The Truth About Christopher Columbus' Death

Christopher Columbus believed that Cuba was mainland China and thought Hispaniola was possibly Japan, according to History. He also thought that somewhere in the vicinity of Venezuela was the Garden of Eden, which Columbus referred to as "the nipple of the world" because he thought Mother Earth was breast-shaped. He likely believed these things when he died in 1506, and centuries after his death, many people would die believing that Columbus discovered the Americas. Both sets of corpses were gravely mistaken.

Columbus sailed the ocean blue and turned the land blood-red

Per Smithsonian, the dude who sailed the ocean blue and spilled the red of indigenous people he enslaved, never landed on the North American mainland, which had been inhabited for as many as 15,000 years. He "discovered America" roughly as much as an American "discovers" Spain visiting the UK. But Americans in the not-yet-United States wanted nothing to do with the British when they embraced Columbus. Mainland or not, he was their man man because, in the words of historian Evan Jones, Columbus "represents freedom, a guy who had turned his back on the Old World and sailed in the name of a monarch and then been treated very badly by that monarch."

The notion of Columbus as an emblem of freedom who turned his back on the Old World is itself backwards. He believed he was still in the Old World during his voyages and had promised to bring riches back to Spain. Far from representing freedom, he was a tyrannical killer. The Independent reports that documents from his days as a viceroy in Hispaniola reveal abject cruelty. Historian Consuelo Varela elaborated: "We hear of a poor boy who was caught stealing wheat grain. They cut off his ears and nose and put shackles on him and made him a slave. Columbus ran the colony with an iron fist."

As the Washington Post details, when Columbus failed to deliver on his promise to return to Spain with loads of gold, he enslaved the Taíno people instead. He captured 500 people, and 200 died on the way to Spain. Others would die in bondage. He would force the tortured Taino people to search for gold for him. Males age 14 and older had to meet a gold dust quota every three months under penalty of getting their hands hacked off.

Columbus's brother, Bartholme, also engaged in cruelty, and when a woman questioned the nobility of his birth, "Bartholme had her tongue cut out, after parading her naked through the streets on a donkey. Christopher congratulated his brother on defending the family honor." The duo were so shockingly cruel that they were brought back to Spain in chains, and at least 23 witnesses testified against Columbus. Despite his viciousness, History notes that Columbus would spend his final years receiving "a substantial revenue from Hispaniola gold."