Through the investigation of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the details of Columbus’ First Voyage to the New World, why he undertook the challenge of sailing west to reach the east, why the Spanish monarchs supported the voyage, and finally how the world was forever changed on 12 October 1492.
Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians, and princes who love and promote the holy Christian faith, and are enemies of the doctrine of Mahomet, and of all idolatry and heresy, determined to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the above-mentioned countries of India, to see the said princes, people, and territories, and to learn their disposition and the proper method of converting them to our holy faith; and furthermore directed that I should not proceed by land to the East, as is customary, but by a Westerly route, in which direction we have hitherto no certain evidence that any one has gone. So after having expelled the Jews from your dominions, your Highnesses, in the same month of January, ordered me to proceed with a sufficient armament to the said regions of India, and for that purpose granted me great favors, and ennobled me that thenceforth I might call myself Don, and be High Admiral of the Sea, and perpetual Viceroy and Governor in all the islands and continents which I might discover and acquire, or which may hereafter be discovered and acquired in the ocean; and that this dignity should be inherited by my eldest son, and thus descend from degree to degree forever.
Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, 03 Aug 1492
Soon they saw naked people; and the Admiral went ashore in the armed launch, and Martin Alonso Pinzon and his brother Vicente Anes, who was captain of the Nina. The Admiral brought out the royal banner and the captains two flags with the green cross, which the Admiral carried on all the ships as a standard, with an F and a Y, and over each letter a crown, one on one side and the other on the other. Thus put ashore they saw very green trees and many ponds and fruits of various kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains and to the others who had jumped ashore and to Rodrigo De Escovedo, the notary of the whole fleet, and to Rodrigo Sanchez de Segovia; and he said that they should be witnesses that, in the presence of all, he would take, as in fact he did take, possession of the said island for the king and for the queen his lords, making the declarations that were required, and which at more length are contained in the testimonials made there in writing.
Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, 12 Oct 1492
On 12 Oct 1492, at approximately 2:00 AM local time, Rodrigo de Traina, a Spanish sailor aboard the vessel Pinta, reportedly cried out “Tierra! Tierra!”… the signal for land. Columbus and his crew had done it. They had sailed west from Europe and reached the East, or so he thought. De Traina had indeed spotted land, but it wasn’t Cipango (Japan) or Cathay (China). It was instead a small island somewhere in what we now call the Caribbean Sea (historians and cartographers disagree to this day as to which island Columbus actually discovered, but most evidence points to the modern island of San Salvador in the Bahamas). He didn’t know it, but Columbus was actually almost 8000 miles from Japan. Columbus may not have found a western route to Asia, nor did he “discover” a new world (the Vikings had planted a colony off the coast of Canada 500 years earlier), but he did nonetheless open a door to the collision of cultures and lands.
Through the investigation of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the details of Columbus’ First Voyage to the New World, why he undertook the challenge of sailing west to reach the east, and why the Spanish monarchs supported the voyage.
To view resource web pages, download the lesson plan PDF above.
On tour: Plaza de Colón, Madrid
While on tour, students visit the Plaza de Colón in Madrid, where they will find a monument to Columbus. As this lesson shows, the famous explorer had to wait until the completion of the Reconquista in 1492 to make his first voyage. The explorer and his descendants fought the Spanish Crown for many years over what the explorer believed were his rights under various crown proclamations. Ferdinand II and Isabella I, the Catholic Monarchs who completed the Reconquista, are buried in Granada.
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