History of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to the Americas

About the history of Christopher Columbus's first voyage to the Americas in 1492.



April, 1492 Along with a passport and three letters of introduction, one to the "Grand Khan" and two with a blank space where a salutation could be written in, Columbus was given a grant by the Spanish crown to "discover and acquire certain islands and mainlands in the Ocean Sea."

Aug. 3, 1492 Columbus set sail with his crew of about 90, divided among three ships: the Santa Maria (according to him a "dull sailer"), the Pinta, and the Nina. After picking up supplies in the Canaries, he noted their course as "west; nothing to the north, nothing to the south." Throughout his voyage, much of it "like April in Andalusia," he kept two logs, one for his true reckoning and a false one to show the crew so that they would not become alarmed at the huge distances they were traversing. However, the false reckoning turned out to be more accurate than the true.

Oct. 9, 1492 Columbus promised a restive crew that if no land was found within three days, they would turn back. He had already seen flocks of birds, and leafy branches were floating by on the waves, which heartened him after he made his promise.

Oct. 12, 1492, 2 A.M. Rodrigo de Triana, the Pinta's lookout, shouted "Tierra! Tierra!" ("Land! Land!") Landfall was an island (probably Watling Island) in what is now the Bahamas. Columbus thought it to be west of Japan.

October, 1492, to February, 1493 They explored the islands of the Caribbean, including Cuba, where Columbus sent an embassy to meet El Gran Kan, who was actually only the cacique, or chief, of a 50-hut village. The natives wore gold, if not much else. During the return voyage, a storm threatened to sink the Nina and the Pinta (the Santa Maria had already run aground off Cuba) and the crew vowed that if they were saved, they would seek out a shrine to the Virgin Mary and "go in procession in their shirts." Columbus wrapped his journal of the voyage in a waxed cloth, placed the package in a cask, and tossed it overboard.

Feb. 18, 1493 Landfall, the Azores, where they kept their vow to the Virgin.

Later that year, Columbus, gone gray, presented himself to the Spanish court with six Arawaks and parrots in cases. He wept at the end of the Te Deum.

His discoveries: the Bahamas and Cuba.

May 4, 1493 A papal bull allotted lands east of a meridian 318 nautical mi. west of the Azores to Portugal, lands west of it to Spain. West of the boundary, Columbus and others claimed, all lice and fleas miraculously disappeared.

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