Great Men in History: A Timeline of Christopher Columbus


In his lifetime, Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. His goals were to discover new water routes to Asia for commercial purposes and to fully map the waters of the Atlantic. For Europeans, his trips revealed and highlighted isolated lands and cultures, finally bridging the East and West. This mariner and mapmaker landed on the shores of the Americas after seeking to find the east coast of Asia and mistakenly believing he had found the East Indies. Columbus is thus credited with“discovering the New World.”

The Early Years (1451-1492)

1451 – Cristoforo Colombo, also known as Christopher Columbus, is born to Susanna and Domenico Columbus reportedly in the fall of 1451 in the Italian town of Genoa. Historians place his birthday between August and October. The birth year, although widely accepted as 1451, is also questionable. Some scholars suggest Columbus could have been born anytime between 1435 and 1460.

1451 to 1465 – Columbus is raised in a working-class home, the child of a fabric weaver who specializes in making wool goods. He is the first born of what would be five Columbus children, including his younger brothers Giovanni, Diego and Bartholomew, who later sailed with him. His sister was named Bianchineta. Reports suggest Columbus accompanied his dad, the weaver, to various coastlines to buy and sell merchandise.

1465 – Columbus leaves grade school, having studied math and Latin in a monastery. Reports describe him as semi-illiterate. Other details of his childhood are not known.

1465 to 1469 – Columbus spends time sailing in the Mediterranean as a teenager. Not many details are known.

1471 – Columbus, who is presently working in the textile industry like a father, makes his first known voyage – a short trip to Tunis.
By this time, he is a jack-of-all trades, selling books, sailing, and drawing maps in addition to weaving.

1474 – Columbus sails to the island of Chios along in the company of two fleets. Some reports suggest this trip may have occurred in 1475, in September.

1476 – Columbus sails to Portugal to establish a new home. While sailing there, he survives a shipwreck and has to swim ashore. He lives in Portugal for roughly 10 years as a trader and sailor.

1477 – Columbus sails to Iceland.

1478 – Columbus sails to the Madeira Islands, reportedly conducting affairs as a sugar merchant.

1479 – Columbus marries Doña Felipa Perestrello e Moniz, a woman from a wealth and well-connected family in Spain. Her family reportedly gives Columbus a trove of maps and information about sailing in the Atlantic.

1480 - Columbus and Doña, his wife, celebrate the birth of their first child, Diego, born in the Madeira Islands.

1482 – Columbus sails to Africa’s Gold Coast.

1484 - Columbus asks King John II of Portugal to fund his efforts to find a new westward route to Asia. He King rejects his request, thinking the plan was unrealistic.

1485 – Columbus’ Wife Doña Felipa dies, reportedly of tuberculosis. Later in 1485, Columbus moves his residency to Cabo De Palos in Spain.

1486 – Columbus first meets Isabella, the Queen of Spain, and begins tells her about his desire to find a way to travel west and arrive in Asia.

1488 - The mistress of Columbus, Beatriz Enríquez de Arana, gives birth to Fernando, Christopher Columbus’s second son.

1492 – Columbus persuades King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to fund his westward voyage to the east coast of Asia. In April, they sign a contract. 
The queen buys Columbus three ships: the famed Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

The First Voyage (1492-1493)

1492 - Himself sailing aboard the Santa Maria, Columbus leaves Spain on August 3 and begins his long-desired voyage across the Atlantic.

  • On August 6, the Pinta has trouble with its rudder.
  • On August 24, Columbus’ three ships arrive in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. They remain on the islands until September 8.
  • On September 10, Columbus’ crew begins to panic because they can see no evidence of land ahead of them.
  • On September 18, the sailors traveling with Columbus urge him to turn back.
  • On October 12, the ships pass the small islands of San Salvador.
  • On December 6, the triad of ships arrives in Hispaniola in the Caribbean.
  • On December 24, the Santa Maria is destroyed after hitting a reef.

1493 – In January, Columbus’ crew trade wares with the natives of the Caribbean who come to their ship.

  • On January 16, Columbus leaves the Caribbean to return to Spain, now aboard the Nina.

The Second Voyage (1493-1496)

1493 -In September, Columbus sets sail from the Gulf of Cádiz westward with a crew of 1,500 people aboard 17 ships.

  • On October 13, the sails again after a brief stop in the Canary Islands.
  • On November 22, the fleet arrives at the colony Columbus previously established in Hispaniola. 
  • On December 8, Columbus establishes another colony named after the queen: La Isabela.

1494 -On April 24, Columbus and his fleet leave the colony to continue their trans-Atlantic voyage.

  • On April 30, the fleet lands in Cuba.
  • On May 5, the fleet lands in Jamaica.
  • In June, Columbus returns to govern the colony in Hispaniola.

1495 – On March 10, Columbus leaves the colony to go back to Spain.

1496 – The fleet arrives in Portugal.

The Third Voyage (1498-1500)

1498 - On May 30, Columbus and his new fleet of six ships set sail from Sanlucar in Spain.

  • On June 19, Columbus arrives at Gomera in the Canary Islands. From there, half of his fleet travels to Hispaniola. Columbus and the rest of the ships sail for Cape Verde Islands.
  • On July 4, Columbus and crew leave the Cape Verde Islands.
  • On July 31, Columbus lands in Trinidad.
  • By mid-August, Columbus decides to return to his governorship in Hispaniola. 

1500 – On August 23, Columbus is arrested for allegedly torturing the native people living in his colony. He is chained, and returned to Spain.

The Fourth Voyage (1502-1506)

1502 - On May 11, with four ships, Columbus sets sail from Spain.

  • On June 29, Columbus lands in Hispaniola.
  • On July 30, Columbus arrives in Nicaragua.

1503 - In January, Columbus establishes a fort in Rio Belen. It is soon attacked by natives, prompting a decision to return to Spain.

  • In June, Columbus and his fleet are marooned in Jamaica. They spend a year here.

1504 - On June 19, Columbus finally is rescued and begins the journey back to Spain. Crew rescued from Jamaica after more than a year on the island.

  • On November 7, Columbus arrives in Spain.

1506 – On May 20 while in Valladolid, Christopher Columbus dies after enduring an unknown disease for years. Modern scientists speculate he had arthristis.

9 Fun Facts about Christopher Columbus:

  •  Although he was Italian, Columbus could not speak or write in Italian. Instead, he mostly used Portuguese and Latin. This has led to speculation that was not really Italian but perhaps Jewish, according to a Glencoe social studies book entitled “Beyond the Textbook: The Journey of Christopher Columbus.”
  • The biography of a fellow sailor suggests Columbus was once on a ship hijacked by pirates. No other historical documents support this claim.
  • Columbus’s son Fernando wrote a book about his father’s life. Many historians say the son’s tales are exaggerated. 
  • Historians note that Columbus believed that the world was one third smaller than it actually was
  • When Columbus used the term “mile,” it was often not a true mile but rather 4,850 feet, according to writers of the book “The Worlds of Christopher Columbus.” This led to many distance miscalculations in his travels.
  • Columbus’ avid reading of Marco Polo, Ptolemy, and Eratosthenes influenced him to believe he could sail westward to Asia because the world was round. He was mocked for his beliefs.
  • Columbus’ trans-Atlantic voyages were funded with not only gold, but also spices, fabrics, and slaves. 
  • Because the Santa Maria became damaged on a reef once Columbus reached what he thought was the East Indies (the Bahamas), the 90-member crew had to use the remains of the ship to build living quarters.
  • Upon return to Spain, Columbus brought Queen Isabella Native American people, turkeys, some tobacco, and pineapples. These things had never before been seen in Spain.