigator in 1499. The ship reached the mouth of the Amazon and explored the coast of South America. He calculated the specific distance west he had traveled by studying the concurrence of Mars and the Moon. In 1501, Vespucci sailed under the Portuguese flag following the South American coast to within 400 miles of the southern tip. His two letters to a friend narrated his travels and became the first to recognize the new world of North and South America. His observations of the Indigenous People in the letters told of their diet, religion, marriage and sexual habits. The last made the letters a best seller published in many languages across Europe.
A German clergyman-scholar read of Vespucci’s voyages and knew that the new world consisted of two continents. He was working on a map based on the geography of Ptolemy and printed a wood block map with the name “America,” across the southern continent of the New World. He printed and sold a thousand copies of the book. The name stuck and today we celebrate Columbus Day but the name of Americus Vespucci lives on.