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Exploring America: Christopher Columbus

Tuesday, October 13, 2015, 10:00am

collage columbus

The Columbus exhibition continues the "Pages from Pequot" series from Pequot Library's Special Collections and will run from Tuesday, October 13 2015 - Friday, January 15, 2016. It is open during normal library hours.

Opening Reception on Saturday, November 7, 2015, 5pm-7pm.

Pages from Pequot: Exploring Columbus features material from Pequot Library’s Special Collections. On view are rare books about Christopher Columbus and his expeditions including a facsimile of a letter he wrote about his journey in 1492. The original is in the Pequot Library Collection at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

A selection of materials on display at Pequot Library:

  • Letter of Christopher Columbus to Rafael Sanchez: written on board the Caravel while returning from his first voyage, published at Barcelona, May, 1493. Facsimile of the First Publication concerning America
  • Vision of Columbus: A Poem in Nine Books, by Joel Barlow, Hartford:  Hudson and Goodwin, 1787
  • Memorials of Columbus: A collection of Authentic documents of that Celebrated Navigator by Giovanni Batista Spototno, 1823
  • Columbus: His Life and Voyages, by Washington Irving, New York:  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896

christopher columbus signatureFrom: Letter on the First Voyage, The Second Printed Letter: Rome 1493, written by Christopher Columbus on February 15, 1493 on board the caravel Niña at sea with postscript written March 14 when Columbus arrived back in port at Lisbon, Portugal. This letter addressed to the monarchs of Spain described Columbus’ discoveries and was a narrative of his voyage. From the Pequot Library Collection.

. . . ”yet when they perceive that they are safe, putting aside all fear, they are of simple manners and trustworthy, and very liberal with everything they have, refusing no one who asks for anything they may possess, and even themselves inviting us to ask for things. They show greater love for all others than for themselves . . .”
- Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus’ signature, shown here, is a combination of Byzantine-Greek and Latin

Columbus6The exact location of Christopher Columbus’ island landfall in the Bahamas is disputed and there are opposing views on his legacy, but Columbus has long been hailed as the discover of the New World and as a brilliant navigator.

Although the North American land mass had been inhabited for thousands of years, the Vikings from Scandinavia were the first Europeans to arrive, five centuries before Columbus made landfall in 1492. However it is Columbus’ explorations that opened the way for the European colonization of the continent, and ushered in the modern age, changing the world forever by an exchange of plants and animals, of human beings and diseases, and of culture. Ultimately Columbus’ discovery led to the nearly complete destruction of the inhabitants of those lands.

During the 15th century a new class of merchants, ship-builders, and tradesmen lived in and around Europe's old medieval towns. This group allied itself with European monarchs and is perhaps best exemplified by the career of Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa, Italy in 1451, the son of a weaver.

Columbus first went to sea as a teenager on trading voyages in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. The Greek island of Khios is the closest Columbus came to Asia. His first voyage into the Atlantic Ocean in 1476 nearly cost him his life, as the commercial fleet he was sailing with was attacked by French privateers. Columbus then made his way to Portugal where he settled in Lisbon and married. He had one son. Columbus’s wife died soon after, and he moved to Spain, where he had a second son, this time out of wedlock.  

Columbus participated in several expeditions to Africa gaining knowledge of the Atlantic currents flowing east and west from the Canary Islands. Muslim domination of the trade routes through the Middle East made travel to India and China difficult. Believing sailing west across the Atlantic would be quicker and safer, Columbus devised a plan.  Eventually Columbus achieved sponsorship from Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.  Columbus left Spain on August 3, 1492, with three caravels—the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Niña. Columbus sailed the Santa Maria with 52 men aboard, while the Pinta and the Niña were crewed by eighteen each. On October 12, Rodrigo de Triana on the Pinta made the first sighting of land, corroborated by the ship’s captain Martin Alonso Pinzon. Later Columbus claimed the sighting and the lifetime pension established by the Catholic monarchs.  

At the time of Christopher Columbus celestial navigation was being developed by the Portuguese. Before its development, sailors navigated by dead reckoning, a method that finds position by measuring the course and distance from a known point. Columbus was considered a masterful navigator who used trade winds, currents and tides to his advantage. He is known as the first sailor to keep a log and he experimented with celestial navigation.

Though Christopher Columbus died on May 20, 1506, the routes he took across the Atlantic are ones still used today.

Save the date for Saturday, December 5, 2015 at 5:00pm when Pequot’s own Columbus letter comes home for a visit after being loaned to Yale University for over 60 years. George Miles, William Robertson Coe Curator, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, will show the letter and speak about its importance.

This exhibition is made possible by the Constance C. Baker Rare Book Endowment Fund, the Town of Fairfield, and the Friends of Pequot Library.

Location : Rare Book Cases in Reading Room and The Perkin Gallery
Contact : (203) 259-0346 ext. 15