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Adventurer or Colonist: Columbus & the Islands of the Caribbean

ColumbusOn his second voyage to the New World, Columbus, with a flotilla of 17 ships chartered in Spain and 1200 men, animals and hunting dogs, hoped to make landfall at Hispaniola, where he had left numerous crew from his first voyage the previous year. At dawn on November 3rd he sighted land in the Lesser Antilles; he named the island Dominica. According to accounts of the voyage, he then continued to Marie-Galante where he landed after sailing by Les Saintes (Todos los Santos) and on to Guadeloupe where he stayed for several days exploring before sailing north, naming many islands along the route. Montserrat (Santa Maria de Monstserrate), Antigua (Santa Maria la Antigua), Nevis (Santa Maria de las Nieves), Saba (San Cristobal), Saint Martin (San Martin) and St. Croix (Santa Cruz)

The Landing of Columbuswhere he anchored off of Salt River Bay for fresh water. He was then driven by unfavorable winds to Virgin Gorda. Sighting the numerous islands, he named them the Virgins (Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgines) in honor of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 virgins, who, threatened by the marauding Huns in 4th century Cologne, sacrificed their lives rather than submit. Virgin Gorda (fat virgin) so called because Columbus, viewing it from seaward, thought that it resembled a reclining women with a protruding belly.

The voyage continued to Puerto Rico where he landed briefly and then onto Hispaniola. Regrettably he discovered that the 40 odd colonists that he had left behind had fallen out with the natives and subsequently been killed. After further exploration of the interior in search of gold and the establishment of some fortification, he departed with three ships to discover China, which he felt was nearby. After reaching Cuba, he continued to Jamaica before returning to Hispaniola.

It was not until his third and fourth voyages that he sighted and explored regions of the South American mainland, looking for a passage to the Indian Ocean. The 4th and final voyage ended badly with the loss of all ships in a storm and he remained in Jamaica until ships were sent to take him back to Spain.

The tragedy and legacy of the four voyages to the New World is perhaps that they took place within the broader context of European expansionism and therefore, far from an adventurous journey of discovery seeking spices and new trade routes, the goal was to amass wealth, land and gold, at a time when the church was claiming lands not yet discovered and laying the groundwork for the subjugation of the indigenous population.

 The Voyages of Christopher Columbus

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