"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." - Mark Twain
The internet is flooded with memes that spread anti-Columbus propaganda. Beware of these memes and don't fall victim to their lies. The anti-Columbus crowds are clever at distorting half truths to mislead you and defame Columbus. Here are some examples:
LIE: Columbus Provided Native Sex Slaves to His Men
This meme has been debunked by scholars but you may still find it floating on the web. The meme makes a false accusation and then tries to use a Columbus quote, out of context, to prove its slanderous lie.
Here are the FACTS:
The quote in the meme comes from a letter written by Columbus to Juana de Las Torres, a female friend of the Queen. (So right there you have to ask yourself, if Columbus is involved in sex trafficking, why’s he writing about it to the Queen’s friend?) At the time of the writing Columbus had been arrested by Francisco de Bobadilla and sent back to Spain in chains because Columbus had hung Spaniards for committing atrocities against the natives.(1) In this letter Columbus is informing Juana of the ongoing corruption being allowed by Francisco de Bobadilla and Francisco Roldan.
The actual quote: “For one woman they give a hundred castellanos, as for a farm; and this sort of trading is very common, and there are already a great number of merchants who go in search of girls; there are at this moment some nine or ten on sale; they fetch a good price, let their age be what it will.” (Letter to Juana de las Torres by Columbus, from “Writings of Christopher Columbus,” p. 165.)”
Notice the “nine and ten on sale” is referring to the number of young women on sale at the moment, not the age. And it is not Columbus searching for these young women, it's “the merchants” Bobadilla is allowing to conduct their operations. Columbus is not involved in sex trafficking, he’s detesting the actions of the Spaniards. In the end justice prevailed. Failing to restore order in Santo Domingo, Bobadilla was ordered back to Spain by the monarchs, while Columbus was given back all the honors and titles taken from him after his arrest.
“More importantly, those were the actions of the Spaniards, not of Columbus, and he was denouncing them, not applauding them.”
— Rafael Ortiz, author of “Christopher Columbus the Hero: Defending Columbus From Modern-Day Revisionism.”
(1) "Francisco de Bobadilla" Encyclopedia Britanica
LIE: Columbus Was Interested In Slavery
This is a meme with a popular quote from Columbus’ diary. In typical Howard Zinn fashion the meme merges 2 of Columbus’ sentences, that have nothing to do with each other, so it seems like he’s looking down on the natives and is interested in enslaving them.
People see it and think, “Oh those are his words, he’s talking about ‘servants’ and ‘subjugate’, he must be an enslaver! Good enough for me!" And they're off to tear down his statue.
But no valuable knowledge can be obtained from just 2 sentences, and if you read his journal and the context of those words, the truth emerges and exposes how misleading the meme is.
Columbus is recording what he sees and encounters for the first time. Remember, as he island hops he encounters different tribes. In the meme he describes this particular native tribe’s generous nature. Then comes the half truth, “They would make fine servants…” and the ellipses at the end purposely leaves out crucial context!
When looking at the original Spanish language, which his diary was written in, and as translated by historian John Cummins, and many others, Columbus says, “They MUST BE good servants, and intelligent, for I can see that they quickly repeat everything said to them. I believe they would readily become Christians.”(1) Columbus is complimenting these natives as capable and intelligent and when he uses the word “servants” he does not mean slaves. He means they must be good servants to their leaders and chiefs.
The natives had both slaves and servants. From Columbus’ journal December 22,1492, ”The chief of this area, who has a village close to here, sent a large canoe to me full of his people, including one of his principal servants, to ask me to go in the ships to visit his land,” In the same context, Columbus was a servant to the Queen of Spain. Bartolome de las Casas, known as “the Apostle and defender of the natives” even called Columbus “an outstanding servant.”(2) Does that mean Columbus was a slave? Did Las Casas want to enslave Columbus?
But what about that “subjugate them all” line?
That line came from a diary entry that was made 3 days later on another island. Here Columbus was considering a location to build a fort but proceeded to tell the King and Queen that he did not see the necessity for one since the natives posed no threat. They lacked fighting experience. How much so? “That with fifty men one could keep the whole population in subjection”(3) This was not made to suggest slavery but to show how non threatening this group of natives are to his men. If Columbus’ goal was slavery why was he so intent on converting them to Christianity? According to Papal Law Christians could not be enslaved. Why did he not enslave them all right then and there with his 50+ men, advanced weapons, and return to Spain a conquering hero? The answer is self evident, slavery was never Columbus’ intent.
Also keep in mind, "subjugation" does not mean slavery, it meant becoming a subject of the crown, monarchy, and Spain. As such they are offered the same rights as Spanish citizens.
On Dec 21, 1492 Columbus wrote, “I gave them glass beads, brass rings and hawk bells, not because they demanded them but because I thought it only right, and above all because I look on them as already Christians, and subjects of Your Majesties even more than the people of Castile itself.”
Does this mean all the subjugated people of Castile are slaves? Even Columbus was a subject of the Queen. Was he her slave? No. By being considered subjects of the royal crown, they could not be enslaved and were offered the same protection as any Spaniard in Castile. And who would the Taino’s need protection from:
"The natives (Tainos) believed Columbus was sent by God to save them from the Caribs, a tribe of cannibals who constantly terrorized them. The Caribs would hunt the Tainos, raping their women, castrating the boys, and killing the men. They cannibalized entire islands before Columbus’s arrival. Ironically, [Howard] Zinn omitted all that information."(4)
Thus we see how the meme purposely puts 2 lines together to deceive the reader into believing Columbus is thinking of enslavement.
(1) The Voyage of Christopher Columbus, Columbus' Own Journal of Discovery" by John Cummins p94
(2) History of the Indies by Las Casas, Book One, Chapter 80
(3) The Voyage of Christopher Columbus, Columbus' Own Journal of Discovery" by John Cummins p97
(4) Debunking "Top 5 Atrocities Committed by Christopher Columbus" by Rafael Ortiz
LIE: Columbus Terrorized The Natives
This meme, and others like it, tries to promote a narrative that Columbus was feared. Feared for what reason? They leave that blank and let the reader’s imagination, fueled by other lies they’ve read, assume: they must have feared Columbus because he was a pillaging, murdering brute! But if you read his journals you get a better understanding of who Columbus was and why the natives feared him.
Oct 21, 1492: “After eating I went ashore, where the only habitation nearby was an empty house. All the household equipment was still inside, so I think the people must have run away in fear. I ordered nothing to be touched; instead I set off with my captains and the men to explore the island.” - “The Voyage of Christopher Columbus, Columbus’ Own Journal of Discoveries by John Cummins
Let’s keep reading from the same day: “While looking for water we went to a village nearby, half a league from where I am anchored. When the people heard us coming they left their houses and ran away, hiding their clothes and possessions in the undergrowth. I forbade the men to take even the smallest thing. Then some of the Indians approached us, and one came up to us. I gave him a few bells and glass beads, which pleased him very much, and in order to foster friendship and ask for something in return I had a request put to him for water. When I had returned to the ship they came down to the shore with their calabashes full and gave us the water with signs of pleasure. I ordered them to be given another string of beads and they said they would return in the morning.”
Oct 28, 1492: “I jumped into the boat and went ashore, and found two houses which I think belonged to fishermen, who fled in fear. In one of them was a dog which did not bark. In both houses I found nets of palm fibre, ropes, horn fish hooks, bone harpoons and other fishing equipment. I think many people must live together in each house. I gave orders for everything to be left alone, and nothing was touched.”
Nov 1, 1492: “I sent the boats ashore at sunrise, and the men found that all the people had fled. A good while later one man appeared, and I ordered him to be left unmolested, and the boats returned. When we had eaten I sent one of the Indians ashore. He shouted to the man from a distance, telling him that we were good people and were doing no harm to anybody, and were not from the Great Khan, but had been giving things away in all the islands which we had visited. Then he jumped into the water and swam ashore, and two of the islanders took him by the arms and led him to a house to question him. When they were sure that no harm was intended them, they were reassured and more than sixteen canoes came out to the ships with cotton thread and other small items.”
In all these instances it is clear that Columbus was not a pillaging brute. The natives feared Columbus because they did not know him. Once they saw Columbus’ peaceful nature, they went out to greet him and his crew, and even traded with him.
LIE: Columbus enslaved the innocent and raped women
This meme is both misleading and a flat out lie. Again, the purpose of these anti-Columbus memes is not to educate or spread truth, but to spread a lie and radicalize the uneducated. Here are the facts:
The first part combines two quotes said by Columbus at two separate times to make it seem like he’s a fanatical Christian looking to enslave the masses.
“And thus the eternal God, Our Lord, gives to all those who walk in His way triumph over things which appear to be impossible, and this was notably one.” (1) This is from a letter Columbus wrote to the sovereigns describing his success in discovering the new lands never known to Europe, or the “Old World”, let alone Spain. The meme purposefully puts that quote out of context to make it seem like “His way” (the Lord’s way) is to enslave people.
“Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold…”(2) Anyone that has read Columbus’ journals and the accounts of his contemporaries will know Columbus was not intent on enslaving anyone for manual labor or profits. His mission was one of evangelization; to convert the natives to Christianity and by doing so, according to Papal law, Christians could not be enslaved.
In his book, “Christopher Columbus and the Christian Church” Rafael Ortiz explains, “To the modern-day uninformed student, that statement sounds insensitive and religiously fanatical…It also gives the misleading impression that Columbus proposed to enslave anyone just for profit…But Columbus only proposed from the beginning to enslave the cannibals who were terrorizing the Caribbean. He promised chief Guacanagari as an ally he would get rid of them for him. Since Columbus was forced to fight some of the natives of La Espanola, he sent some of them as slaves, or prisoners of war, to Spain.”
That “Columbus described how HE HIMSELF ‘took his pleasure’ with a native woman after whipping her ‘soundly’ with a piece of rope” IS A LIE. These are the supposed words of Michele de Cuneo, one of the 1,200 passengers on Columbus’ second voyage. In his letter to friend Hieronymo Annari Michele describes his adventures and discoveries in the new world. I say “supposed words” because the original letter disappeared and the existing manuscript is a copy made by Jacopo Rosetto in 1511 after Columbus’ death. Some have challenged its authenticity because of inconsistencies in style. In any case, Columbus never raped a native. More can be learned about this letter and incident in episode 36 of Christopher Columbus University.
Finally, the only TRUE statement in this entire meme is the last part: Yes, “This man deserves a holiday!” But only the educated know this.
(1) "The Journal of Christopher Columbus" Translated by Cecil Jane, p201
(2) "Historia de las Indias" by Las Casas, Tomo II Cap. CLI p323