February 15, 2015

February 15, 1493: Columbus Writes a Letter

The cover of the 1494 Basil edition of Columbus's letter
Columbus was on board the Nina, on his way back from his first voyage to the New World, on this day in 1492. When he got back to Lisbon, he added a postscript and sent two copies off to the Court in Spain.

Columbus knew the value of a good press release, and that's exactly what this letter was. No sooner did he get to Spain than printed versions -- one in Spanish and another in Latin -- began to circulate.

What did he say? He said that he had discovered and claimed a series of islands in Asia, probably very near to mainland China. The islands were lush and arable, he said, and abounded in precious spices and gold. The natives were primitive but timid, and ripe for converting to Catholicism. He glossed over his loss of the Santa Maria and seemed to imply that he'd left it behind with the colonists. (It ran aground near Haiti and was stripped for timbers for another ship.)

Columbus also wrote another version of the letter to be sent to Ferdinand and Isabella. It contained a lot more detail, especially the parts about the "gold without measure."

No comments: