Remember how our teachers recited this poem: “Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in fourteen hundred and ninety two!” Well, our teachers lied to us. They told us that Columbus was the first to believe the world was round and he hoped to prove it by sailing across the Atlantic. He was going to find a new route to the East by sailing West. Remember that?
Columbus was hardly alone in his belief that the earth was round. This was a generally accepted fact in those years. As a matter of fact, that was the popular belief for more than 200 years before Columbus was even born.
We were taught that Queen Isabella had pawned her jewels to pay for Columbus’ first voyage. As a matter of fact, no royal family funds were used for his trip. Financing for the venture was arranged by the Treasurer of the Royal Household, who even used some of his own personal funds. He asked Columbus to take his wife and children out of Spain to escape the Inquisition.
Our teachers told us that Columbus and his three vessels (Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria) encountered terrible storms on that first trip. In fact, Columbus did not encounter great storms on that famous voyage. According to historic sea logs, the seas were calm and the crossing was rather uneventful until the final days before he reached Watling Island in the West Indies.
Did you know that Columbus was not happy with the ships Santangel had purchased for him? The two little ships, the Nina and the Pinta, needed certain modifications for such a long trip. They started to make the modifications in Spain but the Queen was growing impatient and was breathing down Columbus’ back. He realized he had to leave immediately.
Columbus decided the modifications would be made on the Island of Palos. When certain repairs still needed to be made, he pulled into the Canary Islands and spent a month making the repairs and further modifications before crossing the Atlantic. The crossing actually took one month, and not two, as many history books record.
At one point toward the end of his journey, Columbus and the Pinzon brothers (who captained the two other ships) met to discuss whether they should turn back. They decided to continue and reassess the situation and wait a few more days.
Columbus did not die penniless as we were told in school. Thanks to the dissemination of his journals and the development of the printing press, which made copies of the maps of the New World, he became a famous personality. Although not exceedingly wealthy, he was financially comfortable at the time of his death. His son inherited his funds and titles.
Columbus spent his final years bent by arthritis and was bitter at the royal family for real and imagined wrongs. He died in 1506, just fourteen years after his first voyage.