Patrick T. Conley is the award-winning Rhode Island historian.
Those historically ignorant vandals around America who demolish statues of Christopher Columbus over the mistaken belief that this deeply religious and fearless explorer personally sought to enslave Native Americans have a huge task ahead of them.
As historian and former Brown University researcher Dr. Carol Delaney convincingly documents in her book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem”, “religion drove the journeys that led to America” . Delaney shows that Columbus was inspired to find a western transatlantic route to the East not only to satisfy his theory of navigation and obtain riches for the Spanish crown, but primarily to fund a new crusade to reclaim Jerusalem (the Holy Land) Muslims.
Thinking he had made landfall in the East Indies in southeastern China, he called the natives he met “Indians”. Being a zealous Catholic, Columbus sought their conversion to Christianity and their “salvation” rather than their enslavement. Some Amerindians like the Arawaks responded positively to these religious overtures, others, like the Caribbean, resisted them with force. When battles took place, the captured Caribbean were transported to Spain as slaves. Such a brutal fate inflicted on humans in 1500 shocks us in 2021, but enslaving an enemy was common practice at that time in Europe, Asia, Africa, and among most Native American tribes.
Even papal declarations, such as the 1462 address of Pope Pius II, allowed the enslavement of those captured in a “just war,” which the Pope then defined. The first captured natives that Columbus sent to Spain were the man-eating Caribbean for whom the sea is named. Members of this tribe took their revenge three decades later, in 1528, by killing and eating Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano. This hapless navigator received a much more cordial reception from the local Native Americans when he visited Narragansett Bay in 1524 – a trip that eventually gave Rhode Island its name.
Because Columbus made four pioneering voyages to the New World that triggered the “Age of Discovery,” the United States (originally England’s 13 colonies) have been referred to as “Colombia” since the 18th century in deference to Columbus, who in fact never set foot on the North American continent.
The mythical Lady Columbia, whose statues are also numerous, is nicknamed “the goddess of freedom” and “the personification of America”. She is the feminized version of Columbus that first appears in the poetry of patriot Phillis Wheatley during our war for independence. Wheatley, an African American, was transported to Boston as a slave when she was only seven years old. She was released in 1774.
The nation’s capital is the District of Columbia, the state capitals of South Carolina and Ohio are Columbia and Columbus, respectively, and there are approximately 20 municipalities and six counties in the United States with the name “Columbia. Or “Columbus”. There is even an Ivy League university called Columbia.
The Columbia River, named in 1792 by intrepid Rhode Island sailor Robert Gray for his ship, is the main inland waterway of the American Northwest with its source in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
“Hail Columbia,” a song composed by Philip Phile for George Washington’s inauguration in 1789, received lyrics by Joseph Hopkinson in 1798 and became our de facto national anthem in the 19th century. Today, this patriotic march is performed for the entrance ceremony of the Vice President of the United States. Another patriotic tune, “Columbia, the Jewel of the Ocean,” composed in 1843 by David Shaw and Thomas A. Beckett, has become a standard melody in the repertoire of the US Marine Corps Band.
Also noteworthy are the Knights of Columbus, a huge Roman Catholic fraternal order. They must be more vigorous in the defense of their boss and must not remain silent knights.
In America, the names and presence of Columbus and Columbia are omnipresent. There is even a federal holiday on the second Monday in October to celebrate his achievement and his Italian heritage. Demonstrators and disfigurers without spirit and iconoclasts will never be able to erase Columbus, no matter how many statues they overturn and how many nomenclatures they burn. They operate under the silly illusion that the three ships commanded by Columbus in 1492 sank in an ocean storm, the world would be a better place.