Between the 15th and 16th centuries, there were many European explorers traveling to the New World looking for new territories and treasures. The most well-known adventurer in this group was Christopher Columbus. In pursuit of a faster route to Asia as well as riches such as gold, Columbus was seen as the first messenger bringing Western civilization to the Americas (Zinn.) His famous fleet–the Nina, the Pinto, and the Santa Maria–left Portugal in 1492 during his first expedition, and he eventually ended up in the regions eventually known as North and South America. This paper will discuss the results of Columbus’s discoveries and their relevance to the New World.

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Although he did not really “discover” the New World since millions of people already lived there, the journeys of Christopher Columbus represented the start of centuries of trans-Atlantic conquest and colonization (Christopher Columbus.) He was the first European to come in contact with the natives of the islands, who came to be called Indians, and from the outset, they were exploited and treated like beings lesser than the white Europeans. This set a precedent for the treatment of the native populations that persisted well into the history of the United States. According to Zinn, Columbus’s accounts and promises regarding his exploits in the New World were exaggerated. Columbus became frustrated by the primitive nature of the islands that he was encountering, but his subsequent voyages included the discovery of many more islands such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. However, one of the most significant of his actions was the decision to send back five shiploads of the native population of the islands to Europe in what has come to be seen as the beginnings of the slave trade (Christopher Columbus: In the History of America.)

Although Columbus was motivated to find gold and jewelry, he also intended to convert the native populations that he encountered to Christianity (Meltzer.) This portrayed the imperialistic perception that the Indians he came across were not able to govern themselves or to choose how they lived their lives, despite the fact that they had been doing so for thousands of years. He believed that he was entitled to claim their territory for Spain, and treated them as if he was meant to provide redemption for their souls. This was apparently the justification he relied on to excuse many of the detrimental consequences of his actions. In any case, the behavior that Columbus demonstrated towards the Indians was unimaginably cruel. Accounts of the way the Spanish treated the native population described horrific behavior, to say the least. For example, eventually the Spanish settlers refused to walk any distance at all, insisting that they either ride on the backs of the Indians or travel by hammocks that were carried by the native population (Zinn.) In another example, the explorers were inclined to sharpen their knives by cutting off pieces of the flesh of the Indians.

The voyages of Christopher Columbus resulted in hundreds of years of exploration as well as exploitation on the continents of North and South America (Christopher Columbus.) His travels resulted in extremely severe conditions for the native populations of the regions that he and his fellow travelers conquered, and these populations were plagued by diseases as well as significant changes to their environment that led to the decimation of entire groups of people. While these devastating events were occurring, the explorers from Europe proceeded to remove as many natural resources as possible from these regions. The legacy left by Columbus is decidedly mixed: on one hand, he was a brave and imaginative adventurer who paved the way for exploration in the New World. However, there were also unintended consequences to his explorations that resulted in the devastation of the people that stood in the way of his exploits. The way that Indians were treated by Columbus and his followers was referred to as “genocide” by all accounts, and sadly, this legacy continued for hundreds of years through various forms of mistreatment of Native Americans by European settlers.