Was Christopher Columbus a Great Hero or a Murderous Villain?
It varies greatly on who you ask. There are many conflicting points of view regarding Columbus and in recent times revisionists are making us rethink the history that has been written about him. This paper will attempt to discuss multiple viewpoints on the history of Columbus.When I was in elementary school I was taught that Columbus was a great explorer and was even taught a song that “In 1492 Columbus Sailed the ocean blue”. He was heralded as a hero for discovering America and changed the course of history by establishing contact between Europe and the New World. He was talked about in terms of being a self made man who was rewarded for taking tremendous risks and for ushering in a new age (Loewen, 2007).
The history of the United States might have been very different without Columbus’ encounter with the New World. Columbus’ encounter opened up new opportunities for the westward expansion from Europe, and for new trade routes and migration. It helped Spain, England, Portugal and others to grow and expand. RESEARCH PAPER HISTORY 230It ultimately led to the formation of the Colonies that would later become the United States. Columbus came to stand as a symbol for America in the early days of the country, even though he had never actually visited the United States (Columbus in America, 2017). Historians claim that Columbus was taken up as a symbol by the Untied States for his story of crossing the sea, setting up new colonies, conquering savages and his devotion to god, in a story that paralleled the founding of America (Columbus in America, 2017) In 1937 the United States government honored Columbus with the establishment of a national holiday (Loewen, 2007). To this day, it is still a Federal Holiday and many states and cities continue to celebrate Columbus Day. Many people still feel that Columbus was a hero.
How it works
In 1492 Christopher Columbus an Italian explorer, under the crown of Spain, set sail to the west in order to discover a new trade route to Asia. Columbus sought fame and fortune, and to carry Christianity to the far corners of the earth. Columbus found a benefactor in the Spanish royalty of Ferdinand and Isabella who financed the voyage and promised him ten percent of the riches he might acquire.(Zinn, 1990) Later that year Columbus made landfall, not in Asia as Columbus incorrectly assumed, but on the islands of the Bahamas in what would later be named the Eastern Caribbean. He soon encountered the native people of the islands, the Arawak (Zinn, 1990). Columbus noted that that Arawaks were hospitable, eager to share, and did not bear any arms (Hale,n.d.). In just two days Columbus claimed to have learned the language of the Arawak and heard them say “Come and see the men who have come from heaven? bring them food and RESEARCH PAPER HISTORY 230drink.” (Hale,n.d.). Columbus believed that he was on a holy mission, blessed by god. In his own journals Columbus viewed the natives not for their culture or civilization, but useful as slaves and to lead him to gold and riches. “They would be good servants, and of good disposition…they could easily be made Christians..and I strove attentively to learn whether there were gold” (Hale,n.d.).
Columbus immediately took several of the native Arawacks prisoner by force in order to gather information and aid in the search for riches. “As soon as I arrived in the Indies , on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.” (Zinn, 1990). This began a campaign of violence and subjugation of native peoples that would endure for centuries. Columbus returned to Spain as a conquering hero and was awarded an expeditionary force of 17 ships and more than 1200 men for his second voyage. (Zinn, 1990). His second voyage was undertaken with the purposes of plunder. Gold and Slaves. The expedition conquered island after island, taking the Indian men as captives, and using the women and children for sex and labor. (Zinn, 1990). Columbus would write in his journals “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” (Zinn, 1990)There are countless examples of the cruelty and barbarity that Columbus exhibited in his conquest of the new world and among the many who followed. The histories of Columbus that were written by white men didn’t take into account the plight of the natives, of slaves, of the poor, the black, or the conquered. It has only been in modern times that revisionists have begun to look at these histories through the eyes of the RESEARCH PAPER HISTORY 230conquered (Vettel, 1992). According to Eric Foner, Historian at Columbia University “The historical developments symbolized by Columbus’s encounters with the New World produced both great good and both great evil for different peoples in different parts of the wold and no account of that era is complete unless it examines both sides of the question.
It can’t be celebration and it can’t be victimization, It has to include both of these perspectives at the same time.” (Who owns history?, 1994) Was Columbus a great explorer? Yes. Was Columbus a murderer? Yes. It really just depends on the point of view. To the white men of the times Columbus was a explorer, to the Native Americans he was a Villain. I believe that history should show both perspectives, that both labels can be applied in the case of Christopher Columbus. I don’t think that we should honor Columbus with a Federal Holiday. I’m in support of renaming it “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” as Columbus’ brutality against the native people set in motion prejudice, racism and mistreatment that still exists today.