By Mary Tucker

Columbus Day is celebrated in the United States in memory of the day Christopher Columbus landed in the new world (San Salvador Island, today part of the British Bahamas), October 12, 1492. Italian immigrants were the first to celebrate the holiday in U.S. cities, as Columbus was believed to be Italian. HE WAS!! He had entered the world as Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa, Italy in 1451. He worked as a weaver with his father and later became a sailor on the Mediterranean Sea. At 25 years of age he spent time in Portugal as well as a maritime center in Spain with his brother, an expert chart maker. He also became a chart maker and worked as a sugar buyer, meeting pilots and navigators who believed that there were islands further west. At this time he made his last visit to Genoa, but always remained a Genoese, never becoming a naturalized citizen of any other country. By the time he was 30, he had become a master mariner in the Portuguese Maritime Service.

Portuguese sailors dominated the effort to establish a sea route between Europe and India. Spices and goods made in India were much in demand in European countries, increasing trade between the two continents. Many explorers dreamed of discovering a new route to India. Columbus was one of many who believed land could be reached by sailing west. This, of course, presumed that the world was round, as believed by the most educated, instead of flat. Columbus asked support from King John II of Portugal to finance an expedition and realize his dream of establishing a new, shorter route to the Indies. Rebuffed by John II and his court, he turned to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. With an eye toward outflanking Portugal, Queen Isabella authorized an expedition for Columbus to sail west from Spain.

THE REST IS HISTORY: On Aug. 3, 1492 Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. After much hardship and suffering, Columbus and his ships reached the New World. Was Columbus the first European to cross the Atlantic? Viking sailors are believed to have established a short-lived settlement on Newfoundland and scholars believe in other pre-Columbian landings. However, Columbus initiated a lasting encounter between Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

Columbus, named “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” by Spain, made three other expeditions to the Western Hemisphere, founded a colony in Hispaniola, continued on to the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. He returned to Hispaniola, was immediately arrested and sent back to Spain in chains as a result of reports to Spain of the wretched conditions of the colony. Admiral Columbus was quickly released but his favor was on the wane; other explorers had been to the New World, among them Amerigo Vespucci, who established most of the coast of northeast South America. The two continents were named after Vespucci. After petitioning King Ferdinand in an attempt to receive the promised titles and wealth with no success, Columbus died in relative neglect in 1506.  ~