It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so. — Mark Twain

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber




Youth of Columbus

While Henry the Navigator was busy with his discoveries, the rest of the world was not standing still. Although he little suspected it, a boy born in Genoa, about 1436, was to be a far greater navigator than he. This boy was Christopher Columbus.

Although Christopher's father was only a poor wool comber, he managed to send his son to school at Pavia. There the little fellow studied hard. But he had no pretty books such as you have now, and had to pore over musty parchments. In spite of that, he took special interest in geography and mathematics. When only thirteen, Christopher was forced to leave school, because his father could not afford to keep him there any longer. After combing wool for a short time, he went to sea with one of his relatives.

A sailor at fourteen, Columbus began to lead a very stirring and adventurous life. Genoa, his native city, was then often at war with other places, and battles were fought on the sea as well as on land. Besides, in going about from place to place, Genoese vessels were frequently overtaken by pirates; so mariners in those days had to know how to fight, as well as how to sail their vessels. Columbus, therefore, had more than one battle with these sea robbers, whose aim was to secure the goods on board his ship. Once he took part in a fight off Cape St. Vincent. Here, his vessel having caught fire, he and his crew sprang into the sea to escape the flames. By rare good fortune, Columbus managed to grasp a floating oar, and with this slight help he swam to the distant shore.

In the course of his many journeys Columbus visited all the principal ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Ever eager to learn, he questioned the seamen and travelers he met, and they gladly told him the strange things they had seen and heard while visiting foreign lands.

After a time Columbus came to Lisbon, hoping to be employed in making discoveries for the crown; for, as we have seen, the Portuguese were the boldest seamen of the day. Whether or not Columbus took part in some of their journeys we do not now know; but we do know that he soon found himself obliged to earn his scanty living by drawing maps. As he was a very pious man, he daily went to say his prayers in a neighboring convent church, where he met a young lady whom the nuns were educating. Falling in love with her, Columbus soon made her his wife.

The newly married couple lived with the mother of the bride, the widow of a seaman and chart maker. She soon gave her son-in-law her husband's papers and instruments. In looking over the former, Columbus found that his wife's father had once been in the employ of Henry the Navigator, and had written an account of his voyages.

Poring over these papers, and thinking over all he had read and heard from travelers, Columbus became more and more convinced that the earth is round, and that by sailing directly westward one would reach the coast of Asia. This idea, which had already haunted him for some time, now left him no rest. He longed to try, for he was in hopes of finding a new road to India, which would enable his native city to carry on the trade which had made it so rich. This trade had been stopped, when he was about seventeen, by the taking of Constantinople, as you have already heard.

According to the calculations of Columbus,—for, like all the wise men of his time, he fancied the earth smaller than it is, the lands known to the Europeans extended over about two thirds of the surface of the globe. As he thought that Asia stretched much farther east, he now began to think that perhaps the strip of ocean which separated Cipango from the Canary Islands might not be so very broad, after all.

To discover whether others shared this belief, Columbus wrote to Toscanelli, a learned Italian, asking him whether he thought it possible to reach Asia by sailing straight across the Atlantic. Toscanelli answered that he thought it could be done. He also sent Columbus a map he had drawn, on which he had placed Cipango (Japan) nearly on the spot which Cuba occupies in your geographies.

When Columbus received this map he determined to make an attempt to reach Asia by boldly sailing westward. But he was too poor to buy or hire a vessel himself, and we are told that when he once asked the Genoese to supply him with one, offering to give them the benefit of his discoveries, they only made fun of his plans.

Although disappointed, Columbus did not give up his idea, and still tried to gain all the information he could. He even made a journey to Iceland; but the people he talked with there had so entirely forgotten the land that Eric and Biarni had visited in the west, that they never even mentioned it to him, so far as we now know.



Contents

Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell