Most of us like to hear stories from the past about great adventures or victories won against all odds. But we tend to perk up a bit more when we hear the actual words that came directly from folks who lived during a particular time or were eye-witnesses to the occaision that we might be researching.
Naturally, when I came across a few journal entries of Christopher Columbus, I had to stop and take a look. I did know some trivia on the man. Like the fact that he turned fully gray by the age of 33. But other than that, these days, we don’t hear a lot directly from his own words.
With that, here are a few I was able to locate in honor of this holiday weekend named after the famous Discoverer.
Journal of First Voyage of Columbus
Columbus’ actual journals have been lost, but two of his companions, his son Ferdinand and Bartolome Las Casas, recorded abstracts of the original journal. At places they quote Columbus and in other places they summarize his journals. (2)
Wednesday, Dec. 12th… A large cross was set up at the entrance of the harbour, upon a beautiful spot upon the western side, “as an indication” in the words of the Admiral, “that your Highnesses possess the country, and principally for a token of Jesus Christ our Lord, and the honour of Christianity.”
Wednesday, Jan. 23rd… The sea all the time smooth as a river, “many thanks be to God,” says the Admiral.
Letter of Columbus to Rafael Sanchez
After his arrival in Lisbon, Columbus wrote a summary account of his voyage as a report for Ferdinand and Isabella. It was written as a letter to Rafael Sanchez, Treasurer for Ferdinand and Isabella, and clearly reveals Columbus’ Christian motivation. The following quotes are from this letter:
(In his voyages, Columbus discovered many islands) “I named the first of these islands San Salvador [which means holy saviour], thus bestowing upon it the name of our holy Saviour under whose protection I made the discovery.” Other names he chose included Trinidad [for the Trinity], and Monte Cristi.
I love the parts where he gave the natives bright hats and other lovely items he’d brought from Spain. Their delight and gratitude is touching. He goes on and on about what delightful people he has discovered along his way.
We hear a lot about Columbus these days. But many times, what we hear is what someone, centuries later, wrote about him, felt about him. I like to know what he really said. What his colleagues wrote and what the courts documented. Much more fascinating, in my opinion.
Obviously, one can spend days looking over the data. Perhaps this small bit will be a cause to pause for you this weekend to see what you can unearth about the historic adventures of the man from Spain. Just be sure to check your sources. Always default, when you can, to get it from the horses mouth. Someone that was really there- 0r spoke with someone that was.
1 The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Washington Irving, (New York: Belford Company, n.d.,) pp. 632-633.
2 The following journal excerpts and quotes of Columbus are from the work of Las Casas, printed by Albert and Charles Boni, New York, 1924