MY DAY: Thoughts on Columbus Day


Today is a semi-holiday to honor famed explorer, Christopher Columbus.  However, the very name, Christopher Columbus, seems to raise the ire in some individuals.

The biggest dispute seems to center around whether Columbus actually did discover the Americas.  Yes, there is evidence the Vikings had already arrived before CC and his three ships.  However, one thing I do try to remember is the Italian born sailor ventured across the oceans, when conventional shipping lanes skirted the coastlines, or only crossed major areas if the destination was confident.

No one really knows which Italian, Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucci, both of whom died in Spain, should receive credit.

Does it really matter?

Well, perhaps to historians.  For me, personally, I am just glad something happened to encourage my ancestors to travel to the New World.

There are some claims on Columbus’ reputation that irk me, only because folks tend to forget Columbus’ behaviors/actions were not all that different from other episodes throughout history, especially our country’s own history.

One claim: Columbus took land from people, and murdered them.

Is this anything new?  There are countless ancient accounts of different tribes or nations conquering others.  I do become a bit annoyed when others bring this up as though The United States of America conducted itself nobly with the numerous Native American nations.  Should we celebrate President’s Day since Jackson, and presidents of the later 19th Century continued to delete Native American territory while savagely destroying them?

In his letter to King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella, Columbus wrote:

UR HIGHNESSES, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma [Islam] and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristóbal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said princes … with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith …. Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships … your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India …. I shall forget sleep, and shall work at the business of navigation, so that the service is performed.

I included the excerpt so others could draw their own conclusion.

Another claim:  Columbus enslaved natives.

Was this novel, before or after?  Not really.  Again, many elect to dismiss slavery throughout the centuries, and again, right here on the home front.  We enslaved Africans, Native Americans, and probably other races or cultures not always mentioned in the history books.  During WWII, there were numerous Japanese and German interment camps here in the United States.  There were even camps in my small rural Hoosier birthplace of Elwood, Indiana.  I am sure this is considered an act of war, but it is still enslavement.  And, many of the Japanese were actually US citizens.  Since a number of our nation’s presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Wm. H. Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Polk, A. Johnson, and Grant – owned slaves, should we still continue to celebrate President’s Day?  Should The Commonwealth of Virginia be allowed to celebrate state holidays: Lee & Jackson Day, George Washington Day, (Jefferson’s birthday was once on the state calendar)?

Another claim:  Columbus brought new diseases to the New World.

Perhaps.  However, I don’t think Columbus was strictly responsible for this as he was not alone.

Another claim:  Columbus personally raped native women, and even auctioned women for his men’s pleasure.

I’ve always wondered about a particular story in The Bible.  When Sarah could not become pregnant, she gave to her husband, Abraham, her hand-maid, Hagar.  Abraham did bed her, and she bore Ishmael.  Now, we have enslavement, and a possible rape.  It was not uncommon for slave owners  to bed their servants; perhaps were consensual, and others were not.  Again, President Jefferson is thought to have fathered slave children.  Throughout the Civil War (and other wars) there were many accounts of soldiers raping women.  Was that all in the name of Christianity, or war?

Personally, I do not care, one way or another, about the controversy of Columbus’ discoveries, or his personal behaviors.  I do, however, scratch my head when others disregard other similar, well-known facts throughout history that seem to be overshadowed by Christopher Columbus.


About Wright Flyer Guy

Darin is a single adoptive father, a teacher, playwright, and musical theatre director from Kettering, Ohio.
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