Cristopher Colombus was a monster, even by the standards of his time

Jaclyn Foster

  · I know this is a controversial position to take, but I believe Columbus should be judged by the standards of his time.

As a student of history, I am keenly aware of the presentist distortions that can come from imposing our own modern-day values on historical figures without considering the context in which they lived.

So how was Columbus judged in his time?

A Catholic priest, Bartolomé de las Casas, was horrified by Columbus’ invasion of Hispaniola, which included rape, murder, slavery, torture, sex trafficking prepubescent girls, and feeding babies to dogs in front of their parents. He wrote to Spain condemning Columbus’ actions in the strongest possible terms.

When word of Columbus’ actions reached a Spanish court official, Francisco de Bobadilla, he had Columbus arrested and shipped back to Spain in irons. While de Bobadilla’s reaction was based on part on his own ambitions, the Crown of Ferdinand and Isabella found cause to strip Columbus of his governorship based on the reports of his cruelty.

None of Columbus’ contemporary critics were unusually good people. De Las Casas was a proponent of African slavery; de Bobadilla colonized Hispaniola after Columbus was deposed; Ferdinand and Isabella instituted the Spanish Inquisition. They, like Columbus, were products of their time — and each of them felt he had crossed a line, in one way or another, during his time in the Americas.

That’s how Columbus was judged according to the standards of his time.

I don’t know what the equivalent of “shipped off in irons and ignominiously demoted” is in today’s world, but I’m sure as hell it isn’t “celebrate a holiday named after him”.

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