Christopher Columbus presents Native Americans to Queen Isabella.

Christopher Columbus, the Myths Behind the Man


Columbus Day became a federal holiday to commemorate the landing of Christopher Columbus in the “New World” and his achievements in 1937, but throughout history those achievements have been exaggerated. Here are a few things you may not know about him:

Columbus didn’t discover anything. This country was already populated when he arrived. He wasn’t even the first to cross the Atlantic. It was the Vikings who made first contact with the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

Native Americans crossed the Atlantic before Columbus did. “Two American Indians shipwrecked in Holland around 60 B.C. became major curiosities in Europe,” wrote James Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

Columbus was a secret keeper, according to a story published by CNN in May, he may have feigned converting to Catholicism while covertly continuing to practice Judaism.

When Columbus got here, he was desperate to turn a profit and turned to slavery. Even from his first voyage he was envisioning how he could enslave the Natives he encountered: “They should be good servants …. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses,” he wrote in his journal on October 11, 1492, which appears in To America and Around the World: The Logs of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan by Adolph Caso.

Columbus brought with him European diseases like the flu, measles and smallpox, killing some 90 percent of the Native American population between the time of his arrival and the time the Mayflower landed in 1620.

Read more about Columbus here:

American History Myths Debunked: Columbus Discovered America

American History Myths Debunked: Columbus Might Have Been Jewish—And Other Unknown Facts

American History Myths Debunked: The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers