Christopher Columbus, born in 1451, was the oldest son of Domenico Colombo. A controversial figure blamed for the eradication of the natives in the island he discovered, Columbus nonetheless should be credited with opening Europes eyes and ears to the Caribbean. Throughout his lifetime Columbus made 4 pilgrimages to the New World.
On the first trip on Aug. 3, 1492, Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa Mara, commanded by Columbus himself, the Pinta under Martn Pinzn, and the Nia under Vicente Yez Pinzn. After halting at the Canary Islands, he sailed due west from Sept. 6 until Oct. 7, when he changed his course to the southwest. On Oct. 10 a small mutiny was quelled, and on Oct. 12 he landed on a small island (Watling Island; or San Salvadort) in the Bahamas group. He took possession for Spain and, with impressed natives aboard, discovered other islands in the neighborhood. On Oct. 27 he sighted Cuba and on Dec. 5 reached Hispaniola. On Christmas Eve the Santa Mara was wrecked on the north coast of Hispaniola, and Columbus, leaving men there to found a colony, hurried back to Spain on the Nia. His reception was all he could wish; according to his contract with the Spanish sovereigns he was made admiral of the ocean sea and governor-general of all new lands he had discovered or should discover.
On the second trip fitted out with a large fleet of 17 ships, with 1,500 colonists aboard, Columbus sailed from Cdiz in Oct., 1493. His landfall this time was made in the Lesser Antilles, and his new discoveries included the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico. The admiral arrived at Hispaniola to find the first colony destroyed by Native Americans. He founded a new colony nearby, and then sailed off in the summer of 1494 to explore the southern coast of Cuba. After discovering Jamaica he returned to Hispaniola and found the colonists, interested only in finding gold, completely disorderly; his attempts to enforce strict discipline led some to seize vessels and return to Spain to complain of his administration. Leaving his brother Bartholomew in charge at Hispaniola, Columbus also returned to Spain in 1496.
On his third expedition, in 1498, Columbus was forced to transport convicts as colonists, because of the bad reports on conditions in Hispaniola and because the novelty of the New World was wearing off. He sailed still farther south and made his landfall on Trinidad. He sailed across the mouth of the Orinoco River (in present Venezuela) and realized that he saw a continent, but without further exploration he hurried back to Hispaniola to administer his colony. In 1500 an independent governor arrived, sent by Isabella and Ferdinand as the result of reports on the wretched conditions in the colony, and he sent Columbus back to Spain in chains. The admiral was immediately released, but his favor was on the wane; other navigators, including Amerigo Vespucci, had been in the New World and established much of the coastline of NE South America.
It was 1502 before Columbus finally gathered together four ships for a fourth expedition, by which he hoped to reestablish his reputation. If he could sail past the islands and far enough west, he hoped he might still find lands answering to the description of Asia or Japan. He struck the coast of Honduras in Central America and coasted southward along an inhospitable shore, suffering terrible hardships, until he reached the Gulf of Darin. Attempting to return to Hispaniola, he was marooned on Jamaica. After his rescue, he was forced to abandon his hopes and return to Spain.
Although Columbus was not the first European mariner to sail to the New World–the Vikings set up colonies (c. 1000) in Greenland and Newfoundland–his voyages mark the beginning of continuous European efforts to explore and colonize the Americas. During the 1980s and 90s, the image of Columbus as a hero was tarnished by criticism from Native Americans and revisionist historians. With the 500th anniversary of his first voyage in 1992, interpretations of his motives and impact varied. Although he was always judged to be vain, ambitious, greedy, and ruthless, traditional historians viewed his voyages as opening the New World to Western civilization and Christianity. For revisionist historians, however, his voyages symbolize the more brutal aspects of European colonization and represent the beginning of the destruction of Native American peoples and culture. One point of agreement among all interpretations is that his voyages were one of the turning points in history.