“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” that’s the adage every kid in grade school is taught. But who cares, he certainly wasn’t the first. That’s myth number three tackled by Cracked.com’s popular post “6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America,” or more specifically that “Everything You Know About Columbus Is a Calculated Lie.”
We’ve been taking a look at each of their myths, seeing where they got their information and offering our own take on what really happened during the formative years of this country. Cracked’s myth about Columbus says in part that he “discovered America thanks to a daring journey across the Atlantic. His crew was about to throw him overboard when land was spotted. Even after he landed in America, Columbus didn’t realize he’d discovered an entire continent because maps of America were far less reliable back then. In one of the great tragedies of history, Columbus went to his grave poor, believing he’d merely discovered India.”
So what’s the truth? We’ve already mentioned that Columbus didn’t discover anything “new,” nor was he the first to cross the Atlantic. The Vikings, who we mentioned when we discussed Cracked’s myth number four weren’t even the first—Native Americans even crossed the Atlantic before Columbus.
“Two American Indians shipwrecked in Holland around 60 B.C. became major curiosities in Europe,” wrote James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.
And in his first book, 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, Gavin Menzies argues that a huge Chinese fleet circumnavigated the world well before Europeans even thought about discovery.
So now that we’re all 100 percent positive Columbus didn’t “discover” anything and that he wasn’t on a significant journey since so many had already done it, what about the part that history books tell us that he died poor? Do an Internet search for “Columbus died penniless” as Cracked.com did and you’ll see that’s a myth as well. Columbus died a wealthy man in 1506, and even had a good idea of what he had found when he landed in the “New World.” In the journal of his third voyage in 1498 he wrote, “I have come to believe that this is a mighty continent which was hitherto unknown.”
A story published on CNN.com on May 20, the 508th anniversary of Columbus’s death, suggests that Columbus may have had an even bigger secret than anything we’ve mentioned thus far. Charles Garcia, CEO of Garcia Trujillo, a business focused on the Hispanic market, and the author of Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows, wrote in an opinion piece that new evidence suggests Columbus may have been a “Marrano,” or a person who feigned conversion to Catholicism while covertly continuing to practice Judaism.
“Recently, a number of Spanish scholars… have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing,” Garcia wrote for CNN. If he faced such persecution of his own, why then did he persecute the Native Americans with such ferocity?
Columbus was desperate to turn a profit for his investors, and turned to slavery when easy riches weren’t forthcoming. Cracked.com sites How America’s First Settlers Invented Chattel Slavery: Dehumanizing Native Americans and Africans with Language, Laws, Guns and Religion by David K. O’Rourke. Even from his first voyage he was envisioning how he could enslave the Natives he encountered: “They should be good servants …. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses,” he wrote in his journal on October 11, 1492, which appears in To America and Around the World: The Logs of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan by Adolph Caso.
And why do the history books skip from Columbus in 1492 to the pilgrims’ arrival in 1620? Cracked.com says it’s because the history books and movies “aren’t huge fans of what white people got up to between 1492 and 1620 in America—mostly digging for gold and eating each other.”
Loewen mentions it in Lies My Teacher Told Me when talking about why we ignore Jamestown, which was actually settled first. “Historians could hardly tout Virginia… The Virginians’ relations with the Indians were particularly unsavory… the early Virginians engaged in bickering, sloth, even cannibalism. They spent their early days digging random holes in the ground, haplessly looking for gold instead of planting crops.Soon they were starving and digging up putrid Indian corpses to eat or renting themselves out to Indian families as servants,” he wrote.
He also wrote about how the plague, or smallpox, was what defeated the Native Americans. We wrote about that in “American History Myths Debunked: The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers.” John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony even called the plague “miraculous,” noted Loewen in his book. “In 1634 he wrote to a friend in England: ‘But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the smallpox which still continues among them.”
The final note myth number three from Cracked.com mentions is the “mystery” surrounding the lost colony of Roanoke and how that too has been swept under the rug. The entire group disappeared, leaving the word, “Croatoan”—the name of a nearby island populated by Native Americans—carved on a post. Cracked.com sites The Lost Rocks by David La Vere, which mentions John Lawson, a surveyor who noted in 1701 the “Indians with distinctly European traits and customs” when he visited the area.
Four myths down, two to go. Check back later to read about how Native culture was anything but primitive.
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