History of Columbus Day: Or is it Indigenous Peoples Day?

Bill Petro
5 min readOct 12, 2020

The man who sailed from Spain to discover America was neither Spanish nor actually discovered America. But it was true that:

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue


He was actually Italian, born in 1451 to a wool merchant in Genoa, and first went to sea in his youth. He sailed to Iceland and Guinea for business and later spent some time as a privateer. It was in 1484, the year after Martin Luther was born in Germany, that Christopher Columbus presented to King John of Portugal the idea of an “Enterprise of the Indies” (no relation to Star Trek’s starship) where he would sail west to the East Indies, thinking it shorter than the eastern spice trade route.

After unsuccessful appeals to the kings of Portugal, England, and France, he eventually moved to Spain whereupon his fourth request; he secured the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. You know them as the parents of Queen Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII of England, and grandparents of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who presided over the trial of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms.

Voyages of Christopher Columbus

Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain, with three ships on August 3 and arrived not in the East Indies, but in the Bahamas on October 12 of 1492, where he named the locals “Indians.” He sailed on to the islands of Cuba and Haiti, thinking he’d reached the islands of the East Indies.

Contrary to popular belief, Columbus was not alone among 15th century Europeans in thinking that the world was round, but he did vastly underestimate Earth’s circumference.


He returned with captives and gold to a hero’s welcome in Spain, which subsequently enjoyed its Golden Age of exploration. Columbus made three more voyages to the New World, including the Caribbean and South America, but never saw the North American continent.

So did he discover America? Perhaps, if you neglect the indigenous people already living there or the Vikings who had visited pre-Columbian America 500 years earlier. But his journeys did result in the first European colonies in the New World of a…

Bill Petro

Writer, technologist, historian. Former Silicon Valley tech exec. Author of fascinating articles on history, tech, pop culture, & travel. https://billpetro.com