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Commentary: Columbus helped launch age of exploration

In the Feb. 5 issue of the R-E the idea of renaming Columbus Day was discussed. I would like to write about Christopher Columbus and his legacy.

He was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy. Europe was struggling against the Ottoman Turks. Trade was becoming increasingly difficult as the land trade routes were cut off — either sail around Africa or go westward across the Atlantic.

European explorers had the seafaring skills of the Italians and the resources of the Portuguese and the Spanish. Europeans also had a passion for trading and the desire to spread Christianity.

By the 1480s the Portuguese had invented the caravel, a ship that could sail against the wind.

Columbus had planned to sail 2,400 miles west along the latitude of the Canary Islands (West Africa) until he reached the India. (Educated people know that the world is round.)

In April 1492, his plan received the approval of Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Spanish brothers captained the Pinta and the Nina. Columbus captained the Santa Maria. All the ships were made of wood and had no engines; meals were cooked on portable wood burning stoves.

Columbus was an outstanding navigator. He measured latitude by using the North Star with a crude quadrant. He also used a compass and had a half hour glass to tell time.

On Oct. 12 the ships reached an island in the West Indies called San Salvador: Spanish for Holy Savior. They believed they were near India.

Columbus called the islanders Indians. He returned to Spain on March 15, 1493, and the king and queen gave him a grand reception.

Seventeen ships went on the second voyage along with 12,000 men. Among the places visited was Puerto Rico.

The Tainos Indians were no longer friendly to the Spaniards. They suffered from disease brought over unintentionally and food was scarce. Columbus forced all the Tainos over the age of 14 to pan for gold in Hispaniola, a settlement. The priests criticized his treatment of the Tainos.

In June of 1496 he returned to Spain to defend himself. His powerful oratory and presence succeeded. The king and queen granted his request for supplies for a third voyage. They wanted him to explore for a mainland west of the islands.

Columbus reached the coast of Venezuela. He wrote that he believed he had discovered a very great continent.

On May 9, 1502, he set out on a fourth voyage. His 14 year-old son Ferdinand went along and wrote a good account of the trip. They sailed along the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

On April 16, 1503, he gave up his search for a passage to India. He was suffering from malaria. He died May 20, 1506, and is buried in Santo Domingo.

Christopher Columbus had a strong will and stuck to his beliefs. He changed the Europeans’ view of the world and led to contact between Europe and the Americas.

The love of freedom in the Native Americans led to a new belief in personal liberty among Europeans. Historians continue to praise his persistence, courage and ability.

Critics point to his cruelty to the Indians, his poor administration of Hispaniola and his role in the exploitation of the natural resources of the Americas.

His journey across the unknown waters of the Atlantic marked the beginning of a great age of exploration.