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THE continent of America was probably unknown to ine ancients. If once known, as some have supposed, to the Carthaginians, the Scandinavians, and the Welsh, all knowledge of it was afterwards lost. The discovery of this extensive region, constituting nearly one half of the habitable globe, was the accidental result of the attempts, made in the fifteenth century, to find a passage, by sea, from the ports of Europe to the East Indies, whose precious commodities were then transported, over land, by a long, dangerous, and expensive route.
2. This passage was universally sought by sailing south, along the western coasts of Europe and Africa, in the hope of finding the termination of the continent, when the Indies, it was supposed, might be attained, by taking at first an easterly and then a northerly course. The discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, in 1487, encouraged expectation, and gave increased activity to the spirit of adventure.
3. Among the navigators of that age, Christopher Columbus, a native of the republic of Genoa, was distinguished for experience and skill in his profession, for extensive knowledge, and for a bold and original genius. The shape of the earth, then known to be round, and the fact that pieces of carved wood, a canoe, and two human bodies, of a complexion different from that of Europeans, had been driven, by long westerly winds, upon the shores of islands contiguous to Europe,
suggested to his observing mind the project of seeking the East Indies by sailing directly west.
::::: 4. Unable to defråy the expenses of an expedition, he sought first the assistance of his mtiye city. His countrymen, accustomed only to cruising, in-farvessels, along the shores of the continent, treated the project as chimerical, and declined furnishing aid. A pressing application to the king of Portugal, in whose dominions he had resided, met likevise with ridicule and rejection. Persevering in his purpose, he then sent his brother, Bartholomew, to England, to apply to Henry VII, and went himself to Spain, which was then governed by Ferdinand and Isabella, from whom he solicited assistance.
5. For a long time he solicited in vain. At length the queen, persuaded by his representations, became his friend and patron. By her, direction, three small vessels were fitted out, and he was authorised to sail with these upon his projected voyage of discovery: On the third of August, 1492, he departed from Palos, in Spain, directing his course towards the Canary islands.
6. He stopped there to refit, and, on the sixth of September, boldly adventured into seas which no vessel had yet entered, with no chart to direct him, no guide but his compass, and without any knowledge of the tides or currents which might interrupt his course. He moved rapidly before the trade wind, which blows invariably from the east to the west between the tropics, judiciously concealing from his ignorant and timid crewe the progress he made, lest they might be alarmed at the speed with which they receded from home.
7. About the fourteenth of September, he was distant nearly six hundred miles from the most westerly of the Canaries, and here the magnetic needle was observed to vary from its direction to the polar star, and incline towards the west ; an appearance which, although now familiar, had never before been observed.
8. Columbus and his companions were alarmed. They were far from land, and far from the tracks of other navigators. All before and around them was unknown, and their only guide seemed to be no longer entitled to their confidence. But although alarmed, Columbus lost not his prósence of mind. He assigned a reason for the variation, which, without satisfying himself, silenced the numurs of his companions.
9. But the interval of quiet and subordination was short. Disaffection soon reappeared among the ignorant and wavering, and, gradually spreading, at length pervaded the whole squadron. The men blamed their sovereign for listening to the schemes of a dreaming adventurer. The indications of land had all proved fallacious. They would be amused and deceived no longer.
They agreed that Columbus should be forced to relinquish an undertaking which seemed to promise nothing bat destruction ; and some of the more daring talked.of throwing Kita into the sea, as a visionary projector, whose death would cause no regret, and produce no inquiry.
10. Amidst these difficulties, Columbus displayed those traits of character which proved the greatness of his mind, and his peculiar fitness for the arduous duties of his station. He appeared with a steady and cheerful countenance, as if satisfied with what he had done. Sometimes he suothed his companions by holding out to them a prospect of riches and of fame, and by offering a gratuity to him who should first discover land. Sometimes he assumed a tone of authority, threatening them with the vengeance of their sovereign, and everlasting infamy, should they compel him to abandon the undertaking. 11. These encouragements and threats prevented open
and forcible resistance to his authority. Meanwhile the squadron proceeded onward ; the indications of land had become frequent, and convinced him that it could not be far distant. But his crew were unconvinced, and their discontent increased. Assembling tumultuously on deck, they demanded to be conducted back to Spain. As a last expedient, he proposed that they should continue on their course three days longer, and if, in that time, land should not be discovered, he would then comply with their demand.
12. They consented. Before the time expired, Columbus, on the 11th of October, at midnight, saw a light glimmering at a distance. “ A light! a light !" was the joyful exclamation, which instantly resounded through the squadron. On the approach of morning, all hands stood gazing intently in the direction where land, it was expected, would be discovered.
13. Soon, on board the Pinta, the most forward vessel, was heard the cry of “ Land! land !" which was repeated, with almost frantic delight, by the crews of the other vessels. Passing from one extreme to the other, they, who à few days before had reviled and insulted their commander, now regarded him as one whom the Deity had endowed with knowledge and penetration above the common lot of mortals.
14. At sunrise, Columbus, in a rich and splendid dress, landed, and, with a drawn sword in his hand, and displaying the royal standard, took possession of the island for the crown of Spain, all his followers kneeling on the shore and kissing the ground with tears of joy. The natives, who had assembled in
great numbers or the first appearance of the ships, stood around the Spaniards:gazing in speechless astonishment.
15.. The Europeans were hardly less amazed at the scene before them. Every herb, and shrub, and tree was different from those which flourished in Europe. The inhabitants appeared in the simple innocence of nature, entirely naked. Their black hair, long and uncurled, floated upon their shoulders or was bound in tresses around their heads. Though not tall, they were well shaped and active. They were shy at first, through fear, but soon became familiar with the Spaniards ; from whom, with transports of joy, they received various trinkets, for which in return they gave such provisions as they had, and some cotton yarn, the only commodity of value they could produce.”
16. To this island Columbus gave the name of San Salvador. The natives called it Guanahani, and by that name it is now known. It is one of the Bahama isles, and is above three thousand miles from Gomera, the most western of the Canaries. From the poverty and ignorance of the inhabitants, Columbus was convinced that he had not yet arrived at the rich country which was the object of his search. Leaving Guanahani, he discovered and visited several other islands, and at length arrived at one called Hayti, by the natives, and by him, Hispaniola. Here he remained a few weeks, and then returned to Spain.
17. The news of his wonderful discovery filled the kingdom with astonishment and joy. His reception at court was accompanied by flattering and splendid ceremonies ordained for the occasion; and he was honored by many proofs of royal favor. He made three subsequent voyages, and, in 1498, discovered the continent of America, at the mouth of the Oronoco, a river of the third or fourth magnitude in the New World, but far surpassing the largest in the Old.
18. The honor, however, of first discovering the continent, must, without diminishing the merit of Columbus, be given to John Cabot and his son Sebastian. They were Venetians by birth, but, soon after the result of the first voyage of Columbus was known, were sent, by the king of England, on an expedition of discovery, in the same direction. In June, 1497, they ar. rived at the island of Newfoundland, in North America, and, proceeding westward, soon after reached the continent. It being their object also to find a direct passage to the East Indies, they first sailed northwardly in search of it, as far as the 57th degree of latitude ; then, returning, cruised along the coast to East Florida ; and thence sailed to England without having