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Printable Columbus Day Story for kids - The True Story of Christopher ColumbusColumbus Day Stories

The True Story of Christopher Columbus
- A Chapter Book

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

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Christopher Columbus True Stories for Teachers
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Home > Holidays > Columbus Day > The True Story of Christopher Columbus > Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - What People Thought of the Idea

I do not wish you to think that Columbus was the first man to say that the earth was round, or the first to sail to the West over the Atlantic Ocean. He was not. Other men had said that they believed the earth was round; other men had sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean. But no sailor who believed the earth was round had ever yet tried to prove that it was by crossing the Atlantic. So, you see, Columbus was really the first man to say, I believe the earth is round and I will show you that it is by sailing to the lands that are on the other side of the earth.

He even figured out how far it was around the world. Your geography, you know, tells you now that what is called the circumference of the earth--that is, a straight line drawn right around it - is nearly twenty-five thousand miles. Columbus had figured it up pretty carefully and he thought it was about twenty thousand miles. If I could start from Genoa, he said, and walk straight ahead until I got back to Genoa again, I should walk about twenty thousand miles. Cathay, he thought, would take up so much land on the other side of the world that, if he went west instead of east, he would only need to sail about twenty-five hundred or three thousand miles.

If you have studied your geography carefully you will see what a mistake he made.

It is really about twelve thousand miles from Spain to China (or Cathay as he called it). But America is just about three thousand miles from Spain, and if you read all this story you will see how Columbus's mistake really helped him to discover America.

I have told you that Columbus had a longing to do something great from the time when, as a little boy, he had hung around the wharves in Genoa and looked at the ships sailing east and west and talked with the sailors and wished that he could go to sea. Perhaps what he had learned at school-- how some men said that the earth was round--and what he had heard on the wharves about the wonders of Cathay set him to thinking and to dreaming that it might be possible for a ship to sail around the world without falling off. At any rate, he kept on thinking and dreaming and longing until, at last, he began doing.

Some of the sailors sent out by Prince Henry of Portugal, of whom I have told you, in their trying to sail around Africa discovered two groups of islands out in the Atlantic that they called the Azores, or Isles of Hawks, and the Canaries, or Isles of Dogs. When Columbus was in Portugal in 1470 he became acquainted with a young woman whose name was Philippa Perestrelo. In 1473 he married her.

Now Philippa's father, before his death, had been governor of Porto Santo, one of the Azores, and Columbus and his wife went off there to live. In the governor's house Columbus found a lot of charts and maps that told him about parts of the ocean that he had never before seen, and made him feel certain that he was right in saying that if he sailed away to the West he should find Cathay.

At that time there was an old man who lived in Florence, a city of Italy. His name was Toscanelli. He was a great scholar and studied the stars and made maps, and was a very wise man. Columbus knew what a wise old scholar Toscanelli was, for Florence is not very far from Genoa. So while he was living in the Azores he wrote to this old scholar asking him what he thought about his idea that a man could sail around the world until he reached the land called the Indies and at last found Cathay.

Toscanelli wrote to Columbus saying that he believed his idea was the right one, and he said it would be a grand thing to do, if Columbus dared to try it. Perhaps, he said, you can find all those splendid things that I know are in Cathay--the great cities with marble bridges, the houses of marble covered with gold, the jewels and the spices and the precious stones, and all the other wonderful and magnificent things. I do not wonder you wish to try, he said, for if you find Cathay it will be a wonderful thing for you and for Portugal.

That settled it with Columbus. If this wise old scholar said he was right, he must be right. So he left his home in the Azores and went to Portugal. This was in 1475, and from that time on, for seventeen long years he was trying to get some king or prince to help him sail to the West to find Cathay.

But not one of the people who could have helped him, if they had really wished to, believed in Columbus. As I told you, they said that he was crazy. The king of Portugal, whose name was John, did a very unkind thing--I am sure you would call it a mean trick. Columbus had gone to him with his story and asked for ships and sailors. The king and his chief men refused to help him; but King John said to himself, perhaps there is something in this worth looking after and, if so, perhaps I can have my own people find Cathay and save the money that Columbus will want to keep for himself as his share of what he finds. So one day he copied off the sailing directions that Columbus had left with him, and gave them to one of his own captains without letting Columbus know anything about it, The Portuguese captain sailed away to the West in the direction Columbus had marked down, but a great storm came up and so frightened the sailors that they turned around in a hurry. Then they hunted up Columbus and began to abuse him for getting them into such a scrape. You might as well expect to find land in the sky, they said, as in those terrible waters.

And when, in this way, Columbus found out that King John had tried to use his ideas without letting him know anything about it, he was very angry. His wife had died in the midst of this mean trick of the Portuguese king, and so, taking with him his little five-year-old son, Diego, he left Portugal secretly and went over into Spain.

Near the little town of Palos, in western Spain, is a green hill looking out toward the Atlantic. Upon this hill stands an old building that, four hundred years ago, was used as a a convent or home for priests. It was called the Convent of Rabida, and the priest at the head of it was named the Friar Juan Perez. One autumn day, in the year 1484, Friar Juan Perez saw a dusty traveler with a little boy talking with the gate-keeper of the convent. The stranger was so tall and fine-looking, and seemed such an interesting man, that Friar Juan went out and began to talk with him. This man was Columbus.

As they talked, the priest grew more and more interested in what Columbus said. He invited him into the convent to stay for a few days, and he asked some other people--the doctor of Palos and some of the sea captains and sailors of the town--to come and talk with this stranger who had such a singular idea about sailing across the Atlantic.

It ended in Columbus's staying some months in Palos, waiting for a chance to go and see the king and queen. At last, in 1485, he set out for the Spanish court with a letter to a priest who was a friend of Friar Juan's, and who could help him to see the king and queen.

At that time the king and queen of Spain were fighting to drive out of Spain the people called the Moors. These people came from Africa, but they had lived in Spain for many years and had once been a very rich and powerful nation. They were not Spaniards; they were not Christians. So all Spaniards and all Christians hated them and tried to drive them out of Europe.

The king and queen of Spain who were fighting the Moors were named Ferdinand and Isabella. They were pretty good people as kings and queens went in those days, but they did a great many very cruel and very mean things, just as the kings and queens of those days were apt to do. I am afraid we should not think they were very nice people nowadays. We certainly should not wish our American boys and girls to look up to them as good and true and noble.

When Columbus first came to them, they were with the army in the camp near the city of Cordova. The king and queen had no time to listen to what they thought were crazy plans, and poor Columbus could get no one to talk with him who could be of any help. So he was obliged to go back to drawing maps and selling books to make enough money to support himself and his little Diego.

But at last, through the friend of good Friar Juan Perez of Rabida, who was a priest at the court, and named Talavera, and to whom he had a letter of introduction, Columbus found a chance to talk over his plans with a number of priests and scholars in the city of Salamanca where there was a famous college and many learned men.

Columbus told his story. He said what he wished to do, and asked these learned men to say a good word for him to, Ferdinand and Isabella so that he could have the ships and sailors to sail to Cathay. But it was of no use.

What! sail away around the world? those wise men cried in horror. Why, you are crazy. The world is not round; it is flat. Your ships would tumble off the edge of the world and all the king's money and all the king's men would be lost. No, no; go away; you must not trouble the queen or even mention such a ridiculous thing again.

So the most of them said. But one or two thought it might be worth trying. Cathay was a very rich country, and if this foolish fellow were willing to run the risk and did succeed, it would be a good thing for Spain, as the king and queen would need a great deal of money after the war with the Moors was over. At any rate, it was a chance worth thinking about.

And so, although Columbus was dreadfully disappointed, he thought that if he had only a few friends at Court who were ready to say a good word for him he must not give up, but must try, try again. And so he stayed in Spain.

 

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