5 Things You Didn't Know About Christopher Columbus

On this day in 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus set sail in command of three ships—the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina—on a journey to find a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.  Here are five interesting facts about Christopher Columbus...


The First Voyage Almost Never Happened. # Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus. Image source: WikiCommons After Columbus's plan to find a western route to the Indies was rejected by Portugal, Italy, and England, the explorer turned to King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain. Isabella was naturally a bit hesitant to fund Columbus’s voyage. When Columbus first proposed the idea in 1486 (six years before Columbus would finally set sail), Isabella rejected him on the advice of her counsel. But, she clearly maintained interest—she opted to pay Columbus an annual stipend and give him free room and board across all the lands where she ruled.  

In January 1492, he got another chance to make his case in front of Isabella. She again rejected him, and Columbus fled. Ferdinand then stepped in and authorized the voyage. The Queen’s courier had to hustle to catch up with Columbus—who was already four miles outside town—and shared the good news.

His Crew Didn't Love Him. Finding a crew wasn't the easiest task. In 1492, it wasn't just Kyrie Irving thinking the Earth was flat; many people though sailing across the ocean would lead to some massive waterfall where they'd fall of the face of the planet into the abyss. Alas, Columbus managed to convince 86 men to join his crew, but they didn't love their captain. Columbus maintained two separate logs so that he could deceive the crew about how far they'd traveled from home. On the brink of mutiny, Columbus agreed to head home if they didn't find land within two days. The next day, they came across San Salvador. 


He Wrecked the Santa Maria on Christmas Day, 1492. Columbus returned back to Spain without the gold and spices he had promised the King and Queen, and without the nicest ship they had loaned him. The Santa Maria ran aground on Christmas Day, forcing Columbus to leave 39 men behind at a settlement called La Navidad in present-day Haiti. Just one more reason the crew didn't love their captain. 

A Lunar Eclipse Saved Columbus's Life. # The Return of Christopher Columbus by Eugene Delacroix. Image Source: WikiCommons During Columbus's final voyage in 1504, Columbus and his crew got stranded in Jamaica for a year. Columbus and a small crew took a Canoe over to Hispaniola in search of food, but the governor despised Columbus and refused to help him. Desperate and aware that a lunar eclipse was coming soon, Columbus warned the islanders that their refusal of food had upset his god and that the moon would turn red to show his wrath. When it turned the next night, the islanders were terrified and gave Columbus the provisions he needed to survive.

Columbus Crossed the Atlantic Even in Death. Columbus died in 1506 and was buried in Valladolid, Spain, and then moved to Seville. The bodies of Columbus and his son Diego were later shipped across the Atlantic to Hispaniola where they were kept at a Santo Domingo cathedral. Then, in 1795, the French captured the island. Spanish locals dug up remains thought to be those of Columbus and quickly moved them to Cuba. They were then returned to Seville after the Spanish-American War in 1898. That's a lot of hopping around, but here's the twist:

In 1877, a box with human remains and the explorer’s name was discovered inside the Santo Domingo cathedral. Though DNA testing has confirmed that at least some of the bones in Seville belong to Columbus, it's possible the explorer has remains on both sides of the Atlantic. 

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