Christopher Columbus Makes Landfall
After more than two months at sea, Christopher Columbus reached what he believed was East Asia on October 12, 1492.
Born in 1451 and having spent much of his adult life at sea, Christopher Columbus was determined to find a western water route to China, India, and Asia’s gold and spice islands. After the King of Portugal refused to fund his “Enterprise to the Indies,” Columbus met with the king and queen of Spain. They refused him at least two times before they finally agreed to fund this trip.
Columbus and his three ships set sail from Spain in early August 1492. The trip was longer than anyone had expected, and as the days passed, his crew became increasingly anxious. To calm them, Columbus kept two journals. His private log documented the actual distance traveled each day, while the one he shared with his men showed a shorter distance. He believed their morale would be higher if they didn’t think they were so far away from their homeland.
But by October 10, the crew’s worries led to talks of a mutiny. Columbus promised that if they didn’t sight land in the next two days they would return home. The next day, the men began seeing signs of land – sand-pipers, land plants, and man-made poles in the water. This helped to ease tensions aboard the ships. According to Columbus’ journal, around 10:00 that night he saw a light in the distance. He couldn’t confirm it was land, but didn’t know what else it could be. Columbus called on one of his men to look for it, but he never saw it. Though Columbus believed he saw it a couple more times that night.
Columbus then told his men to carefully scan the horizon, and whoever first saw land would be richly rewarded. At about 2:00 A.M. Rodrigo de Triana called out “Tierra! Tierra!” (“Land! Land!”) Though excited, Columbus decided to wait until daylight to go ashore.
Later that morning, Columbus and 90 of his crew members took to the shore with the flag of Spain, claiming it for the king and queen. They were met by the Lucayos people, who called the island Guanahani. They exchanged gifts – Columbus presenting the locals with red hats and beads and the natives offering parrots, cotton, and other items. Columbus named the island San Salvador, “Holy Savior.” It’s unknown today just which island in the Bahams Columbus landed on, though most scholars believe it to be Watling Island.
America held its first Columbus Day celebration exactly 300 years later, in 1792, though it wouldn’t become an official holiday until a century later.
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