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The Four Voyages of Columbus
|Date||Between 1492 and 1500|
|Participants||Christopher Columbus and castilian crew (among others)|
|Outcome||European exploration of the Americas|
The Four Voyages of Columbus
|Date||Between 1492 and 1500|
|Participants||Christopher Columbus and castilian crew (among others)|
|Outcome||European exploration of the Americas|
In the early modern period, the voyages of Christopher Columbus initiated European exploration and colonization of the American continents and are thus of great significance in world history. Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator from the Republic of Genoa that became an admiral for Spain. He made four voyages to the Americas, the first being in 1492.
Asians who crossed the Bering Strait to North America in prehistoric times (between 12,000 and 42,000 years ago) were the first to discover America. Vikings established a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland circa 1000. While Columbus was not the first European to voyage to the New World and did not reach the mainland until his third voyage in 1498, his voyage led to the widespread knowledge of the existence of a new continent. The breakthrough in geographical science led to the colonization of the New World by major European sea powers and is sometimes cited as the start of the Modern Era.
Spain, Portugal and other European kingdoms sent expeditions and established colonies throughout the New World, converted the native inhabitants to Christianity and built large trade networks across the Atlantic which introduced new plants, animals, and food crops in both continents. The search for a westward route to Asia continued in 1513 when Nuñez de Balboa crossed Central America and became the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean. The search was completed in 1521, when the Spanish Magellan-Elcano expedition sailed across the Pacific and reached Southeast Asia.
Portugal had been the main European power interested in pursuing trade routes overseas. Their next-door neighbors, Castile (predecessor of Spain) had been somewhat slower to begin exploring the Atlantic due to the bigger surface to re-conquer in Spain. It was not until the late 15th century, following the unification of Castile and Aragon and the completion of the reconquista that Spain emerged and became fully committed to looking for new trade routes and colonies overseas. In 1492 the joint rulers of the Spanish nation conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada, which had been providing Castile with African goods through tribute. After failing to convince Portuguese king to open a new route, Columbus presented the idea to the new Kings of Spain and they decided to fund Christopher Columbus' expedition that they hoped would bypass Portugal's lock on Africa and the Indian Ocean reaching Asia by traveling west.
In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to King John II of Portugal. He proposed the king equip three sturdy ships and grant Columbus one year's time to sail out west into the Atlantic, search for a western route to the India, and return. Columbus also requested he be made "Great Admiral of the Ocean Sea" ( Atlantic Ocean ), appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and be given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands. The king submitted the proposal to his experts, who rejected it after several years. It was their considered opinion that Columbus' estimation of a travel distance of 2,400 miles (3,900 km) was, in fact, far too short.
In 1488 Columbus appealed to the court of Portugal and once, again John II invited him to an audience. It also proved unsuccessful, in part because not long afterwards Bartolomeu Dias returned to Portugal following a successful rounding of the southern tip of Africa. With an eastern sea route now under its control, Portugal was no longer interested in trailblazing a western trade route to Asia crossing unknowns seas. Columbus traveled from Portugal to Spain to convince the Catholic Monarchs of Spain to finance the expedition.
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King Ferdinand II of Aragon married Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1469, formally uniting the two largest kingdoms in what is now Spain. They were known jointly as the Catholic Monarchs, and ruled their kingdoms independently, but had common internal and foreign policies.
Columbus was granted an audience with them; on May 1, 1489, he presented his plans to Queen Isabella, who referred them to a committee. They pronounced the idea impractical, and advised the monarchs not to support the proposed venture.
However, to expand the Spanish empire and Catholicism in the name of Spanish Kings, and to assure a better market position in trading, the Queen gave Columbus an annual allowance of 12,000 maravedis and part of the newly conquered lands.
After continually lobbying at the royal court and enduring two years of negotiations, Columbus finally succeeded in 1492. Queen Isabella's forces had just conquered the Moorish Emirate of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold of Al-Andalus on the Iberian peninsula, for Castile. Isabella and Ferdinand received Columbus in the Alcázar (castle) in Córdoba to support his plans.
The monarchs left it to the royal treasurer to shift funds among various royal accounts on behalf of the enterprise. Columbus was to be made "Admiral of the Seas" and would receive a portion of all profits. The terms were unusually generous but, as his son later wrote, the monarchs were not confident of his return.
According to Columbus' contract made for the expedition commission by Queen Isabella for Castile, if Columbus claimed any new islands or mainland for the Crown, he would receive many high rewards. In terms of power, he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea and appointed Viceroy and Governor of the newly colonised lands. He had the right to nominate three people, from whom the sovereigns would choose one, for any office in the new lands. He would be entitled to ten per cent of all the revenues from the new lands in perpetuity.
Europe had long enjoyed a safe land passage to China and India—sources of valued goods such as silk, spices, and opiates—under the hegemony of the Mongol Empire (the Pax Mongolica, or Mongol peace). With the Fall of Constantinople to the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1453, the land route to Asia became more difficult. In response to this the Columbus brothers had, by the 1480s, developed a plan to travel to the Indies, then construed roughly as all of southern and eastern Asia, by sailing directly west across the "Ocean Sea," the Atlantic Ocean.
Washington Irving's 1828 biography of Columbus popularized the idea that Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his plan because Europeans thought the Earth was flat. In fact, the primitive maritime navigation of the time relied on the stars and the curvature of the spherical Earth. The knowledge that the Earth was spherical was widespread, and the means of calculating its diameter using an astrolabe was known to both scholars and navigators.
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A spherical Earth had been the general opinion of Ancient Greek science, and this view continued through the Middle Ages (for example, Bede mentions it in The Reckoning of Time). In fact Eratosthenes had measured the diameter of the Earth with good precision in the 2nd century BC. Where Columbus did differ from the generally accepted view of his time was in his (very incorrect) arguments that assumed a significantly smaller diameter for the Earth, claiming that Asia could be easily reached by sailing west across the Atlantic. Most scholars accepted Ptolemy's correct assessment that the terrestrial landmass (for Europeans of the time, comprising Eurasia and Africa) occupied 180 degrees of the terrestrial sphere, and dismissed Columbus' claim that the Earth was much smaller, and that Asia was only a few thousand nautical miles to the west of Europe. Columbus' error was attributed to his insufficient experience in navigation at sea.
Columbus believed the (incorrect) calculations of Marinus of Tyre, putting the landmass at 225 degrees, leaving only 135 degrees of water. Moreover, Columbus believed that one degree represented a shorter distance on the Earth's surface than was actually the case - he read maps as if the distances were calculated in Italian miles (about 1,480 meters). Accepting the length of a degree to be 56⅔ miles, from the writings of Alfraganus, he therefore calculated the circumference of the Earth as 25,255 kilometers at most, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan as 3,000 Italian miles (3,700 km, or 2,300 statute miles). Columbus did not realize Alfraganus used the much longer Arabic mile (about 1,830 m).
The true circumference of the Earth is about 40,000 km (25,000 sm), a figure first established approximately by Eratosthenes in the 2nd century BC, and the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan 19,600 km (12,200 sm). No ship that was readily available in the 15th century could carry enough food and fresh water for such a journey. Most European sailors and navigators concluded, probably correctly, that sailors undertaking a westward voyage from Europe to Asia non-stop would die of thirst, scurvy or starvation long before reaching their destination. Spain, however, having just completed the expensive Reconquista, was desperate for a competitive edge over other European countries in trade with the East Indies. Columbus promised such an advantage.
Europeans generally assumed that the aquatic expanse between Europe and Asia was uninterrupted. While hints of the American continent about Vinland were already surfacing in Europe, historians agree that Columbus calculated a too short distance from the Canary Islands to Japan by the standards of his peers.
There was a further element of key importance in the plans of Columbus, a closely held fact discovered by or otherwise learned by Columbus: the Trade Winds. A brisk westward wind from the east, commonly called an "easterly", propelled Santa María, La Niña, and La Pinta for five weeks from the Canary Islands off Africa. To return to Spain eastward against this prevailing wind would have required several months of an arduous sailing technique upwind, called beating, during which food and drinkable water would have been utterly exhausted. Columbus returned home by following prevailing winds northeastward from the southern zone of the North Atlantic to the middle latitudes of the North Atlantic, where prevailing winds are eastward (westerly) to the coastlines of Western Europe, where the winds curve southward towards the Iberian Peninsula. So he used the North Atlantic's great circular wind pattern, clockwise in direction, in both legs of his voyage.
Columbus was given the title “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” in April 1492. He wanted to lead his own expedition and was a trained sailor and ready to lead. However, he needed someone to fund his voyage, so he went to the king of Portugal, John II, who immediately declined. Columbus turned then to queen Isabella of Spain who reluctantly funded him. On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Castilian Palos de la Frontera with three ships (Niña, Pinta, and the Santa Maria). The ships were property of Juan de la Cosa and the Pinzón brothers, (Martín Alonso Pinzón and Vicente Yáñez Pinzón), but the monarchs forced the Palos de la Frontera inhabitants to contribute to the expedition. Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, which were ruled by the Crown of Castile, where he restocked provisions and made repairs. While securing provisions from the island of La Gomera, Columbus received word that three Portuguese caravels had been seen hovering near the island of El Hierro with the supposed intention of capturing him. However, on September 6, 1492 the westward voyage began without incident.
On September 6, he departed San Sebastián de la Gomera for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean.
The Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María
One large carrack, the Santa María, was always referred to by Columbus as La Capitana ("The Flagship"). The two smaller caravels, La Pinta ("The Painted") and La Niña (lit. "The Girl", but actually named after her owners, the Niño brothers of Moguer.) are today better known by their nicknames: the real name of the Pinta has been lost; the Niña was actually named Santa Clara, after the patron saint of Moguer.
Three days into the journey, on August 6, 1492, the rudder of the Pinta broke. The owners of the ship, Gomez Rascon and Christoval Quintero, were suspected of sabotage, as they and their ship had been pressed into service against their will. The crew was able to secure the rudder with ropes until they could reach the Canary Islands, where they arrived on August 9, 1492. Here the Pinta was repaired and the Niña's lateen sails were re-rigged to standard square sails.
As described in the abstract of his log made by Bartolome de Las Casas, on the outward bound voyage Columbus recorded two sets of distances. Las Casas originally interpreted that he reported the shorter distances to his crew so they would not worry about sailing too far from Spain. However, according Oliver Dunn and James Kelley, this was a misunderstanding by Las Casas. Columbus did report two distances each day but one was in measurements he normally used, the other in the Portuguese maritime leagues used by his crew.
On September 8, 1492, Columbus observed that the needle of his compass no longer pointed to the North star. The needle instead had varied a half point to the Northwest, and continued to vary further as the journey progressed. Columbus at first made no mention of this, knowing his crew to be prone to panic with their destination unknown, but after several days his pilots took notice with much anxiety. Allegedly the crew grew so homesick and fearful that they threatened to sail back to Spain. Columbus reasoned that the needle didn't point to the North star, but to some invisible point on the Earth. His reputation as an astronomer held weight with the crew, and his theory alleviated their alarm. It was once believed that Columbus had discovered magnetic declination, but it was later shown that the phenomenon was already known, both in Europe and in China.
After 29 days out of sight of land, on October 7, 1492, the crew spotted "[i]mmense flocks of birds", some of which his sailors trapped and determined to be "field" birds (probably Eskimo curlews and American golden plovers). Columbus changed course to follow their flight.
Land was first sighted at 2 a.m. on October 12, 1492, by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodriguez Bermejo) aboard La Pinta. Columbus would later assert that he had first seen the land and, thus, earned the reward of 10,000 maravedís. Columbus called the island San Salvador, in present day the Bahamas or the Turks and Caicos, although the indigenous residents had already named it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos this corresponds to is an unresolved topic; prime candidates are Samana Cay, Plana Cays, Grand Turk, or San Salvador Island (named San Salvador in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus' San Salvador).
The indigenous people he encountered in their homelands were peaceful and friendly. At the time of the European discovery of most of the islands of the Caribbean, three major Native-American indigenous peoples lived on the islands: the Taíno in the Greater Antilles, The Bahamas, and the Leeward Islands; the Island Caribs (Kalina) and Galibi in the Windward Islands and Guadeloupe; and the Ciboney (a Taíno people) and Guanahatabey of central and western Cuba, respectively. The Taínos are subdivided into Classic Taínos, who occupied Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, Western Taínos, who occupied Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamian archipelago, and the Eastern Taínos, who occupied the Leeward Islands. Trinidad was inhabited by both Carib speaking and Arawak-speaking groups. Most of modern Central America was part of the Mesoamerican civilization. The Native American societies of Mesoamerica occupied the land ranging from central Mexico in the north to Costa Rica in the south. The cultures of Panama traded with both Mesoamerica and South America and can be considered transitional between those two cultural areas.
Columbus proceeded to observe the people and their cultural lifestyle. Columbus also explored the northeast coast of Cuba, landing on October 28, 1492, and the northern coast of Hispaniola, present day Haiti and Dominican Republic, by December 5, 1492. Here, the Santa Maria ran aground on Christmas morning, December 25, 1492, and had to be abandoned. Columbus was received by the native cacique Guacanagari who gave him permission to leave some of his men behind. Columbus founded the settlement, La Navidad, leaving behind 39 men.
On January 15, 1493, he set sail for home by way of the Azores.
Leaving the island of Santa Maria in the Azores, Columbus headed for Castilian Spain, but another storm forced him into Portugal's Lisbon. He anchored next to the King's harbor patrol ship on March 4, 1493, where he was told a fleet of 100 caravels had been lost in the storm. Astoundingly, both the Niña and the Pinta were spared. Not finding King John II in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a letter to him and waited for the king's reply. The king requested that Columbus go to Vale do Paraíso north of Lisbon to meet him. Some have speculated that his landing in Portugal was intentional.
Relations between Portugal and Castile were poor at the time. Columbus went to meet with the king at Vale do Paraíso. After spending more than one week in Portugal, he set sail for Spain. Word of his finding new lands rapidly spread throughout Europe. He reached Barcelona on March 15, and the Monument a Colom commemorates his arrival.
He was received as a hero in Spain. He displayed several indigenous persons and what gold he had found to the court, as well as the previously unknown tobacco plant, the pineapple fruit, the turkey, and the hammock. He did not bring any of the coveted East Indies spices, such as the exceedingly expensive black pepper, ginger or cloves. In his log, he wrote "there is also plenty of "ají", which is their pepper, which is more valuable than black pepper, and all the people eat nothing else, it being very wholesome" (Turner, 2004, P11). The word "ají" is still used in South American Spanish for chili peppers.
Columbus's Letter on the First Voyage to the royal court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction: "Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful...the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold...There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals..."
After Columbus' return, Pope Alexander VI divided the "newly discovered" lands outside Europe between Spain and Portugal along a north-south meridian 958 leagues south of the Cape Verde islands (off the coast of Africa in the mid-Atlantic), thus granting Spain all land discovered by Columbus. This division was never accepted by the rulers of England or France. (See also the Treaty of Tordesillas that followed the papal decree.)
Before he left Spain on his second voyage, Columbus had been directed by Ferdinand and Isabella to maintain friendly, even loving, relations with the indigenous people, the natives. He set sail on September 24, 1493.
The fleet for the second voyage was much larger: two naos and 15 caravels. The two naos were the flagship Marigalante and the Gallega; the caravels were the Fraila, San Juan, Colina, Gallarda, Gutierre, Bonial, Rodriga, Triana, Vieja, Prieta, Gorda, Cardera, and Quintera. The Niña returned for this expedition, which also included a ship named Pinta probably identical to that from the first expedition. In addition, the expedition saw the construction of the first ship in the Americas, the Santa Cruz or India.
On November 3, 1493, Christopher Columbus sighted a rugged island that he named Dominica. On the same day, he landed at Marie-Galante, which he named Santa María la Galante. After sailing past Les Saintes (Todos los Santos), he arrived at Guadeloupe (Santa María de Guadalupe), which he explored between November 4 and November 10, 1493. The exact course of his voyage through the Lesser Antilles is debated, but it seems likely that he turned north, sighting and naming many islands including Santa María de Montserrat (Montserrat), Santa María la Antigua :) (Antigua), Santa María la Redonda (Saint Martin), and Santa Cruz (Saint Croix). He also sighted and named the island chain of the Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (the Virgin Islands), and named the islands of Vírgen Gorda. He continued to the Greater Antilles, and landed on the island of San Juan Bautista, present day Puerto Rico, on November 19, 1493. His men rescued two boys who had just been castrated by their captors.
On November 22, he returned to Hispaniola, where he found his men at La Navidad had fallen into dispute with natives in the interior and had been killed, but he did not accuse Chief Guacanagari, his ally, of any wrongdoing. Another Chief, named Caonabo in Jaragua, was charged. Columbus established a new settlement at La Isabela, on the north coast of Hispaniola, where gold had first been found, but it was a poor location and the settlement was short-lived. He spent some time exploring the interior of the island for gold. Finding some, he established a small fort in the interior.
He left Hispaniola on April 24, 1494, and arrived at the island of Juana (Cuba) (which he had discovered and named during his first voyage) on April 30 and Jamaica on May 5. He explored the south coast of Juana, which he believed to be a peninsula of China rather than an island, and several nearby islands including La Evangelista (the Isle of Youth), before returning to Hispaniola on August 20. After staying for a time on the western end, present day Haiti, he finally returned to Spain.
During the second voyage, Columbus sent a letter to the monarchs proposing to enslave some of the Americas people, specifically from the Carib tribe, on the grounds of their independence-minded aggressiveness and their status as enemies of the Taíno tribe. Although his petition was refused by the Crown, in February 1495, Columbus disobeyed the Queen and took 1,600 people from the Arawak tribe who were then taken by the Carib as captives and slaves. No room was available for about 400 of the kidnapped Arawak leading to their release.
The many voyages of discovery did not pay for themselves, and there was no funding for pure science in the Renaissance. Columbus had planned, for Queen Isabella, to set up trading posts with the cities of the Far East made famous by Marco Polo, but whose Silk Road and eastern maritime routes had been blockaded to her crown's trade. Of course, Columbus would never find Cathay (China) or Zipangu (Japan), and there was no longer any Great Khan for trade treaties.
Slavery was practiced widely at that time, amongst many peoples of the world, including some Indians. For the Portuguese—from whom Columbus received most of his maritime training—the profits from enslaving people had resulted in the first "financial return" on a 75-year investment in Africa.
Columbus enslaved five hundred and sixty people. The slaves were shipped to Spain; 200 died during the route back to Spain, and half of the remainder were ill when they arrived. After legal proceedings in the Cortes, some survivors were ordered released and to be returned to their las Americas homeland, whereas others were used by Queen Isabella as galley slaves. Columbus, desperate to repay his investors, failed to realize that Isabella and Ferdinand did not plan to follow or allow Portuguese slavery policy[which?] in this respect. Rounding up the slaves led to the first major battle between the Spanish and the free indigenous people in their old homeland, called by those invading it "the New World".
Columbus was eager to pay back dividends to those who had invested in his promise to fill his ships with gold. And since so many of the slaves died in captivity, he developed a plan while in the Province of Cicao on Hispaniola. Columbus imposed a tribute system, similar to that of the still-unknown Aztec Empire tribute on the mainland. All Cicaoan indigenous residents above 14 years of age were required to find and deliver a specific quota of gold every three months. Upon their doing so, they would receive copper tokens that they wore around their necks. Any Indian found without a copper token had their hands cut off and subsequently bled to death.
Despite or because of such extreme enforcement, Columbus did not obtain much gold, and many new foreign "settlers" were unhappy with the climate and disillusioned about their chances of getting rich quickly. A classic gold rush had been set off that would have tragic consequences for the Caribbean's indigenous people and cultures. Anthropologists have shown there was more intermarriage and assimilation than previously believed (see the Black Legend). Columbus allowed settlers to return to their homeland with any Indian women with whom they had started families, or to Queen Isabella's fury, had kidnapped and owned as slaves.
According to the abstract of Columbus’ journal made by Bartolomé de Las Casas, the object of the third voyage was to verify the existence of a continent that King John II of Portugal claimed was located to the southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. King John reportedly knew of the existence of such a mainland because “canoes had been found which set out from the coast of Guinea and sailed to the west with merchandise.”
On May 30, 1498, Columbus left port with a fleet of six ships, sending three directly to the West Indies while leading the other three: the Santa María de Guía, the Vaqueños, and the Correo – to the Portuguese Porto Santo Island, his wife's native homeland. He then sailed to the island of Madeira and spent some time there with the Portuguese captain João Gonçalves da Câmara before sailing to the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. Columbus landed on the south coast of the island of Trinidad on July 31, 1498.
From August 4 through August 12, 1498, he explored the Gulf of Paria which separates Trinidad from mainland Venezuela. He then explored the mainland of South America, including the Orinoco River. He also sailed to the islands of Chacachacare and Margarita Island and sighted and named islands Bella Forma (Tobago) and Concepcion (Grenada). He described the new lands as belonging to a previously unknown new continent, but he pictured it hanging from China, bulging out to make the earth pear-shaped.[dubious ]
Columbus returned from South America to Hispaniola on August 19, 1498 to find that many of the Spanish settlers of the new colony were discontent, having been misled by Columbus about the supposedly bountiful riches of the new world. Columbus repeatedly had to deal with rebellious settlers and natives. He had some of his crew hanged for disobeying him.
During Columbus' term as Viceroy and Governor of the Indies, he had been accused of governing tyrannically, called 'the tyrant of the Caribbean.' Columbus was physically and mentally exhausted; his body was wracked by arthritis and his eyes by ophthalmia. In October 1499, he sent two ships to Spain, asking the Cortes Generales of Castile to appoint a royal commissioner to help him govern.
The Cortes appointed Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the Order of Calatrava; however, his authority stretched far beyond what Columbus had requested. Bobadilla was given total control as governor from 1500 until his death in 1502. Arriving in Santo Domingo while Columbus was away, Bobadilla immediately received many serious complaints about all three Columbus brothers: Christopher, Bartolomé, and Diego. The testimonies of 23 people who had seen or heard about the treatment meted out by Columbus and his brothers—had originally been lost for centuries, but was rediscovered in 2005 in the Spanish archives in Valladolid. It contained an account of Columbus' seven-year reign as the first Governor of the Indies Consuelo Varela, a Spanish historian, states: "Even those who loved him [Columbus] had to admit the atrocities that had taken place." 
As a result of these testimonies and without being allowed a word in his own defense, Columbus upon his return, had manacles placed on his arms and chains on his feet and was cast into prison to await return to Spain. He was 53 years old.
Columbus was arrested in 1500 and supplanted from his posts. A number of returned settlers and friars lobbied against Columbus at the Spanish court, accusing him of mismanagement. Francisco de Bobadilla arrived on August 23, 1500 and detained Columbus and his brothers and had them shipped home. On October 1, 1500, Columbus and his two brothers, likewise in chains, were sent back to Spanish Aragon. Once in Cádiz, a grieving Columbus wrote to a friend at court:
It is now seventeen years since I came to serve these princes with the Enterprise of the Indies. They made me pass eight of them in discussion, and at the end rejected it as a thing of jest. Nevertheless I persisted therein... Over there I have placed under their sovereignty more land than there is in Africa and Europe, and more than 1,700 islands... In seven years I, by the divine will, made that conquest. At a time when I was entitled to expect rewards and retirement, I was incontinently arrested and sent home loaded with chains... The accusation was brought out of malice on the basis of charges made by civilians who had revolted and wished to take possession on the land...
I beg your graces, with the zeal of faithful Christians in whom their Highnesses have confidence, to read all my papers, and to consider how I, who came from so far to serve these princes... now at the end of my days have been despoiled of my honor and my property without cause, wherein is neither justice nor mercy.
Columbus and his brothers lingered in jail for six weeks before the busy King Ferdinand ordered their release. Not long thereafter, the king and queen summoned the Columbus brothers to their presence at the Alhambra palace in Granada. There the royal couple heard the brothers' pleas; restored their freedom and their wealth; and, after much persuasion, agreed to fund Columbus' fourth voyage. But the door was firmly shut on Christopher Columbus' role as governor. From that point forward, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres was to be the new Governor of the Indies.
Although he regained his freedom, he did not regain his prestige and lost all his titles including the governorship. As an added insult, the Portuguese had won the race to the East Indies: Vasco da Gama returned in September 1499 from a trip to India, having sailed east around Africa.
Columbus made a fourth voyage, nominally in search of a westward passage to the Indian Ocean. Accompanied by his stepbrother Bartolomeo, Diego Mendez, and his 13-year-old son Fernando, he left Cádiz, Spain on May 12, 1502, with his flagship, as well as the Gallega, Vizcaína, and Santiago de Palos. He sailed to Arzila on the Moroccan coast to rescue the Portuguese soldiers who he heard were under siege by the Moors. On June 15, 1502, they landed at Carbet on the island of Martinique (Martinica). A hurricane was brewing, so he continued on, hoping to find shelter on Hispaniola. He arrived at Santo Domingo on June 29, 1502, but was denied port, and the new governor refused to listen to his storm prediction. Instead, while Columbus' ships sheltered at the mouth of the Jaina River, the first Spanish treasure fleet sailed into the hurricane. The only ship to reach Spain had Columbus' money and belongings on it, and all of his former enemies (and a few friends) had drowned.
After a brief stop at Jamaica, he sailed to Central America, arriving at Guanaja (Isla de Pinos) in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras on July 30, 1502. Here Bartolomeo found native merchants and a large canoe, which was described as "long as a galley" and was filled with cargo. On August 14, 1502, he landed on the American mainland at Puerto Castilla, near Trujillo, Honduras. He spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before arriving in Almirante Bay, Panama on October 16, 1502.
By April 6, the garrison he had established captured the local leader El Quibían, who had demanded they not go down the Belén River. El Quibían escaped, and returned with an army to attack and repel the Spanish, damaging some of the ships. He left for Hispaniola on April 16, but sustained more damage in a storm off the coast of Cuba. Unable to travel any farther, the ships were beached in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on June 25, 1503.
For a year Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica. A Spaniard, Diego Mendez, and some natives paddled a canoe to get help from Hispaniola. The island's governor, Nicolás de Ovando y Cáceres, detested Columbus and obstructed all efforts to rescue him and his men. In the meantime, Columbus mesmerized the natives by correctly predicting a lunar eclipse for February 29, 1504, using the Ephemeris of the German astronomer Regiomontanus.
Help finally arrived, from the governor, on June 29, 1504, and Columbus and his men arrived in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Castile, on November 7, 1504. Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain, on May 20, 1506, at around the age of 54, probably of the effects of chronic reactive arthritis perhaps acquired secondarily to food poisoning.
After his death, Columbus' sons, Diego and Fernando. took legal action to enforce their father's contract. Many of the allegations against Columbus and his tyrannical governorship were initiated by the Crown during these lengthy court cases, known as the Pleitos Colombinos. The family had some success in their first litigation, as a judgment of 1511 confirmed Diego's position as Viceroy, but reduced his powers. Diego resumed litigation in 1512 lasting until 1536, and further disputes continued until 1790.
The success of Columbus's first voyage touched off a series of westward explorations by European seafaring states. These states sought to exploit the New World's riches; build trade networks and colonies; and through the Indian Reductions practice to relocate, use the labor of, and attempt Christian conversions of the native people.
With the Age of Discovery starting in the 15th century, Europeans explored the world by ocean searching particular trade goods, slaves, and trading locations and ports. The most desired trading goods were gold, silver and spices. Columbus did not reach Asia but rather found what was to the Europeans a New World, the Americas. For the Catholic monarchies of Spain and Portugal, a division of influence became necessary to avoid conflict. This was resolved by Papal intervention in 1494 when the Treaty of Tordesillas purported to divide the world between the two powers. The Portuguese were to receive everything outside of Europe east of a line that ran 270 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, thought to include the continents of Africa and Asia, but none of the New World. The Spanish received everything west of this line, territory that was still almost completely unknown, and proved to be primarily the vast majority of the American continents and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean. This arrangement was somewhat subverted in 1500, when the Portuguese navigator, Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived at a point on the eastern coast of South America, and realized that it was on the Portuguese side of the dividing line between the two empires. This would lead to the Portuguese colonization of what is now Brazil.
Columbus and other Iberian explorers were initially disappointed with their discoveries—unlike Africa or Asia, the Caribbean islanders had little to trade with the Castillo ships. The islands thus became the focus of colonization efforts. It was not until the continent itself was explored that Spain found the wealth it had sought in the form of abundant gold. In the Americas the Spanish found a number of empires that were as large and populous as those in Europe. However, small bodies of Spanish conquistadors, with large armies of indigenous Americans groups, managed to conquer these states. The most notable amongst the conquered states were the Aztec empire in Mexico (conquered in 1521) and the Inca empire in modern Peru (conquered in 1532). During this time, pandemics of European disease such as smallpox devastated the indigenous populations. Once Spanish sovereignty was established, the Spanish focused on the extraction and export of gold and silver.