III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > G. The Americas, 1000–1525 > 3. The Voyages of Columbus, 1492–1504
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
3. The Voyages of Columbus, 1492–1504
1451, between Aug. 26 and Oct. 31
CRISTOFORO COLOMBO (Christopher Columbus; in Spanish, Cristóbal Colón) was born near Genoa, the son of a weaver. Almost nothing definite is known of his youth. He seems to have gone to Portugal in 1476 and to have been in England in 1477. In 1480 he married the daughter of Bartholomew Perestrello, hereditary captain of Porto Santo, near Madeira. He was familiar with the idea then popular of seeking to reach India or China by navigating westward.  1
1483 or 1484
Columbus appealed to King John II of Portugal to finance a voyage to the West, but experts at the court rejected his project as unfeasible.  2
Columbus, through the mediation of some Franciscan monks, was able to submit his project to the king and queen of Spain, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. His religious fervor and personal magnetism impressed the queen, but experts rejected his project again. In the following years, Columbus met the three Pinzón brothers, wealthy traders and expert navigators.  3
Columbus, again in the court, induced Queen Isabella to finance his expedition. His objective was to find a route to the Indies, rather than to discover a new world. The queen named him admiral and governor of the territories to be discovered, and gave him letters to the Great Khan.  4
The first voyage (Aug. 3–March 15). Columbus left Palos, Spain, with three caravels, La Pinta, La Niña, and the Santa María. Martín Pinzón and Juan de la Cosa commanded two of them. They left the Canaries (Sept. 6) and reached land in the Bahamas (Oct. 12), naming it San Salvador. Columbus then discovered Cuba, which he thought was the territory of the Great Khan, and Santo Domingo (Española). He established a post, Navidad, on Santo Domingo, and set out on the return voyage (Jan. 4, 1493), touching the Azores (Feb. 15), landing at Lisbon (March 4), and finally reaching Palos (March 15). Columbus announced that he had discovered the route to the Indies, news of which quickly spread throughout Europe and caused much excitement.  5
1493, May 4
The line of demarcation. At the insistence of the Spanish rulers, who feared counterclaims by Portugal, Pope Alexander VI granted them the exclusive right to and possession of all lands to the south and west toward India not held by Christian princes on Christmas Day 1492, beyond a line drawn 100 leagues west of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands.  6
Second voyage of Columbus (Sept. 25, 1493 to June 11, 1495). He left with 17 caravels and 1,500 men to establish Spanish settlements. On this voyage he discovered Dominica, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and other islands of the Antilles; explored the southern coast of Cuba; and circumnavigated Española, where he founded the town of Isabella. There he left in charge his brother Bartholomeo, who in 1496 transferred the settlement to the southern coast (Santo Domingo).  7
1494, June 7
Treaty of Tordesillas, between Spain and Portugal. The line of demarcation was moved 270 leagues farther west, Portugal to have exclusive rights to all lands to the east of the line, and Spain to have rights to the west.  8
Third voyage of Columbus (May 30, 1498, to Nov. 15, 1500). Discovery of Trinidad Island (July 31, 1498) and South America (Aug. 1), near the mouth of the Orinoco. Columbus explored the coast westward as far as Margarita Island. He then went to Española, where a revolt broke out against him. The Spanish government sent a judge, Francisco de Bobadilla, who imprisoned Columbus and his brother and sent them to Spain. Columbus was released and treated with distinction, but the queen never restored him to his former authority and monopolistic grants. Bobadilla established direct royal control in the territories.  9
Fourth voyage of Columbus (May 11, 1502, to Nov. 7, 1504). He reached the coast of Honduras and passed south to Panama, returning after having suffered a shipwreck in Jamaica.  10
1506, May 21
Columbus died in relative obscurity in Spain, at Valladolid. He believed to the end of his days that he had discovered outlying parts of Asia, despite the conviction of other experts since 1493 that a new world had been discovered.  11
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.