6 - What Columbus Discovered
A little over three hundred years ago
there was a Pope of Rome
whose name was Gregory XIII. He was greatly interested
learning and science, and when the scholars and wise men
day showed him that a mistake in reckoning time had long
been made he set about to make it right. At that time the
Rome had great influence with the kings and queens of Europe,
whatever he wished them to do they generally did.
So they all agreed to his plan of renumbering the days
year, and a new reckoning of time was made upon the rule
most of you know by heart in the old rhyme:
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February which alone
Hath twenty-eight--and this, in fine,
One year in four hath twenty-nine.
And the order of the days of the months and the year is
called, after Pope Gregory, the Gregorian Calendar.
This change in reckoning time made, of course, all past
wrong. The old dates, which were called Old Style, had
to be made
to correspond with the new dates which were called New
Now, according to the Old Style, Columbus discovered the
he thought to be the Indies (and which have ever since
called the West Indies) on the twelfth of October, 1492.
according to the New Style, adopted nearly one hundred
after his discovery, the right date would be the twenty-first
October. And this is why, in the Columbian memorial year
the world celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of
discovery of America on the twenty-first of October; which,
you see, is the same as the twelfth under the Old Style
But did Columbus discover America?
What was this land that
greeted his eyes as the daylight came on that Friday morning,
he saw the low green shores that lay ahead of his caravels.
As far as Columbus was concerned he was sure that he had
some one of the outermost islands of Cipango or Japan.
dropped his anchors, ordered out his rowboat, and prepared
take possession of the land in the name of the queen of
who had helped him in his. enterprise.
Just why or by what right a man from one country could
sail up to
the land belonging to another country and, planting in
the flag of his king, could say, "This land belongs
to my king!"
is a hard question to answer. But there is an old saying
tells us, Might makes right; and the servants of the kings
queens--the adventurers and explorers of old--used to go
about the world with this idea in their heads, and as soon
they came to a land they, had never seen before, up would
their flag, and they would say, This land is mine and my
They would not of course do this in any of the well-known
"Christian lands" of Europe; but they believed
that all "pagan
lands" belonged by right to the first European king
should discover and claim them.
So Columbus lowered a boat from the Santa Maria, and with
his chief men and some sailors for rowers he pulled off
But before he did so, he had to listen to the cheers and
congratulations of the very sailors who, only a few days
were ready to kill him. But, you see, this man whom they
crazy had really brought them to the beautiful land, just
had promised. It does make such a difference, you know,
people say whether a thing turns out right or not.
Columbus, as I say, got into his rowboat with his chief
and his lawyer. He wore a crimson cloak over his armor,
his hand he held the royal banner of Spain. Following him
Captain Alonso Pinzon in a rowboat from the Pinta, and
rowboat from the Nina Captain Vincent Pinzon. Each of these
captains carried the "banner of the green cross" on
which were to
be seen the initials of the king and queen of Spain.
As they rowed toward the land they saw some people on
They were not dressed in the splendid clothes the Spaniards
expected to find the people of Cathay wearing. In fact,
not have on much of anything but grease and paint. And
showed no signs of the marble temples and gold-roofed palaces
sailors expected to find. It was a little, low, flat green
island, partly covered with trees and with what looked
lake in the center.
This land was, in fact, one of the three thousand keys
islands that stretch from the capes of Florida to the island
Hayti, and are known as the Bahama Islands. The one upon
Columbus landed was called by the natives Guanahani, and
either the little island now marked on the map as Cat Island
else the one called Watling's Island. Just which of these
has been discussed over and over again, but careful scholars
now but little doubt that it was the one known to-day as
Watling's Island. To see no sign of glittering palaces
dressed people was quite a disappointment to Columbus.
he said, this, is probably the island farthest out to sea,
the people who live here are not the real Cathay folks.
see them very soon.
So with the royal banner and the green-cross
above him, with his captains and chief officers and some
sailors gathered about him, while all the others watched
the decks of his fleet, Columbus stepped upon the shore.
took off his hat, and holding the royal banner in one hand
his sword in the other he said aloud: I take possession
island, which I name San Salvador,* and of all the islands
lands about it in the name of my patron and sovereign lady,
Isabella, and her kingdom of Castile. This, or something
he said, for the exact words are not known to us.
* The island of San Salvador means
the island of the Holy
Saviour. Columbus and the Spanish explorers who followed
Bible or religious names to very much of the land they
And when he had done this the captains and sailors fell
feet in wonder and admiration, begging him to forgive them
all the hard things they had said about him. For you have
Cathay, they cried. You are our leader. You will make us
powerful. Hurrah for the great Admiral!
And when the naked and astonished people of the island
this--the canoes with wings, as they called the ships,
richly-dressed men with white and bearded faces, the flags
swords, and the people kneeling about this grand-looking
in the crimson cloak--they said to one another: These men
gods; they have come from Heaven to see us. And then, they,
fell on the ground and worshiped these men from Heaven,
supposed Columbus and his sailors to be.
And when they found that the men from Heaven did not offer
hurt them, they came nearer; and the man in the crimson
gave them beads and pieces of bright cloth and other beautiful
things they had never seen before. And this made them feel
the more certain that these men who had come to see them
canoes with wings must really be from Heaven. So they brought
them fruits and flowers and feathers and birds as presents;
both parties, the men with clothes and the men without
got on very well together.
But Columbus, as we know, had come across the water for
especial reason. He was to find Cathay, and he was to find
that he could carry back to Spain the gold and jewels and
of Cathay. The first thing, therefore, that he tried to
from the people of the island--whom he called "Indians," because
he thought he had come to a part of the coast of India
Cathay might be.
Of course they did not understand him. Even Louis, the
interpreter, who knew a dozen languages and who tried them
could not make out what these "Indians" said.
But from their
signs and actions and from the sound of the words they
Columbus understood that Cathay was off somewhere to the
southwest, and that the gold he was bound to find came
there. The "Indians" had little bits of gold
hanging in their
ears and noses. So Columbus supposed that among the finer
he hoped soon to meet in the southwest, he should find
quantities of the yellow metal. He was delighted. Success,
felt, was not far off. Japan was near, China was near,
near. Of this he was certain; and even until he died Columbus
not have any idea that he had found a new world--such as
really was. He was sure that he had simply landed upon
eastern coasts of Asia and that he had found what he set
discover--the nearest route to the Indies.
The next day Columbus pulled up his anchors, and having
and carried off to his ships some of the poor natives who
welcomed him so gladly, he commenced a cruise among the
of the group he had discovered.
Day after day he sailed among these beautiful tropic islands,
of them and of the people who lived upon them he wrote
king and queen of Spain: "This country excels all
others as far
as the day surpasses the night in splendor. The natives
their neighbors as themselves; their conversation is the
imaginable; their faces smiling; and so gentle and so
affectionate are they, that I swear to Your Highness there
a better people in the world."
Does it not seem a pity that so great a man should have
meanly toward these innocent people who loved and trusted
For it was Columbus who first stole them away from their
homes and who first thought of making them slaves to the