CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS: MYTHS AND NOTIONS VS. FACTS
Myth: Columbus brought diseases that decimated the population.
Fact: Domesticated and draft animals were not present among the native peoples. When such animals were introduced to the New World, the native population did not have immunities to illnesses the animals carried. It was not a deliberate action and many historians agree the animals would have reached the Americas by one way or another. Columbus is not blame, unless one believes no other foreign explorer would have ever landed in the Americas.
Myth: Columbus was an incompetent explorer.
Fact: Columbus used the maps of a respected cartographer, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli. Columbus did not think he was in China or India, but believed he was somewhere new, which was not depicted on Toscanelli’s maps. He was “7,000 miles off course” because that was the estimated distance to Japan.
Myth: Columbus owned slaves.
Fact: This is true, but ignores the fact that slavery was commonplace among native groups. Moreover, Columbus wanted to subjugate some native peoples—not “own” them. Columbus had nothing to do with the subsequent trans-Atlantic slave trade. Omitting historical context serves only to fuel an oft-repeated one-sided narrative.
Myth: Colonial settlers “stole” America from the natives and Columbus was singularly the most brutal of explorers at the time.
Fact: A number of criticisms against Columbus are attributable to his chief political rival and a letter he wrote, and which has been recycled over five centuries.
Myth: Columbus was a brutal tyrant.
Fact: Most deaths occurred after Columbus’ time in America. Columbus actually prohibited his men from harming the native population and executed two of his men who did.
Myth: Christopher Columbus committed mass genocide.
Fact: In 1492, there were 20 million indigenous people living in what became the Americas. In 200 years, 95 percent vanished, the victims of diseases for which they had no immunity.