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His plan was this: he would start from Europe, head his ship westward toward Japan, and follow the curve of the globe until it brought him to what he sought. To his mind it seemed as sure and simple as for a fly to walk round an apple.
If successful in the expedition, he could enter the Spice Islands and the whole region of the Indies directly by the front door, while the Portuguese could only enter them in a roundabout way, and by a sort of side door.
Had Columbus correctly reckoned the size of the globe and the true length of the voyage he proposed, he probably would not have sailed, since he would have seen at once that the Portuguese route (§ 6) was both far shorter and cheaper than his. Furthermore, if he had imagined that the American continent lay right across his path, that would have been another discouraging circumstance, because his object was not to find a new country, but a new way to an old one.
8. Columbus seeks and obtains the Assistance of Spain. Columbus meditated on his great voyage for many years, during which time he sought to get the help first of his native city, then of Portugal, and finally of Spain (1485-1486). He met with nothing but disappointment. He was regarded as a foolish schemer, and the street boys openly mocked him as a lunatic.
At last, worn out with waiting, and sick at heart, Columbus set out to leave Spain, but he was recalled. He had a few stanch friends at court who believed, with him, that "wherever ships could sail, man might venture." Through their aid, and especially through the gift of a large sum of money from Queen Isabella, he obtained the assistance he required.1 Thus, chiefly by a woman's help, the brave sailor got the power to undertake his daring enterprise.
9. Columbus sails. Columbus had succeeded in getting his own terms, -- he had received the rank of admiral, he was to be governor of all lands that he might discover or acquire, and he was to have a tenth of whatever treasure he might find. When
1 The whole amount raised to fit out the expedition was about $93,000, of which sum the Queen seems to have contributed over two thirds. See Harrisse's "Columbus."
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
all was ready for the voyage he and his men went to church, and implored the blessing of God on their great enterprise. The next day, Friday, August 3, 1492, "half an hour before sunrise," Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small vessels and one hundred and twenty men.1
Of these vessels, only the largest, the Admiral's ship, had an entire deck, and even that was probably of not over one hundred tons' burden, or about the size of an ordinary coasting schooner.
CORRECT CHART OF WESTWARD ROUTE FROM EUROPE TO ASIA, FOR
COMPARISON WITH THE CHART OF COLUMBUS GIVEN ABOVE
1 Columbus kept a regular journal of the voyage from the start. In the introduction to that journal he says, respecting one object he had in view: "In consequence of the information which I had given to your Highnesses [the King and Queen of Spain] of the lands of India, and of a prince who is called the Grand Khan, which is to say ... King of Kings ... therefore your Highnesses ... determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said parts of India to see the said prince and the people and lands ... and to discover the means to be taken for the conversion of them to our holy faith; and ordered that I should not go by land to the East, by which it is the custom to go, but by a voyage to the west, by which course, unto the present time, we do not know for certain that any one hath passed."
ROUTE OF COLUMBUS
Columbus took his route by way of the Canary Islands, because Japan, the nearest Asiatic land, was supposed to lie in that latitude. (Maps, pp. 8, 9.) At the Canaries he was detained several weeks repairing the rudder of one vessel and altering the sails of a second.
On September 6 he hoisted anchor and resolutely set out to cross that ocean which no civilized man had ever before attempted to pass over. As the last dim outline of the islands faded from their sight many of the sailors were completely overcome. Some shed tears, as if they "had taken leave of the world";
ROUTE OF COLUMBUS, 1492
others, unable to restrain their grief, broke out into loud and bitter lamentations.
But Columbus himself had no such fears. He did not feel that he was making a leap in the dark. He was an experienced navigator, and he had carefully calculated everything and provided for everything.
1. He had a chart of the globe, made by himself.
2. He had the mariner's compass for his guide.
3. He carried with him an improved astrolabe, the instrument which was then used for determining position, at sea, by observation of the sun.
But these things were not all. In fact, these were but the material and mechanical means of success. He had the conviction that he was engaged in a Providential work, and that he was certain to accomplish it. There are occasions in life when such a faith is worth everything to its possessor: this was one.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
10. The Voyage; Variation of the Needle; the Crew are greatly alarmed; the Winged Guides. For a time all went well; then a new and strange circumstance was noticed. It was found that the compass no longer pointed toward the north star, but that it varied more and more, as they went on, to the west of north.
This astonished Columbus and greatly alarmed the sailors They began to think that they had now entered a region where the ordinary laws of nature were suspended, and that to persist in keeping on would be destruction. Columbus pacified their fears as best he could. He, however, would not hear of turning back then, though he afterward promised to do so if land was not discovered in a few days.
On October 7 a flock of land birds was seen flying toward the southwest, and Columbus decided to change his course and follow them.1
11. Land! San Salvador; the West Indies and the Indians. A few nights later, when Columbus was standing on the deck of his ship peering into the darkness, he suddenly saw a distant light. It moved about like a torch, carried in a man's hand.
Very early the next morning, Friday, October 12, 1492, a sailor raised the joyful cry of "Land! Land!" It proved to be a small island of the Bahamas,2 now thought to be Watling's Island.
1 Read Joaquin Miller's spirited poem on Columbus in Lane and Hill's "American History in Literature" [Ginn and Company].
2 On his first voyage (1492) Columbus discovered the Bahamas and some of the West India Islands. On his second voyage (1493) be discovered the islands of the Caribbean Sea, besides Jamaica and Porto Rico. On his third voyage (1498) he discovered Trinidad, off the coast of Venezuela, South America; and on the 1st of August, the mainland of that continent, at the mouth of the Orinoco River. On his fourth and final voyage (1502) he explored the coast of Central America and of the Isthmus of Panama. He died in Spain in 1506.
(By permission of the Prang Co., New York).
COLUMBUS APPROACHING LAND