Wednesday, October 12, 2011


October 12: 

1492: Columbus reaches the New World

After sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sights a Bahamian island, believing he has reached East Asia. His expedition went ashore the same day and claimed the land for Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored his attempt to find a western ocean route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.

Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of his early life, but he worked as a seaman and then a maritime entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time, Europeans knew no direct sea route to southern Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. Contrary to popular legend, educated Europeans of Columbus' day did believe that the world was round, as argued by St. Isidore in the seventh century. However, Columbus, and most others, underestimated the world's size, calculating that East Asia must lie approximately where North America sits on the globe (they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed).

With only the Atlantic Ocean, he thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his "Enterprise of the Indies," as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where he was also rejected at least twice by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Nina. On October 12, the expedition reached land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas. Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and "Indian" captives in March 1493 and was received with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century.

During his lifetime, Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the New World, discovering various Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central American mainlands, but he never accomplished his original goal-a western ocean route to the great cities of Asia. Columbus died in Spain in 1506 without realizing the great scope of what he did achieve: He had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.

American Revolution
1776 : British troops head up East River

1940 : Silent-film star Tom Mix dies in Arizona car wreck; brained by "Suitcase of Death"

Civil War
1870 : Confederate leader Robert E. Lee dies

Cold War
1960 : Nikita Khrushchev throws a tantrum at the United Nations

1998 : The victim of an anti-gay assault diesy

1918 : Fire rages in Minnesota

General Interest
1810 : The origin of Oktoberfest
1915 : British nurse executed in WWI
1945 : Conscientious objector wins Medal of Honor
1964 : USSR leads the space race
2000 : USS Cole attacked by terrorists
2002 : Terrorists kill 202 in Bali

2007 : Al Gore wins Nobel Prize in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth

1912 : Actress, playwright, novelist Alice Childress is born

1997 : John Denver dies in an aircraft accident

Old West
1940 : The Cowboy actor Tom Mix dies in an Arizona car accident

1786 : Thomas Jefferson composes romantic letter

1929 : Athletics score 10 in eighth inning of championship game

Vietnam War
1967 : Dean Rusk criticizes Congress while fighting continues in South Vietnam
1970 : Nixon announces another round of troop withdrawals
1972 : Racial violence breaks out aboard U.S. Navy ships

World War I
1915 : British nurse Edith Cavell executed

World War II
1946 : Gen. Joseph Stilwell dies

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