On this day 527 years ago while Christopher Columbus was trying to reach Asia, he accidentally discovered the Bahamas. This discovery would reshape the world, kicking off the European colonization of the Americas.
We’ve been celebrating history’s most famous navigational error ever since. Here are five facts about Columbus’ famous voyage you might not have known:
1. Columbus did not prove the Earth was round
Contrary to popular belief, the shape of the planet was well-known by Columbus’ time, and had been for hundreds of years. Columbus actually thought the earth was much smaller than it actually is, which is why he thought he could reach Asia by sailing West from Spain.
The common myth — that Columbus defied flat-Earth believing geographers to make his voyage — comes from the inaccurate 1828 biography “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,” written by Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
2. Nobody knows what happened to the Niña and the Pinta
Columbus famously made his first voyage with three ships: the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
The Santa Maria ran aground and sank during Columbus’ first voyage. The Pinta safely returned home, but nobody knows what happened to it after that. The Niña continued to sail for years after its most famous journey, but history loses track of the ship after a 1501 trading voyage, according to the Columbus Foundation.
The Columbus Foundation maintains replicas of the Niña and Pinta, which travel the world as sailing museums. They have stopped in Pittsburgh several times, most recently in 2018.
3. Christopher Columbus was arrested
Spain made Columbus the governor of the island of Hispaniola. He and his brothers, Bartolomeo and Diego, shared rule of the fledgling Spanish colony there for seven years, but their rule did not go well.
The brothers killed and enslaved many of the natives and hanged Spanish colonists who questioned their rule. All three were arrested and shipped back to Spain in chains, though they were eventually released.
Modern-day Hispaniola is divided into the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
4. The Columbus family sued the Spanish government
Spain originally promised Columbus 10% of all the riches found as a result of his discovery. After Columbus’ arrest, and his death in 1506, the government wasn’t keen to pay up.
Columbus’ son, Diego, sued, saying his family not only deserved the money, but the right to govern all of America — not just the islands Christopher Columbus discovered.
After decades of dueling lawsuits, the family was granted lands and titles in Jamaica and Hispaniola, and an annual payment of 10,000 ducats to Columbus’ heirs.
5. Some states choose not to celebrate Columbus Day
Columbus’ accomplishments have been celebrated for centuries, but Columbus Day became official in 1934 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made it a federal holiday.
Because of the explorer’s checkered past, some states and cities choose not to formally observe the day. Florida, Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, South Dakota, New Mexico and Maine do not recognize Columbus Day, and many have replaced it with Indigenous People’s Day.