Imagine This: You have a theory that boldly contradicts something that everyone else believes to be true: You believe that you can reach the East by sailing west. You believe that your theory is correct, but if it proves to be wrong, it will bring you humiliation, financial ruin, and possibly death. So what do you do?
You’re born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451, the oldest of five children. You have little schooling, so you don’t learn to read or write as a young boy. But you do love to study maps and you do love the sea. You vow that as soon as you’re old enough, you’ll go to sea.
In your early teens you become a sailor and travel to Greece and Portugal. While in Portugal, you study the works and maps of ancient and modern geographers until you’ve taught yourself all you can learn about navigation and mapmaking. The more you learn, the more convinced you become that the Atlantic Ocean is not populated by sea monsters and can be mastered.
You’re fascinated by Marco Polo’s accounts of his journey to Asia and all the riches he found there, but you believe that the quickest and most direct route to the East is by sailing westward across the unknown waters that are called the Sea of Darkness.
Your objective is not to prove the earth is round, for by the end of the 15th century, most educated people know the earth is a sphere. Your primary objective is to find a more direct route to the riches and rare spices of the East.
You ask King John II of Portugal to finance your expedition, but after consulting with his advisers, he denies your request. After King John II refuses to finance your expedition, you ask King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. After several requests, they finally agree to finance your voyage.
The Spanish rulers give you three small ships and pay for ninety crewmen and supplies. In 1492 you and your crew set out, but once you’re out of sight of land, your men grow fearful, so you devise a false set of charts to show the crew so they won’t know how far they’re actually going.
In spite of the false set of charts, after thirty-four days at sea, your men became increasingly restless and begin to threaten mutiny. You convince your crew to wait three more days, and the very next day they see tree branches floating in the water and realize that land is close.
When you go ashore on October 12, 1492, you proclaim the land part of Spain and declare its inhabitants to be Spanish subjects. You’re puzzled by the “easterners” who are dark-skinned and wear little clothing. You call them “Indians” because you believe you’re in India, but they’re not as Marco Polo had described them. Nor do you find Marco Polo’s “cities of gold” or any “pagodas with golden roofs.”
You make three more voyages after that. You travel to the islands of the Caribbean Sea and explore the northeastern tip of South America and the eastern coast of Central America. You never actually set foot on North American soil, but you do make it as far north as Cuba, only ninety miles from Florida.
You die on May 20 1506, and after five centuries, you still remain one of the most famous but also one of the most controversial figures in history. You have been criticized for your savage exploitation of the native inhabitants and the destruction of their cultures, but you have also been praised as an explorer who played a key role in helping to spread European civilization across a significant portion of the earth.
You have been described as one of the greatest mariners of all time, a visionary genius, a national hero, an unsuccessful entrepreneur, and a ruthless and greedy imperialist obsessed with your quest for gold and power.
But, regardless of how people feel about you, perhaps we can all agree that few events have altered the course of history as dramatically as your colonization of the Americas. You were a man of vision and courage in the face of uncertainty.
“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.”
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)
Excerpted from They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference by Sandra McLeod Humphrey
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Giving Back: It’s doubtful that Columbus ever really gave anything back in the philanthropic sense of the term as his objectives were predominantly focused on his own self-aggrandizement.
Did You Know that Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792 in New York and became a national holiday in 1937?
Something to Think about: How do you feel about Columbus?
Willoughby and I hope you enjoyed this week’s true story and will be back next week for another story to inspire you to DARE TO DREAM BIG!