Christopher Columbus Biography ID 47

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a navigator, colonizer, and explorer. Although he was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas, Columbus' voyages led to general European awareness of the hemisphere and the successful establishment of European cultures in the New World. His voyages across the Atlantic Ocean set in motion a European effort at exploration and colonization of the Western Hemisphere. On his first voyage of 1492 he landed on an island in the Bahamas that he named San Salvador. He was trying to find a sea route to India, so he called the inhabitants "Indians". On later voyages, he transported cargoes of enslaved Africans to work in Spanish settlements in the Americas and Indians to bondage in Europe, and thus initiated the transatlantic slave trade. He did not actually reach the American mainland until his third voyage in 1498. In these voyages, Columbus transported more than 1000 Spanish men and hundreds of domesticated animals.

Columbus' exploration came at a critical time of growing imperialism and economic competition between developing the nation states in Europe who were seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies. Columbus promised his benefactors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, to bring back gold, spices, and silks from the Far East, to spread Christianity, and to lead an expedition to China. In return, Columbus asked for and received the hereditary title "admiral of the ocean seas." Although Columbus did not discover any gold, his Spanish patrons financed three more voyages across the Atlantic Ocean over the next 12 years.

More than five hundred years after the first Spaniards arrived in the Caribbean, historians and the general public still debate Columbus's legacy. Should he be remembered as a great discoverer who brought European culture to a previously unknown world? Or should he be condemned as a man responsible for an "American Holocaust," a man who brought devastating European and Asian diseases to unprotected native peoples, who disrupted the American ecosystem, and who initiated the Atlantic slave trade? What is Columbus's legacy--discovery and progress or slavery, disease, and racial antagonism?

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