|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
After staying in Lisbon, Portugal for several days, Columbus set sail for Spain and entered the port of Palos on March 15, 1493. Because of a letter he had written at sea, he found that news about his discoveries of new lands spreading across Europe.
During his return on the Niña, Columbus wrote a letter detailing the events of his voyage. This letter played an important role in spreading news throughout Europe about his discoveries. He added a postscript to the letter upon his arrival in Lisbon and, according to his accounts, dispatched two copies. One went to Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Spanish monarchs that authorized his voyage. The other went to the main financial backer, Luis de Santangel. Many historians feel that he sent it from Lisbon, other feel that he waited until his arrival in Palos. At any rate, printers somehow obtained copies of the letter and printed versions began surfacing. These printed versions first surfaced in Spain, then throughout Europe. In Italy, the letter saw over 1500 copies, making it a best seller at the time.
Contents of the Letter
Readers must remember that Columbus' voyage was a commercial venture. Columbus returned carrying no valuable cargo of any kind. It was imperative that he satisfy the voyage's investors. He had to convince them that though he returned with few goods, the lands he found had immense potential. He wanted to mount further expeditions and needed financial backing to do so. Thus, he glossed over many things and exaggerated many others. He did not say that he lost the Santa Maria, only saying that he left it with the colony established on Hispaniola. He stressed the suitability for the islands he discovered for colonization. He attempted to build the case for further expeditions throughout the letter.
Colonization for Profit
The concept of colonization for profit was a novel idea at the time. Several European countries had overseas colonies, but the practice was yet not widespread. In the letter Columbus implied the existence of precious metals, spices and land. The letter targeted the merchants and business people of Europe in a hope to attract their interest and money.
The letter provoked a great deal of interest in the new lands. They set of a scramble of competition for colonies and land in the new lands across the sea. Spain and Portugal became instant rivals for overseas possessions. This fever eventually infected the French, the English and the Dutch, among others. The competition led to wars, conquest and an unprecedented migration of colonists from the Old World to the New. It also led to the decimation, annihilation and subjugation of the native Amerindian inhabitants.
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016