On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas for Spain. Columbus was born in Italy, but began the first of four voyages from Spain to Americas in 1492 with sponsorship from the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, also known as the Crown of Castile. Columbus’ voyages marked the beginning of the European exploration and colonization of the American continents.
On August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Spain on his first voyage with three ships in tow – the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. Columbus’ first stop was in the Canary Islands, which were owned by Castile, where he restocked supplies and made repairs to his ships. After a five week voyage, a lookout on the Pinta spotted land at 2 A.M. on October 12, 1492 and alerted the crew and the captain of the Pinta, Martín Alonso Pinzón. Pinzón in turn alerted Columbus by firing a gun, although Columbus later claimed he had already spotted land a few hours earlier, thereby claiming for himself the lifetime pension promised by the Spanish monarchs to the first person to sight land.
The land he sighted is now the Bahamas, but Columbus called it San Salvador. The indigenous people living there, the Lucayan, Taíno, or Arawak, were peaceful and friendly and called the land Guanahani. Noting their gold adornments, Columbus took some of the Arawaks as prisoners and forced them to take him to the source of their gold.
Columbus also explored the coast of Cuba, sailed up the northern coast of Hispaniola, and made his last stop in the New World at the Samaná Peninsula where he encountered hostile natives before returning to Spain in March of 1493. Word of Columbus’ findings spread rapidly through Europe upon his return.
Columbus made three more round-trip voyages to the Americas from Spain and brought with him priests, farmers, and soldiers who would be colonists in the New World. They then began launching missions dedicated to converting New World natives to Christianity.
Though still thought to be the true “discoverer of America” by most, Christopher Columbus’ true legacy is slightly different. The indigenous population of America were its real first “discoverers,” and Columbus was preceded by the Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows as the first Europeans to explore the New World. However, Columbus managed to outshine his viking predecessors by bringing word of the New World back to Europe. By bringing the continent to Western attention, Columbus initiated the relationship between the two landmasses. “Columbus’s claim to fame isn’t that he got there first,” explains historian Martin Dugard, “it’s that he stayed.” Because of the impact of his first visit to America, Columbus Day officially became a federal holiday in 1937.