Exploration and Settlement

Christopher Columbus

Where did Christopher Columbus first land in the New World?

Columbus (1451–1506) set sail from Palos, in southwest Spain, on August 3, 1492, and he sighted land on October 12 that year. Going ashore, he named it San Salvador; alternately called Watlings Island (today it is one of the Bahamas). With his fleet of three vessels, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, Columbus then continued west and south, sailing along the north coast of Cuba and Haiti (which he named Hispaniola). When the Santa Maria ran aground, Columbus left a colony of about 40 men on the Haitian coast where they built a fort, which, being Christmastime, they named La Navidad (Navidad means “Christmas” in Spanish).

In January 1493 he set sail for home, arriving back in Palos on March 15 with a few “Indians” (native Americans) as well as some belts, aprons, bracelets, and gold on board. News of his successful voyage spread rapidly, and Columbus journeyed to Barcelona, Spain, where he was triumphantly received by Ferdinand and Isabella.

On his second voyage, which he undertook on September 25, 1493, he sailed with a fleet of 17 ships and some 1,500 men. In November he reached Dominica, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Upon returning to Haiti (Hispaniola), Columbus found the colony at La Navidad had been destroyed by natives. In December 1493 he made a new settlement at Isabella (present-day Dominican Republic, the eastern end of Hispaniola), which became the first European town in the New World. Before returning to Spain in 1496, Columbus also landed at Jamaica.

On his third voyage, which he began in May 1498, Columbus reached Trinidad, just off the coast of South America. On his fourth and last trip he found the island of Martinique before arriving on the North American mainland at Honduras (in Central America). It was also on this voyage, in May 1502, that he sailed down to the Isthmus of Panama—finally believing himself to be near China. But Columbus suffered many difficulties, and in November 1504 he returned to Spain for good. He died two years later in poverty and neglect. He had, of course, never found the westward sea passage to the Indies in the Far East. Nevertheless, the Caribbean islands he discovered came to be known collectively as the West Indies. And the native peoples of North and South America came to be known collectively as “Indians.”

In 1492 Christopher Columbus named his New World landing place San Salvador.

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