In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue




 In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.

A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go. 

It’s the second Monday in October, a federal holiday officially know as Columbus Day. Despite the closings of schools, banks, military facilities and federal offices and of course, the Post Office, there are a number of states that no longer recognize Columbus Day. They include AK,AR,CA,DE,FL,MI,WI,WY,MN,IN OR.SD,TX,WA with some local areas in FL recognizing the holiday and closing schools. In South Dakota, it is celebrated as Native American Day and in Berkeley, CA as Indigenous People’s Day.

Confused? Well, I am and pretty sure our intrepid explorer Christopher Columbus would have been so confused at the unlikely turn of events that he would have taken a wrong turn and gotten lost on his way to discover the New World. Oh, thats right he did! Several times to be exact! And oh by the way, the statute of Columbus in Manhattan atop a 13 ft high base is a bit confusing as the Captain never made it to the big Apple or to any other part of the continental United States.

Yes, Christopher Columbus did indeed discover the New World. The world of the Bahamas in 1492 while trying to sail to China. Hhmm.., not to take anything away from his explorations, but I believe his GPS was way off. Perhaps, he should have asked Siri. But, to give the man his due, he did open up the trade routes to the New World and is typically considered the first and main explorer to discover the Americas. And I did have to memorize that poem as a child so why the big fuss on recognizing Columbus Day.

Well, many people see Christopher Columbus as face of colonial expansion, the suppressor of indigenous peoples rights and all around bad dude. And from all accounts, he was not received with loving adoration by the people in the Bahamas, an area he laid claim to for Spain and named Hispaniola.

So let me briefly refresh your memory. We all know that Columbus was Italian, a mapmaker by trade who felt he could sail straight to China and bring back much desired goods and expand trade with the Chinese. He lived in Portugal at the time and could not convince the King of Portugal to finance his get-rich scheme, a sailing expedition fraught with high risk and of course, high expense. But in August of 1492, he managed to convince King Ferdinand of Spain to fund his expedition and off he sailed on the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria. I believe there is a song about that as well.

In October of 1492, he landed on the shores of the Bahamas believing it to be China. Well, it was not but he did manage to gain a few pieces of gold and other local goods and went back to Spain leaving 39 of his men behind to colonize the island.

He was greeted as a hero upon his return to Spain in 1493, where apparently his stories of the wonders of the New World were enough to convince the monarchs to finance another expedition the very same year.

Unfortunately, upon his return to Hispaniola in 1493, he found the settlement destroyed and most of his men dead. Determined to subjugate these lands, he enforced a harsh labor policy using natives and set about exploring for gold. As you can imagine he was not well-liked by the native people and the arrival his crew introduced a whole host of new and contagious diseases such as smallpox upon these tiny nations making the legend of Christopher Columbus a highly controversial subject in modern day society.

Columbus did make two subsequent trips to the New World and on the third he landed in Venezuela. However he was arrested and stripped of his titles and riches  upon his return to Spain as word had gotten back to the Spanish court about the mismanagement of the settlement in Hispaniola.

In 1502, after the charges against him were dropped and he somehow managed to regain favor once again from his monarchs, he made one final voyage. This time he landed in Cuba where he became stranded and had to be rescued. He returned to Spain in 1504 and subsequently died in 1506, fairly affluent but never quite the famed explorer he once had been.

So tell me again, why do we celebrate Columbus Day? Well actually, Columbus Day was originally set aside to celebrate Italian-American heritage in 1869. Hence, the controversial arguments on the validity of the holiday. The first state to recognize it was Colorado in 1907 and in 1937 it was celebrated across the United States. It wasn’t until 1971 that it was designated a federal holiday assigned to the second Monday in October.

Whatever your feelings about this holiday and I admit, mine are somewhat mixed. I would wager that at some time in the near future we will either do away with the holiday or employ a change of name. So, I urge you to enjoy the day, take a moment and reflect on the peoples of the past. People who have taken risks to explore new continents and settle unknown lands. And remember with great risks comes the opportunity to achieve great rewards. Oftentimes great rewards lead to and result in unintended consequences. So let history be a microscope into the past and a diagnosis on how to become a better people and society as a whole.

As for today, I am officially proclaiming it, “Happy Lost Explorer Day, who never stopped to ask for directions because he was a MAN Day!”


Leave a Comment:

Gene Jacobs says

Change the name? Maybe. Well probably. Do away with a federal holiday? As if.

Barbara Sanders says

Great bit of history. Thankfuld for the day off from work.

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