HIS1301 - The Conquest of Columbus
February 4th, 2001 | Back to Blog Listing

Luther Elmore
History 1301
Assignment #1
The Conquest of Columbus
"A journal worth exploring"

As noted in the first journal entries Columbus kept of their voyage, he kept two separate accounts of the distances that had been traveled. Looking back in history, this obviously proved favorable to him on the voyage, but one must ask – why? Similar to the time period that we are living in today, there were definite classes of people, whether we choose to acknowledge that today or not. Sailors of the time were certainly of the class of people we would know as ‘blue-collar’ workers, if not a shade below. It was only the admirals of the fleet (and a few select others chosen of the King and Queen) that possessed the intelligence to understand the latitude of this journey. Morals were certainly of importance on this voyage and what better way to keep the projected distance to the ‘Indies’ close to track then to throw out white lies to the crew. As most any modern text, book, or production will parody, our government certainly does not tell us everything that goes on throughout our continued exploration of space for example. They give us projected figures and this is all that we concern ourselves with, because it is what we are told. It gives us the clichéd parental expression that ‘we’re almost there’. Furthermore, it usually keeps us happy and anxiously waiting. I speculate that Columbus was using the same psychology on his crew. Curiously enough, I find it surprising that such information ever went past the King and Queen of Spain and that it is such a tale we can read about today.

Another interesting factor of this story was the way that Columbus described everything that he encountered, and even better, how he had an explanation for most all of it. It was most apparent as they sailed on the voyage and encountered mostly birds, but also crabs, whales, and even drift. Similar to a more modern explorer we know a great deal of, it seems that Columbus was almost acting like Darwin someday would in his classifications. He seemed to have an explanation for every creature that was seen whether it was one known to the Spaniards or not. Humorously enough, every creature that was encountered was believed to be only encountered x-leagues away from land, thus land must have always been nearby. These statements may have been a bit pretentious of Columbus to declare, especially to a man who would challenge a theory as bizarre as say: ‘The Earth if flat’. Nonetheless, it was another tactic to keep the moral of the men up (and most likely of Columbus himself). While Columbus was probably more willing to trade fairly with the natives then his men were, I think it is evident that he was happy to better-deal them. Still, one could argue that the natives, who had been accustomed to such commodities, found it favorable to possess a piece of glass, or a stain colored flag. Unfortunately like most, if not all other conquistadors of the time (if Columbus meets that status), the only thing that the natives lacked was Christian status. I think its safe to say that if we look back in time, problem after problem could have been avoided (especially with native tribes) had the explorers simply left religion alone.

If there was one thing that any one man of this time period wanted to possess, it was power and riches. As noted earlier, the blue-collar status of the sailors most likely led them to believe that they would never be powerful rulers, but this also led them to believe that with riches, they could live similar lifestyles. There’s no disputing the cause of most of the conquistadors of this time period – riches. Riches for them, riches for the country, and almost more importantly, riches for the King and Queen of the era. I am sure that in many of the sailor’s hearts, thoughts of gold and silver were the only things keeping them alive across the Atlantic. Gold led to the later conquering of the Incas, Aztecs, Mayans and most every other tribe of Central and South America. From a different perspective, it only made sense for Columbus to seek such wealth as an explorer. If he was to return to the islands, or seek new land in other places, he would have to return wealth. The America’s would have been of no use to the Spaniards had the commodities available not well exceeded the cost and dangers of the trip.

I found this extract to be very interesting in an overall sense. In the middle of the journal I felt that I was reading a monotonous story, but I suppose that my reading of it was nothing compared to the actual monotony of the voyage. Society enjoys asking the question (youths especially) that if you could go back into time, what time period would you like to live in. To this day I have honestly always answered around the 1450’s. I only wish that I could proposition our President to fund me on such an adventurous journey and to discover lands never found by the world as we know it. Fortunately the King and Queen did not take a republican stance upon this request (as I would now receive) and allowed such a wonderful history to be uncovered. I would love to have seen this article published in Spanish so that I could read it pre-translated. I simply feel that the non-translated details I would notice would add to the visualization of the story. Coincidentally, I feel that visualizing history is what makes it interesting to read.