March 02, 2015 03:30 UTC

The Making of a Nation

Columbus Discovers America

Historic painting of Christopher Columbus. He and his sailors stand in triumph at least on San Salvador, the Bahamas, on Oct. 12, 1492.
Historic painting of Christopher Columbus. He and his sailors stand in triumph at least on San Salvador, the Bahamas, on Oct. 12, 1492.

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
  • Making of a Nation 002 - Europeans Arrive In The New World

Editor's Note: This article on Christopher Columbus was originally published on Oct. 12, 2013.

Generations of schoolchildren have been taught that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. In fact, the second Monday in October is celebrated as a national holiday -- Columbus Day -- to honor the European explorer.

But October's page on the calendar also has a lesser-known observance. October 9th is Leif Erickson Day. Leif Erickson was a Norse explorer who sailed around the northeastern coast of what we now call North America about 1,000 years ago. He and his crew returned to Greenland with news of a place he called "Vinland."
 
Following his explorations, a few settlements were built. Experts digging in eastern Canada in the 1960s found the remains of a village with houses like those in Greenland, Iceland and Norway. But the Norse did not establish any permanent settlements in North America.
 
Today, as we relaunch our series, we begin with the story of early European explorers in North America.
 
In the 11th century, Europe was beginning a period of great change. One reason was the religious wars known as the Crusades. These were military campaigns by Christians to force Muslims out of the Holy Land in the Middle East. The Crusades began at the end of the 11th century. They continued for about 200 years.
 
One effect of the presence of European armies in the Middle East was to increase trade. This trade was controlled by businessmen in Venice and other city-states in Italy. The businessmen earned large profits by supplying the warring armies and by bringing goods from the East into Europe.

When the European crusaders returned home, they brought with them some new and useful products. These included spices, perfumes, silk cloth and steel products. These goods became highly valued all over Europe. The increased trade with the East led to the creation and growth of towns along the supply roads. It also created a large number of rich European businessmen.
 
The European nations were growing. They developed armies and governments. These had to be paid for with taxes collected from the people. By the 15th century, European countries were ready to explore new parts of the world.
 
The first explorers were the Portuguese. By 1400, they wanted to control the Eastern spice trade. European businessmen did not want to continue paying Venetian and Arab traders for their costly spices. They wanted to set up trade themselves. If they could sail to Asia directly for these products, the resulting trade would bring huge profits.
 
The leader of Portugal's exploration efforts was Prince Henry, a son of King John the First. He was interested in sea travel and exploration. He became known as Henry the Navigator.
 
Prince Henry brought experts to his country and studied the sciences involved in exploration. He built an observatory to study the stars. Portuguese sea captains sailed their ships down the west coast of Africa hoping to find a path to India and East Asia. They finally found the end of the African continent, the area called the Cape of Good Hope.
 
It took the Portuguese only about fifty years to take control of the spice trade. They established trading colonies in Africa, the Persian Gulf, India and China.
 
Improvements in technology helped them succeed. One improvement was a new kind of ship. It could sail more easily through storms and winds.
 
Other inventions like the compass allowed them to sail out of sight of land. The Portuguese also armed their ships with modern cannon. They used these weapons to battle Muslim and East Asian traders.
 
The other European nations would not let Portugal control this spice trade for long, however. Spain's Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand agreed to provide ships, crew and supplies for an exploration by an Italian named Christopher Columbus.
 
Columbus thought the shortest way to reach the East was to sail west across the Atlantic Ocean. He was right. But he also was wrong. He believed the world was much smaller than it is. He did not imagine the existence of another continent -- and another huge ocean -- between Europe and East Asia.
 
Columbus and a crew of 88 men left Spain on August 3, 1492 in three ships -- the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. By October 12, the sailors stood on land again on an island that Columbus named San Salvador.
 
He explored that island and the nearby islands of what are now known as Cuba and Hispaniola. He believed they were part of the coast of East Asia, which was then called the Indies. He called the people he found there Indians.
 
Columbus left about forty men on San Salvador island to build a fort from the wood of one of the ships. He returned to Spain with birds, plants, gold -- and people captured from the land he explored. Columbus was welcomed as a hero when he returned to Spain in March of 1493.
 
Columbus sailed again across the Atlantic to the Caribbean five months later. He found that the fort built by his men had been destroyed by fire. Columbus did not find any of his men. But this time, he had many more men and all the animals and equipment needed to start a colony on Hispaniola.
 
Seven months later, he sent five ships back to Spain. They carried Indians to be sold as slaves. Columbus himself also returned to Spain.
 
Christopher Columbus made another trip in 1498. This time he saw the coast of South America.
 
But the settlers on Hispaniola were so unhappy with conditions in their new colony, they sent Columbus back to Spain as a prisoner. Spain's rulers pardoned him.
 
In 1502, Columbus made his final voyage to what some by then were calling the New World. He stayed on the island of Jamaica until he returned home two years later.
 
During all his trips, Columbus explored islands and waterways, searching for that passage to the Indies. He never found it. Nor did he find spices or great amounts of gold. Yet, he always believed that he had found the Indies. He refused to recognize that it really was a new world.
 
Evidence of this was all around him -- strange plants unknown in either Europe or Asia. And a different people who did not understand any language spoken in the East.
 
Columbus' voyages, however, opened up the new world. Others later explored all of North America.
 
You may be wondering about the name of this new land. If Christopher Columbus led the explorations, then why is it called "America"? The answer lies with the name of another Italian explorer: Amerigo Vespucci.
 
He visited the coast of South America in 1499. He wrote stories about his experiences that were widely read in Europe.
 
In 1507, a German mapmaker, Martin Waldseemueller, read Vespucci's stories. He decided that the writer had discovered the new world, and thought it should be called America in his honor. And so it was.
 
Spanish explorers sought to find gold and power in the New World. They also wanted to spread Christianity, which they considered the only true religion.  
 
The first of these Spanish explorers was Juan Ponce de Leon. He landed in North America in 1513. He explored the eastern coast of what is now the state of Florida. He was searching for a special kind of water that Europeans believed existed. They believed that this water could make old people young again. Ponce de Leon never did find the fountain of youth.
 
Also in 1515, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and reached the Pacific Ocean. In 1519, Hernan Cortes landed an army in Mexico. His army destroyed the ancient empire of the Aztec Indians.
 
That same year Ferdinand Magellan began his three-year voyage around the world. And in the 1530s, the forces of Francisco Pizarro destroyed the Inca Indian empire in Peru.
 
Ten years later, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado had marched as far north as what is now the American state of Kansas and then west to the Grand Canyon. About the same time, Hernando de Soto reached the Mississippi River.
 
Fifty years after Columbus first landed at San Salvador, Spain claimed a huge area of America.
 
The riches of these new lands made Spain the greatest power in Europe, and the world. But other nations refused to accept Spanish claims to the New World. Explorers from England, France and Holland were also sailing to North America. That will be our story next week.
 
You can read and listen to our series online at voaspecialenglish.com, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English.

I’m Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for The Making of a Nation -- American history in VOA Special English.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Charles H. Flowers High School

    Audio Financial Literacy Skills Last a Lifetime

    How to use math for planning a budget or managing money is not often in the curriculum. A school in the state of Maryland provides training in financial literacy. Skills include how to make a budget, how to balance a checkbook and how to deal with credit. More

  • Video Lebanese Artists Fight Back Against Censorship

    Lebanon is a country where religious differences and a permissive culture can lead to conflict. The Lebanese government has long been active in guiding the country’s arts and culture. Now, some activists and writers are taking the fight for free speech to the courts. More

  • Samantha Elauf, who was denied a sales job at an Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa in 2008, is pictured at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Feb. 25, 2015.

    Video Muslim Hijab: Dress Code or Discrimination?

    A closely watched case before the Supreme Court could have major results for religious rights in the workplace. It involves the clothing stores Abercrombie & Fitch and a young Muslim woman. She wore a Muslim headcovering, called a hijab, when seeking employment with the company. More

  • Video Putin: The ‘Lonely’ Leader Working to Rebuild Russian Power

    Experts say Russian President Vladimir Putin is a product of the collapse of the Soviet Union. They say he believes he is the only person who can lead the Russian nation and re-establish it as a world power. But some observers say he appears to be a lonely and unhappy man. More

  • FILE - In this undated file image posted on Monday, June 30, 2014, by the Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group, a Syrian opposition group, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islami

    Audio Growing Support in US for Campaign Against Islamic State

    The Pew Research Center has released a new public opinion survey. It shows a growing number of Americans support the military campaign against the group known as Islamic State. Americans also increasingly support the idea of sending U.S. ground troops to fight the group in Iraq and Syria. More

Featured Stories

  • FILE - An embryologist works on a petri dish at a London fertility clinic.

    Audio 'Three-Person Babies' Debate Goes Beyond Science and Religion

    Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy uses the genetic material from three people to create babies. The stated purpose of the therapy is to help mothers avoid passing genetic mutations to their babies. Some people say MRT will lead to 'designer babies.' Others say it is dangerous, immoral or just wrong. More

  • Steam and smoke is seen over the coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009. Coal power plants are among the biggest producer of CO2, that is supposed to be responsible for climate change.

    Audio Capturing CO2 Is Costly and Difficult

    Most scientists agree that increasing amounts of carbon-dioxide gas in Earth’s atmosphere is partly to blame for climate change. Changes in the atmosphere can have a big effect on weather conditions around the world.Scientists are looking for the best and least costly methods for capturing the gas. More

  • Kerry and Declan Reichs (Courtesy Photo)

    Video Choosing to Be a Single Mother

    U.S. officials say birth rates for unmarried women over age 40 have been rising in recent years. In fact, the rate in 2012 was almost 30 percent higher than just five years earlier. There are single mothers by choice. They are generally older, successful, well-educated, and financially secure. More

  • Audio Young Writer’s Plays Explore Race, Identity in America

    Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' latest play 'An Octoroon,' is showing at a theater in New York City. It is based on a 19th Century work by Dion Boucicault. It tells about a white man who falls in love with a woman who is part black. At the time, mixed race marriage was banned in southern US states. More

  • Audio Understanding the Misunderstood Teenage Brain

    A common battle cry of teenagers to adults is, "You just don't understand me!" Well, they might be right. A brain scientist (neuroscientist) and mother to two teenagers says the teenage brain is quite different from the adult brain. She "debunks," or clears up three common myths about teenagers. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner blog
Confessions of an English Learner blog

 

 

 

Tell us About Our Programs