Actually, Columbus Was Kind Of A Prick

Ken AshfordHistoryLeave a Comment

Let’s first dismiss the Euro-centric notion that Columbus "discovered" America.  He didn’t.  There were already people — yes, there were actual people — living here, and to suggest that Columbus "discovered" America is to suggest that the people already familiar with the land don’t count (for some reason).

Secondly — even if we were to dismiss the millions of Native Americans living in North, Central, and South America — Columbus wasn’t the first from the "Old World" to discover the land on which they lived.

That said, why do we honor this guy?

First of all, Queen Isabella had promised a lifetime pension to the first man who sighted land. A few hours after midnight on October 12, 1492, Juan Rodriguez Bermeo, a lookout on the Pinta, cried out he had spied land ahead. Most likely Bermeo was seeing the white beaches of Watling Island in the Bahamas.

As they waited impatiently for dawn, Columbus let it be known that he had spotted land several hours before Bermeo. According to Columbus’s journal of that voyage, his ships were, at the time, traveling 10 miles per hour. To have spotted land several hours before Bermeo, Columbus would have had to see more than 30 miles over the horizon, a physical impossibility. Nevertheless Columbus took the lifetime pension for himself.


But that’s nothing compared to Columbus’s treatment of the native Americans.

On October 12, 1492 (the first day he encountered the native people of the Americas), Columbus wrote in his journal: "They should be good servants …. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses." These captives were later paraded through the streets of Barcelona and Seville when Columbus returned to Spain.

From his very first contact with native people, Columbus had their domination in mind. For example, on October 14, 1492, Columbus wrote in his journal, "with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them."  These were not mere words: after his second voyage, Columbus sent back a consignment of natives to be sold as slaves.

And for slaves that were not sent back to Europe, he used them to mine for gold and other valuables, often working them to death.  Women slaves were routinely raped; slaves were mutilated for the harshest infractions.  And once a slave outlived his or her usefullness, they were simply killed.


So that’s why we close the banks and government offices today.