The voyages of Columbus were motivated by more than the spirit of adventure of a courageous sailor. In a letter Columbus wrote to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus describes a multi-faceted mission for the voyages that brought him to America. In this activity students will read the letter and one of the journal entries from Columbus's voyage. Through these documents, students can learn a great deal about Columbus's time, his worldview, and the various motives for his voyages.
Students will go to the Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Travelers' Accounts Web site to read a letter Columbus wrote to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella concerning his planned voyage to India. Students will then read one of the journal entries that follow to learn about Columbus's encounters with peoples of the Caribbean.
- Students will be able to interpret historical documents and to put them in historical context.
- Students will be able to recognize subjective viewpoints in personal letters and journals.
Student Web Activity Answers
- Columbus's two directions from the king and queen are to visit India and determine the best way to convert its people to Christianity, and to travel on a previously untried western route to reach India.
- The pope has reportedly turned down requests from the Great Khan to convert him to Christianity. Columbus seems to be suggesting that by taking this opportunity to convert the people of India, the rulers of Spain can establish themselves as leaders of Christendom, either in place of—or equal to—the Pope in Rome.
- Columbus refers to the Moors and the Jews, who have recently been expelled from Spain. Columbus is using the letter to establish the religious importance of his voyage. He does so in part by reminding the king and queen of their role in protecting Christianity by defeating the Moors and expelling non-Christian peoples from Spain.
- In return for his services, Columbus will become "Viceroy and Governor" in all of the islands and continents that he discovers and conquers, and in those that may be discovered and acquired thereafter. He is also promised that these titles will be passed on to his descendants forever.
- Students' written answers should mention the admiral's feeling that the natives have no religion, are smart, would make good servants, and would be easy to convert. Students' responses will vary on the second question.
Go To Student Web Activity