U.S. #118 – Picturing Columbus’ landing, this image is based on John Vanderlyn’s painting that hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. View and read about the original painting here.

Christopher Columbus Makes Landfall

After more than two months at sea, Christopher Columbus reached what he believed was East Asia on October 12, 1492.

Born in 1451 and having spent much of his adult life at sea, Christopher Columbus was determined to find a western water route to China, India, and Asia’s gold and spice islands. After the King of Portugal refused to fund his “Enterprise to the Indies,” Columbus met with the king and queen of Spain. They refused him at least two times before they finally agreed to fund this trip.

U.S. #230 – Based on a painting by William H. Powell, this stamp pictures Columbus in sight of land. This was the first U.S. stamp to picture Native Americans.

Columbus and his three ships set sail from Spain in early August 1492. The trip was longer than he had expected, and as the days passed, his crew became increasingly anxious. To calm them, Columbus kept two journals. His private log documented the actual distance traveled each day, while the one he shared with his men showed a shorter distance. He believed their morale would be higher if they didn’t think they were so far away from their homeland.

But by October 10, the crew’s worries led to talks of a mutiny. Columbus promised that if they didn’t sight land in the next two days they would return home. The next day, the men began seeing signs of land – sand-pipers, land plants, and man-made poles in the water. This helped to ease tensions aboard the ships. According to Columbus’ journal, around 10:00 that night he saw a light in the distance. He couldn’t confirm it was land, but didn’t know what else it could be. Columbus called on one of his men to look for it, but he never saw it. Though Columbus believed he saw it a couple more times that night.

U.S. #231 – Based on the same painting as #118 above. Click the image to read about the “Broken Hat” variety and the popular Columbian series.

Columbus then told his men to carefully scan the horizon, and whoever first saw land would be richly rewarded. At about 2:00 a.m. Rodrigo de Triana called out “Tierra! Tierra!” (“Land! Land!”). Though excited, Columbus decided to wait until daylight to go ashore.

Later that morning, Columbus and 90 of his crew members took to the shore with the flag of Spain, claiming it for the king and queen. They were met by the Lucayos people, who called the island Guanahani. They exchanged gifts – Columbus presenting the locals with red hats and beads and the natives offering parrots, cotton, and other items. Columbus named the island San Salvador, “Holy Savior.” It’s unknown today just which island in the Bahams Columbus landed on, though most scholars believe it to be Watling Island.

America held its first Columbus Day celebration exactly 300 years later, in 1792, though it wouldn’t become an official holiday until a century later.

Click the images to add this history to your collection.

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    1. Watling Island???? I’ll have to look on a map. I thought he landed near Hispanola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The stamp show is very beautiful as is the later Columbian issue. Though Columbus is not as revered for political reasons, he and his crew were truly courageous men. That was quite the bold voyage. And it was hurricane season!

  1. Great informative reminders of history. Nice change from the daily news. Enjoy reading the variety of topics the stamps were created to represent. Keep up the much appreciated ‘day in history’ emails. Thank you.

  2. Such a romanticized/sanitized historical summary. Let’s not forget that Columbus’ voyages of destruction led to genocide and slave trading in the Americas. It’s amazing this day maintains its celebrated status.

  3. Excellent article. It is a shame in this day and age so many lies are spread about him because he was a great Catholic. Keep up these wonderful emails. I read them to my children.

  4. I think most recognized holidays have been sanitized and romanticized. It would be good to have a more circular view and historical account of the good and the bad aspects being celebrated. People need to know and remember all of history, not just the happy feel good parts. Good points, James and Glenn. Good stamp information, Mystic. Thanks.

  5. I agree with Glenn Minshell (above), but let us also not forget that Native Americans waged war and practiced ethnic cleansing long before the Europeans arrived in the Americas. The Incas and Aztecs didn’t build empires by singing Kumbaya. Columbus was no humanitarian or politician, but he was a great navigator.

  6. Love the pros and cons that eminate from this series. There is always room for debate and conjecture. keep them coming. What a great idea this was. Kudos to whomever thought of it.

  7. To judge a historical event that happened more than 500 years ago with today ideas is nonsense..
    Besides, our world is not totally civilized today….

  8. You can’t judge Columbus by today’s standards. You have to judge him by the standards of his day. How will people judge us a hundred years from now. Or four hundreds years in the future.
    He didn’t know that his men and others in the future would be carrying grems that the local population had no immunity to. Slaves, unfortunately, were a fact of life in 1492.

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