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Columbus Day
October 14, 2013

By Sarah Lane
Nov 17, 2012, 11:50 PST

Columbus Day - October 14, 2013

What we were taught...

‘In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.’ If we remember nothing else about Columbus we still can hear our entire third grade classroom repeating that line. While Columbus may have proven that the Earth was round and definitely larger than everyone first thought, even he underestimated its actual size. He assumed that by traveling west he would end up in the East Indies, the islands off Southeast Asia. Once he landed, Columbus intended to bring the highly desirable Asian spices and silks back to Europe.

What we weren’t taught in school is that not once did he ever set eyes on mainland North America. His most important accomplishment was making the first connection between Europeans and the Americas. Permanent European colonies were eventually settled in the New World, as it was called, because of this connection. But where did his ships land if not North America? In the early morning hours of October 12th, 1492, a sailor from the ship called the Pinta sighted land. Columbus and his crew soon landed on the Bahamian Island of Guanahani. They would also visit Cuba and Hispaniola, or Haiti, as we now know it. All of the areas they explored were inhabited and, in fact, the Vikings had actually explored the North American coast 500 years before Columbus.

So who was this curious guy named Columbus and why do we celebrate Columbus Day?

Christopher Columbus lived from 1451 until the year 1505. He was the son of a merchant father and his mother was a weaver. He was actually born in Genoa, Italy, although his quest for adventure would take him far beyond Europe. His first escapade at sea began when he was just 14 years old. The ship he was aboard wrecked near Portugal in 1470 and he swam ashore and stayed there to live. From 1477 to 1482 he made many merchant voyages. It wasn’t until the year 1484 that Columbus finally presented his “Enterprise of the Indies” idea to King John of Portugal. It wasn’t well received and so Columbus moved to Spain. He presented the same idea to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who ended up financing the voyage. Their city of Palos had to pay back a debt to the crown and so it gave up two of their ships for the mission. In all, very little money came directly from the crown treasury. Eventually three ships named the Nina, Pinta, and the flagship Santa Maria, set sail for the New World with Columbus and 90 men aboard.

What happened to Columbus after this famous trip?

The Santa Maria sank near Haiti on Christmas Day in the year 1492. Columbus left for Spain on January 16th, 1493. He traveled on the Nina and arrived back home on March 4th. Columbus made three more voyages which helped to colonize Hispaniola, and he did discover the South America mainland. He returned to Spain for the last time on November 7th, 1504. He died at Valladolid, Spain on May 20th, 1506. He was 55 years old.

Timeline of Columbus Day Celebrations

October 12, 1792 - First celebration marking the 300th Anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Bahamas held by the Colombian Order, later known as The Society of St. Tammany, in New York City.

October 12, 1866 - Italians in New York celebrated the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.

October 12, 1869 - Italians in San Francisco celebrated “C-Day.”

1892 - President Benjamin Harrison made a commemorative proclamation to mark the 400th Anniversary of Columbus’ voyage.

1907 - Colorado is the first state to celebrate Columbus Day.

October 12, 1909 - New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes led a parade in honor of Columbus and declared the day a holiday.

1920 - Various celebrations have occurred annually since this time to unofficially celebrate Columbus Day.

1937 - President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed every October 12th as Columbus Day.

1971 - Congress declared the second Monday in October a federal holiday celebrating Columbus Day.

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