Is there anyone more responsible for changing the topography of the globe and for the expansion of the Western World than Christopher Columbus? Although his theory was deficient by some six thousand nautical miles (and an entire continent), Columbus, nevertheless, proved what the Holy See adamantly refused to admit. The world was, in fact, round and by sailing west one would end up at one's starting point. Every literate schoolboy throughout the world can recite that Columbus discovered America, but how many college graduates know where he was born, anything of his parentage, or the nature of his employment prior to the time that Queen Isabella elected to invest a crown jewel or two in his fantastic adventure? Following is a well researched and erudite transcript written in the late 1800's by historian and traveler James W. Buel, Ph. D. In the next edition, Part II, Dr. Buel will introduce to us the trials and tribulations of the men involved in the discovery of the New World and will elucidate on the true character of the man who has been credited with discovering the Americas. -cwf-
As the greatest men in the world's history have, as a rule, risen from obscurity, Columbus, who perhaps conferred the largest benefits upon mankind, was not an exception, but rather a conspicuous exemplification of the assertion. For so lowly was his birth that little information has been preserved respecting his youth, while his nativity, like the place of his final sepulture, must forever remain a question of contention. The time of his birth is equally a matter of conjecture, various dates being assigned between the years 1435 and 1448, though the preponderance of evidence points to the former, which we shall accordingly adopt. Cuccaro, in Montferrat, and Savona, pretend to the honor of his birth, but the place that with best reason claims his nativity is Genoa, which was probably also the birthplace of his father, whose name was Dominic Columbus, the tin orthography, or Colombo, as it is written in Italian, or Color, as it is called in the Spanish. Dominic married a lassie named Susana, who was daughter to one James Fantanarossa, of the village of Bassago, who brought him a small income, but so inadequate to his needs that immediately after marriage he moved to the neighborhood of Genoa, where he set up in a small way as a wool-comber, employing one workman and a single apprentice. The house in which he thus began business, which was at once residence and shop, was just outside the limits of the municipality, and it was here that Christopher was born, and also his three brothers, Bartholomew, Pelligrino, and James afterwards called Don Diego. There was also a daughter, who married a pork butcher named Bavarello, of the vicinity, but her name and place of nativity are unknown.
The first several years of Dominic's married life were spent in the house in the Genoese suburbs, but he afterwards rented the building to an innkeeper, and moved into a somewhat more pretentious house which was located at No. 166 Mulcento Street, where he continued the business of weaver, but with indifferent success. It is maintained by many of Christopher's biographers that he was descended from a noble family that had been scattered by domestic dissensions, such as were very common among the |Italians in the early centuries, and very good evidence is presented in support of this claim. While the occupation of wool-comber represented a great condescension in one who had belonged to the NOBLESSE rank, we know that Christopher had a grand-uncle who held an admiral's commission in the service of Rene, duke of Anjou, which was the most illustrious of all engagements in that day, and was open only to those who had some rightful claim to distinguished ancestry. But that Columbus was a descendant of the great Lombard family, as his most enthusiastic admirers declare, there is exceeding doubt, amounting to denial.
That Dominic was a kind father, and thoroughly appreciative of the importance of education, is attested by the fact that when Christopher, his eldest child, had reached the age of ten years, instead of putting him to service, where he might be helpful toward increasing he slender income, which indeed little more than sufficed for the support of the now considerable family, he was sent to be schooled at the University of Papia. Since the branches which distinguished that famous school were natural philosophy, astrology and geography, the conclusion is irresistible that young Christopher must have had some previous instruction to qualify him to enter upon such advanced studies. At this university he continued for a period of three years, though there were intervals in his attendance during which he was an assistant to his father in the factory, so that he acquired a fairly good knowledge of the trade and might afterwards have followed it, as did his brothers, but for an incident that lifted his feet from the dull path of obscurity and planted them in he road that led to ineffable glory, of which we, more than his own countrymen, are the chief beneficiaries.
Young Christopher did not improve his advantages to their utmost, for he was more diligent with conceits for wider fields of adventure than in application to his textbooks, a condition which brought him into antagonism with his teachers, that resulted wither in his expulsion, or voluntary, but sudden and secret, withdrawal from the school. We may, without injustice to his memory, infer that he was guilty of conduct which led to his peremptory dismissal from the university, since history tells us that he ran away and took engagement as a cabin boy on a vessel lying at the port of Genoa. To a youth full of animation and a courageous spirit, the dashing waves that beat up in restless flow against the rugged beaches, and poured their monody of complainings at confinement in his ear, there must have come a longing to sail away behind his little world that kissed the horizon scarce five leagues beyond the green hills of the shore.
To one of such a temperament as Christopher later revealed, there must have been an incentive to adventure in the wild stories of heroism on the sea, when every day had its savage incident of battle with pirates; and when every sailor who came to Genoa sat on the quays, the center of admiring crowds, telling his hair-breadth escapes, and moving youthful ambition by descriptions of strange lands visited between where the sun rises up out of the Mediterranean, and the blue mountains of the west, where he sinks down in dreamy slumber. All around him there were memories of valorous examples, for the fiery ardor of the Crusaders had not yet burned out. Fresh glories were being won by brave spirits that dared the fury of predatory Moors, whose ravages spread over the sea, and whose gilded crescents tipped lofty masts in bold defiance of the cross. Fortune and fame seemed to await the courageous, who while fighting for religion made spoils their reward, and thus the Mediterranean became a sea of battle, a rendezvous for the desperate, the daring and he adventurous.
History has not preserved the facts connected with his first maritime service, yet our small knowledge respecting his conduct, gathered from intimations made in subsequent letters to friends, leads to the belief that he shipped with a crew most likely bound upon some piratical enterprise in the Levant. This suspicion is founded upon two incidents, the particulars of which are so vaguely hinted at in his letters that they afford good reason for the belief that he was connected with Archipelago Corsairs. He admits having participated in at least one bloody engagement, and concerning another De Lorgues, his most flattering biographer, says: "In one of the combats, which has not been retraced by history, he received a deep wound, the cicatrix of which, though long forgotten, reopened toward his latter years, and endangered his life." One another occasion he was engaged in a naval fight which resulted in the destruction of his vessel, and left him struggling in the water with only a spar between him and death. With good fortune, however, he contrived to reach the shore in safety, Providence having reserved him for a noble purpose. This last adventure is not well attested, and may be an apocryphal account by some essayist on morals not thoroughly veracious, yet the story is not an improbable one. But as Columbus refused to his death to make any statement concerning his Mediterranean service - when he had every reason to do had it been patriotic - and since the commerce of that sea in his time was so joined with piracy as to leave the two professions scarcely distinguishable one from the other, honesty compels the presumption, if it does not confirm the belief, that several years of his life were spent with his superiors exacting tribute from merchantmen, and also in waging war against Moorish freebooters who infested the Levant.
Of the distinguished relatives of Christopher there ere two who might have naturally led him to an adoption of such a career. One of these, who is known to history as the elder Columbus most probably a grand-uncle, bore a captain's commission from Louis XI. of France, who went so far beyond the limits of recognized duty as to sin for himself the title of Arch Pirate. He is represented as a man of almost unexampled recklessness, and of being noted no less for his cruelty than for his boldness. Another kinsman, supposed to have been a grand-uncle, was Colombo el Mozo, whose fame as a pirate rivals that of the elder. After achieving a wonderful renown by acts of incredible valor in the wars of the Genoese Republic, he fitted and armed a considerable fleet of his own and sailed against the Venetians, many of whose ships he destroyed after possessing himself of their cargoes. Subsequently he went against the pirates that patrol the African coast in quest of prizes, and delivered such decisive blows as practically to break up the industry in that section, but only to transfer it, however, to other parts of the sea.
After continuing for some years in a subordinate position, and having attained to manhood, Christopher became such a competent navigator that he obtained command of a vessel and sailed out of the Mediterranean, on cruises to lands of the northeast, especially to Spain, France and England. The known facts concerning his early life are so meager that we must rest upon the very few and brief disclosures made in his "Book of Prophecies," and these are scarcely more than the merest intimations of a very few of his acts, so that we cannot present his career either chronologically or with any attempt at completeness.
About the year 1470, Christopher took up his abode in Lisbon, whither his brother Bartholomew had gone a year before, having quitted his trade of wool-carding to become a cosmographer. The inference is gained from this known circumstance, that Christopher and Bartholomew had joined interests and were pursuing the same studies and with probably identical ambitions; for Christopher, besides being a navigator, began drawing charts at a fairly early age; and these were no doubt used by Bartholomew in illustration of his theories respecting the constitution of the system of worlds. It was this study that undoubtedly led to his conception of the earth's shape, and his belief that the India of Marco Polo might be reached by a voyage toward the west.
Columbus, as we shall henceforth call him, was only a short while in Lisbon before he saw a most bewitchingly beautiful lady while attending mass in the Church of All Saints, and immediately lost his heart to the fair enchantress. He directly sought an introduction, and at the first interview rejoiced to discover that his attentions met with favor which encouraged him to press a lover's suit. It was not long after his meeting with the lady that he heard from her lips the affecting story of hr life. Her name was Doña Felippa de Perestrello, one of the three daughters whose father had once been a grandee, of both fame and fortune. He had been a successful navigator, a large ship owner, and had rendered such valuable services to Portugal that Prince Henry rewarded him with the Governorship of Poto Santo, a fertile island near Madeira, off the northwest coast of Africa and on the route to the Canaries. A flourishing colony was here established by his endeavors, and large estates set in cultivation which were bestowed upon him as permanent lands from the crown. It was on this beautiful and prolific island that Doña Felippa and her sisters were born, and here they spent their girlhood amid surroundings dreamy, luxurious and ecstatic. The breath of perpetual summer was here redolent with the perfume of flower, and fruit, and wildwood, where an orchestra of gorgeously-plumaged birds filled the sensuous air with unceasing music, such as wakes the heart to blissful realization, and makes life as sweet as a delightful sleep vision. In an evil hour a number of rabbits were imported into the island, without thought of the harm which these innocent-appearing animals might work, but they directly propagated with such amazing fecundity that in an almost incredible brief time they became pests which resisted every effort for their destruction. Prolific as were the crops, so great was the destruction of these animals hat he raising of any kind of vegetable became an impossibility and the colony was finally forced to abandon the island to escape starvation. Sigñor Perestrello, who in the meantime had invested all his means in Porto Santo, thus found himself literally brought to poverty through the ravages of rabbits, and removing to Lisbon, with a small remnant of his fortune, died shortly after his return, leaving his children to the care of some wealthy relatives of that city.
After a reasonably long courtship Columbus married Felippa, who, though possessed of small patrimony, brought her husband no mean distinction, for she was one of the first ladies of Lisbon, and was of great advantage in extending his acquaintance among influential people, particularly the nobility.
We do not know how long he remained in Lisbon pursuing his profession as a cosmographer, but certainly the period was not great, for his restless ambition would not permit him to continue a quiet employment, and thus we learn of voyages projected and performed by him to other lands; but these were unsuccessful, because he retied to the uninviting estates of his wife on Porto Santo, which poverty alone would have induced him to do, and here his first child, which he named Diego, was born.
In this singularly quiet retreat, whence the first colonists had been driven by a pest of rabbits, Columbus conceived bolder schemes than had ever before moved him to ambitious undertakings. In poverty his mind found relaxation from the worriments of his former surroundings, and intensified his aspiration. His passion for the glory which feats at arms invest gave place to projects that contemplated beneficent results to all the world. Here he read with renewed interest the works of Ptolemy, the first geographer, of Aristotle, Strabo and Pliny, and studied with the keenest zest Cardinal Aliaco's "Cosmographia," in which science, superstition and absurd conceits were equally blended, to the confusion of truth. But his reflections and aspirations were most largely promoted by the ravels of Marco Polo, and of Sir John Mandeville, whose narratives of adventures in the far east, in a kingdom called Cathay, and in the wonderful country of Tartary, stirred him with a new ambition, and lifted him from his impoverished surroundings to a realm of idealism - of dreamy splendor.
Before reading the astounding revelations of Polo and Mandeville, picturing a land of fabulous wealth and royal aggrandizement, Columbus had arrived at a theory respecting the earth's shape, and had become convinced of its sphericity. Now his resolution suddenly became fixed to confirm his belief and at the same time to find a water-way to the rich kingdom of the Tartar Khan.