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Useful Notes: Christopher Columbus
Columbus probably looked nothing like this.

Columbus sailed the ocean blue
Back in Fourteen-Ninety-Two.
He sailed across and spotted land,
A beach, and people on the sand.

He called them Indians because
He had no idea where he was,
India was just a guess.
When in doubt, declare success.
Ramon Montaigne

A famous historical figure, known as the sailor who wanted to find an easier trade route from Europe to Asia (NOT to prove the Earth was round, contrary to popular belief) only to discover the Americas during his travels. As you probably know, he was not the first European to discover the Americas note , but it was his efforts that led directly to the the Colombian Exchange, in which European exploration colonization that shaped the Western Hemisphere, and through it, the entire world, into its current form. An inestimable boon for the nations of Europe, though considerably less advantageous for the American indigenous natives.

On his most famous voyage, the 1492 trans-Atlantic trip in the ships Ni˝a, Pinta, and Santa Maria, he was searching for a route to "India," which at the time meant Asia — specifically, he was hoping to find Japan. When he finally reached land, all he could tell was that the natives were neither Japanese nor Chinese, and so he was at a loss to figure out where he really was. Figuring he'd landed on some previously-unknown part of Asia, he referred to the natives generically as "Indians," and the island chain as the "East Indies." (Today, we've corrected this second mistake, and refer to these islands as the West Indies.) On his third voyage, in 1498, he realized he'd found a hitherto-unknown continent (South America), but he never learned that he hadn't come close to reaching Asia.

Nobody today is sure what he looked like; the picture here, painted after his death by someone who never met him, shouldn't be taken as fact. For one, he had auburn hair in his youth which would have turned white by the time he was the age depicted.

Columbus was (most likely) Genoese. He and his brother Bartholomew together conceived of an "enterprise of the Indies," a way to sail directly to the Orient without having to go through the Turkish-controlled land route or the very long route beyond Africa. Columbus, a relatively inexperienced sailor, argued that the world was smaller than what common scholarship held, and that Japan was very, very far east of China, which was in turn very, very far east of where it actually was. He was right on one count, though, that the "Easterly" winds off the coast of Africa could propel a sailing ship a great distance in relatively little time.

He went to Portugal in 1485 and presented his plan, along with a demand that he be made "Great Admiral of the Ocean," appointed governor of any lands he discovered, and received 10% of revenue derived from anything he found. The Portuguese flatly rejected his proposal, and the English simultaneously rejected a similar proposal made by his brother. Then Christopher went to the Spanish, who held a similar opinion but decided to keep him around by paying him not to go anywhere else. This was in 1489.

In 1492, hurting for cash after defeating Muslim Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella decided to give him what he wanted (although Isabella initially turned him down). Most likely, Ferdinand didn't think he'd come back. Columbus was actually a pretty bad sailor - most of the other experienced men on his ships knew more about navigation than he did. Luckily for him and all of the others with him, there just happened to be the Americas in the middle of the ocean and they didn't die of starvation. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that Columbus merely stumbled his way into changing history.

Many historians have attributed Columbus for the European colonization of the Americas, which involves many Europeans battling each other for colonies and land in the New World, looting and destroying many tribes for gold and valuable resources, massacres of populations to take their land, and forced destruction of native cultures. Most Indian victims however were claimed by the European diseases, which their immune systems could not handle. Although obviously, how many Europeans approached the New World and the Native American tribes varied. note  Many countries celebrate Columbus Day on October 12th as an official holiday since the early 20th Century, even with some of its controversies surrounding what the anniversary of the event really involved.

Columbus's descendants hold the Spanish noble title Duke of Veragua, and the hereditary title of "Admiral of the Ocean Sea." Both the current Duke and his father were named Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and the father was actually a naval officer, which means he was an Admiral even when he was a Lieutenant.

As for his legacy, several things in the new world were named for him, including the Republic of Colombia, The District of Columbia (no relation to the Republic), the Territory of Columbia (no relation to the District, later became the state of Washington, no relation to the city located in the District), and Columbia, the Anthropomorphic Personification of the United States of America (before she was overshadowed by Uncle Sam).

Oh, and he once got into an epic rap battle with Captain Kirk.

Leonardo da VinciUsefulNotes/ItalyNiccol˛ Machiavelli
Cleopatra VIIHistorical-Domain CharacterDavy Crockett

alternative title(s): Christopher Columbus
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