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10 WTF Facts That Prove Columbus Shouldn’t Have His Own Holiday
Christopher Columbus still has his own holiday. Today, most people are at least dimly aware that Columbus wasn’t exactly a great guy, but somehow, he’s still managed to hold on to a little dignity and respect. It was a different time, some might say; or, perhaps, he was no worse than the rest.
But Christopher Columbus wasn’t just your standard careless colonialist. The things he did were so twisted that even the people of his own time thought of him as a monster. Most of it is so brutal it gets cut out of history books in the name of good taste, but the real Columbus was far, far worse than you ever could have imagined.
We’re going to tell you the real story of Christopher Columbus. So get ready—because this is going to get pretty messed up.
10 He Cut The Hands Off Of Natives Who Didn’t Bring Him Enough Gold
Columbus, upon reaching the New World, had written back to the Spanish lord promising “as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask.” Now, though, he had to prove he could do it—even if it took a massacre.
He started rounding up natives and locking them in pens. Some were sent to Spain as slaves—though nearly half died during the voyage—and the rest were put to work gathering gold. Every member of the Arawak people who was 14 or older was sent into a part of Haiti were Columbus believed huge gold fields were hiding.
Any native who came back with enough gold to satisfy Columbus was given a copper token to hang around his neck, which meant he was allowed to live. Any native spotted without the token was to have his hands chopped off on the spot. This wasn’t just amputation; the wounds were left untreated, and the victims were allowed to bleed out until they died.
There was next to no gold in Haiti, which meant it was almost impossible to bring Columbus what he demanded. Most, realizing it was impossible, tried to flee, so the Spaniards hunted them down with dogs and killed every person they could find.
9 Columbus’s Men Tested Their Blades By Killing People
“My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”
This was the report that Bartolome de las Casas, a priest who had joined Columbus’s men in New World, sent back home to Europe. He’d witnessed how the Spaniards treated the natives, and what he described was worse than any horror story.
Columbus’s men, Bartolome said, would round up natives and slice off parts of their bodies to test the sharpness of their blades. Just to pass the time, he wrote, the Spaniards “made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cut off his head in one blow.”
They didn’t stop their massacres at adult men, though. As sport, Columbus’s crew would tear babies out of their mothers’ arms and dash their heads against rocks—or worse. According to Bartolome: “They spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords.”
People were massacred, sometimes just as a way to pass the time. “A stream of blood was running,” Bartolome said, through the native villages after Columbus arrived, “as if a great number of cows had perished.”
8 Columbus Also Mutilated His Own Spaniards
Columbus didn’t stop at torturing the natives; he tortured his own men, too. As he stayed on in the New World and food became scarce, he started to starve his men out. He’d fill his ships with an abundance of food, but he wouldn’t share it with his settlers, even when they began dying of starvation.
Instead, Columbus set up a strict set of rules, promising to hang anyone who so much as stole bread. Often, though, his actual punishments were even more depraved. When a cabin boy stole a fish out of another man’s trap, Columbus had the boy’s hand nailed to the spot where he’d stolen the fish. And when another young boy was caught stealing corn, Columbus had his ears and nose cut off and then had him whipped, shackled, and finally sold into slavery.
He even tortured people for simply buying food with their own money. A group of a dozen Spanish men was tied together by their necks and feet and publicly whipped for buying pork and bread. Their crime, Columbus declared, was that they had “bartered and gave gold without the Admiral’s permission.”
By the time Columbus left, 50 of his men had died of starvation. He, though, stayed fairly plump—by strict command. In fact, when one of his men failed to get enough food for his pantry, Columbus had him stripped naked and whipped with 100 lashes.
7 Women Were Regularly Paraded Naked Through The Streets
When a Spanish woman upset Columbus, he took a bit of different route. He didn’t stop at whipping her or hanging her; he made sure she was humiliated. Specifically, he’d strip her naked, put her on a mule, and parade her through town.
Columbus’s group did this at least three times. The first was a sentence given out by Christopher Columbus himself, who accused a woman of “falsely claiming to be pregnant” and, as punishment, had her stripped naked and paraded through town.
His brother Bartolome followed his example a little later when a woman accused them of being the sons of a common journeyman. Again, he stripped her naked and had her shown off to the town on a mule—and then, for good measure, he had her tongue cut out. Christopher was thrilled and publicly congratulated Bartolome for defending the family’s good name.
Then another official did it to a woman named Teresa de Vaeca because her friend had an affair. Teresa herself hadn’t done anything—it was her friend who had the affair—but they still felt she deserved “the punishment for pimping,” which was to be stripped naked, given 100 lashes, and have her tongue cut out.
6 He Started A Child Sex Slave Ring
When Columbus realized that there was more money to be made in prostitution than there was in cultivating land, he started a ring of sex slaves. This, he believed, was just good business. “A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm,” he wrote in a letter home, so how, he felt, could he be faulted for dragging away women and selling them to be brutally raped?
The women weren’t willing participants—nor were they, for that matter, always women. Little girls, Columbus said, were the most profitable. He wrote that “those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
The stories that came out of it are horrifying. One man, named Michele de Cuneo, wrote that Columbus gifted him a young girl to use as a sex slave. “Since I wanted to have my way with her and she was not willing, she worked me over so badly with her nails that I wished I had never begun,” Cuneo wrote in a letter. “I got a rope and tied her up so tightly that she made unheard of cries which you wouldn’t have believed. At the end, we got along so well that, let me tell you, it seemed she had studied at a school for whores.”
5 He Lied About Being The First Person To Spot Land
It wasn’t all murders and massacres, though. Sometimes, Columbus was just petty. Even before he’d set foot in the New World, he was ruining people’s lives.
Before Columbus sailed west, the king and queen of Spain promised a lifetime pension to whoever first spotted land. Columbus’s men, hoping never to have to work another day in their lives, kept an eye out at every moment—until one night, two hours after midnight, Rodrigo de Triaga caught the first glimpse of land over the horizon.
When they reported back to Spain, though, Columbus interjected that he had noticed a light “which appeared like a candle” the day before, and though he hadn’t told his men he’d spotted land, he still felt it was only right that he get the money and Rodrigo de Triaga get nothing.
As the leader of the expedition, Columbus probably didn’t need the money. According to his contemporaries, he just wanted to be able to say he was the first to spot land. So, for the sake of his pride, he stole a lifetime pension and a place in the history books from one of his own men.
4 He Paraded Dismembered Bodies Through Town
After they’d been mutilated, run down with dogs, and sold into sexual slavery, some of the Arawak natives decided to fight back. They put up the best resistance they could, revolting against Columbus and his men and trying to chase them away—but they didn’t have much of a chance.
The Spaniards had armor, muskets, swords, and horses, so the rebellion was crushed pretty quickly. Columbus and his men hung some of their prisoners, enslaved others, and even burned some of them alive.
Then, to make a point, they dismembered the bodies of the dead and marched through the native towns, parading the mutilated corpses to send a message. Anyone who tried to fight Columbus, they were warning them, would meet the same fate.
3 He Pretended To Be God To Keep The Natives Working For Him
When they realized they couldn’t kill Columbus, the Arawaks tried another approach: starving him out. Columbus hadn’t really figured out how to survive on his own in the New World; he relied on the food the natives gave him. So, the people in Jamaica decided to just stop feeding him, hoping he’d give up and go away.
Columbus, though, managed to trick them into giving up their food by pretending to have magic powers. He used an astronomical table to figure out when the next lunar eclipse would hit. Then, moments before the eclipse began, he told them that his god was angry with them and that the Moon would now appear inflamed with wrath.
“They came running from every direction to the ships, laden with provisions,” Columbus’s son Ferdinand gleefully wrote, describing it, “praying the Admiral to intercede by all means with God on their behalf; that he might not visit his wrath upon them.”
It’s a fairly well-known story—but what’s usually left out is the context. Columbus’s triumph came after he’d massacred their people, and the natives were just doing what they could to spare their own lives.
2 The Arawaks Committed Mass Suicide Rather Than Live With Columbus
With no way to escape from Columbus, the Arawaks of Haiti just gave up. Death, they believed, was inevitable. The only hope they had was to spare themselves from the pain and torture they’d experience at Columbus’s hands.
They started committing suicide en masse. Whole communities would gather together to kill themselves, sometimes doing so in groups of 100 at a time. Mothers would feed their children cassava poison to let them die peaceful deaths, and the young women swore not to bring another child into the world.
One of the Spaniards there, Perdro de Corboda, wrote home: “Many, when pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted. Others after delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in such oppressive slavery.” At the peak of mass suicides, 250,000 native Haitians died in just two short years.
1 He Brought Syphilis To Europe
Columbus killed millions of natives, but in what might well be divine retribution, he killed millions more back home. When he and his men came back from the New World, they didn’t just bring back slaves—they brought back syphilis.
The first syphilis outbreak in Europe happened in 1495, shortly after Columbus and his sailors returned. Before Columbus, there hadn’t been any known cases of syphilis in Europe. There are a few researchers who insist they’ve found one, but none have been conclusively proven, and all signs point to the idea the Columbus and his men brought it over with their ring of child sex slaves.
Some of Columbus’s crewmen ended up serving in a war against Italy, whoring their way across Europe on the way, and soon spread syphilis all across the continent. It was devastating. The first outbreak alone killed more than five million Europeans.
That death toll might even include Christopher Columbus, who died in 1506, after years of fighting through a long and painful illness he’d contracted on his last voyage to the New World. At the time, they called it gout, and today, most think it was Reiter’s syndrome, but some believe that he was taken out by his own disease: syphilis.
Read more about history’s explorers on 10 Important Expeditions Of Forgotten Explorers and 10 New World Explorers Overshadowed By Their More Famous Siblings.