October 12, 1492
As the Mongol Empire
disintegrated in the 15th century, Islamic states rose to power and blocked
outsiders from entering their territory. Thus, Europeans no longer had a direct
route to the Far East, where they had been trading for such luxury goods as
spices and silk. Refusing to give up, they attempted to reach the Indies by
sailing around Africa. Christopher Columbus, however, devised a plan to
the "Ocean Sea" (a.k.a. Atlantic Ocean) to reach the Far East. He convinced the
Spanish Crown to help him bring it to pass.
Believing they had reached the East Indies, Columbus and his men arrived
in the New World on October 12, 1492. They began trading with the natives, and
some of what they received was gold. Columbus returned to Spain, showed the
Crown the bounty of the islands, and received financing for a second voyage.
Columbus wrote that the people in the West Indies "would make fine
servants…With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we
want." The Crown refused to use the "Indians" as slaves and urged Columbus to
maintain friendly relations with them. Once they were exposed to diseases
carried by Europeans, however, they quickly began dying off. Ironically, slaves
would later be imported from Africa to work in the colonies where the Indians
had once lived.
Though not truly the first to land on its shores, Christopher Columbus is
credited with the discovery of the Americas. What came after Columbus' first
voyage made an immeasurable impact on the two continents. The period prior to
the day his crew first spotted land is known as pre-Columbian American history.
From that day forward, the world would never be the same.