Wednesday, September 8, 2010

September 8, 1492 – Survivor of Columbus Expedition Found

A fishing boat north of the Canary Islands spotted a man clinging to a barrel in the midst of waves. They managed to him aboard, and, after several hours' rest, the delirious man told his story, saying that the small fleet sent with the Italian Cristoforo Colombo had met with disaster. He gave a wild tale of an enormous sea serpent destroying the ships, a tale which he continued relating after returning to the taverns of the Canaries in trade for drinks.

While some superstitious sailors believed the stories, others were suspicious of the Portuguese caravels that had been spotted nearby. Portugal denied any involvement, but the caravels had disappeared shortly after Columbus. Other rumors suspected a sudden storm while still more suggested that the man had simply jumped ship. However, as winter came and years passed, it was obvious that Columbus and his ships were not going to return.

Christopher's brother Bartholomew Columbus continued to press the French King Charles VIII to support an expedition even after Christopher's disappearance, but the French had lost the Italian War and incurred major debts. Moving along, the younger Columbus returned to England where Henry VII had once offered marginal support for the lost expedition, but too late as Christopher had already promised to sail for Isabella and Spain. After several years, Bartholomew managed to convince Henry to give £50 toward the expedition, which was more than the Royal Council advised. Taking whatever he could get, Bartholomew followed the pledge with gathering pledges from others while stressing that they would please the king because of their support.

In 1499, in a single, well-stocked ship called Mary, Bartholomew set sail from Bristol and headed southwest, following the wind and mimicking his lost brother's course. While he dreamed of finding Christopher perhaps shipwrecked or living on some paradisaical island, no evidence of the former expedition was found. Instead, they came across a chain of islands that Bartholomew initially took for Japan. After comparing the local Carib with what he and the other sailors knew of the Japanese, Bartholomew realized that they had come across something wholly uncharted.

After a lengthy stay charting the islands, Columbus's men discovered natives willing to trade gold on a large island they would call Anglandia. Leaving a station of eight men to build a fort, Columbus loaded his ship with spices, gold, and local goods and returned to England by a northern route. Upon his return in 1502, Columbus was knighted and granted governorship of this “New England” as well as promises for handsome rewards as trade became lucrative.

Within a few years, England began domination of the Caribbean. The Portuguese would launch their own expeditions with noted cartographer Amerigo Vespucci more to the south, while the Spanish would directly challenge the English by settling northward. Henry VIII dedicated his rule to securing the west, fighting numerous naval wars until finally dominating North Columbia above the Isthmus with a treaty giving South Columbia to the Portuguese. The Dutch and Spanish would have minor colonies while France went far north to monopolize the fur-trade.

Upon the conquest of the Aztecs by Sir Walter Raleigh, the English found themselves with a seemingly unending source of income from the Columbias. The resulting wealth fueled the growing problems between Protestants and Catholics as well as Parliamentarians and Royalists, tearing the country apart over the course of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, the English Golden Age would come to an end, eclipsed by growing French, Portuguese, and Dutch supremacy.

In reality, Christopher Columbus's expedition west would fail to find a route to Asia but succeed in discovering the Western Hemisphere. Spain grew mighty with American gold, though its investment in wars against Protestants, specifically the Dutch, would give no lasting base for Spanish power. Later British settlement in North America as well as in Africa and Asia would contribute to the nation becoming the World Power of the nineteenth century.

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