European Exploration of America

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Why is Christopher Columbus important to history?

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Christopher Columbus has vital historical importance as the person who initiated the European colonization of North and South America. After receiving rejections of financing from Portugal, Genoa, Venice, and England, Columbus finally received sponsorship from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Columbus's intention was to sail westward to reach Asia, not realizing that the continents of North and South America were in the way.

He never actually landed on mainland North America. In all, he made four voyages to the New World. The first voyage—with three ships: the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria—landed in 1492 on an island in the Bahamas that Columbus named San Salvador. He then went on to explore part of the coastlines of what is now Cuba and the Dominican Republic. On subsequent voyages, Columbus visited more islands in the Caribbean and also discovered mainland South America, landing at the mouth of the Orinoco River in Venezuela.

After Columbus's initial discoveries, the nations of England, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands all sailed westward to stake their claims to the New World. Trading and settlement efforts began which eventually resulted in the colonization of North and South America. Columbus has been revered for centuries as the discoverer and pioneer of the New World, but modern historians also point out his brutality in the widespread enslavement, torture, and massacre of Native Americans as well as his harsh treatment of Spanish colonists under his governorship.

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