Christopher Columbus: Explorer or Executioner?


Columbus Day

Having been to Hispaniola over five times, visiting the supposed yet disputed site of Christopher Columbus' burial and the palace where his son Diego Colon resided I have an special interest in the history of Columbus.

As the United States of America commemorates "Columbus Day" there has been mixed reception.  Was Columbus an explorer and discoverer of the New World, or was he a barbarous, murderer who brought death?

One thing that greatly impressed me about Columbus was his journal.  I had checked a copy of his journal out a few times from our local library.  In the journal, as we would expect for the period, Columbus gives much praise and honor to Christ and even makes references to the Spanish victory over the Muslim Moors.  What a person will glean from the journals is that Columbus was more interested in using his voyage to India to learn the best method to convert people to Christ.  This is a far different picture than a gold hungry Columbus.

As a matter of fact, there is mention in the journal of how some of the saliors were trading shards of broken plates for huge 20 pound balls of cotton, or more specifically for a very small sum.  Columbus forbade this unfair practice. Futher, Columbus writes in his journal that there is really no need to subdue the inhabitants as they are peaceful and not war-like but if ordered by the Spanish King and Queen, he could capture the entire population with just 50 men.  Thus, this shows that Columbus was not bent to doing violence to the people.

There are several accounts in the journal where Columbus defends the natives against his sailors.

Another charge against Columbus is that he brought small pox and other diseases against which the natives had no natural immunity.  Even if this is so, how would have Columbus known this?  It was not his intention to wipe out civilizations through germ warfare.

Like other events in history, we cannot judge the people and actions in our modern frames.  We must understand the events and people in their own context.  Reading Columbus' journal shows that he did not intend to do harm or injustice to the inhabitants. So, it is unfair to portray Columbus as some evil, gold-hungry rogue looking to wipe out the natives.



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