Columbus After 1493
The Final Voyage and the Death of Columbus
Christopher Columbus returned to Spain
a hero. His letter to the King and Queen regarding his discovery
had been printed and dispersed among the population:
The sierras and the
mountains, the plains, the champaigns, are so lovely and so
for planting and sowing, for breeding cattle of every kind,
for building towns and villages.
The harbours of the sea here are such as cannot be believed
unless they have been seen, and
so with the rivers, many and great, and of good
water, the majority of which contain
gold. In the trees, fruits and plants, there is a great difference
from those of Juana. In this island, there are many spices
and great mines of gold and of other metals. . . .
return to Spain
I have taken possession of all for
their Highnesses, and all are more richly endowed than I
know how or am able to say, and I hold all for their Highnesses,
so that they may dispose of them as they do of the kingdoms
of Castile and as absolutely. . . .
In conclusion, to speak only of
what has been accomplished on this voyage, which was so hasty,
can see that I will give them as much gold as they may need,
if their Highnesses will render
me very slight assistance; presently, I will give them spices
and cotton, as much as their Highnesses shall command; and
mastic, as much as they shall order to be shipped and which,
up to now, has only been found in Greece, in the island of
Chios, and the Seignory sells it for what it pleases; and
aloe, as much as they shall order to be shipped; and slaves,
as many as they shall order, and who will be from the idolaters.
I believe also that I have found rhubarb and cinnamon, and
I shall find a thousand other things of value, which the people
whom I have left there will have discovered, for I have not
delayed at any point, so far as the wind allowed me to set
sail. . . .
Coat of Arms - Granted in 1493 as a reward for
the success of his journey
This is an account of the facts,
Done in the caravel, off the Canary
Islands, on the fifteenth day of February, in the year one
thousand four hundred and ninety-three.
These tales of riches and wonders were
more than enough to get the Spanish government excited about
a continued presence in the New World.
At this point, and indeed well past Columbus’s
death, it was assumed that the islands discovered in 1492
were part of the great Asian continent which Columbus had
set out to find. Not until Ferdinand
Magellan's circumnavigation in 1521 was the idea refuted
by hard evidence. There were skeptics during Columbus’s
lifetime, but none whose voices were heard above the cheers
of victory which resounded when the explorer returned to Spain
All told, Columbus voyaged to the New
World on four separate occasions. His second and third journeys
were mildly successful and helped to set up more permanent
Spanish colonies in the New World. During this time, however,
Columbus seems to have often been ill. A lack of riches and
wealth to be found on the Caribbean islands weakened his influence
in Spain and abroad. Word of terrible conditions among the
colonies reached the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella
and they sent Francisco de Bobadilla to the New World to straighten
things out. Bobadilla used his power, and the freedom of being
thousands of miles from the King and Queen, to take control
of the islands and colonies. He supplanted Columbus as leader
of the newly found land. Wars with natives, a lack of control
within the colonies, and insufficient organization of the
sailors and soldiers led Bobadilla to take complete control.
He locked Columbus and his brother Diego in chains and jailed
them until they could be returned to Spain to stand trial.
The conclusion of Columbus’s third voyage, October 1500,
saw the former hero in shackles, being forced aboard a ship
which was headed back to Spain. Columbus saw no validity in
the charges against him and expressed his anger at Bobadilla
in a letter to a friend of Queen Isabella in Spain.
They judge me there as a governor
who had gone to Sicily or to a city or town under a regular
government, where the laws can be observed in toto without
fear of losing all, and I am suffering grave injury. I should
be judged as a captain who went from Spain to the Indies
to conquer a people numerous and warlike, whose manners
and religion are very different from ours, who live in sierras
and mountains, without fixed settlements, and where by divine
will I have placed under the sovereignty of the King and
Queen our lords, an Other World, whereby Spain, which was
reckoned poor, is become richest of countries. . . .
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, to my great dishonour and
with slight service to their Highnesses.
The accusation was brought out of
malice, on the basis of charges made by civilians who had
revolted and wished to take possession of the land. And
he who did it had the order to remain as governor if the
testimony was grave. By whom and where would this be considered
just? I have lost in this enterprise my youth, my proper
share in these things, and my honor; but my deeds will not
be judged outside Castille. . . .
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.
The Final Voyage and the Death
The combination of his frail health and
failing spirits could not deter Columbus. Even being shackled,
with a trial and possible punishment looming, did not stop
him from pursuing his goal. Columbus was returned to Spain
by the end of October 1500. He was brought into the country
in chains, a sad sight which sparked pity and compassion from
those around him. After nearly six weeks the King and Queen
ordered his release and called him before the royal court.
This final meeting between the explorer and his royal benefactors
was an emotional one, filled with apologies and tears from
both sides. Columbus, mostly with the Queen’s insistence,
was restored to his former position and glory and given monetary
compensation for his incarceration. He was, however, still
relieved of his position as ruler of the colonies in the New
On March 14, 1502, after much pleading
and begging, the King and Queen consented to allow Columbus
one more journey to the Indies. They also confirmed for him
that he and his family would be taken care of thereafter.
Even after Columbus’s death his children and children’s
children would reap the rewards of the explorer’s discovery.
With the backing of the royal court, Columbus set out on his
He did not return to Spain until two and
a half years later, on November 7, 1504. He was fifty-three
years old, sick, frail, and dying. His voyage, spent primarily
in what is now Central America, had been terribly unsuccessful.
Less than two weeks after Columbus’s
return to Spain his greatest champion and benefactor, Queen
Isabella, passed away. Her support and dedication to the explorer
had almost single-handedly kept Columbus’s expeditions
afloat for the last ten years. After her death, the court
looked much less favorably upon the famous explorer. Columbus
had been given riches, titles, and honors which most men would
have envied, but he still felt that he deserved much more
for his discovery. With the death of Isabella, however, his
hopes of gaining anything more from the royal court were dashed.
Columbus was rapidly succumbing to his
illness. By 1506 his family and friends could see that the
end was near. On May 19, 1506, he wrote out his will, leaving
his money and property to his sons and his immediate family.
He passed away quietly on the night of May 20, 1506.
statue, Washington, D.C.
Christopher Columbus was, at one time,
credited with the discovery of an unknown world of riches,
a paradise on earth. His legacy lives on through statues,
buildings, names, and ceremonies. Every year Columbus Day
is celebrated throughout the world in order to honor a man
who brought two worlds together.
Recent information has caused some to look
past the glorious image of Columbus the Explorer and to create
a picture of a man who brought death, violence, and horrors
to the New World. While the loss of history and culture which
almost entirely vanished with the extermination of the Tainos
and their neighbors cannot be ignored, at the same time, Columbus’s
fortitude, which brought him to the sandy beaches of San Salvador
so long ago, should not be overlooked. Though he was not the
first to land on those beaches, or the first to suggest that
the world was not flat, he was the first European of his era
to follow his beliefs through to the end. He held on to his
ideas even after repeated rejection, and succeeded in finding
a land which no European knew about. Christopher Columbus
should be honored as a man who followed his ideas through
to the end and never gave up on his dreams of exploration.
replica of the Santa Maria in Columbus, Ohio