For many of us, the story of Christopher Columbus in grade school was a triumphant one. It may have been touched with sorrow for the wave of sickness that decimated the virginal lands due to his arrival, but, for the most part, Christopher Columbus was a hero. There’s even a national day dedicated to the celebration of his landing in 1492. Today, however, sees greater numbers of students walking away from their early history classes with more than a tinge of bitterness. This bitterness, undoubtedly, is directed towards a man who was once a national champion- and who, now, seems more like a national embarrassment. Let’s take a look at the revised version of the Columbus history we’ve learned, and determine for ourselves whether he’s a man to be detested or revered.
That question can be answered rather simply- to Columbus’ everlasting shame. His own journal attests to his lack of consideration for the worth of human life, with the following entry about the Arawaks in the Caribbean:
“They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Christopher Columbus was, first and foremost, an independent contractor. He was solicited by the King and Queen of Spain to search for gold, and found not only gold to claim as his own but also, evidently, human bodies. His legacy in the Caribbean was a bloody one as he traveled from the Bahamas to Cuba and present-day Dominican Republic. History records the genocide that followed on Columbus’ heels as he, with the Spanish Empire’s backing, reduced the native people’s population in the “New World” to pitiful numbers.
Columbus did successfully gather gold, as he was commanded- gold, and human lives. He was, in a sense, one of the early establishers of the slave trade in that region, having captured countless “Indians” and shipped them to Spain as slaves (many dying en route).
Was Christopher Columbus truly a hero? Even Spain didn’t think so. Settlers lobbied against him in the Spanish Court, protesting against his brutal methodology and mismanagement. In 1500, Columbus was detained by a royal administrator and shipped home, although he would later gain his freedom and journey back one more time.
This is merely an overview of the revised history of Christopher Columbus, as the details are too numerous and too gory to record in a mere article. Is it so surprising young Americans are railing against the Christopher Columbus older Americans were taught to revere? Perhaps not. It would certainly be a very different “New World” if he had never stumbled upon it in the first place.