The impulse for this paper came from an article of 1939 by Charles E. Nowell entitled, “The Columbus Question: A Survey of Recent Literature and Present Opinion.”1 It seemed that the lapse of more than a quarter-century, a period which saw the publication of what many reviewers considered the “definitive” work, warranted a new look at the outpourings which still show no sign of diminishing. Historians have asked the question: “Will the Lincoln theme ever be exhausted?” The same question might well be asked concerning the Columbus theme, and the same negative reply would have to be offered for much the same reasons. The great though very different achievements of these two individuals continue to stir men’s souls and to provoke questions. If the truth, or more of the truth, can be gained from continued investigation, then the cause and purpose of history will be served.

Nowell’s article has been described as a lucid and fair if somewhat agnostic and pessimistic review of the controversial issues in Columbus scholarship.2 He agreed with Roberto Almagià and Angel de Altolaguirre that questions of the date and place of Columbus’ birth should be laid to rest forever, and that his Genoese origin was overwhelmingly proved by the documents reproduced in 1931 by the city of Genoa.3 As will be shown in this paper, the question of Columbus’ birthplace has not been laid completely to rest, and, as it will also be evident, we are not even sure where his bones lie today. As for pre-Columbian discoveries of America, they must still be regarded as possible but not conclusively proved.

To the historian the most gratifying development in Columbus scholarship during the past twenty-five years has been the rediscovery and reprinting of a wealth of primary source material, often in new and excellent translations. The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand4 has been translated by Benjamin Keen. The original manuscript was lost, and Ferdinand (who died in 1539) did not publish the book, possibly because of the lawsuits in progress between the Columbus family and the Spanish crown.5 This work, which has long been recognized as an invaluable source because Ferdinand had access to all his father’s papers, passed into Italy where it received an inaccurate translation in 1571. The current translator terms his own efforts “reasonably correct,” a description which he felt was required because of the sometimes quite unintelligible Italian. Keen deserves praise for his accomplishment; the narrative reads effortlessly and the reader is helped by illustrations and maps which add to the usefulness of the volume.

Alejandro Cioranescu advances the thesis, however, that Ferdinand Columbus did not write the biography of his father attributed to him and commonly called Historie della, vita e dei fatti di Cristoforo Colombo.6 Cioranescu believes that Ferdinand probably wrote some of the Historie, but that what has come down to us is, in reality, part of a first draft version of Bartolomé de Las Casas’ Historia, de las Indias. This Las Casas version, according to the author, descended into the hands of the Columbus family and ultimately into those of Luis de Colón, the third admiral and son of the Discoverer’s only legitimate son, Diego. According to Cioraneseu, Luis wished to profit from the manuscript, and when the Council of the Indies prevented him from publishing it in Spain, he sold it in Italy and named as author his uncle, Ferdinand, who had actually written some of the passages which Las Casas used. Cioranescu closes on a note of selfdefeatism. He says that a tradition of authorship that has lasted four hundred years may well outlast his own effort to disprove it.

The Journal of Christopher Columbus as translated by Cecil Jane reappeared in 1960 in a new, illustrated edition which is revised and annotated by L. A. Vigneras.7 Samuel Eliot Morison considers Jane’s work the least faulty English translation of Columbus’ Journal.8 Many previous mistakes have been corrected in this edition, which contains a valuable appendix by R. A. Skelton on the cartography of Columbus’ first voyage; and a translation of Columbus’ Spanish letter on the first voyage is also included in the profusely illustrated volume. Morison, while of the opinion that this was the best available English translation, felt that it was not good enough to deter him from publishing the translation that Jeremiah D. M. Ford helped him make in 1940.9 The Morison translation, which appeared as the Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,10 was foreshadowed by his article on the texts and translations of the journal of Columbus’ first voyage which appeared in the HAHR in August 1939.11 He regarded Jane’s translation as defective on the scientific side and proceeded to give a brilliant analysis.

Under the general editorship of Henry Bamford Parkes, Corinth Books published as part of its American Experience Series a new bilingual edition of Columbus’ Four Voyages to the New World in 1961.12 This paperback edition was translated and edited by R. H. Major and contains an introduction by John E. Fagg. Source material in an inexpensive edition is indeed a boon to both scholars and students. Another principal source for the voyages of Columbus is the monumental Historia of Las Casas. A truly magnificent three-volume edition of this work, superseding all previous editions, appeared in 1951.13 Edited by Agustín Millares Carlo, its value is further enhanced by a bibliographical study done by Lewis Hanke. And those whose command of Latin ended with Gaul’s being divided into three parts welcomed the publication of a Spanish-language edition of Peter Martyr’s De orbe novo in 1944.14

In an article Leonardo Olschki attempted to describe what Columbus saw on his arrival in the West Indies.15 Olschki felt that the lack of detail and precision in Columbus’ description of the islands is in sharp contrast with his realistic report of the appearance and behavior of the natives. He attributes this defect to the fact that the Renaissance continued the medieval separation of empirical routine and theocratic speculations and points out that scientists did not accompany the exploring expeditions. Olschki maintains that the journal of Columbus was not composed in order to impress the sovereigns, its deceptions all being self-deceptions, and that the journal includes both Columbus’ unrealistic expectations and his glimpses into (and at) naked truth.

Olschki has also furnished Columbus scholars with the summary of a piece of historical curiosa, Hernán Pérez de Oliva’s Ystoria de Colón.16 Ferdinand Columbus owned a manuscript of this unfinished work which dates from the sixteenth century; it disappeared, and then turned up in the Library of Frank Altschul of New York. (Later, Altschul donated the manuscript to the Yale University Library.) The section on Columbus is based on Peter Martyr, amplified by popular legends concerning the Discoverer which were very much in the air and very misleading. The narrative is well written, but Ferdinand Columbus felt the need to remedy such narratives by producing a biography from documents and facts.

Historians are indebted to Alicia B. Gould y Quincy for her list of the crew who accompanied Columbus on his first voyage.17 Miss Gould, who unfortunately left the list unfinished at her death, compiled it by a most patient and thorough examination of the surviving documents.

During 1941 D. L. Molinari published in Buenos Aires a synthesis on the early discoveries and conquests.18 This work contains some excellent modern historical maps. For an Argentine periodical Marcel Bataillon wrote a provocative discussion of contemporary viewpoints as to Columbus’ motives and accomplishments with special reference to the connection and contrast between Asia and a New World.19 Henry R. Wagner provides speculations about the effect of Marco Polo’s account of Cipangu and comments concerning Cipangu by Columbus and sixteenth-century writers.20

In an analytical dissertation published in 1951 Pedro de Leturia states that the main ideas of Columbus were the reconquest of the Holy Land by Christians, defense of the papacy and Columbus’ loyalty to the Pope, and finally Columbus’ appreciation of scholastic theology and the importance of having it transferred to the newly discovered lands.21 This last objective is reinforced by Daniel Olmedo in an article published in Mexico in 1953, a study which was based on newly discovered documentation concerning the priests who accompanied Columbus on his last three voyages.22

For the reader who is interested in minutiae in the life of Columbus, William B. Goodwin’s The Lure of Gold23 will be his cup of tea. Following to their watery graves five ships lost by the Discoverer, the author supplies many trivia and other bits that he has dredged up in study and travel in the Caribbean regions. There may be something of value for a patient reader. At times verbose and often badly organized, this volume seems to fix the site of La Navidad east of Morison’s proposed site, Limonade Bord-de-Mer,24 a location which Goodwin rejects.

In 1952 Jorge A. Lines edited a volume commemorating the 450th anniversary of Columbus’ fourth voyage, which explored the shores of Costa Rica.25 This book contains the text of various documents relating to the voyage and gives the location of the original published collection from which they were taken. Lines has included quotations from contemporary historians and from authors who have speculated on the location of Cariay. As indicated, the seventy-nine documents have been printed before, but not in one collection and certainly never so expertly annotated.

William J. Wilson, in a series of four articles, discusses the historical authenticity of the 1494 discovery of South America and indicates why the events related in the Trevisan manuscript could only have happened in 1494.26 Some of his interpretations appear far-fetched. His Narrative of the Discovery of Venezuela27 is based on the Thacher manuscript on Columbus and early Portuguese navigations. In “The Spanish Discovery of the South American Mainland,”28 he presents a complete translation of this narrative of the voyage of the five ships dispatched by Columbus in search of pearls. During the preceding year he had published a study of the manuscript.29 Wilson reconstructs the voyage as a complete circumnavigation of the Caribbean, the last leg being along the northern coast of Cuba! An interesting set of articles, raising many provocative questions.

Nowell has written a critique of the Wilson articles which appeared in the HAHR30 and states that the Trevisan narrative is quite unsupported by other evidence. Most cogent is the fact that at least a hundred men must have participated in a voyage of five caravels, so that even if Columbus had sought to keep the voyage a secret, it must have gotten out and left traces in other sources. And as is pointed out, all the witnesses in the Pleitos de Colón support the Columbian discovery of South America in 1498.

Regarding the possibility of earlier discoveries of America, Armando Cortesão categorically states that Portuguese sailors reached at least the island edge of the New World and possibly even the mainland many years before Columbus. Furthermore, Cortesão states that there is an authentic cartographic record of their adventure. His book31 concentrates on an old Venetian chart which appeared a few years previously. This chart seems to have been made in 1424 by an Italian cartographer, Zuane Pizigano, and in the western Atlantic beyond the Azores, the Canaries, and Madeira it shows a large island and three smaller ones which are given the collective name of “Antilia.”

Cortesão is convinced that this map confirms an authentic discovery of Haiti, Cuba, or Jamaica, or perhaps even of the Florida coast. He concludes that this is the first cartographical representation of the approaches to eastern America, put on parchment nearly seventy years before Columbus made his first voyage. Cortesão also states that early in the fifteenth century the Portuguese sailors knew about the Sargasso Sea, whose existence they could not have suspected if they had not sailed west far beyond the Azores.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the famed Arctic explorer, wrote his Ultima Thule: Further Mysteries of the Arctic in 1940.32 He asked the question, “Did Columbus visit Thule?” Ferdinand Columbus’ Historie quotes his father’s statement that in February 1477 the Admiral had sailed one hundred leagues north of “Tile isola” (Iceland) and had found no ice there. Stefansson argues at great length that this is entirely plausible. Albert B. Donworth stated in Why Columbus Sailed33 that Columbus knew about the Viking voyages and that since these had not reached Cathay, he avoided those areas.

For a lively account of pre-Columbian voyages to the Western Hemisphere, obviously written for popular consumption, Charles M. Boland’s compilation of a collection of the adventures of nineteen discoverers of America who arrived before Columbus is offered.34 Boland assures the reader that “all of these fascinating fellows existed.” No documentation is provided although there is a bibliography. More valuable is Frederick J. Pohl’s Atlantic Crossings Before Columbus.35 While suffering from the common malady of over-enthusiastic advocacy for its cause, some sections, such as the one on Earl Sinclair of Orkney, are worthy of careful consideration.

Far too much foolishness appeared in the press about Yale University’s publication of the “Vinland Map.”36 The result was what one reporter aptly termed a “tempest in the melting pot.” One suspects that if Yale had exercised forbearance and had withheld publication until a less emotional moment (the “discovery” was announced on the eve of Columbus Day) the debate would have been confined to the academic community. More heat than light was the end result. One reporter, however, sagaciously observed that no one had paused to note that the map was not necessary to prove the presence of the Vikings in North America before Columbus. A brief search in a newspaper “morgue” produced the information that in 1963 the Norwegian explorer Dr. Helge Ingstad discovered in northern Newfoundland the remains of a settlement which the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and the American Museum of Natural History all agreed unequivocally was Norse and pre-Columbian.37

Morison, in “The Earliest Colonial Policy Toward America: That of Columbus,”38 has written a documented study in which he finds the source of Columbus’ ideas in the acquaintance the Admiral had with Portuguese policy in the Atlantic islands and on the West African coast. One of the Admiral’s pet projects was the establishment of a trading post near the coast of China. Nearly three-quarters of a century later, in 1571, Miguel López de Legaspi was to accomplish this objective for Spain when he founded Manila.

Juan Pérez de Tudela Bueso has analyzed the main trends and significance of Spanish colonization in America from 1493 to 1505 and has studied the fall of Columbus as the head of the Spanish colonizing effort in Hispaniola and the events that led up to this process.39 He traces the changes introduced immediately afterward, especially as exemplified in the new capitulaciones.

Alfonso García Gallo has provided another chapter of a long-running controversy among Spanish historians as to the meaning and origin of Columbus’ title of “virrey y gobernador.” He concludes that the title was not a mere copy of any precedent.40 Two years later in 1954, Sigfrido A. Radaelli wrote an analysis in another Spanish journal of the peninsular and early colonial office of viceroy.41 Radaelli emphasizes the discontinuity rather than the progressive development of the office. He dismisses the Castilian viceregal institution, finds no precedent in the Aragonese viceroyalty for Columbus’ viceregal status, and concludes that the American viceroyalties of 1535 and after were independent of both European and Columbian “precedents.”

For those who place a high value on such works some genealogical volumes have appeared. In 1952, Rafael Nieto y Cortadellas, a Cuban genealogist, prepared a work in which many different family trees were traced.42 Unfortunately for those who have need to consult such works, this one has neither an adequate index nor tables to assist the reader in his search for a specific fact about a specific family. Far better is Emilio Rodríguez Demorizi’s Familias hispanoamericanas.43 This is the first volume of a scholarly genealogical study concerning Hispaniola families whose descendants were influential in American colonization. Columbus, Padilla Guardiola y Gúzman, Campuzano, Castillo, and other families are studied. Here we find not only abundant documentation but also an indispensable and complete index.

Otto Schoenrich’s two-volume work44 is of much greater originality than that of either Nieto y Cortadellas or Rodríguez Demorizi. Schoenrich has provided an index of thirty-two pages, and the work also contains thirty-four plates showing scenes of great beauty connected with the history of Columbus and his descendants. In an appendix it summarizes and locates twenty-three of the key documents in the succession of lawsuits conducted by Columbus’ heirs. The volumes are a skillful, fascinating, and well-written account of those lawsuits. Interestingly enough, the Spanish government continued to pay the Colón annuity until it was stripped of its American colonial possessions by the United States in 1898.

Finally, mention must be made of other indispensable primary source materials not available earlier in English which have appeared since the conclusion of the Second World War. The Libro de los privilegios45 was published in 1951 by the Real Academia de la Historia. All serious scholars of the discovery era should also consult the three-volume Studi colombiani46 before commencing research.

Some authors have ventured into the fascinating if ill-defined field of intellectual history. Rodolfo Barón Castro in 1961 developed the concept of a completely known world and presented a summary of the principal maritime discoveries that contributed to it.47 Most of his ideas are derived from familiar sources; his point of view is Spanish with heavy emphasis on Columbus and Magellan.

A seminal book, La idea del descubrimiento de América by Edmundo O’Gorman, was published in Mexico during 1951.48 This work and others by O’Gorman are difficult to classify. The author terms it “something along the lines of an investigation into the physiology of history,” and it probably should be classified with the works of Sir Isaiah Berlin as philosophy of history. O’Gorman is more concerned with the “idea” of the discovery of America than with the discovery itself, although all the well-known facts and interpretations are critically reviewed. He traces the impact of the discovery on men’s minds through later generations and gives his interpretation of what Columbus’ achievement meant to each. The reader would profit from O’Gorman’s La invención de América49 and in English The Invention of America.50 The former is definitely not a rehash of La idea; and the latter is not merely a translation of the Spanish-language book of the same title. The Invention of America contains a new critique of the idea of the discovery of America and a historical presentation of the cultural horizon surrounding the “process of the invention of America.” O’Gorman has also added another speculation concerning the structure of the being of America and its historical development. (A reader who wishes to delve still further would do well to consult Anthony Tudisco’s bibliography of eighteenth-century Spanish writings on Columbus and the Discovery.)51

In his bibliographical article of 1939 Charles Nowell wrote that “recent ‘lives’ of the great navigator are frankly popular in tone. The true Colombist, with a knowledge of the problems and pitfalls awaiting him, shrinks from the biographer’s task and confines himself to monographs. The problem of Columbus calls for the efforts of a superscholar, versed in many fields of learning other than history.”52 Mr. Nowell felt that the definitive biography of Columbus was “relegated to the indefinite future.” Three years later, however, appeared Samuel Eliot Morison’s Admiral of the Ocean Sea,53 a two-volume work which was greeted by almost every reviewer with the accolade, “definitive.” Here, it seemed, was the superscholar of whom Nowell wrote. Certainly his qualifications and achievements are manifold and outstanding: Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard, Rear Admiral in the United States Naval Reserve, translator of the Columbus Journals, sailing enthusiast of admired prowess, recent winner of the Balzan Prize, and twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biographies of Columbus and another sailor, John Paul Jones.

Whereas most of the earlier biographies of Columbus concentrated on his earlier life, Morison’s study deals mainly with the voyages, certainly the most important part of the Discoverer’s life work. In this respect it cannot be denied that Professor Morison was admirably and uniquely equipped by both vocation and avocation to undertake the biographical task. Admiral of the Ocean Sea is a scholarly biography which emphasizes Columbus’ ability as seaman and navigator while other aspects of his life and the “Columbus Question” are ignored or glossed over. The author prepared for the writing of this book in the tradition of Francis Parkman by following the routes of Columbus’ voyages in small sailing vessels, comparable in size and rig to those used by Columbus.

One doubts that a truly definitive biography of any man will ever appear. Undeniably this is the best written, researched, and documented biography of Columbus available today. Certainly it is as nearly definitive a study of the maritime aspects as we shall ever see. Nothing which has appeared in the quarter-century since its publication lessens its value, although this could have been enhanced by the inclusion of a cumulative bibliography. The book contains many debatable points, but Morison is often impatient to the point of cavalier rudeness with those who hold viewpoints other than his own.

The publishing history of the Morison work has been a very peculiar and in some ways a very distressing example of the economics of present-day publishing. The original work appeared in 1942 as a two-volume edition, with copious footnotes and other scholarly apparatus. Later in the year a somewhat shortened one-volume edition appeared,54 obstensibly lacking only the scholarly apparatus. The latter edition received the Pulitzer Prize for biography that year, but the former was the edition translated into Spanish and German.

Careful examination, however, shows that the one-volume edition omits more than the scholarly apparatus. Most of the material on navigation, sailing, and syphilis, and a few of the illustrations are also missing. Could it have been that the work was bowdlerized for a wider reading public which was either hypersensitive or lacking interest in details?

In the middle nineteen fifties Morison rewrote the entire story of Columbus’ life and voyages in the stated hope of reaching even more readers. This book, which contains a fresh translation of Columbus’ own Letter on his First Voyage, was published in 1955 and appeared in a paperback edition in 1956, as Christopher Columbus, Mariner.55

In 1964 Morison reinforced his position as the leading Colombist (his bibliography would list at least ten entries under the subject heading of Columbus) by co-authoring The Caribbean as Columbus Saw It, with Mauricio Obregón, a former ambassador from Colombia and president of the International Aviation Federation.56 This book was described in advertisements as a word-and-picture tour of the New World and contains nearly three hundred photographs taken as the authors retraced Columbus’ voyage by plane.

Four of the better biographies deserve mention here. Certainly in any competition for a “definitive” work many historians would choose Antonio Ballesteros y Beretta’s Cristóbal Colón.57 It is a pity that this two-volume, profusely illustrated masterpiece has not been translated into English, so that it might enjoy a larger audience, for it best synthesizes all aspects of the Discoverer’s life and work. The author felt that non-Spanish authors were too interested in the maritime aspects of Columbus’ life. “Sin las andanzas terrestres,” he wrote, “no se explican las marítimas.” Probably more than any other biographer he followed the true historian’s creed of drawing conclusions from evidence obtained by examination of sources. The chapter bibliographies are extraordinarily complete for non-English language works. One could have wished for annotations or bibliographical essays from such a critical mind, instead of occasional parenthetical comments such as “Trabajo muy superficial” or “Obra muy informativa”; and an index is sorely needed for a two-volume work of more than thirteen hundred pages.

In a book published first in France and made available in English during 1961, Marianne Mahn-Lot has described Columbus against the background of his period and through his own logs and journals.58 She has made use of original documents and recent historical research. This paperback is very well illustrated, but, while it is obviously written and published for the general reader, the scholar will carp because of incomplete documentation.

Another well-illustrated book is one for which Bradley Smith provided both text and photographs, Columbus in the New World.59 In addition to blending an accurate history of the voyages with geography past and present, it offers comments on island life today. This is a subject too often ignored by most writers and one which, judging from the popularity of the West Indies as a vacationland, might be of interest to a larger reading public.

Daniel Sargent’s Christopher Columbus is intended as an “analysis and depiction of the life and times” of the Discoverer.60 This author has presented admirable delineations of Portugal, Genoa, and Spain of the late fifteenth century and writes with skill.

Other biographies which have appeared during the past quarter century have ranged from the worse than useless to some of great merit. In 1957 there was published a handy résumé of what Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, the great Spanish scholar, said about people who have discussed Columbus, from the Discoverer himself to such nineteenth-century figures as Henry Harrisse and Roselly de Lorgues.61

Three books published since 1939 bear titles which betray an axe to be ground: Master Puzzle of History,62Mystery of Columbus,63 and The Truth About Columbus and the Discovery of America.64 These can be dismissed under the category of “conspiracy theory of history.” Even worse are works by René Marie de la Poix de Fréminville,65 who does not add very much to the story, and Mattie J. Utting, who adds absolutely nothing to the knowledge of the subject, having written the book because of his desire to tell the story in his own way and “make clear the destiny of a great discoverer, as a great example.”66 However admirable the intention, the less said about such efforts, the better.

Salvador de Madariaga opened a hornet’s nest of controversies with the publication in 194067 of his biography of Columbus, which is in a class by itself. This book rests on the hypothesis that Columbus might, have been of Sephardic (Jewish) extraction. Morison, who reviewed it harshly in the AHR,68 unfairly extends the hypothesis and states that Madariaga’s main thesis is that this racial fact “unlocked the gate to America and glory, as it now opens every mystery in Columbus’s life and character.” Morison’s review ill becomes him even though Madariaga deserved chastisement for having chosen and fitted evidence to support his preconceived thesis. In a new edition, published in 1949, Madariaga corrected a few minor errors and surveyed the works on the subject published since the first edition appeared. He reasserts his first suggestion on the origin of Columbus; in fact, he regards it as strengthened by later research. In his “Note on the second edition,” he takes issue with both Morison and another Columbus biographer, Armando Álvarez Pedroso.

Álvarez Pedroso had written “Cristóbal Colón no fué hebreo,”69 an article which was the direct result of Madariaga’s thesis. He discussed the entire question and traced it as far back as 1874. In 1944, Álvarez Pedroso wrote Cristóbal Colón, biografía del descubridor,70 a work combining a conventional though readable biography with an “analytic part” which examines the material on a number of specific points, including the question of Columbus’ birthplace. On this matter the author selects Genoa, which Madariaga did not challenge, and attacks the “converso thesis” of Madariaga. The book also contains excellent studies on the geographic and general information possessed by the Admiral. However, like all historians who venture into strange fields, the author treads on thin ice in his attempt at a psychological interpretation of Columbus.

Ramón Menéndez Pidal, in an article confirming the fact that the first modern language which Columbus wrote was Spanish, seems to agree with Madariaga if only because of the logic of Madariaga’s statements.71 This is a point which the individual reader will have to decide for himself. It should be borne in mind, however, that insofar as language is concerned acceptance of Madariaga’s thesis does not necessarily compel one to swallow the entire converso thesis.

Other controversies have also raged regarding the nationality of Columbus. In 1955 Modesto Bara, utilizing documents which presumably are the same as those long ago discredited by most scholars, claims that the Discoverer was a Galician rather than the weaver and vintner of that name who lived in Italy.72 Manuel María Martínez entered the fray in the same year (1955) to combat the thesis of Padre Tomás Barreira, S. J. that Columbus was a gallego.73

The title of Paolo Revelli’s book, Il Genovese,74 leaves no question as to which school of thought he subscribes, and the subtitle of S. G. Canoutas’ book, Christopher Columbus: A Greek Nobleman,75 gives food for thought. Or does it? The book was privately printed by the author in 1943 and would provide a good argument for the abolition of “vanity” presses.

Francis B. Steck wrote in 1947: “That he (Columbus) was a Franciscan Tertiary can no longer be doubted.”76 But Steck’s thesis relies heavily on Morison, who does doubt this point. The matter does not rest there. Two years ago the New York Times reported that Andrés Sánchez Serrano, a Roman Catholic priest in Seville, had announced not only that Columbus was Spanish but that he had been ordained a Franciscan friar. The priest added that the young monk, Columbus, left the Convent of Holy Trinity to marry and then assumed Italian nationality.77 No documentation was provided by either the Times or the priest.

Prodigious documentation for all points of view, everyone’s and anyone’s, was provided by a Spanish scholar in 1961. The late Enrique Bayerri y Bertomeu produced a bibliographic compendium which furnishes the scholar with an orderly summarization of studies concerning the problems of both Columbus’ nationality and his personality.78 It is a heavily annotated work but should be used with great care, the compiler having been rather uncritical in his choice of material.

Juan Manzano Manzano, in 1964, pointed to the importance of the years Columbus spent in Spain before 1492.79 Though the Spanish historian adds little that is new to knowledge of the life of the Discoverer, he does trace Columbus’ relationship with Beatriz Enriquez de Harana in these crucial seven years. Perhaps more gullible than he should be, Manzano seems to accept the largly discredited story of the anonymous Spanish pilot.

Far too much time and ink have been spent in a morbid, ghoulish, and in many instances, downright ridiculous controversy concerning the whereabouts of the Great Discoverer’s last remains. This is a seemingly never-ending polemic between the Dominican Republic and Spain.

In 1950 the quarrel was brought on by the discovery in the chapel of the Cartuja near Seville of bones which some Spaniards thought to be those of Columbus. Cristóbal Bermúdez Plata has given a summary of the resulting controversies in his “Los restos de Colón,”80 with an account of the transfer of Columbus’ supposed bones from Santo Domingo to Havana, and thence to Seville, where they allegedly arrived in January 1899.

Favoring Seville as the final resting place, Manuel Giménez Fernández wrote several articles during the early 1950s expounding his reasons. They are critical and unimpassioned efforts on the part of the author to reexamine an emotion-laden question. He brings out very clearly that nearly all the facts are doubtful. In 1951 he wrote that the bones could be those of Columbus, but he believed it unlikely.81 In 1954 he wrote that he did not know where the Discoverer’s bones are, but stated categorically that they are not in Seville or Santo Domingo.82 He states that the 1877 claim of the Hispaniola city rests upon an “hallazgo inventado . . . por los señores Billini y Nouel” (noted below).

The most persuasive defense of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo as the final resting place of Columbus’ remains is that of Fray Cipriano de Utrera.83 This article contains a bibliography and many textual transcriptions and is based on research at the Archivo General de Indias. A textual transcription of the letter originally written in 1878 by the Dominican publicist Carlos Nouel maintaining the authenticity of the remains at the Cathedral in Santo Domingo is contained in another article.84 Fernando Arturo Garrido wrote a documented résumé of the several conflicting theories and writings on the final resting place of Columbus’ remains in 1958.85 This author also favors the Dominican city.

While visiting Ciudad Trujillo in 1956, I was shown the great tourist attraction (the crypt, not the actual bones) by a guide who maintained that radioactive carbon tests had proved their authenticity. The guide gave the impression that possession of the last remains of the Discoverer was a great tourist industry coup, for he said not a word about the history or architecture of the Cathedral itself, except that Generalissimo Trujillo, “Benefactor of the Republic,” had donated one of the stained-glass windows.

There exists considerable monograph literature on the navigational aspects of the voyage. Some of it is highly technical and of interest only to professional sailors. Other papers have given rise to controversies, some of which have been resolved at this writing.

A German author, Heinrich Winter, wrote Die Kolumbusschiffe86 in 1944, and it is well worth the trouble to read this item on ship construction if only to renew one’s awe at the audacity of the Admiral in attempting the journey in such vessels. Useful also are the definitions by a sea captain of some 574 nautical terms found in the journal of the first voyage of Columbus.87 This author found that only canoa, hamaca, and tiburón are of New World origin. The book also contains numerous detailed diagrams.

Morison, in a paper written in 1941, gives a very clear discussion of the use that Columbus, like other practical navigators of the day, made of the polestar to determine latitude, check compass variations, and tell time at night.88 Columbus’ real merit as a navigator lay in his ability to find his way by dead reckoning; when he returned to a place, he hit it “on the nose.”

Of specialized interest to meteorologists is Charles Brooks’ account of two winter storms encountered by Columbus on his return home from the first voyage.89 Brooks finds them, as described in Columbus’ journal, much like the recorded storms of 1936 and 1937 in the same Azores region, and thinks they were not “simple circular storms, as previously thought, but disturbances marked by well-developed fronts.” Diagrammatic “interpretations” of each storm are provided.

The ocean navigation of Columbus is a subject which has been rather fully explored. J. W. McElroy, in 1940, made an effort to reconcile Columbus’ known departures and landfalls with recorded dead reckoning of the Journal.90 They conflict; yet as stated above on later voyages Columbus always arrived precisely where he intended to go. McElroy discusses contemporary methods, applies magnetic variations as of the year 1500, and finds that Columbus overestimated nine percent westward and fifteen percent eastward bound. The Admiral was not only intrepid but also consistent in his errors. Thus McElroy also would agree that for practical purposes Columbus was an excellent navigator and dead reckoner.

William H. Hobbs, a professor of geography, uses not only information about compass variations, but also arguments from the habits of pelagic birds, etc., to determine that the route of Columbus in 1492 was farther south (largely within the tropics) than that propounded by Samuel Eliot Morison.91 Morison’s article on the route of Columbus along the coast of Haiti on the first voyage is of interest chiefly because he locates the site of Navidad.92 This article is the result of a personal examination of the region, checked against Columbus’ description. Morison concludes that the site of Navidad is within a half mile of a present-day church of the fishing village of Limonade Bord-de-Mer. In spite of the failure of an archaeological excavation made in June 1939 to reveal any Columbian remains, Morison’s offered reasons seem convincing. He also shows that the only previous attempt at identification, that of Moreau de St.-Méry, was quite wide of the mark. This is a brilliant piece of historical reconstruction whose value is enhanced by excellent maps.

Morison published a short book on the second voyage of Columbus (which was from Cádiz to Hispaniola and resulted in the discovery of the Lesser Antilles) in 1939.93 A Cuban, Filiberto Ramírez Corría, after cruising along the south coast of his native land, found that it did not fit the account of Columbus’ second voyage as given by Andrés Bernáldez, which is a major source for the Cuban part of that voyage.94 Further study has now made Ramírez Corría doubt that Bernáldez ever lived, much less wrote a history. This argument must be settled by experts and not in this paper. However, there does seem to be a problem which should be further investigated.

P. Verhoog, another sea captain possessing an interest in Columbus questions, claims that San Salvador is present day Caicos, not Watling Island as is usually supposed.95 In 1958, Edwin and Marion Link wrote a paper which suggested that Columbus had in fact landed on the Grand Caicos.96 As a result, Mrs. Ruth Wolper, who has been a resident of Watling and who has had a long interest in the history of the island, decided on some field tests to confirm the theory that Watling was indeed the landing place of Columbus, as Morison had concluded in his Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Her tests centered on the light which was supposed to have been seen from the Santa María at about ten o’clock on the night before the landfall. Morison had concluded that the light must have been a hallucination; the Links suggested that it might have been on the northern tip of Turks Island, four hours’ sailing time from the beaches of Grand Caicos. In her tests, made in 1959, and in subsequent researches, the results of which were published on September 11, 1964, Mrs. Wolper convincingly argues that the landfall was near High Cay and that this island is the Guanahaní-San Salvador, where Columbus first landed in the New World.97

The most recent Columbus book is bound to be also one of the most controversial. The University of California Press graciously sent me the galley sheets of Carl Ortwin Sauer’s forthcoming The Early Spanish Main,98 an absorbing history of the exploration, conquest, and settlement of the Caribbean area from 1492 to 1519. Sauer depicts the Spanish Main as having been “the scene and subject of a tragedy that was played in three acts in classical manner,” with Columbus as the central figure of the first act. Insofar as it concerns the Discoverer, the book is an iconoclastic synthesis relying heavily upon Peter Martyr, Las Casas, and Ferdinand’s Historie. Columbus is depicted as a man who was “wholly concerned with temporal benefits,” who believed what he wanted to believe, and who was obsessed by a search for gold, and not a search for a strait of the sea which might have led to China. Like the Bourbon kings three centuries later, “Columbus had forgotten nothing and learned little.” Upon his head the author heaps the blame for the nefarious traffic in Caribs: “From the beginning Columbus had the slave trade in mind.” Sauer writes freely of the intransigence and the administrative inability of Columbus. Most definitely, this is not an admiring portrait. Nevertheless, the account is valuable, for the author excels in his geographical descriptions and in his discussion of the mores of the Indians. He does not pretend to have written the last word on the subject but like any good scholar points up the need for further field study investigations.

It is quite likely that the stream of Columbus publications will continue to flow unceasingly.


Charles E. Nowell, “The Columbus Question: A Survey of Recent Literature and Present Opinion,” American Historical Review, XLIV (July 1939), 802-822.


Donald H. Mugridge, Christopher Columbus: A Selected List of Books and Articles by American Authors or Published in America, 1892-1950 (Washington, 1950).


Citta di Genova, Commissione Colombiana, Cristoforo Colombo: Documenti e prove della sua appartenza (Bergamo, 1931).


Fernando Colón, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand (New Brunswick, N. J., 1959).


Otto Schoenrich (ed.), The Legacy of Christopher Columbus: The Historic Litigations Involving His Discoveries, His Will, His Family, and His Descendants (2 vols., Glendale, Calif., 1949-1950).


Alejandro Cioraneseu, Primera biografía de C. Colón: Fernando Colón y Bartolomé de Las Casas (Tenerife, 1960).


Christopher Columbus, The Journal of Christopher Columbus (New York, 1960).


Samuel Eliot Morison, “Texts and Translations of the Journal of Columbus’s First Voyage,” HAHR, XIX (August 1939), 261.


Morison, American. Historical Review, LXVI (July 1961), 1109.


Morison (ed. and trans.), Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (New York, 1963).


Morison, “Texts and Translations,” 235-261.


Columbus, Four Voyages to the New World (New York, 1961).


Bartolomé de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, (México, 1951).


Décadas del nuevo mundo. Vertidas del latín á la lengua castellana por el Dr. D. Joaquín Torres Asensio (Buenos Aires, 1944).


Leonardo Olschki, “What Columbus Saw on Landing in the West Indies,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, LXXXIV (July 1941), 633-659.


Olschki, “Hernán Pérez de Oliva’s ‘Ystoria de Colón,’ ” HAHR, XXIII (May 1943), 165-196.


Alicia B. Gould y Quincy, “Nueva lista documentada de los tripulantes de Colón en 1492,” Real Academia de la Historia, Boletín XCIV-CXV (1924-1944).


D. L. Molinari, El nacimiento del nuevo mundo, 1492-1534, historia y cartografía (Buenos Aires, 1941).


Marcel Bataillon, “Historiografía oficial de Colón, de Pedro Martir a Oviedo y Gómara,” Imago Mundi (Buenos Aires), 1:5 (September 1954), 23.


Henry R. Wagner, “Marco Polo’s Narrative Becomes Propaganda to Inspire Colón,” Imago Mundi, VI (1949), 3.


Pedro de Leturia, “Ideales político-religiosos de Colón en su carta institucional del ‘mayorazgo’: 1498,” Revista de Indias (Madrid), año 11, no. 46 (October-December 1951), 679-704.


Daniel Olmedo, “La primera evangelización de América, 1492-1504,” Ábside, 17:1 (January-March 1953), 35.


William B. Goodwin, The Lure of Gold: Being the Story of the Five Lost Ships of Christopher Columbus (Boston, 1940).


Morison, “The Route of Columbus Along the North Coast of Haiti, and the Site of Navidad,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, XXXI, part iv (December 1940), 239-285.


Jorge A. Lines (ed.), Colección de documentos para la historia de Costa Rica relativos al cuarto y último viaje de Cristóbal Colón (San José, 1952).


William J. Wilson, “The Historicity of the 1494 Discovery of South America,” HAHR, XXII (February 1942), 193-205.


Wilson, A Narrative of the Discovery of Venezuela (1494?), in the Thacher Manuscript on Columbus and Early Portuguese Navigations (Washington, 1940; also, New York, 1941).


Wilson, “The Spanish Discovery of the South American Mainland,” Geographical Review, XXXI (April 1941), 283.


Wilson, “The Textual Relations of the Thacher Manuscript on Columbus and Early Portuguese Navigations,” Bibliographical Society of America, Papers, XXXIV (July 1940), 199.


Nowell, “Reservations Regarding the Historicity of the 1494 Discovery of South America,” HAHR, XXII (February 1942), 205-210.


Armando Cortesão, The Nautical Chart of 1424 and the Early Discovery and Cartographical Representation of America (Coimbra, 1954).


Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Ultima Thule: Further Mysteries of the Arctic (New York, 1940).


Albert B. Donworth, Why Columbus Sailed (New York, 1953).


Charles M. Boland, They All Discovered America (Garden City, N. Y., 1961).


Frederick J. Pohl, Atlantic Crossings Before Columbus (New York, 1961).


R. A. Skelton, Thomas E. Marston, and George D. Painter, The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation (New Haven, 1965). For news stories, see the New York Times, October 11, 12, 13, and 15, 1965. For a review by Morison, see New York Times Book Review, November 7, 1965, 7, 92.


Pierce G. Fredericks, “Who Discovered America? New Evidence,” New York Times, October 17, 1965, IV, 4.


Morison, “The Earliest Colonial Policy Toward America: That of Columbus,” Bulletin of the Pan American Union, Vol. 76, no. 10 (October 1942), 543.


Juan Pérez de Tudela Bueso, “La quiebra de la factoría y el nuevo poblamiento de la Española,” Revista de Indias, 15:60 (April-June 1955), 197-252.


Alfonso García Gallo, “Los Virreinatos americanos bajo los Reyes Católicos. Planteamiento para su estudio,” Revista de estudios políticos (Madrid), 12:65 (September-October 1952), 189.


Sigfrido A. Radaelli, “La institución virreinal en las Indias. Antecedentes históricos,” Revista de Indias, 14:55-56 (January-June 1954), 37-56.


Rafael Nieto y Cortadellas, Los descendientes de Cristóbal Colón. Obra genealógica (Habana, 1952).


Emilio Rodríguez Demorizi, Familias hispanoamericanas, vol. 1 (Ciudad Trujillo, 1959).


Schoenrich, Legacy.


Columbus, Libro de los privilegios del almirante Don Cristóbal Colón (Madrid, 1951).




Rodolfo Barón Castro, “The Discovery of America and the Geographical and Historical Integration of the World,” Cahiers d’histoire mondiale (Neuchatel), 6:4 (1961), 809-832.


Edmundo O’Gorman, La idea del descubrimiento de América: historia de esa interpretación y crítica de sus fundamentos (México, 1951).


O’Gorman, La invención de América. El universalismo de la cultura del Occidente (México, 1958).


O’Gorman, The Invention of America: An Inquiry into the Historical Nature of the New World and the Meaning of its History (Bloomington, 1961).


Anthony Tudisco, “América en la literatura española del siglo XVIII,” Anuario de Estudios Americanos (Sevilla), 11 (1954), 565-585.


Nowell, “The Columbus Question,” 822.


Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (2 vols., Boston, 1942).


Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston, 1942).


Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner (Boston, 1955; also New York, 1956).


Morison and Mauricio Obregón, The Caribbean as Columbus Saw It (Boston, 1964).


Antonio Ballesteros y Beretta, Cristóbal Colón y el descubrimiento de América (Barcelona-Buenos Aires, 1945).


Marianne Mahn-Lot, Columbus (New York, 1961).


Bradley Smith, Columbus in the New World (Garden City, N. Y., 1962).


Daniel Sargent, Christopher Columbus (Milwaukee, 1941).


José Antonio Calderón Quijano, Colón, sus cronistas e historiadores en Menéndez Pelayo (Seville, 1957).


Eleanor Hinman, The Master Puzzle of History (New York, 1948).


Jennings C. Wise, The Mystery of Columbus (Charlottesville, 1946).


Charles Duff, The Truth About Columbus and the Discovery of America (London, 1936).


René-Marie de la Poix de Fréminville, Christopher Columbus (London, 1958).


Mattie J. Utting, Christopher Columbus, The Discoverer (Boston, 1944).


Salvador de Madariaga, Christopher Columbus: Being the Life of the Very Magnificent Lord Don Cristóbal Colón (New York, 1940; new edition, London, 1949). For the viewpoint of a noted Judaica scholar see Cecil Roth, “Who Was Columbus?” Menorah Journal, XVIII (October-December 1940).


Morison, AHE, XLV (April 1940), 653-655.


Armando Álvarez Pedroso, “Cristóbal Colón no fué hebreo,” Eevista de historia de América, no. 15 (December 1942), 261-283.


Álvarez Pedroso, Cristóbal Colón, biografía del descubridor (Habana, 1944).


Ramón Menéndez Pidal, “La Lengua de Cristóbal Colón,” Bulletin hispanique, XLII (1940), 1-28.


Modesto Bara, “La patria de Colón,” Mundo hispánico (Madrid), 8:91 (October 1955), 11.


Manuel María Martínez, “Fray Bartolomé de las Casas y la patria de Colón,” Revista de Indias (Madrid), 15:61-62 (July-Deeember 1955), 555-567.


Paolo Revelli, Il Genovese (Genoa, 1951).


Seraphim G. Canoutas, Christopher Columbus: A Greek Nobleman (New York, 1943).


Francis Borgia Steck, “Christopher Columbus and the Franciscans,” The Americas, III (January 1947), 319-341.


“Seville Priest Says Columbus Was Once Franciscan Monk,” New York Times, November 4, 1964.


Enrique Bayerri y Bertomeu, Colón tal cual fué (Barcelona, 1961).


Juan Manzano Manzano, Cristóbal Colón. Siete años decisivos de su vida, 1485-1492 (Madrid, 1964).


Cristóbal Bermúdez Plata, “Los restos de Colón,” Anuario de Estudios Americanos (Seville), VIII, (1951), 1-11.


Manuel Giménez Fernández, “Sevilla y los restos de Cristóbal Colón,” Anales de la Universidad Hispalense (Seville), 12:1 (1951), 73.


Giménez Fernández, Dos ensayos polémicos sobre los restos de Cristóbal Colón. Sevilla y los restos de Cristóbal Colón y los restos de Colón en Sevilla (Seville, 1954).


Fray Cipriano de Utrera, “Los restos de Colón,” El Faro a Colón (Ciudad Trujillo), 9:20 (January-April 1958), 7. Also: Clío (Ciudad Trujillo), 25:110 (April-June 1957).


Carlos Nouel, “Carta del señor don Carlos Nouel,” El Faro a Colón, 10:24 (May-August 1959), 141.


Fernando Arturo Garrido, “Vicisitudes del muerto inmortal,” El Faro a Colón, 9:20 (January-April 1958), 81.


Heinrich Winter, Die Kolumbusschiffe (Magdeburg, 1944).


Julio F. Guillen y Tato, La parla marinera en el diario del primer viaje de Cristóbal Colón (Madrid, 1951).


Morison, “Colón y la Polar,” Anuario de historia (Buenos Aires, 1941). Also: “Columbus and Polaris,” American Neptune, I (January 1941), 6 and (April 1941), 123.


Charles F. Brooks, "Two Winter Storms Encountered by Columbus in 1493 Near the Azores,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, XXII (October 1941), 303-309.


John W. McElroy, “The Ocean Navigation of Columbus on His First Voyage,” American Neptune, I (Judy 1940), 209.


William H. Hobbs, “The Track of the Columbus Caravels in 1492,” HAHR, XXX (February 1950), 63-73.


See note 24 above.


Morison, The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus from Cádiz to Hispaniola and the Discovery of the Lesser Antilles (Oxford, 1939).


Filiberto Ramírez Corría, Reconstrucción crítica del segundo viaje cubano de Colón. La ficción colombina del Cura de los Palacios (Habana, 1955).


P. Verhoog, “Columbus Landed on Caicos,” United States Naval Institute Proceedings, 80:10 (October 1954), 1101. Also, by the same author, Guanahant Again (Amsterdam, 1947).


Edwin A. and Marion C. Link, A New Theory on Columbus’s Voyage Through the Bahamas, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. 135, no. 4 (Washington, 1958).


Ruth G. D. Wolper, A New Theory Identifying the Locale of Columbus’s Light, Landfall, and Landing, Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, vol. 148, no. 1 (Washington, 1964).


Carl O. Sauer, The Early Spanish Main (Berkeley, 1966).

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at Fairleigh Dickinson University.