Discovering America



Since Columbus Day was this week (though some of us decided to celebrate it as Indigenous Peoples Day), I have been thinking about the actual history and why we should not be celebrating him discovering America (other than he was a horrible person in how he treated the natives, but that is a whole another article.) He never landed on the continent that would later be North America, and thought he had landed near Asia.

The Vikings were the first one to discover and land in America. In 999 AD Lief Erikson was blown off course while on route to Greenland, when he discovered America. He is believed to have landed in what is now modern day Newfoundland. Though according to a literal translation of “Voyages to Vinland” (a collection of Viking Sagas) Bjarni Herjólfsson may have the been the first Viking to sight America while also being blown off course on his way to Greenland. Also mentioned in the Sagas Leif rescued two wrecked crewmen when had landed in America. Leif would later launch an expedition to return and set up the colony of Vinland. While there is some dispute to the actual location of Vinland, there is evidence of the Vikings landing in Newfoundland.

Almost 500 years later Columbus sets out on an expedition to find a way to India. He first set land on an island in what is now The Bahamas, and named it San Salvador. Other lands he discovered Cuba, Hispaniola, Haiti. On his second voyage he left to establish colonies on these islands and later discovered Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and several islands in the Lesser Antilles. Although he never landed in North America he did land in South America, albeit briefly. He refused to believe that what he found wasn’t apart of Asia, even with the mounting evidence to the contrary.

The first contemporary of Columbus to realize what was found was not a part of Asia and a “New World” was Amerigo Vaspucci. He participated in several voyages between 1499 and 1502 as an observer. He discovered South America was much larger than he though. In two letters published in his life time, he mentioned in realization that there were two new continents and not a part of Asia. In 1507 the new continents were named after him using the Latin version of his name.

If anything we should be either celebrating Erikson or Vaspucci, while they probably not perfect, they aren’t tainted with the atrocities that Columbus is and they actually DISCOVERED America. Even then they weren’t the real discovers of America. The natives of North America and South America and the surrounding islands came here thousands of years before any European set foot on American soil.