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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


Christopher Columbus True Stories for Teachers
Printable Children's Literature


Home > Holidays > Columbus Day > The True Story of Christopher Columbus > Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - How the Admiral Sailed Away

The agreement made between Columbus and the king and queen of Spain was signed on the seventeenth of April, 1492. But it was four months before he was quite ready to sail away.

He selected the town of Palos as the place to sail from, because there, as you know, Captain Pinzon lived; there, too, he had other acquaintances, so that he supposed it would be easy to get the sailors he needed for his ships. But in this he was greatly mistaken.

As soon as the papers had been signed that held the queen to her promise, Columbus set off for Palos. He stopped at the Convent of Rabida to tell the Friar Juan Perez how thankful he was to him for the help the good priest had given him, and how everything now looked promising and successful.

The town of Palos, as you can see from your map of Spain, is situated at the mouth of the river Tinto on a little bay in the southwestern part of Spain, not far from the borders of Portugal. To-day the sea has gone away from it so much that it is nearly high and dry; but four hundred years ago it was quite a seaport, when Spain did not have a great many sea towns on the Atlantic coast.

At the time of Columbus's voyage the king and queen of Spain were angry with the port of Palos for something its people had done that was wrong--just what this was we do not know. But to punish the town, and because Columbus wished to sail from there, the king and queen ordered that Palos should pay them a fine for their wrong-doing. And this fine was to lend the king and queen of Spain, for one year, without pay, two sailing vessels of the kind called caravel's, armed and equipped "for the service of the crown"-- that is, for the use of the king and queen of Spain, in the western voyage that Columbus was to make.

When Columbus called together the leading people of Palos to meet him in the church of St. George and hear the royal commands, they came; but at first they did not understand just what they must do. But when they knew that they must send two of their ships and some of their sailing men on this dreadful voyage far out upon the terrible Sea of Darkness, they were terribly distressed. Nobody was willing to go. They would obey the commands of the king and queen and furnish the two ships, but as for sailing off with this crazy sea captain --that they would not do.

Then the king's officers went to work. They seized some sailors (impressed is the word for this), and made them go; they took some from the jails, and gave them their freedom as a reward for going; they begged and threatened and paid in advance, and still it was hard to get enough men for the two ships. Then Captain Pinzon, who had promised Columbus that he would join him, tried his hand. He added a third ship to the Admiral's "fleet." He made big promises to the sailors, and worked for weeks, until at last he was able to do what even the royal commands could not do, and a crew of ninety men was got together to man the three vessels. The names of these three vessels were the Capitana (changed before it sailed to the Santa Maria), the Pinta and the Nina or Baby. Captain de la Cosa commanded the Santa Maria, Captain Martin Alonso Pinzon the Pinta and his brother, Captain Vincent Pinzon, the Nina. The Santa Maria was the largest of the three vessels; it was therefore selected as the leader of the fleet--the flag-ship, as it is called--and upon it sailed the commander of the expedition, the Admiral Don Christopher Columbus.

When we think of a voyage across the Atlantic nowadays, we think of vessels as large as the big three-masted ships or the great ocean steamers--vessels over six hundred feet long and fifty feet wide. But these "ships" of Columbus were not really ships. They were hardly larger than the "fishing smacks" that sail up and down our coast to-day. Some of them were not so large. The Santa Maria was, as I have told you, the largest of the three, and she was only sixty-three feet long, twenty feet wide and ten and a half feet deep. Just measure this out on the ground and see how small, after all, the Admiral's "flag-ship" really was. The Pinta was even smaller than this, while the little Nina was hardly anything more than a good-sized sail boat. Do you wonder that the poor people of Palos and the towns round about were frightened when they thought of their fathers and brothers and sons putting out to sea, on the great ocean they had learned to dread so much, in such shaky little boats as these?

But finally the vessels were ready. The crews were selected. The time had come to go. Most of the sailors were Spanish men from the towns near to the sea, but somehow a few who were not Spaniards joined the crew.

One of the first men to land in America from one of the ships of Columbus was an Irishman named William, from the County Galway. And another was an Englishman named either Arthur Laws or Arthur Larkins. The Spanish names for both these men look very queer, and only a wise scholar who digs among names and words could have found out what they really were. But such a one did find it out, and it increases our interest in the discovery of America to know that some of our own northern blood--the Irishman and the Englishman--were in the crews of Columbus.

The Admiral Columbus was so sure he was going to find a rich and civilized country, such as India and Cathay were said to be, that he took along on his ships the men he would need in such places as he expected to visit and among such splendid people as he was sure he should meet. He took along a lawyer to make out all the forms and proclamations and papers that would have to be sent by the Admiral to the kings and princes he expected to visit; he had a secretary and historian to write out the story of what he should find and what he should do. There was a learned Jew, named Louis, who could speak almost a dozen languages, and who could, of course, tell him what the people of Cathay and Cipango and the Indies were talking about. There was a jeweler and silversmith who knew all about the gold and silver and precious stones that Columbus was going to load the ships with; there was a doctor and a surgeon; there were cooks and pilots, and even a little fellow, who sailed in the Santa Maria as the Admiral's cabin boy, and whose name was Pedro de Acevedo.

Some scholars have said that it cost about two hundred and thirty thousand dollars to fit out this expedition. I do not think it cost nearly so much. We do know that Queen Isabella gave sixty-seven thousand dollars to help pay for it. Some people, however, reckoning the old Spanish money in a different way, say that what Queen Isabella gave toward the expedition was not over three or four thousand dollars of our money. Perhaps as much more was borrowed from King Ferdinand, although he was to have no share in the enterprise in which Queen Isabella and Columbus were partners.

It was just an hour before sunrise on Friday, the third of August, 1492, that the three little ships hoisted their anchors and sailed away from the port of Palos. I suppose it was a very sorry and a very exciting morning in Palos. The people probably crowded down on the docks, some of them sad and sorrowful, some of them restless and curious. Their fathers and brothers and sons and acquaintances were going--no one knew where, dragged off to sea by a crazy old Italian sailor who thought there was land to be found somewhere beyond the Jumping-off place. They all knew he was wrong. They were certain that nothing but dreadful goblins and horrible monsters lived off there to the West, just waiting to devour or destroy the poor sailors when these three little ships should tumble over the edge.

But how different Columbus must have felt as he stepped, into the rowboat that took him off to his "flag-ship," the Santa Maria. His dreams had come true. He had ships and sailors under his command, and was about to sail away to discover great and wonderful things. He who had been so poor that he could hardly buy his own dinner, was now called Don and Admiral. He had a queen for his friend and helper. He was given a power that only the richest and noblest could hope for. But more than all, he was to have the chance he had wished and worked for so long. He was to find the Indies; he was to see Cathay; he was to have his share in all the wealth he should discover and bring away. The son of the poor wool-weaver of Genoa was to be the friend of kings and princes; the cabin boy of a pirate was now Admiral of the Seas and Governor of the Colonies of Spain! Do you wonder that he felt proud?

So, as I have told you, just before sunrise on a Friday morning in August, be boarded the Santa Maria and gave orders to his captains "to get under way." The sailors with a "yo heave ho!" (or whatever the Spanish for that is) tugged at the anchors, the sails filled with the morning breeze, and while the people of Palos watched them from the shore, while the good friar, Juan Perez, raised his hands to Heaven calling down a blessing on the enterprise, while the children waved a last good- by from the water-stairs, the three vessels steered out from Palos Harbor, and before that day's sun had set, Columbus and his fleet were full fifty miles on their way across the Sea of Darkness. The westward voyage to those wonderful lands, the Indies and Cathay, had at last begun.


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