Columbus Day!

Do we need a better reason for a three day weekend…

But only for some people?!?

Now, let me start out by saying that I am not a hater of Christopher Columbus.  He did a lot of bad things (though usually without realizing it) and he did a lot of good, but either way you look at Columbus he was an important figure in the history of the world and of course to the Age of Sail.  He was a true renaissance man and an explorer but there are a number of things about Columbus that we, as a  society, get wrong:

  1. Columbus was the first European to get to the New World – I am sure most of you realize that Columbus was far from the first European to reach the New World (a really poor choice of words seeing as it had not been to the indigenous people of this ‘new’ land for thousands of years).  The Vikings were probably the first people from Europe to make the trip and there are other expeditions that never achieved as much fame that made the trip before 1492, in fact it has been conjectured by conspiracy theorist that the lost fleet of the Templars made the trip many years before Columbus.  But the Vikings should really get the first nod.  They made that trip across the Atlantic on numerous occasions and even had rudimentary maps and colonies on the Eastern shore of North America.
  2. Columbus, in looking for a passage to the Indies, thought that the Caribbean was the IndiesColumbus knew where he was.  It is nice to play him off as a rube that stumbled upon the islands of the Caribbean but in fact he knew where he was and thought he could find a passage through the Caribbean to the the Pacific Ocean.  He was not successful but he didn’t think that he was in the Indian Ocean, near China and India.  Europe had been trading with both China and India through over land routes for generations.  He knew the people of this land were not Chinese or Indian.
  3. Columbus was trying to prove the Earth was round – Another misconception as that Columbus was trying something entirely new in circumnavigating the world.  There were probably still areas of the known world that held people who believed that the Earth was flat and that the Sun went around the Earth.  But for the majority of Europeans, they knew that the Earth was round and that there might be a navigable route around the Earth to the trading sources in China and India.  Columbus was not trying something that had not been thought of, he was simply one of the first to actually try the expedition.  He happened to bring it up during a time period that navigation and ship design would make a journey like this possible.

Now, don’t get me wrong his trip was amazing.  People were not taking this route across the Atlantic on a regular basis at this time period.  Other people before this point had been taking a northern route that kept them close to land at times.  Columbus went through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  He was at sea for months.  He was an explorer and he did open up the trade of sugar, rum, and other exports from the New World.  Of course, he also brought diseases with him that the natives had not resistance and started the enslaving and displacement of a native people, so there is plenty of bad with the good.

In the end, he did get us a day off from work.  Or he got you day off from work if you work at a bank, the post office, a government job or if your work is school.  For the rest of us it is just another day!

Screw You Columbus!