In 1451, Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. His true Italian name is Christoforo
Colombo. Columbus' father was a weaver, and it was expected that Columbus would become
one also. Instead, Columbus dreamt of becoming a sailor and so he talked with sailors and
studied maps and charts.

When Columbus was fourteen, he was hired as a cabin boy. His main voyages were short trips
to the Mediterranean Sea. By the time Columbus turned thirty he became a captain.

In 1476, Columbus became a Portuguese citizen and married Felipa. This is where his
thoughts of travelling west to reach the Indies started to grow. He knew a voyage would be
expensive, so in 1482, he asked King John II of Portugal for money and ships to sail west to the
Indies. When the King refused, he went to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. At first,
he was rejected but when Columbus asked Spain the second time, Queen Isabella decided to
fund the expedition.

Columbus was given three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. He also received
eighty-eight men to serve as crew members.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his ships headed westward. Along the journey, the sailors
began to be frightened. On October 10, they demanded that Columbus go back to Spain. To
stop the tyranny, Columbus said that if they didn't sight land within two days, they would turn

Two days later, they saw birds and Columbus changed his direction to follow the birds. At 2:00
A.M., the morning of October 12, 1492, a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana on the Pinta sighted

Columbus dressed in his finest clothes to go ashore. He kissed the ground and claimed the
land for Spain. There were people living on the island. They perceived Columbus as though he
were a god. Columbus called these people "Indians" because he believed he had reached the
Indies. He also announced the island to be named San Salvador.

He visited other islands in search of gold. The Santa Maria wrecked on a coral reef and
Columbus had to leave without it. Columbus returned to Spain and forced some Indians to join
him. He returned three more times, all voyages being unsuccessful in reaching the Indies.
Columbus never saw the United States and he never thought he had found a new world, but he
is still honoured in America by celebrating Columbus Day on October 12, the day of his first
landing in 1492. Many places in the United States are named after him including: Columbus,
Ohio; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbia, Maryland; District of Columbia; and the South
American nation of Columbia.

So why isn't our country named "Columbia?" When a map maker was making a new map he
decided to include the new world, and he decided to give it a name. He called it "America" in
honour of Amerigo Vespucci. In reality, Columbus nor Vespucci discovered America. Because
"to discover" means to see or learn or find something for the first time, the Native Americans are
the true discoverers of America.

The first Native Americans followed the animals over the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska.
Gradually, groups of people went different directions. The tribe that met Columbus was called
the Tainos. The Tainos lived on grassy plains and lowland rain forests. They inhabited the
Northeastern coast of South America three thousand years ago. The natives were tall,
handsome, and clean-shaven people. Their skin was olive-tan and many of them wore face and
body paint.

The Tainos had to be surprised to see a large wooden boat land and strangely dressed men
get out and kiss the ground. Columbus reported that the "Tainos liked a peaceful, unhurried life"
(Clare, 28). They built hammocks to sleep in and men smoked tobacco while women told
stories. In the Taino culture, old people cared for the children and prepared meals. The young
women cultivated the fields, while the young men hunted for snakes, turtles, and iguanas.

The Tainos worshipped a supreme god but also believed in lesser spirits. When Columbus
arrived, the Tainos believed Columbus and his men to be gods. This historic encounter where
the Tainos met the Europeans was on the island the Tainos called Guananhani, their word for
iguanas. According to Spanish, the Tainos hid in the bushes when they arrived. Soon the
Tainos came out to meet the Europeans. Little did they know how it would change their lives.

In the beginning, the Tainos were amazed at the European's ships and their beautiful colors.
They welcomed them into their homes, and were sure the Europeans were gods. Columbus
wanted to convert the Tainos to Christianity. Columbus forced six Tainos to be his guides as he
toured the other islands. He took these captives back to Spain with him.

Friendly relations between the two peoples did not last long. During another Spanish voyage,
many Tainos were beaten and murdered. When the Spanish became hungry, they ransacked
villages, leaving the Taino people helpless. Europeans brought diseases along with them that
the Tainos lacked immunity to. The weapons that the Europeans had were no match to the
Tainos. An estimated fifty thousand Tainos perished in the year 1494. There were also many
Indian captives, so the Europeans decided to ship the Taino prisoners in bondage to Spain.
Some sixteen hundred Tainos were taken to the port. Only five hundred and fifty captives could
be jammed onto the boat. The rest were left behind to be slaves to the Spanish that stayed
behind. Columbus issued a high tax on the Tainos. They were stuck. On one side if they
refused to pay the tax, they faced death and on the other, they faced starvation. They were
homeless in their own land. They were devastated by abuse, starvation, and disease. They
were subjects of high taxes, and soon were forced to be subjects of the crown. Life was never
the same for the Indians after that day in 1492.

Further Resources:

Lesson Plan - What Was Columbus Thinking?
Lesson Plan - Columbus Day
Lesson Plan - Christopher Columbus & American Indians
Lesson Plan - The Voyage of Columbus Gr 9-12

Christopher Columbus & His
New World of Discovery

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Christopher Columbus is thought to be one of the greatest mariners in history, a visionary genius, a
mystic, a national hero, a failed administrator, a naive entrepreneur, and a ruthless and greedy

In 1492, Columbus sailed...

Most students recognise the name Christopher Columbus. They may be aware that his voyages
ushered in the first period of sustained contact between Europeans and the Americas and its
people. They may not know, however, why Columbus travelled to the New World or what happened
to the native people he encountered.
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