Chapter 8, Part 3 (and the end really)
By Patrick F. Cannon
Sail on, sail on, sail on
Said Captain Chris from his perch on the poop
Sail on, for riches await
The crew, it must be said
Weren’t buying what Chris was sailing
And sometimes wished that he were daid
(Anon. But one has suspicions.)
Now that the Portugeezers had established a watery route to India, we can return to Christopher Columbus, who thought he had a better way. Looking at Ptolemy’s map as he often did, he decided it was foolish to go all the way around Africa, when it would be much faster to simply sail west and arrive at the same place.
Being a proud Italian, he tried selling the idea to the local princes first, but most were short of money as they were continually fighting among themselves and having their portraits painted. He then went to France, but soon discovered that the French felt they had already found heaven and couldn’t imagine why anyone would wish to go anywhere else. Columbus pressed on to Spain, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were just about to toss the last Moors out of their country. With the booty they had taken from their retreating enemies, they were flush with cash and looking for new worlds to conquer. Timing is everything and Columbus rang the castle bell just when the monarchs were in a good mood.
They provided cash for three ships and crews, with the understanding that any lands discovered would be theirs, along with most of the gold, jewels and spices. Columbus figured that his share would be more than enough to greatly improve his standard of living, so he was content.
He set sail on August 3, 1492, full of confidence. “If we just keep going west,” he told his crews, “we’re bound to bump into something, most likely Japan.” “OK,” they responded prudently, “just as long as we get paid.”
We have to remember that in those days people who got on ships generally expected them to arrive somewhere other than their port of departure. Nowadays, of course, we’re perfectly content to sail around aimlessly for a week or two and arrive back where we started, just so long as we’re fed five times a day.
As the weeks went by with no sight of land, the crews became understandably concerned, particularly since the late night buffet consisted mainly of hard biscuits and even harder salt pork, washed down with water that was, to put it nicely, a bit cloudy.
When they expressed their misgivings to Columbus, he invariably replied: “Sail on.” This soon became tiresome, and mutinous mutterings became the order of the day. In the event, Columbus was saved, when on October 11 land was sighted. It was an island Columbus called San Salvador. He planted the flag of Spain on the beach, watched warily by a group of naked natives, who wondered why anyone would wear heavy clothes in such a climate.
Columbus himself was somewhat confused at the nakedness of his greeters, having assumed that the Japanese wore clothes just like everyone he had met heretofore. Perhaps Marco Polo had failed to mention it? He asked the natives if he could look around for gold. They didn’t seem to mind, although one must assume that their Spanish was minimal.
No gold was found, so Columbus began wandering around the area. He planted so many flags that the crew was soon busy making new ones. Before he ran out of fabric, he had discovered what is now Cuba (which he thought was China) and Hispaniola. The natives there actually had a few bits of gold, and told Columbus (using sign language?) that the gold was found up in the hills, where it has largely been found ever since.
But fate intervened (as it almost always does) and the Santa Maria was wrecked before they reached the gold. Columbus decided they would need a lot more people and shovels if they were to get at the gold, so he decided to return to Spain, leaving behind 39 men to hold the fort (which they also had to build).
When he returned with many more ships, some empty to hold the expected gold, he discovered that the natives had wised up and killed his men. Setting a precedent that held true for hundreds of years, he enslaved the natives and set them to work digging for gold. They didn’t find much, but did discover that the Europeans returned with a variety of diseases, both venereal and funereal.
The hapless Columbus never gave up, traveling back and forth from Spain to what he continued to think was the Indies. He finally died in 1506, still claiming that he had found the Indies. By then, sadly, he was commonly known as Crazy Chris. Although he never set foot in what is now called the United States, in recognition of his dogged determination, that country established October 11 as Columbus Day. While many are happy to celebrate it as a welcome day off, others believe Columbus should be condemned as a gold-happy native killer. So far, the day off has prevailed.
Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon