Columbus Day is a widely celebrated, controversial, and mostly useless holiday – people don’t even get a day off of work!
If you didn’t know, on this day, 527 years ago, while Christopher Columbus was trying to reach Asia, he landed in the “New World” instead, or as we know it today, the Bahamas. His discovery completely changed the shape of European settlement and colonization.
Now changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in several places, including Washington DC, there are some facts about this historic Italian explorer that changed the world you may not know.
Here’s the thing – while Columbus probably never realized that his actions would have these consequences, his “discovery” of the New World ruined a lot of people’s lives, and did a lot of damage.
Some places like Washington, DC, don’t call it Columbus Day at all but refer to it as Indigenous Peoples’ day. They choose to celebrate and appreciate those who Columbus “discovered”.
Many states don’t recognize the holiday at all, however. Hawaii, Florida, South Dakota, New Mexico, Vermont, Alaska, and Maine simply don’t register it as a holiday. Ironically, the city of Columbus, Ohio, does not note Columbus Day as a city holiday.
Columbus sailed from Italy to Asia with three ships – the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. You probably know this much. Did you know that two of the three ships are lost, and no one is entirely sure what happened to them?
The Santa Maria famously ran aground during Columbus’ first voyage and was destroyed beyond any hope of repair.
The Nina and the Pinta, however… no historical data has ever been able to pin-point just what happened to them.
Both ships made the initial voyage safely, that much is true. But after that first trip, the history of the Pinta is unclear. There is no surviving record of it ever leaving port, or being destroyed.
The Nina sailed for many years after the trip, proving itself to be the sturdiest, but after 1501 there is zero record of it. Before this disappearance, it spent many years doing trading voyages all over the world.
Spain made a pretty big promise to Columbus and his family – 10% of all the riches found in the New World would go to him and his estate. This was a pretty sweet agreement for all involved and could have set him and his family up for life in a big way.
After Columbus’ arrest (yes, seriously. We’ll get to that) and eventual death, however, the Spanish government wasn’t excited about holding up their end of the deal. So his family sued the government for the money they were due.
Columbus’ son, Diego, also believed that his family deserved the right to govern all of America, not just the islands Columbus visited.
In the end, the family was granted the lands and titles in Jamaica and Hispaniola, and given an annual payment of 10,000 ducats to his estate.
People who say Columbus wasn’t a great guy aren’t wrong.
After his discovery of the new world, Columbus and his brothers ruled the Spanish colony on the island of Hispaniola for seven years. During this time, the three killed or enslaved much of the native population, torturing those who lived on the island.
Any Spanish settlers who questioned their rule were hanged.
Spain eventually had enough, and arrested Columbus along with his two brothers, bringing them back. Eventually, they were released with zero real punishment.
We’re not even entirely sure how this belief came to be, but no – Columbus never proved that the Earth was round.
People had known for hundreds of years what shape the Earth was, and few people at that time believed that it was actually flat. He did prove that the Earth was much bigger than he originally thought, however.
His belief that the earth was so small led him to think he could sail to Asia by going West from Spain.