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   He [the Most High] gave to thee [Columbus] the keys of those gates of the Ocean . . . which were fast closed with such mighty chains." -- Dream of Columbus; see his Letter to the King and Queen of Spain, 1503.



   I. Birth of Columbus; Ideas about the Earth, the "Sea of Darkness." Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, was born in Genoa, Italy.3
   At that time the earth was generally supposed to be flat, to be much smaller than it actually is, and to be habitable on its upper side only. The countries laid down on the rude and imperfect maps then in use were the continent of Europe, part of Asia, a narrow strip of northern and eastern Africa, and a few islands, the largest of which were the British Isles and Iceland. (Map, p. 2.)

   1 Reference Books. R. G. Thwaites' "Colonies," pp. 21-25; W. C. Bryant and Gay's "United States" (revised edition), I, ch. 3, 5 6; J. Fiske's "Discovery of America," I, 148-255, 335-446; W. Irving's "Columbus" (abridged); T. W. Higginson's "American Explorers," pp. 21-32; E. G. Bourne's "Spain in America," pp. 9-60; A. B. Hart's "Source Book," pp. 1-6; A. B. Hart's" American History by Contemporaries," I, 28-49; and List of Books in the Appendix.
   Difficult words are pronounced at the bottom of the page or in the Index.

   2 Amerigo Vespucci (ä-ma-re'go vês-poot'che).
   3 The date of the birth of Columbus cannot be determined with certainty; it was, at any rate, between 1430 and 1456.




   The Atlantic was called the "Sea of Darkness." People generally believed that it was covered with thick black


The faint, dotted outline of the coast of Africa shows the unexplored portion. The monsters represent the terrors of unknown regions.

fogs, and was guarded by terrible monsters which made it impassable.
    Long before Columbus was born, storm-driven sailors chanced to discover the Canaries and the Azores. These islands, with Iceland, marked the western limit of voyages. Navigators, even with the help of the mariner's compass, did not dare venture beyond them.
   All the countries of southern and eastern Asia were at that time known under the general name of the Indies.
   2. The Voyages and Discoveries of the Northmen. But in saying this we must make one exception: the Northmen, those daring sailors of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, from whom the English-speaking race has largely sprung,1 braved even the tempests and the terrors of the Atlantic. By accident they made a number of remarkable discoveries several centuries before Columbus. Though they had no compass, -- no guide, in fact, but the sun and the stars, -- yet they frequently made long voyages in rudely built vessels not larger than fishing boats.
   In these voyages the Northmen discovered and settled Iceland (850) and, later, Greenland. Finally, about the year 1000, Leif

   1 The Northmen invaded and permanently settled the northeastern half of England in the 9th century. In the next century they established themselves in northwestern France, which district was called from them Normandy (the country of the Normans, or North men). In 1066 the Normans crossed the Channel and conquered England. Hence many English, since the 9th century, and their descendants in America must have sprung from the Northmen.
   Furthermore, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish immigrants have come to America in great numbers and are still coming. They are noted for their intelligence, industry, and thrift, and they make excellent citizens.




Ericson, a Northman, who was afterward known as "Leif the Lucky," discovered the coast of North America. He named the new country Vinland,1 because of the quantities of wild grapes which he found there.
   Leif Ericson VesselIt is impossible to say where Vinland was, but it seems probable that it was on some part of the coast of New England or Nova Scotia.
   3. The Discovery of America by the Northmen had no Practical Result. But although it is interesting to know that the Northmen visited our shores as early as the year 1000, still their discovery led to nothing, The Northmen did not found a permanent colony in Vinland, and the memory of it gradually died out.
   Columbus never seems to have heard of such a country. He sailed on his famous voyage nearly five hundred years after "Leif the Lucky" landed on the coast of North America. We are therefore quite safe in saying that when Columbus set out to cross the Atlantic one half the world did not so much as suspect the existence of the other half.
   4. What Land Columbus wished to reach; Marco Polo's Travels; the First Reason why Columbus wished to go to the Indies. What, then, let us ask, first induced Columbus to undertake a voyage that no other man of that age dared embark upon ? It was not because he expected to find a new continent beyond

   1 The Northmen used to relate accounts of their voyages, and in one of these accounts, which --- as written out hundreds of years later, we read: "And when spring came they got ready and sailed off; and Leif gave a name to the land after its sort, and called it Vinland (Vineland). They sailed then . . . until they saw Greenland . . . after that, Leif was called 'Leif the Lucky.'"




the Atlantic, for no one then expected that. What he set out to do was simply to find a new way to reach the Indies by sailing westward.
   Columbus burned with a desire to explore the marvelous eastern lands which had been described by the great Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, more than two hundred years before (1260-1295). Polo had made an overland journey to India and China and had spent nearly thirty years there. He also gave some account of Japan, -- a country which Europe never had heard of before.
   Columbus believed that God had chosen him to go out as a missionary to these far-off lands. He kept that belief to the end. It gave a certain dignity to his work, and made his life noble in many ways.
   5. The Second Reason why Columbus wished to reach the Indies. But the question naturally arises, if Columbus wished to reach the Indies, why did he not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Marco Polo (§ 4), and go overland to that country?
   It was because Columbus, being a sailor, naturally wished to open up direct trade by water with the rich countries of the East; for commerce always prefers the sea, when practicable, as the cheapest and easiest route.
   In that age the people of Europe used great quantities of spices, not only to flavor their food but also to preserve it. They obtained these spices from the Indies. They also imported silks, perfumes, precious stones, and many other articles from that part of the world.
   Genoa and Venice had carried on this trade for centuries; one by way of the Black Sea, the other by the Red Sea (Map, p. 5), but in both cases the goods had to come part of the way overland. About the middle of the 15th century (1453) the Turks took Constantinople and broke up the Genoese branch of the trade with the Indies. Later, the Venetian branch by way of the Red Sea was broken up by the same people.
   6. Attempt of the Portuguese to reach the Indies by a New Route. This great change compelled the nations of southern

Globe Map of the World abt 1492


   Light arrows show voyages made up to 1492; light track, Da Gama's voyage, 1497-1498. Dark arrows show voyages of Columbus and Cabot. White crosses show countries of which something was known before 1492. White area, including western coast of Africa, shows the world as known shortly before the sailing of Columbus.




Europe to seek a new route to the Indies. The King of Portugal thought that possibly he might find a way round the continent of Africa into the Indian Ocean. No one then knew how far the "Dark Continent" extended southward. The King's ships made voyage after voyage and slowly worked their way down the coast, but it took them more than fifty years to reach the southern point.
   Diaz, the Portuguese navigator, finally got to that point (1487), but he had such a rough experience that he named it the Cape of Storms. When he returned with the great news that he had actually come to the end of the African continent, the Portuguese monarch felt sure that he could accomplish what he had set out to do. To show his confidence in the new route, he called for Diaz's chart, drew his pen through the name Cape of Storms, and in its place wrote in bold letters that name full of promise, -- the Cape of Good Hope.
   He was right, for not many years later another Portuguese navigator sailed round that cape, reached the peninsula of India (1498), and established a trading post there.
   7. Plan of Columbus for reaching the Indies by sailing West. Meanwhile Columbus felt certain that he could find a shorter and better way of reaching the Indies than the course Diaz had marked out. Instead of sailing east, or south and east, he proposed to sail directly west. He had four reasons for such an undertaking:

   1. In common with the best geographers of his day, Columbus believed that the earth was not flat, as most men supposed, but a globe.
   2. He supposed the globe to be much smaller than it is, and the greater part to be land instead of water.
   3. As he knew nothing and guessed nothing of the existence of the continent of America or of the Pacific Ocean, he imagined that the coast of Asia or the Indies was directly opposite Spain and the western coast of Europe.
   4. He estimated the entire distance across from Spain to Japan at less than 4000 miles.

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