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Tammy's All Things History

Bringing the Past to Life!

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October 2016

Christopher Columbus the Explorer


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“Christopher Columbus, Discoverer of the New World, was foremost a sailor.”  Being a discoverer of the New World has stirred controversy and debate. It even questions historical accuracy about him. What is correct about Christopher Columbus is that he was an explorer. Exploring was his passion. From a small child to an adult, Christopher Columbus imagined and dreamed of discovering new maritime pathways in vast oceans near where he lived (1).

In the country of Genoa where Christopher was born sometime in 1451, statistical authorities did not keep historical records of exact birth dates, so his is unknown. He was born to Catholic parents who were staunchly religious. He grew up learning the art of sailing on his Dad’s fishing boat. From there he and his brother pursued a career in map charting not just any map but ocean map charting.

As Christopher studied maps day and night, he consulted his Bible, particularly the books and verses of the Old Testament to guide him into new discoveries of oceanic routes. His ultimate goal was to find a more efficient course to the West Indies, which was located in East Asia. Because the continent of Africa created a long diversion, Christopher sensed he could find a shorter route by bypassing Africa altogether. The problem for him was his calculations along with previously traveled passages did not tell him exactly where to begin his journey of discovery. He had a hunch though and became obsessed with finding his route.

Poverty was a way of life for Christopher in his youth. Due to this, he had a hard time getting sponsors to back his quest financially. Families that were wealthy had prestige and were noticed and respected by the Royal family.  Christopher knew a shorter route would buy him wealth and a successful mission would bring prestige he needed to get the recognition for future explorations. After many failed attempts by Christopher to win the favor of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Christopher began to give up on receiving funding for his explorations. In a twist of fate, the Royal family accountant encouraged his superiors to accept Christopher’s offer of a commissioned bonus that he would share with Ferdinand and Isabella. All parties agreed with the proposal and soon Christopher was well on his way in new voyages of exploration.

Along the discovery of a quicker route to the West Indies Jews looked to hop aboard and travel as well in search of new continents to settle. However, Christopher refused to do so but wished them goodwill. Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Jews from the country of Spain previously. Naturally, this created conflict with Christopher and those who backed him financially. Everyone aboard the ship was required to practice religion. Usually a morning prayer and song was conducted by an individual each day.

Once Christopher arrived ashore, he thought he had landed at the West Indies and so when Christopher met the native inhabitants he called them, “Indians.”  Europe quickly caught onto the term to identify similar native inhabitants they could not identify. Christopher wanted to enslave the locals for labor and to convert them to Christianity. He felt God sent these peoples to “aid” Europeans in colonizing new land.  Miscommunications about a bountiful supply of gold and bejeweled decorations further cemented divine justification of colonization. Natives in future explorations of the island brought Christopher Columbus in contact with tobacco. These things he could bring back to show evidence of a successful mission (2).

After sending a letter back to the Spain updating the crown of his missions, Christopher awaited a response to his report. He got it. He also obtained his coveted title (count) which gave him prestige and clout with the Royals. This promotion elevated him from commoner to respected voyager and explorer. It also opened up state funding of another voyage supported by the Royals. Since Christopher was also a trader,  it was natural to him to come up with a plan colonize Hispaniola. Because this would be a major stop along the route to the West Indies, it could impact the trade routes in many economical ways Christopher knew would benefit the Royals as well as himself. Also natural was to hire priests to convert and control natives who might protest the colonization (3).

Christopher brought some residents back to Spain with him to show the Ferdinand and Isabella of the people who inhabited the island. The Royals had the natives baptized, but once they arrived they were introduced to European diseases. When Christopher returned to Hispaniola, some of his crew became exposed to syphilis there. The native people who had grown up there for thousands of years were either immune or could fend off the disease. Europeans had no natural immunity to disease of the New World. Most of the labor population was wiped out shortly after Christopher’s expedition due to intermixing of natives and Europeans (4).

Christopher Columbus did not discover America, but he did discover lands unfamilar to the Spanish crown. His explorations are fascinating to understand in the development of the New World, colonization and how people viewed each other in this curious time.

1.  Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus: Mariner (Meridian, 1983), 3. ; http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/10/14/232120128/how-columbus-sailed-into-u-s-history-thanks-to-italians.

2. Morison, 52.

3. Morison, 72.

4. Morison, 86.

 

Benjamin F. Butler and His View on Equality


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Benjamin F. Butler, 1870, Wikipedia.org

” There may be able children of degenerate sires. But whether such instances are not proof of the rule depends upon the question, whether, from some earlier intermingling, better blood may have not have been taken from the lower class.”-Benjamin F. Butler

A View on Racial Equality

In continuing with my reading of Benjamin F. Butler’s autobiography, I get a sense that he writes in a way to give insight as to how he views the world around him and how this view influenced his decision making though out his life and career. One thing that stands out is his view on racial equality. He does not agree with the elite intellectual thought theorized during the 19th century that inherited genes of the first born child are the strongest genes, and that subsequent offspring will receive a watered down version. Because of this, parents with mixed races were thought to be incapable of passing down good genes. Butler disagreed with this. He argued that parents of mixed races passed down stronger genes because by banding together the genes mutated more favorably due to populations being in constant state of war and survival in early New England. The information Butler provides in his memoir points to his view that mixing society with different races other than “white” did, in fact, produce individuals capable of acquiring equality. Mainstream society was against this idea throughout Butler’s entire life. To step out of that norm and stand up for what he believed and felt was right and opposite of what society thought was courageous (1).

Military Family

Butler was proud of his military heritage. His grandfather Zephania participated in the Revolutionary war and his father John in the war of 1812. John was commissioned captain of “light dragoons” and served the Northern frontier until he broke his leg. After that, he continued to serve in the war by becoming a privateer. Due to his success at this and his aid to the American cause, he was re-commissioned and sent to New Orleans to work under the direct command of General Jackson. From there he ended up working logistically for ships going back and forth to South America. On one of these voyages, John caught Yellow Fever and died Soon after. The suffering Butler’s father endured bothered Butler so much he vowed to “investigate the scourage” and blamed the viral devastation as a major influence in decisions later in his life (2).

Raised in Religious Household

The way Butler’s writes of his mother shows how much of a close of a relationship they had and how much respect he had for her. His mother was a Calvinist, and he notes this again and again in his book I think this is to show how this religious upbringing shaped his entire life. His mother envisioned him to grow up and become a minister however due to circumstances at the time this was not the best option for him. During Butler’s childhood children went to college at 12 and one of the students he grew up with attended Harvard University.  He was awestruck by this, and it seems Butler also surrounded himself with very smart and intellectual people even at a pre-teen age (3).

School Years

To prepare for religious college Masters would administer a test in which Butler excelled by exceeding the standards of his peers. His high score propelled him to a college prep school where he learned Latin and Greek. To him, language was not an art but merely memorizing, and he used this to strengthen his analytic skills of paragraphs, of which he was good at and made him feel proud. To him, it was a way to use his talents to do something good for people in his public service. During prep school, he attended a Unitarian church because he felt the school’s religious rules conflicted with thier belief in one God vs. his belief in the Trinity (4).

Somehow (he does not explain how) he ends up moving to Lowell Massachusetts. Lowell became a city as a result of a manufacturing boom between 1822 and 1836. There he acquired a part-time job to help with his living expenses. It is not clear if Butler lived alone, with his mother or with a roommate. He enjoyed living in the city (5).

During Butler’s college years he mentions a couple of people whom he finds inspirational. One of these was the Reverand Theodore Edson, rector of ST. Anne’s church and who worked tirelessly to establish the Lowell High School. Butler mused that “When he perceived the right thing to do, he did it, regardless of personal consideration or of danger to himself.” Edson was instrumental in establishing more schools in the town so that future generations of women, children and freemen could obtain an education and therefore be eligible for equal opportunity. Butler considered Edson’s passion and his perseverance to see his vision through against the opposition of ex-English Calvary officer, Kirk Boot who wanted to capitalize financially on grounds owned by the manufacturing companies, very courageous (6).

Serving Humanity

Equality was important to Butler from early in his life. Growing up and being surrounded by friends and family influenced him and his thoughts on poverty, education and equal opportunity for all people not just the White elite or upper class. He was obviously very smart and read books that were hard for him to read. He liked to challenge himself to do better and when he accomplished he yearned for ways to help others with his talents.

1. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892), 36.

2. Ibid, 41-43.

3. Ibid, 45, 50.

4. Ibid, 51.

5. Ibid, 52.

6. Ibid, 52-54.

 

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